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

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best practice

Course Banners are NOT just for Course Landing Pages

Since the early days of Blackboard and other Learning Management Systems in the field, Course Banners have been a great way to personalize the online or web-enhanced learning environment. Instructors could differentiate any course by starting it out with a graphic or photo of their own choice/making. Course Banners have been used far and wide since then to add flare and personalize the online and blended environment.

Course with Banner ScreenshotFor years, instructors who used Blackboard have been operating under the assumption that a Course Banner could only be used on the landing page of a Blackboard course.  Well guess what?  Course Banners can be placed almost anywhere in an online/web-enhanced course. Check out this before and after photo of a Blackboard content area, in this case Lesson 1:

Before and After - Adding BannersWith just the addition of a few graphics, a theme change and a Banner image, we can add continuity to the course as well as make it more engaging.

How do you do it?

Show Text OnlyFirst, you will want to give yourself more real estate in the Content Area where you will be placing the Course Banner.  You do this by changing your page options to show text only.

  • Ensure your Edit Mode is on.
  • Click the contextual menu next to your page title and select Page Options.
  • Click Show Text Only.

This gives you more space for your graphic to live in the content area where you place it, by removing the icon that shows up next to your content title.

Note: It is also a good idea to make your Course Banners in the subsequent course content areas a little bit smaller. This cuts down on load time as well as screen resolution issues.

Add ImageNext, add/edit a Content Item on your page and add an image to the top.

  • Add/Edit a Content Item.
  • Click the Add Image button.
  • Browse and Attach your Banner.
  • Click Submit.

You will now have a content item with a banner graphic that is placed at the beginning of the content area, folder or module of your choice:

Adjusted Content Item ExampleThis practice will add a layer of continuity and engagement to your course. If your students feel like they are in a familiar place and are engaged while browsing, their satisfaction levels will increase. Consider adding more Course Banners to your online/web-enhanced courses today!

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Connect With Online Students – Make Feedback Personal

banner-people-connectedOne of the challenges for any online instructor is making students feel a sense of community or connectedness in their online course.  There are multiple strategies that can be put into place to meet this challenge head-on.  Today’s blog post will focus on the feedback the instructor gives in an online course and how it can connect the student more personally with the instructor.

The type of feedback an instructor provides can have a tremendous affect upon the student/instructor dynamic in an online course.  Students who feel like they know their instructor report higher satisfaction levels and tend to be more engaged with the courses they are taking. Conversely, students that don’t sense instructor presence in the course tend to feel less satisfaction and engagement, and that can be reflected in course evaluations.

The following are steps an instructor can take to connect with online students via course feedback:

1. Leave specific feedback.

Be purposeful about leaving feedback that deals specifically with aspects of a student’s submitted work. A side-effect of a good best practice to save time for online instructors is that sometimes generic feedback can be used to a fault. The online instructor can counteract this by leaving specific feedback about the students’ attempt every few assignments.

2.  Use student names when leaving feedback.

Starting assignment feedback with a student’s name immediately personalizes the interaction.  Placing emphasis on the personal before leaving the feedback of the assignment, points to interest on the part of the instructor in the student’s individual attempt. The idea that an instructor cares about student success is vitally important in any course, online or otherwise.

3. Use multimedia to personalize the interaction.

To a student sitting at their workstation/laptop/tablet, a grade or text-based feedback in an online course can seem almost sterile and devoid of the human touch that comes from the professor handing back grades in a face-to-face course.  Luckily, most LMS’s these days come with tools that can make the feedback interaction more personal.  Just the sound of the instructor’s voice will add a personal dimension to the feedback experience.  The addition of video to assignment feedback kicks it up a notch!

Audio Feedback with Blackboard Collaborate Voice AuthoringAt SHSU, Blackboard is the Learning Management System for online, hybrid and web-enhanced course offerings, and it comes equipped with tools that can enhance the feedback experience.  It also interacts well with third party tools and other types of files that can fulfill the same type of need for students.  For example faculty can use the Blackboard Collaborate Voice Authoring Mashup to leave audio feedback directly in the feedback of the assignment.

