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eLearning Frenzy

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

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learning management systems

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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Being Ready for Finals in an Online Course

ReadinessWith finals fast approaching, your students should be dutifully studying up on course materials, completing academic research and course activities that will help them be able to handle the questions and concepts they come across during end-of-semester assessments.   Your course materials have covered topics large and small that will help them make appropriate inferences, connect the dots and generally understand the subject matter they have been interacting with over the course of a semester.

Even when hitting all of your targets academically speaking, your students may have problems when it comes time for finals in an online environment.  We all know that technology failures operate under the “when, not if” principle, but there are strategies and practices that your students can put into place that will help them surmount any obstacle thrown their way.  The following practices will benefit your students when it comes to the end of year exams:

BEFORE STARTING THE EXAM

Power Up!
Plug your laptop into the power outlet unless you are absolutely certain that your laptop has enough battery power to last for the duration of the test.

Tether Up!
If you have the option, turn off your wireless connection and plug your laptop into the nearest available network port or use your desktop computer if available.  Wireless issue can cause your exam to disconnect and your instructor may not be fond of resetting your exam attempt for the umpteenth time.

Go Solo!
Close down any other programs that my distract you from the test or interfere with your network connection.  Having only one active program ensures your computer will be running at its best.

Idle Computers are the Devil’s Playground
Check your laptop idle time to make sure that it will not go into sleep mode prematurely and sabotage your assessment attempt midway through.

Be Up for Pop-Ups!
Disable all pop-up blockers. These blockers come installed in the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox, in third-party toolbars such as Google and Yahoo, and they can come with utility software such the Norton products from Symantec.

Get Patched Up!
Ensure that your laptop has the latest Operating System (e.g., Windows) patches. Automatic updates can disrupt your current browser session or make your laptop very slow.

Are You Compatible?
Use a web browser that is compatible with or certified to work with the current version of your Learning Management System.

Using Special Software?  Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you are using a lockdown browser or special proctoring software, be sure to download and install it BEFORE you take the exam. Your instructor may provide a practice assessment that will let you make sure you are familiar with the special software involved.

DURING THE EXAM

Don’t Get Click Happy!
When beginning the quiz/test, click the quiz link ONLY ONCE and wait at least a minute for the quiz/test to load.. Do not keep clicking on the quiz/test/test link. Clicking on the quiz/test link two or more times may trigger a message saying you already took the quiz/test. If, after clicking once and waiting the full minute nothing happens, contact your instructor or test proctor immediately.

Leave-off of Leaving
Once you have started the quiz, do not leave the quiz/test page for any reason. Using the browser’s back and forward buttons to move to and from the quiz/test will end the quiz prematurely and prevent you from further access until your instructor clears the attempt. If you are permitted to view other online resources during the quiz/test, open a new browser to view them.

Problem?  Reach out and Touch Someone
In case of computer problems during the test notify your instructor as soon as possible. He or she will reset your quiz/exam attempt or authorize a designee to do so. Your instructor may have policies on if they allow you to reattempt the quiz at all.

Sizing it up BEFORE You Begin!
Do not resize or refresh your screen after loading the quiz/test. Make sure the screen is the size you want before going into the quiz/test. Most browsers refresh the page when you resize the screen so the browser will try to reload the quiz/test if you resize/refresh.

The Best Browser for Blackboard Learn

Jacob and his MinionSo last week I went on a trip to visit a very good friend of mine.  He can’t see very well and he is addicted to wearing overalls, but he is a great dancer and is the life of the party wherever we go (especially with the younger set).  Any-who, we were walking down Fremont street together and he asks me a fairly straight forward question.

“Jacob, what is the best browser for Blackboard Learn?”

I smiled back at my friend the minion and told him that was a question we get often at our Technology Support Desk for SHSU Online. We strolled along together while I tried my best to answer his question. Well, my friend the minion liked the answer so much he asked me to share it with you.  So, with this blog post, I shall attempt to do so.

Traditionally our support desk has leaned heavily toward one particular browser, Mozilla Firefox when answering this question.  While I still think that Firefox is probably the best answer from a stability and fails-the-least-with-all-of-Blackboard’s-bells-and-whistles standpoint, the real answer is more nuanced than that.

