Blackboard Annotate? Yay or Nay?

I have been using the updated version of Blackboard Annotate for over a semester now and I have to say that it has made my grading life a lot easier and faster. For starters it has cut my grading time quite a bit because I don’t need to spend any time downloading and uploading homework assignments to and from Blackboard as well as creating and naming folders that fill up my computer with student homework that I have to go and delete at the end of the school year.

 In the past I used MS Word’s review tool that includes track changes to grade and provide my students with feedback on their writing.  The Blackboard’s Annotate software is a lot easier to use and a lot more intuitive. What I mean by that is that the tools are grouped up better allowing the grader to not keep changing between the different functions. For example, in the pen section where you can underline parts of the paper digitally you can erase a mistake without leaving that area. In the previous version there was no eraser, and it was very difficult to delete a correction. Just that change has made it so much easier and less time consuming for me as I teach writing.

The other function that I am enjoying a lot is the comment tool as I am able to provide in line comments with ease and because it mimics the MS word “new comment” in the review section it is second nature to me and the students. Once you add the comment, a small yellow icon   A picture containing clipart

Description automatically generatedshows up and then the comment appears in a panel next the comment. Although you cannot edit the comment you can easily delete it. Hopefully in a future version of Annotate they will add the edit function in the comments section as well.

Another cool function is the content library, which allows you to create a bank of reusable comments that can be edited or deleted. You can also add a comment to the submission page from the menu. The other thing that I liked is that you can type keywords or phrases to search for comments that I have saved and because I don’t need to keep typing my comments it has become one of my favorite tools.

With almost 80 students a semester and about 7-9 assignments for each student you can imagine how much happier I am with Blackboard Annotate these days. It has turned a long session of grading papers quicker, simpler, and easier. So, yes, I would recommend that anybody who has access to this version of Blackboard Annotate to take the time to learn how it works.

Below you wlll find an overview of Blackboard Annotate from the Blackboard’s YouTube channel:

YouTube Video https://youtu.be/WFaEf_7-KaM

Katherine

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Spring Beginnings. Looking ahead…

I came into the spring semester with a bit of apprehension as to how the students will feel especially since we are one year into the pandemic and we are all feeling tired and frustrated. How the students feel is important to me as it is a deciding factor on how much they will learn or not. Their attitude towards the way they learn affects me. How does it affect me? Well for starters, if I see that students do not want to be in my class, I lose a bit of my own enthusiasm and passion. Obviously, I am adult and a professional educator, so I don’t quit on them like they do to me, but I am not as eager to do a live class or go to campus and teach. It also takes me longer to find something to get excited about when the students are indifferent or even worse, negative. Of course, I try not to let that show, but it does sap my energy. If done right, teaching is emotional and feeds off of students’ emotions and reactions. Therefore, if the students are resistant to whatever I have to say then I have to work a lot harder to get them to put down their phones long enough to pay attention, listen to me, and hopefully learn something by the end of class.

So far, the students have do not seem as negative as they were last semester. So far so good. I hope I won’t jinx myself by telling everyone that my students are pretty awesome this semester. They all seemed engaged and happy, this make me wonder if they have finally accepted the fact that they will spend the semester or if they are trying to be patient because there is light at the end of the tunnel since we have two vaccines on the market and two coming. Nevertheless, their reaction so far is making me hopeful that we will be able to get through the semester without any major issues. A semester without any problems is a productive semester.

If I am being honest, I am looking forward to a better time when we are all vaccinated and so we can get back to some sort of normal life. I am still wondering what that will look like, but it is bound to be better than how we are living and working right now and for the last year.

Katherine

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Reflections and Lessons Learned from the Fall 2020 Semester and the Pandemic

When I took a break in August, I actually thought I would be back in September writing and blogging away, but that didn’t happen. I think that for one thing I was more tired than I realized, and I was experiencing a bit of COVID lockdown fatigue. Then of course we had our presidential elections and everything that ensued from that in conjunction to teaching 78 students for the semester as you can imagine pushed blogging to the bottom of my list.

Now that things have kind of settled down and I had break from work I spent a lot of time think and reflect about the fall semester. I am ready to start writing and blogging. Luckily I am able to take such big breaks from blogging because I make my living as a professor not a blogger, so I treat my blog as a place for me to reflect on what is happening while I teach as well as have a writing outlet.