As a bonus a student is not just limited to hearing the disembodied voice of the online instructor for feedback.  Faculty members can also use the Video Everywhere tool to drop a recorded video into the feedback shown to the student.  The Video Everywhere tool utilizes YouTube to either link to a video uploaded to the instructors YouTube account or record a video at the point of feedback and place it directly.

Using Video Everywhere for FeedbackIf the instructor does not have ready access to a webcam or microphone on their computer, he or she can record a video with their smartphone and upload it to YouTube as an unlisted video, then link to the video with the Video Everywhere tool.  Instructors can also use voice recording apps to attach audio files to feedback for online students.

Personalizing feedback for an online course is an important best practice for any instructor. However, personalizing every feedback entry for every student would take too much time away from grading and other important interactions.  As with all things, moderation is key.  Try provide a few personal interactions for each student, each semester, letting them know that the instructor is committed to their success and is willing to connect with students on a more personal level.

#bestpracticemonday – Increase Student Engagment by Encouraging Interactions in Online Discussions

Encouraging InteractionsHave you ever felt left out of a discussion? When you are contributing to an effort, how does it feel to not be recognized for that contribution? Recognizing the contributions of the students in your online classes is key to increasing their participation. Here are some strategies for success:

  • Reply to a handful of discussion posts for each forum picking different students each time
  • Give Kudos and Challenges (recognize the contributions and offer challenges to encourage your students to reach beyond)
  • For larger classes do one summary post for each discussion mentioning students by name

If students believe you are actually reading their contributions they will work harder to ensure quality and quantity of their efforts.

#bestpracticemonday – Encouraging Academic Integrity in Your Online Course

Academic Integrity - Photo of Student CheatingOne of the biggest challenges facing distance learning today is ensuring academic integrity. There are swaths of blog posts, scholarly articles and stories in the Chronicle covering this topic.  Let’s clear the air now and let you know that their is no absolute sure-fire way to eliminate cheating in your online courses, just as there is no way to do it in your face-to-face courses.  There are however, strategies you can adopt and methods you can employ that will assist in making it extremely difficult to do so. We will cover 5 ways to encourage academic integrity:

  • Get Students on the Record
  • Original Discussion Posts
  • Pool Your Resources
  • Multiple Measuring Sticks
  • Use the Tools Available

GET STUDENTS ON THE RECORD

The president has the Oath of Office, doctors have the Hippocratic Oath. We all have oaths or agreements that we sign our name to that guaranty a certain behavior on our part.  One underutilized best practice in your online courses is to have your students go on record stating that they will maintain academic integrity while taking part in your class.

Whether you use a Mark Review Status, a discussion forum for a publicly stated pledge or an assessment where they put into words their commitment, having students go on record stating that they will have academic honesty is a good idea.  This activity assists with your course expectations and helps to make crystal clear the academic integrity policy in your course and for the University.

Note:  You can also make access to your course content contingent upon them “signing off” on the academic integrity agreement.


Discussion Forums GraphicOne of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed.  Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Copy Paste GraphicStudents are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts.  There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different day.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thought.  Blackboard now offers a check box when setting up Discussion Forums that ensures that discussion Participants must create a thread in order to view other threads in this forum.

By checking this box, you force the students to make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.


POOL YOUR RESOURCES

Question Mark for Pools GraphicQuestion Pools are a longstanding best practice when it comes to ensuring academic integrity in your online courses. Question pools are inventories of questions that you may use across all of your assessments.  The ability to select questions from a pool or pools in your online assessments gives you the flexibility you need to ensure a fair assessment.  Over time you create a large amount of questions for you assessments.  Imagine storing all of those questions together so you can draw from them whenever you want for your assessments.

In Blackboard, question pools allow for Random Blocks of questions and Question Sets.