While visiting with the minion last week in Las Vegas, I had the occasion to make a small side-trip to the Blackboard World 2014 (#BbWorld14 – for those that tweet) conference.  One of the sessions I attended on supporting Blackboard’s user community was put on by the University of Knoxville, Tennessee.  During the session they stated something that we here at SHSU Online always knew, but never put into words:

“The best browser for Blackboard is every browser.”

This zen-like statement on viewing Blackboard via the lens that we call our Internet browser is almost mind-blowing. It seems like something that “the Dude” would have uttered.  If you think about it though, it is true.

Internet browsers are on an accelerated development schedule.   They receive updates sometimes weekly in order to be sure that they are safe & secure to use for netizens across the globe. Blackboard, on the other hand, receives updates officially twice a year for the most part (not counting any cumulative patches your institution decides to apply).  The update disparity here is clear. You can already see where the pain points might happen when a browser is updated as often as they seem to be.  If one browser’s update messes with how you interact with Blackboard Learn, then try another.

Sometimes you may be on a deadline and “It’s my Blackboard and I want it now!”  In this case, just being able to launch another browser rather than making sure you clear your cache, delete your cookies and cleanse any temporary Internet files, makes life easier.

This is why it is important to have a stable of tools you can turn to when the need arises.  For PCs, your browser list for Blackboard should be: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox & Google Chrome.  For Macs: Safari, Mozilla Firefox & Google Chrome.

Blackboard even provides a supported browser list that will work with your particular version of Blackboard Learn.

Well, the minion and I had a great visit.   I also visited a few more of my friends and they too had some questions that might interest you, but I’ll save those for another blog post.

#bestpracticemonday LMS Skills are Learned Not Inherited – 3 Ways to Help

Blackboard on the BrainI am old enough to remember thinking of computers as something that fit into a large room and young enough to remember when my family received its first computer that sat on a desk in my father’s office. My children are familiar with touch screen interfaces, wireless internet, smartphones and tablets. With all of the technology that students coming into the university setting seem to have at their fingertips it is easy to assume that as digital natives they are already familiar with how a Learning Management System (LMS) works and how to navigate their way through an online class.

One thing I have learned through supporting faculty and facilitating online courses is that you cannot assume that students were born knowing how to maneuver within the confines of a Learning Management System.  LMS skills are learned and not inherited.  Taking this into account there are steps online instructors can take to give students the resources & skills they need to be successful in online courses.

1.  Use a Getting Started Area/Unit to Orient Your Students

Getting StartedHaving the words Getting Started or Start Here show up in your course are automatic clues for your students on where they should go and what they should do.   They immediately give the students a sense of where they should be going and what they should be doing.  Leverage this part of your course to communicate to students about how your course will work.  Explain to students where readings, lectures and videos will be found as well as how they will participate in and submit items for assignments and activities.  Communicate expectations, course policies and general advice in this unit that will help your students be successful. An added bonus here is you can use the Getting Started unit to model how the rest of your units will work.

Instructions2.  Layer Academic and Mechanical Instructions Throughout Your Course

With students, everything revolves around context.  They are becoming used to getting contextual information about the restaurant where they are eating, the traffic they are driving in, and the television shows they are watching.  That is why it is important to not just put instructions in your course syllabus.  They need to placed at the unit and assignment level as well.  A big key here is not just revealing the academic instructions that tell the students the requirements of a particular assignment or activity, but the mechanical instructions that tell the students how to use the particular tool to complete the assignment or activity.

3.  Be Sure Your Students Know How to Get Technical Assistance

Technical SupportIn order to make online courses more interactive and engaging for our students we have added new activities and technologies. We do this to ensure that students have the same types of learning opportunities as students in the face-to-face environment. With any new technology or new tool there will be obstacles, snafus and technical glitches that arise.  It is more important than ever that your students have the resources that can help them work through any of these issues. Post online support desk contact information and hours of operation prominently in your course (At SHSU Online we include a Need Help?  link in every Blackboard course).  If available provide a link to the student documentation for your LMS (The Getting Started with Blackboard Orientation course at SHSU for example).

Even though your students may not know what a LMS is, you can help them by providing the resources and information that can equip them to be successful in your course.  Using a Getting Started area, layering mechanical and academic instructions and connecting your students to tech support are practices you can incorporate to help your students learn how to operate within the Learning Management System.

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