eLearning Frenzy

eLearning is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.



Student Success Infographic

I created this info graphic to reflect an earlier post on 3 steps to student success in your online course.

Student Success in Online Courses

Three Ways to Ensure Student Success when Teaching Online

Student SuccessInstructors who teach online must cover a number of bases when working with students in an online environment.   You must be mentors, knowledge sharers, tech support, facilitators of learning, and technology gurus in your own right.    It is easy to see that trying to wear all of these hats can make an online instructor’s life difficult and that student success becomes an afterthought to just surviving an online course.

The good news is that there are ways to ensure your students have a successful learning journey.  There are methods, best practices, tips & tricks that can make your life and the lives of your students easier when participating in an online course.  For this blog, we will focus on three:

  1. Start Here
  2. Model the Behavior You Want to See
  3. Contextualize Your Instruction

Start HEreStart Here

We often assume that students that come into our online courses are digital natives and will somehow intrinsically know how to find their way around when they first enter an online course.  Aside from the fact that not every student born after 1990 has a computer implanted in their brain, more and more students pursing an online education are non-traditional students and may not feel as comfortable in the online environment.

This is why it is a good idea to use a Start Here unit or content area in your course.  You can leverage the unit as a kind of “this is how my course works” walk-through for your students.  It should contain things like course expectations, a welcome message or video from you, introductory discussion and any other information that can help your students be successful in your course.  Tips like “assignments, discussions and quizzes are located in each course unit (Weeks)” can answer questions before they are even asked.

Giving your students a “standard operating procedure” for how your course will work will go a long way toward reducing their anxieties about your course and put them on a path for success.

Model the Behavior You Want to See

One way that parents impart knowledge to their young is to demonstrate whatever it is they would like their progeny to do.  When you teach, adopt the same practice in order to ensure that your students know what is expected of them.  Giving the students a guide or working rubric for what is acceptable can go a long way toward ensuring student success.  If you are having them turn in papers, give them a non-topic specific example of how you’d like their papers formatted.  It doesn’t have to be an entire paper, but an example of what you are looking for from them.  When using the Learning Management System’s discussion board for the first time in your class, be the first person take make the post.  This works best in an “Introductions” discussion. Provide the instruction and then provide the example that follows that instruction.  The same thing goes for blogs, wikis and journals.

Giving your students an example of the online course behaviors will reduce the amount of uncertainty that naturally comes when taking an online course.  Remember that some of them may never have submitted an assignment online or participated in an online discussion.  Taking the extra time early in your course to provide guidance will help your students feel at ease and let them know that you are engaged in the course along with them.

Contextualize Your Instruction

Contextual InstructionThink of your online course as a new destination for your students on their learning journey.  How would they describe their navigation experience?  Would they say that once they travel into your course that it is difficult to find their way back?  Would they say that the course links were easy to find and use?  Would they be frustrated trying to make it to their “destination”?  These questions can be easily put to rest by providing contextual instruction wherever your students are within the course. If you put every bit of instruction your students would need for the course within the syllabus you would end up with the document that rivals to War and Peace in its width and breadth.   Compare how hard it would be to locate instruction in a 20 page document versus instruction in the same area where your students are currently working.  College students are used to living in a connected world where they can find instructions for how to do something right where they are via their mobile device or computer. Taking the extra time to provide instruction in the context of where the students are in your course is easy.  Here are a few examples:

  • Place unit level or assignment specific ojbectives throughout your course. Traditionally we have left Learning Objectives in the syllabus and forgotten about them.  By placing objectives in the unit where the student is working or on the assignment the student is focusing on, you remind the students why they are doing what they are doing, and connect the students to course content in a way that keeps them focused on the topic at hand.
  • Create a locked INSTRUCTIONS thread in each discussion. Not all LMSs have the facility to keep the forum instructions/description where posts and replies are made.  Make the first post of the discussion be a locked INSTRUCTIONS thread that students cannot reply to but is available for them to ensure they remember what they need to do in the forum.
  • When placing content in folders, units, learning modules & containers, be descriptive.  When creating a folder to place a unit’s worth of course materials, be sure to provide a description to students of what is in the folder. Remember that old adage “Tell them what you are going to tell them“.  Placing descriptions on each content folder, unit or module leaves the students with no question as to what those items contain and reduces the stress of not knowing where to click.
  • Provide “signs” that tell the students where to go and what to do.  This last point on contextualizing your instruction may seem like it comes straight out of the Department of Double Redundancy Department, but it is well worth it to ensure that there is no confusion on the part of your online students.  Online students don’t always know where to go or what to click on to advance in your course.  A great best practice is to provide the contextual instruction for students so that they will successfully navigate your course.  When you do use a folder, or unit for organization be sure to tell them to click the title when you type up your folder/unit description.  Also, with some LMSs you can change the title of this particular container/item to blue.  Blue is the universal color of links and will help draw the student’s eye. Lastly, place an item at the end of your unit telling the students where to go next.  Don’t assume that they always know what comes next in your online course. Provide them with a signpost that points the way!

As with all strategies for success, don’t feel you need to implement all of these at once.  You can use them all, but don’t feel like you have to.  Pick one of them to use this time and become comfortable with it.  Next time add another and so on.  We all want to be in the business of student success.  We want to see our students succeed.  With a little extra effort you can help ensure that students fewer obstacles in their path when it comes to being successful in your online course.  Implementing a Start Here unit in your course, modeling the behavior  you want your students to exhibit and contextualizing your instructions will help set you and your students on a path to success.

T-Bug: Texas Blackboard Users Group

TBUG conference 10/24 – 10/25

Celebrate the Integration of Technology in Learning –


  • Teaching & Learning
  • PreK-12
  • Support & Training
  • System Administration
  • Management and Policies

Proposal submission form:

Deadline for proposal submission: August 16, 2012

Notification of proposal status: August 30, 2012

Registration Fee is $250
Conference Hotel is $83 dollars a night

Questions contact: Dr. Yakut Gazi at

T-Bug email list:

BbWorld13 Corporate Keynote

Katie Blot Ray Henderson, Jay Bhatt

Opened with David Gerabaldi (Finalist from last year’s America’s Got Talent)

How are you going to paint your experience with Blackboard?  Jay Bhatt Bb CEO Started as a teacher.

Expectations of education changing all around us.

Education 2020 – Blackboard Vision Document

(Macro to Micro Approach)  Outside in

6 key trends that informed view of where Bb should go.

Education – truly global
Non-traditional learners
Consumer preferences/alternative models
Learner Centric education
Big-data in mainstream
Online & Mobile everywhere

Education – truly Global

In 2020 4 out of every 10 college graduate come from 2 countries…China & India.

Non Traditional Learners are the norm

only %15 percent of today’s undergrads are traditional learners (undergrads living on campus)  85% are non

Consumer Preference in alternative models

Have to compete with (modularity – competency not credit hours)

Learner Centric

Flipped Classroom, Competency

Big Data

Data is proliferating…what do we do with it?

Online & Mobile Everywhere

since 2003 online in higher ed has tripled 32% of enrollments

What is Blackboard’s Core DNA?  Product Company, but at heart a teaching and learning company.

Blackboard wants to Accelerate, Integrate and Innovate their products.

Jay, gave us a vision of where Blackboard wants to go from a strategic standpoint.

Ray Henderson Bb President gives the Report card.  High marks, but needs to be better!

These came out over past year:

Enterprise Surveys, Social Learning Tools, Calendar, Discussions, Item Analysis in tests, inline assignment grading.


First time User Experience (Course Analyzer) Analyze Course, Adjust Dates, Organize Content, Confirm Settings.  Do you have objectives, are those objectives linked to content.  Big emphasis on course design and course quality.  Visual experience of learning path within a course.