As I was thinking about what the topic of my first post would be for 2021, I read a few of my previous posts and in one of them I wrote that I believed that I would be back on campus teaching for the fall of 2020 or at the latest by spring 2021 but here we all are still in a pandemic that does not want to go away and stuck working from home. Yes, we have not one but four vaccines, two are on the market and slowly being used and two maybe three that are almost ready to be approved by the FDA, but there is still no sign that anything in our daily lives will improve any time soon. Last week I read an article on Bloomberg.com that said that their “herd immunity calculator shows that at today’s vaccine rate, it could take the world more than 7 years to achieve herd immunity.” Of course, it did say that in the U.S. it would take until the end of 2022 to reach herd immunity, but it also pointed out that if the other two vaccines come on the market that the time estimate would dramatically the amount of time we would have to wait until we got back to normal. Nevertheless, the point here is that in the U.S we have at least one more year before we can go back to where we were in the winter of 2020. That to me is so crazy. By no means am I trying to be pessimistic because I am an extremely optimistic person who always sees the bright side of things no matter how difficult or bad a situation becomes.

So, here I am in the second week of February 2021 and I am feeling continuously tired and depressed partially because of Covid-19 fatigue from the lockdown, and the other part is from seasonal depression. Although I am American born, I did not grow up in the U.S. as my parents moved back to their home country, Greece, when I was young. As a result, I grew up in a country that has at least 300 sunny days a year and despite of the fact that I have lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years I still have not gotten used the gloomy weather which is predominant in New England during the winter months. Over the years one thing that I have learned is how to recognize it and work through seasonal depression so at about March I am usual back to normal, this year I decided to work on it earlier and that is why I starting to feel better so as a result I am more optimistic and have things I want to talk about.

Going into the fall semester I thought that teaching/work would be better because the student would be more adept to remote learning. Boy, was I wrong! Not only was it not better, it was actually worse. Many of the students were extremely negative towards having to take courses online and were coming up with all sorts of creative excuses as to why they had not completed their homework on time.  Most of the excuses involved Covid-19 and yes even if I thought that there was a chance that the student was lying, I took it with a grain of salt because I kept thinking what if they are telling me the truth. Would I want to be that teacher? The one that in the middle of the pandemic were millions of people all over the world have died didn’t give students the benefit of the doubt.

What bothered me the most was when students thought that if they could not submit the homework by the due date, they would email me to tell me that there is a possibility that s/he had contracted Covid-19 and needed to go get a test and was not sure if the assignments would be submitted on time. One student in particular emailed me on four separate occasions using the same excuse, sigh… Finally, after the third email I realized that the student was using it as a buffer. Despite my annoyance to the constant emails with the fake excuses, I decided not say anything to the specific student or the rest of the students. Mainly because I felt that the students must have a reason for this behavior. They must feel overwhelmed, stress out with everything that was going on and perhaps were procrastinating. I think that the procrastination came from the fact that they were home and felt that they had a lot of time to complete everything and well as we all know that have been in their place before, they didn’t. It happens to everyone when they work and study from home. You sit there is your sweats sipping your coffee with nowhere to go so there is no feeling of urgency to complete things and no real schedule. But I will talk more about the importance of creating a schedule and sticking to it in a different post.

Although the semester seamed to last forever, and it felt like I was Bill Murray in the Groundhog Day movie where he keeps reliving the same day over and over again. Thankfully the semester did finally come to end with students trying to pull themselves together long enough to take the final exam so we can all put 2020 behind us with the hope that 2021 might prove to be a better year for all of us.

So, with this post I am back to blogging in 2021. See you next week!

Katherine

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Gone Fishing…

This is my last post for this school year. Even though we are not going on vacation this year I decided to devote August to rest, relax and rejuvenate. As I have a feeling that this upcoming school year is not going to be a walk in the part. Usually, in August I spend all of my time with my family and feeding my brain by reading only things that make me grow. For me and my family, August is a big month as we have lots of celebrations. It is the month I got married to my wonderful husband and it is also the month our son was born as a result I always take this month off.

So, because of that, I make sure to finish everything I need to do for September. I start sending emails about all sorts of things so I can make sure that my prep for the fall is complete no later than July 31. From editing my syllabi, making sure that my courses are updated to reflect the changes I want to make, creating new e-lectures to completing my AFR’s (Annual Faculty Reports).  Besides needing a break, I love spending the majority of my time with my family.  It helps me go back to teaching ready for the new school year. I have learned from past experience that if I don’t take the time off, I am miserable all year. By May I feel extremely burnt out and I can’t be the best educator, wife, mother, and friend to anybody. I just don’t perform to full capacity and it shows in my work. I don’t do a good job teaching, writing, or anything else I do professionally. This then seeps into my personal life because I become stressed out, annoyed, and irritated causing my personal life to not be good either. As a result, I then tend to not have a lot of patience and tolerance. What is more, the people around me can tell. Thus, for my sanity and others who have to live, work, and have to listen to me teach for three hours a week  I spend as much time as possible throughout the year decompressing and August is one of those times.