Random blocks are groups of questions that can be presented in a random fashion determined by an instructor. You create random blocks by:

  • Finding and selecting questions
  • Deciding on the number of points per question
  • Determining the number of questions to display to the user

A question set is a collection of questions retrieved from selected tests and pools. From this set, you specify how many questions to display. The specific questions displayed are randomly chosen each time the test is taken.

For each question set, you can specify:

  • The pools and tests that it will draw from.
  • The type of questions to draw from.
  • The number of questions to draw from.

MULTIPLE MEASURING STICKS

Measuring Sticks GraphicAfter reading the mountain of anecdotal evidence on the Internet about students cheating in online courses, you might be tempted to just throw your hands up and stop before you start!  Measuring student success is not something that is done just by looking at scores on objective tests. You should use multiple measure sticks to gain 360 degree view of your students.

Change the percentage that tests a worth in your overall grading schema.  Look at their participation in group activity, discussions, papers and other activities to determine how they are doing.  Get a feel for your student’s “voice” by looking at their work over more than 1 assignment.  If you are concerned question the student over the phone or via video chat in Collaborate to determine the real extent of their knowledge.


USE THE TOOLS AVAILABLE

Toolbelt GraphicBlackboard has/partners with tools that can help you work to foster academic integrity in your course(s).  Using a combination of these tools will assist you in throwing up road blocks to cheating and get your students in the routine of making good decisions when it comes to “playing it straight”.  Let your students know up front (via your syllabus and/or an expectations document) what tools you will employ to encourage them to contribute honestly in your course.

Examples of these tools:

  • Respondus Lockdown Browser
  • ProctorU (live remote proctoring service – additional fee involved – payable by your students)
  • Question Pools
  • Randomized Questions and Answers
  • Tegrity Remote Proctoring (Records student’s screen + web cam)
  • Turnitin Assignments (check for plagiarism)

#bestpracticemonday – The Importance of Rubrics in Blackboard Courses

Rbrics CubeThis blog has covered the importance of communication strategies when leading an online course. Students who feel like they have effective lines of communication during an online course tend to have a higher opinion of the course’s quality. Part of effective communication lies in the explanation of  assessment and evaluation of student work. The Blackboard learning management system has a tool that can assist faculty when communicating around grading and assessment. This tool is called the Blackboard Rubric.

Rubric (Definition)
A rubric is a way to communicate expectations of quality about an assignment or activity.

The Blackboard Rubric is an assessment tool that lists evaluation criteria for an assignment, and provides a means to convey to students your expectations for the quality of completed assignments.  This tool is an effective means to enhance an online instructor’s communication strategy.  The Blackboard Rubric tool is important for three reasons.

  1. Using a Blackboard Rubric Clears up any Grading Ambiguity for Students
  2. Using a Blackboard Rubric Makes Grading Easier and Consistent
  3. Using a Blackboard Rubric Lets Students Know What they Need to Succeed

Using a Blackboard Rubric Clears up any Grading Ambiguity for Students

Students in online courses can feel like they have multiple reasons to be anxious about their experience.  Technology glitches, digital proficiencies, and communication snafus are all obstacles that can present a problem for online students.    This does not even take into account how students interpret results from assignments and activities they have turned in.  In a face-to-face environment, students have the luxury of talking to the professor during class or stopping by the office to talk about their grade. Online students who want to know why they received the grade they did have to jump through hoops at times to determine where they went wrong.  For a student, just seeing a number in their My Grades area of Blackboard doesn’t give them the full picture.

Rubric Criterion with Feedback BoxThe Blackboard Rubric tool provides an easy method for communicating about student performance. How a student performed is not only detailed by the indicated criterion and level of achievement, but the instructor has the ability to provide further individual feedback at the individual criterion level.    If one specific criterion has three levels of possible achievement, then Blackboard instructor will have the ability to leave feedback right where the student landed for their assignment/activity.

Giving students the tools to understand how they performed, will equip them with the ability to not only understand why they performed the way they did, it can also enable them to improve upon their performance.