Assessment Design – Changes in showing tests results and feedback, more granular (Score, Answers(all, correct, submitted), Feedback, show incorrect keyboard, when you share it, after all attempts are graded release all answers.  Test availability exceptions – makes it simple and reduces gradebook clutter

Plagiarism Detection – Safe Assign (check attempts for plagiarism using safeassign as part of regular assignment not separate type)

Blackboard Meeting Room – Everyone gets this bundled in for free as part of Course delivery..takes the place of virtual classroom

Blackboard Collaborate Integration much more smooth (every course will have a permanent room and every instructor will have a permanent room for office hours etc..)

Polls by Blackboard (using multiple devices) like poll everywhere (no installation of new hardware, no clickers needed)

New Mobile Learn – Compatible with IOS7 and better interface!

Gradebook – Gradebook will have item view and grid view.  Infinite Scrolling brought back to grade center!!!.  Look ahead searching, Change gradebook columns simultaneously with one move!

Mozilla OpenBadges – Shipped with SP12 – Credential can be moved outside of Blackboard and taken with them.

Retention Center – Taken behavioral data and help bring to the attention of faculty where problems may arise <– Great new faculty tool we have it now. 

Analytics – Bridging Silos SIS Cross-tab against IPED data Cross-tabbed further against data in learn.

xPlor – radical sharing of content works with Creative Commons license.

Community/Social  – Social learning spaces

Content/Sharing – learning object sharing along with curation tools

Outcomes/Evidence – manage student evidence

Mobile, Collaborate & Analytics

All of these should work together to be more valuable than the sum of its parts!

Next is Katie Blott – President of Blackboard Education Services Group

Rapid Growth of Online learning will only accelerate into the future. Influenced by financial pressures, shrinking budgets, global competitions, increased accountability, learner expectations (flexibility, customization, anytime anywhere access)<- only going to grow

Online learning – Grows enrollments, reduces costs & measures outcomes

MOOCs movement – 43% of schools plan to offer MOOCs in the next couple of years.  Blackboard has been observing phenomenon and helping some early adopters.

MOOCs broaden access, experiment, or to “try out” the institution. Free of charge access to a MOOC platform to work with MOOCs.

Bridge your MOOC platform to your Learn platform via xPlor and/or Social Learning tools. #BbWorld13

MOOCs, are part of an “Online Continuum” of education.

Blackboard Educational Services can help with Marketing, enrollment management, recruiting, student support, curriculum & courses, planning and development.

Other Innovations from Jay Bhatt:

Mosaic – Entire Campus Experience on a Smart Phone

T!PTXT – Citizenship Innovation (Student who sees or experiences bullies sends txt to dedicated number that starts a confidential 2 way conversation reporting the event)

Next Generation Teaching & Learning Tools (Context of Disruptive Innovation) – Be prepared to embrace the new workflows that lay ahead!

Infographic: 5 Strategies for Success when Teaching Online with an Example of Each

BbWorld Blog: T-Bug

T-Bug:  the Texas Blackboard Users’ Group
Room 294

Upcoming Webinars Collaborate sessions: (July, August)

  • on Connect Learn and the Collaborate system with the new features.
  • Grade Center – T-Bug Website

Subscribe to the T-Bug listserv from this site!

T-Bug Conference will be in Killeen Texas
on Thursday October 25 & Friday October 26th 2012
Collaborating for a Steller Future

Conference fee ($250) Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Planetarium, Party

Suggestions for T-Bug
– what other schools in Texas are doing on site
– a way for admins to exchange ideas
– Survey of group – All of the T-bug webinars are hosted here.  It is a community site for Blackboard user groups.

Elected Board of T-Bug
President, President Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, CIO.  Half are elected for 1 year and half are elected for 2 years.

Members come from System admins, support, teaching and learning, management/administration 2 members at large.


BbWorld Blog: Content Management Bootcamp

So the first session I’m attending is actually a pre conference workshop on Blackboard’s Content Management System.  SHSU will be implementing this system going forward so we thought it wise to attend this particular session.  The boot camp is about a 6 hour hands-on session.

Introductions, a fair amount of K-12 in attendance with the Higher ed folks.

There are two other participants from Texas besides SHSU in this session.  Texas A&M is here as is Region 4 in Houston.