The other thing I like to do during my time off is plan early and brainstorm on blog posts or e-lectures for example among other things because if don’t do that ahead of time I am constantly playing catch up and it is not my best writing if I don’t. Like I make sure that my courses are completed and uploaded long before the semester begins as there is not possible to teach and design/create a course while it’s running. It’s too stressful and mistakes are bound to happen, which is not how I want my students or anybody else to think of me. Also, I teach around 80 students a semester and there are some weeks I have so many papers to grade that it is impossible for me to write anything when my brain is completely fried. So I came to the conclusion that I work better when I take August and January off and take care of myself.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to take some time off even if he/she stays home this year. Enjoy the last month of the summer with your loved ones as this year is bound to be a tough one since COVID-19 is still raging. With any luck by the end of 2020, the hard-working scientists and doctors around the world might have some sort of solution for this pandemic so can stop feeling so stressed out and that we are out of control!

This is where I wish I was for August but maybe next year:

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See you all in September!

Katherine

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Blackboard Annotate is Updated!!!

Hooray!  Blackboard Annotate has finally been updated! You have no idea how long I have been waiting for this.

So, here is what are the changes:

Now in the assignment submission page Blackboard supports the following files:

  • Microsoft®Word (DOC, DOCX)
  • Microsoft®PowerPoint®(PPT, PPTX)
  • Microsoft®Excel®(XLS, XLSX)
  • OpenOffice®Documents (ODS, ODT, ODP)
  • Digital Images (JPEG, JPG, PNG, TIF, TIFF, TGA, BMP, HEIC)
  • Source code (Java, PY, C, CPP, etc)
  • Medical Images (DICOM, DICM, DCM)
  • PDF
  • PSD
  • RTF
  • TXT
  • WPD

Blackboard Annotate also supports the current versions of the following browsers:

  • Firefox
  • Chrome
  • Edge
  • Safari

The other interesting change is that the annotation session expires after an hour. Apparently, the user will receive a pop window with a warning message that the session is expiring. The cool thing about this is that whatever work that you had done on the assignment is saved so if you ran out of time and did not manage to finish reading the assignment your work is not lost and when you come back you continue where you left off.

Here is what the Annotations Tool Icon looks like:

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Document View Settings

  1. Sidebar: View Thumbnail, Outline, Annotation, or Bookmark views of the submission.
  2. Pages: Use the arrows to jump to different pages in the submission.
  3. Pan: Move the submission on the page.
  4. Zoom and Fit: Zoom in and out of the submission or adjust the view to fit the page, fit the width, or select the best fit.

Annotations Tools:

  • DrawingBrush, and Eraser: Draw freehand on the submission with various colors, thickness, and opacity. Select the eraser to remove annotations. You can erase parts of a freehand drawing with the eraser or select the Delete icon to delete the whole drawing.
  • Image or Stamp: Choose a preloaded stamp or create your own customized stamp or image to add to the submission.
  • Text: Add text directly on the submission. You can move, edit, and change the text and select the font, size, alignment, and color of the text.
  • Shapes: Choose Line, Arrow, Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, and Polyline. Each shape has its own settings to change the color, width, opacity, and more.
  1. Comment: Provide feedback in comments. Your comments appear in a panel next to the submission.
  2. Print or Download: Print or download the submission with the annotations.
  3. Search: Search the submission for specific text.
  4. Content Library: Create a bank of reusable comments. You can add, edit, delete, and search comments in the library. You can also add a comment directly to the submission page from the menu.

Note: The Content Library is only available in SaaS environments.

Highlighter: Select specific portions of the submission to highlight. As you highlight text on the submission, an additional menu opens. You can highlight, strikethrough, underline, squiggle, or comment on the highlighted section.

Click below to see a video created by Blackboard which guides you through the new updates:

Bb Annotate Overview in Blackboard Learn

I can wait to use these new features in the fall. Unfortunately, I am done with teaching for the year so I cannot try them out, but in the fall I will use Blackboard Annotate to grade student papers so I will let you know what I think of them and if it makes grading easier. If you had the opportunity to use these new features let me know what you think.

All of the information came from:  https://help.blackboard.com/Learn/Instructor/Assignments/Grade_Assignments/Bb_Annotate

Katherine

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Thinking, Reflecting…

This week has been super busy as I was trying to finish grading final exams, final papers of my summer courses, as well as posting grades. So, besides the actual reading and grading, I spent a couple of days just thinking and looking at students’ grades. When I am doing it, it makes sense, but when tell someone that I actually take a couple of days to spend time just to think about the students and their grades they look at me surprised. I guess in other professions this type of process does not occur.