Using a Blackboard Rubric Makes Grading Easier and Consistent

Grading assignments/activities in Blackboard can take a fair amount of an online instructor’s time.  One way to simplify the process and give both the instructor and the students a detailed explanation of the evaluation is to grade with the Rubric Tool.  Blackboard Rubrics can be associated with:

  • Assignments
  • Essay, Short Answer and File Response test questions
  • Blogs and Journals
  • Wikis
  • Discussion board forums and threads

This means that each of these activities can be graded using the Rubric tool.   Once a rubric is associated with a Blackboard activity, the instructor can access the gradable item via the Grade Center, on the Needs Grading page, or directly from the tool.  Once in the in-line grading or grading view the View Rubric (button or link) is clicked and the instructor can select the level of achievement for each criterion and the points are automatically tabulated!

Using a Blackboard Rubric Lets Students Know What they Needs to Succeed

SuccessIf a student knows what it takes to succeed at a particular assignment, they are far more likely to be successful themselves.  The Blackboard Rubric tool has the ability to allow the students to see the Rubric BEFORE they complete the assignment.

When viewing a Blackboard activity a link is provided to your students to View the Rubric.  They then see the activity levels of achievement and criterion.  The rubric gives them visibility into what it takes to not meet requirements, meet the requirements, and exceed the requirements for the activity. The rubric then becomes the book-ends for the assignment:  a guide for what they need to be successful and a tool for letting them know how they performed.

At the very least, the use of Blackboard Rubrics can help students organize their efforts to meet the requirements of an assignment, and you can use them to explain evaluations to students. Rubrics can help ensure consistent and impartial grading.  They are important because they clear up grading ambiguity, make grading easier, and provide a pathway to success.

For more on the Blackboard Rubric tool, check out the Blackboard Help pages.

Where to Start – Example Rubrics

World’s First eLearning Best Practice Music Video

A few weeks back, I did a post about an elearning best practice that turned into a song.  Well that song has finally been turned into a music video.  If this doesn’t help you to remember to check the links and embeds to external content in your online course, I don’t know what will!

The Course Blog: An Online Instructor’s Best Friend

Course BlogAn online instructor has many “friends” or tools to help facilitate communication, assessment, collaboration and learning in their online course. In many instances a faculty will chose one tool over the other for obvious reasons. A course blog can cover a number of bases and it is a medium that many of your students will already be familiar for helping to digest information. This blog post (<– see what I did there) will cover just a few ways that a course blog can benefit you and your students.

  1. Engage StudentsA Blog Can Keep Your Students Informed and Engaged

    It is already a best practice for you to communicate regularly with your students. A blog can help facilitate that practice by helping you to post weekly (or more depending upon your need). Ensure your students have a expectation of having to check the blog regularly and can expect (from you) a post each week.

    Part of what you are trying to do here is remind your students of upcoming assignments, readings, or research as well as giving them waypoints or signposts where they should be paying attention.

  2. FeedbackUse the Blog for Feedback

    One of the best ways to utilize your course blog is to make it a feedback mechanism. Letting your students know that you are reading their assignment submissions, discussions and other assessments assures them that you are taking an active part on their learning journey. For example, use the blog post to sum up student discussion posts or submitted papers for the week giving kudos (by name) to students who are really bringing it home and challenges where the class maybe coming up a little short. You can turn the feedback around and have them comment on a blog post to collect feedback.

  3. Searching Made EasyThe Course Blog Makes Finding Information Easy

    Have a course blog means that your students will know where to go to find the out what’s happening in your course. They know that they can use the tool to search for the data they want.

    Digging through a syllabus or checking old announcements can be time consuming for some students. The course blog provides a familiar interface that is easy to search for needed information. In many instances, students can search by category, key word or date (week, month etc..). The blog keeps an archive of old posts so your students will know exactly where to look.

Keeping your students informed, engaged and in the loop is key to ensure they have a successful leg in their educational journey. The course blog allows you to let your students know what’s going on, provide feedback and provides an easy way to find all of that information.