The File/Content manager resides in the course.

Repository – file storage and mgmt. for

  • users
  • courses
  • orgs
  • institution

– Share content

– Customize permissions

– Search Metadata

– Learning Object catalog

– Tracking

– Versioning

– Portfolios

– Work Flows

– Goals Alignment

We are getting not only a hands on look into how to manage and add content, but a peak into the System admin side of how content manager works.

Colleagues from other institutions can be given a pass to access course content and that pass can be a limited amount of time.  This is a great tool for collaboration.

Being able to look at different versions of the same file is another bonus.

The content manager is closely tied to user roles within the system.  All the way down to how much space a user in the system.  I cannot wait to implement this product back at campus!

Why I want to be a VIP BbWorld Blogger

CommunitySo if you’re reading this, you may be asking yourself “Why does this guy want to be a VIP BbWorld Blogger?”  This could be because you honestly want to know, or you just may be reading the title of my Blog post out loud. Regardless of why you are asking yourself that question (or just reading), I’ll tell you in one word… Community.

My name is Jacob Spradlin, I am the Assistant Director of Training and Development for the department that handles Distance Education at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville Texas.  I hold a Master’s in Instructional Technology and have over 15 years experience in the field.  I have worked with Blackboard in one form or another since 2000.   My current job involves online course development as well as training for faculty here at SHSU.

For a long time, (I believe that 1 eLearning year is like 7 regular years) I have been interested in building community on my campus when it comes to eLearning.  I started our first local Blackboard users group back in the early double oughts and learned first-hand how powerful it was to put people together so they can learn from each other.  Getting 2 English faculty in same room or even cross-pollinating the disciplines lead to wonderful discussions and discoveries.

After a while longer in the game I’ve come to the determination that their are four major communities at work in eLearning:

  • Learning Communities
  • Support Communities
  • Social Communities
  • Communities of Practice

Your Learning Community is the obvious choice in that you try to make your course(s) a community of learning.  You might think of it as the “Guide on the Side on Steroids”, where your students with equal parts professor interaction, feedback and prompting; interact with each other, reflect and build upon the knowledge and skills that they are learning.

The Support Community is now almost the gold standard for eLearning, where you use the Tool to support the tool.  Whether it is a Faculty Resource course or a Student Orientation course, you leverage the technology so that they practice using it to find the answers they need.  Our most recent accomplishment at my institution is the beginnings of an Online Certification process where the faculty use the online tools to learn and become certified to teach online.

Social (insert concept here) seems to be the buzzword these days.  It is easy to say I don’t want my course to be like Facebook or Twitter, but is is harder to ask yourself “how are my students communicating?” or “where are they living digitally?”. A Social Community gives your students a sense of home away from home and for online students it creates a connection with the university that helps fight off the “I’m just a lonely student taking courses on the Internet” syndrome.

Communities of Practice have found a home in the eLearning spectrum.  Departments, divisions and other constituencies share professional learning, documentation and knowledge base resources by using this vehicle.  Content Repositories are tremendous assets for these communities.

So, “Is he going to get around to why he wants to be a VIP BbWorld blogger?”  Don’t worry I am, I just wanted to provide some context.

What better community to interact and learn from than the BbWorld community? What better event to foster innovation, creative design and fundamentally shifting the way we communicate than BbWorld 2012? Hundreds of sessions will taking place that will expand our community of support. Thousands of people will attend who will grow our social community.  Ideas, resources and conversations will take place that will add to our community of practice.  This event encompasses exponentially one of the largest learning communities in the world. So instead of asking why I would want to be there, it might be better to ask why I wouldn’t want to be there?!

Not only will i be recording for posterity my observations of a awesome event, I will also be communicating to my eLearning communities and reflecting my experience so that others can take part.

So here i am begging the eLearning gods to, tearing my educational sack cloth, wailing and gnashing my teeth…Please let me be a VIP BbWorld Blogger this year so that I can communicate about the community that I love so much!


Jacob Spradlin

Blog at

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