It is also an activity that most in the education field don’t talk about. I am not sure why, but we don’t. During this time, for starters, I want to make sure that all of the grades are entered, and I have not missed anything. The other reason is that I look at how much a student has progressed in a few months or weeks and if that is reflected in his or her final grade. As I am looking at their grades I am wondering if what I set out to do during the semester or summer session, occurred. What I mean is, I always have a set of goals as I begin designing and then teaching a course. It becomes evident if those objectives were met when I look at my students’ grades.

This is the time that I take a lot of notes so I can remind myself if what I used for the semester worked or not. By “worked” I mean, did online tools like VoiceThread, or a homework assignment fulfill its objective?  How did the students react? Did they do well? Did they acquire the knowledge I was hoping for? If not, why not? What can I change to make, so I can make their learning experience better? Or they can absorb the material better?

So, thinking about grades and performance objectives at the end of a course is extremely important in order to begin the process of redesigning an upcoming course. I see it as a way to measure if what I am doing in the classroom virtual or face-to-face is important. Of course, there are those students that register for my course that they are not ready for it or those that are taking, but have no interest in learning because they believe that the course is a waste of their time and they need to take it to graduate. I don’t usually take most of those students into account because how I can look at a student that doesn’t have the prerequisite knowledge in order to do well in my course. It is those students that I have a hard time failing because the majority of them work extremely hard to pass the course and even though they have progressed a lot it still isn’t enough. On the other hand, the students that think have nothing to learn are the ones I that I cannot be concerned about because there is always something to learn, and instead of approaching the course that way, they close themselves up to all sorts of missed opportunities.

These and many more thoughts that go through my mind during this period of reflection. Of course, there is a lot more to it than just thinking and re-evaluating for a couple of days, but this is how I begin the process of working and thinking about the upcoming courses I will be teaching in the fall, spring or summer semesters.

Do you think about how your students did while taking your course? How do you go about designing and then teaching a course?

Katherine

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Giving Grace…

Last week I was talking to one of my grad students on zoom because she had missed the deadline to submit a homework assignment. As I was listening without speaking the student proceeded to tell me everything that happened to her and the reasons behind this. I hadn’t had the opportunity to turn the video on and as I listened to the student I decided not to. The student was super nervous, and I did not want to add to it by showing up on her computer screen, but I could hear her voice. She was upset and worried. Not adding the video actually made me listen to the student more carefully because there was no video to distract me.

As I am sitting there, I am thinking why is the student so upset? I haven’t even spoken yet. Once the student finished explaining I asked so, “What can I do for you?” The student was so anxious she couldn’t bring herself to actually ask for permission to complete the work she had missed. So, I had to nudge her along. Finally, I decided to put her out of her misery and give her permission to submit the late homework. Now, this is not an undergrad that just forgot or procrastinated to do her work. This is a graduate student in the MBA program. The majority of these students are working professionals, type A with extremely driven and determined personalities.

While I was talking the grad student, stunned by the fact that I gave her a chance, kept thanking me for understanding and being flexible because her other professor had said no even though the student had a good reason for being late. I cannot of course talk about the particulars of the student’s reasons because of FERPA laws and protecting my student’s privacy nor are they important.

Once the zoom call was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Not because this is my first time talking to a student who is asking for an extension for a homework assignment.  After 16 years of teaching at UMB, I have had numerous encounters with students, especially because I teach the dreaded business communications courses that all undergrads need to take in the College of Management in order to graduate.

The thing I was thinking about how as educators we have a lot of power over our students. We teach them all of these courses and try to transfer our excitement and love for the topic we spent years learning about. I have spent about 8 years in higher ed just learning with multiple professors. They were all great and brought their experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the classroom, but the majority were distant and unapproachable. Of course, you don’t realize it until you meet the one professor that will change everything for you. For me it was, Pepi Leistyna he was everything a true educator should be, passionate, kind-hearted, and welcoming. As a student, I never felt worried about going to his office. It always felt like chatting to a friend, not my professor.

So, as I kept thinking about my student and I was wondering about how I can positively and negatively impact a person’s life with one yes or one no. Then I was reflecting on all of the work we as educators put into a course. If we spend all this time envisioning, researching, designing, and teaching courses, why can’t we include compassion, kindness, and grace as part of our teaching practice as well? Who says we need to be distant, cold, and closed up in order to teach? Why do people need to be scared to ask for an extension to a homework assignment? That’s not how education should work. Students should not be scared to talk to me or any other professor. I am not saying that I am going to not have deadlines or have students follow them, but why is it so wrong to bend the rules once in a while? Why is frowned upon to give students grace?