*Blackboard Learn provides the added benefit of associating your picture with each post and your students’ pictures with each comment, thereby making the experience more personal and connecting.

Moderating Posts in Discussion Forums? Now there is an ORIGINAL thought!

Discussion Forums GraphicOne of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed.  Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Students are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts.  There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different post.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thoughtForum moderation presents itself as a workable solution.  Forum moderation allows the instructor or designated reviewer to approve the post before it is seen by the rest of the class.  So, with this in mind here are the steps to promoting original responses in discussion board postings:

  1. When creating the forum be sure to ensure that your force moderation of posts.*
  2. Assign a due date for the creation of discussion threads in response to your discussion question.
  3. Do NOT publish/moderate the posts until after the due date.
  4. Turn off post moderation once the due date is reached (you can also disable the ability of the students to add new threads)
  5. Have a separate due date for replies to original postings.

By following these steps, the students make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. Then, when you open the discussion back up for reply the are free to build off of each others’ ideas and continue to interact.

This does entail a little more work on the part of the forum moderator (professor, instructor, TA), but can really go a long way to ensuring the integrity of student discussions.  This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.

*Some Learning Management Systems do not have the ability to moderate posts, so another solution may be in order.

Bb World Blog: Rubrics – Why and How to Best Use Rubrics in Blackboard

7/12/2012 | 8:30am

Subject: Learn the benefits of using Blackboard Learn’s interactive Rubrics.  This presentation will also include how-to instructions and some best practices.

Objectives

  • Define academic rubric
  • pros and cons
  • learn how to use
  • best practices and pitfalls

We are using clickers to see where we wall stand on grading and rubrics.  Great concept!

Rubric
Any established mode of conduct or procedure; protocol.

Academic Rubric
Explicit set of criteria that’s used for assessing students’ work.

Pros of a Rubric

  • promotes consistent, accurate and fair descriptive assessment
  • Promotes self-reflection and self-assessment in students (leads to higher quality work)
  • Enables comparison of works across settings (use criteria in several assignments throughout the year to help assess progress in how they are doing to achieve goals)
  • Rubrics reduce need for clarification. (Time Savers)
  • Promotes Formative Assessment

What does a rubric look like?
Holistic Rubric – applies to the whole of the assignment. Not broken down by criteria.

General Rubric – Contains criteria that are general across all tasks.  Clarity of Description 35% Opinions %35 References %10 Structure/Gammer %25

Analytic Rubric – Breaks assignment down by criteria along several dimensions.  Puts it into specific things you want the student to do.

Cons of a Rubric

  • Too specific, too detail oriented (easy for this to happen)
  • Not appropriate for all situations (algebra for example – calculate correctly or not)
  • Time Consuming
  • Do not capture complexity and creativity of some works

Steps to create Rubric

  • Dtermine learning outcomes
  • keep it short 4-15 items
  • each rubric should focus on a different skill
  • Focus on how students express learning
  • Evaluate only measurable criteria
  • reevaluate the rubric

Building Rubrics:

  • Ctrl Panel > Course Tools > Rubrics > Create Rubric
  • Supply Name and Description
  • Complete Rubric details (columns are levels of achievement and rows are criteria)

Rubrics can be exported and imported through Blackboard.

Adding Rubric to Assignment:

  • Go to assignment > Edit
  • Section 3 – Add Rubric (select rubric, create new rubric, create from existing)
  • Select the Rubric(s) you created and want to use
  • Set points from Rubric to points from assignment (only works for Points based rubrics)
  • Click OK
  • You can then delete, view and edit rubric as well as change type (grading, secondary eval), show rubric to students (make sure to say “yes with rubric scores”)

Grading with rubric

  • Grade Center
  • Go to assignment
  • find student Grade attempt
  • Click View Rubric Button
  • Check the appropriate check box for what the student accomplished in terms of levels and criteria
  • You can give feedback on specific criteria
  • Points are automatically totaled

Get the impersonate student building block from Oscelot.

Student – goes to My Grades > View Rubric

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