At the end of the day, my course is going to be one of many that a student will take in their lifetime. I would consider myself blessed if they leave my class having learned the material that the course was designed for and think of me as a nice person, they got to spend some time with during a semester in their second or third year of college.

How would you like to be remembered by your students?

Katherine

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Home Office? Is it here to stay?

A while back I decided that Monday would be a good day to post my thoughts for the week because I had Friday and the weekend, but now that we are all still home, the weather is much warmer, and there are so many weekend activities from taking a bike ride, playing soccer with the boy or finishing up all of those little house improvement projects that usually gets pushed back because we are not home for a large part of the summer. In addition to our home projects, I am also teaching two summer courses which keep me busy during the week, as a result, I have no time or the energy to write on the weekends anymore.

I am not complaining I am actually excited to get some of these off my to-do list, it just does not leave a lot of room for writing, relaxing and doing fun activities. So, while doing these projects I thought it would be a great idea to clean and reorganize my study. In a way, I am planning ahead for the fall especially since I am still going to be teaching remotely for the upcoming semester and probably for spring 2021. This is a task I always use to do at the end of the spring semester before going completely digital. Usually, by the end of the year, I had so much paper from teaching that I to recycle it before it took over my home office.

I also wanted to make room for my son in my study as I am not sure how his school year is going to go. The state of Massachusetts has released all these guidelines, but our district needs to see how they can put them into effect. So, we have not heard what school will look like in September. Will the children go to school full-time, part-time/hybrid, or stay online? Therefore, organizing a workspace for both of us that actually works for two people is more important than ever. As I am cleaning, I am taking into account my child’s needs as well as decorating his side to fit his age and not mine without turning the room into a child’s study area. There is quite a bit to do besides buying an extra office chair. I am also adding storage solutions for the boy’s books, paper, folders as well as putting a map on the wall since he loves geography

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and creating a gallery wall to display his art.IMG_5946.jpg

In the back of my mind, I always hoped to share my workspace with my son as he grew older and this pandemic made me want to do it sooner rather than later. In the long run, I think that it will be good for both of us to have a space that is efficient and functional. Somewhere we can go work and then close the door when we are done just in case, we forgot to clean the space. 🤣

Are you making room in your home for a permanent home office? What kinds of changes are you making this summer as you prepare for the upcoming school year?

Katherine

 

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Weekly Reflection

To be honest not much was going on last week. It is mostly spent between homeschooling, teaching summer courses, and starting to prep for the fall semester. As the fourth week of summer courses comes to a close, I feel that things are going much better than I expected. In the beginning, I felt a bit overwhelmed especially since I only had a week between finishing grading final exams and the starting to teach for the summer. I have settled into the courses and so have the students. Things are humming along, and we are all doing our work, which in many ways is comforting especially since we are still up in the air as far as COVID-19 goes.

All of the students are submitting their work on time, which I hope I don’t jinx myself, hahaha. No, one is complaining about anything. It’s too quiet. What gives? Should I start to worry or consider this part of the new normal? Are students are appreciating the effort I am making and are happy that they are able to continue to take courses from the comfort of their homes? Who knows? But I am running with that assumption for now, as my graduate course has 30 students when the last two summers it was canceled because of low enrollment.  A pandemic can do a lot to a person’s perspective and appreciation of things they did not pay attention to before like going to the supermarket and not having to wait 30 minutes in a line outside the store and to find the good paper towels or toilet paper as well.

Speaking of new and old, I am curious to see how things will work themselves out this fall as we are gearing up for another difficult year full of uncertainty. Many of my colleagues are not taking the summer off to rest and rejuvenate from a long and difficult year they are opting to work all summer, so they don’t have a repeat of the spring 2020 semester. Personally, I am about halfway done with my fall course prep. How are you preparing for the fall?

Katherine

 

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Virtual Conferences

The past few years there are many organizations that have been putting some of their sessions online for those who for whatever reason cannot travel in order to participate at a conference. The first one that I participated in a few years ago was OLC or Online Learning Consortium. The first time it only offered a very small selection of presentations, the second year there were more and it offered as well as allowed the participants to watch recorded sessions later on because it is not easy to listen in on live online sessions while working. It’s not like you are at a conference and you are taking time off to go listen to different sessions. As many of us know participating in a conference is hard work. So, I really enjoyed the option of being able to listen to the different recorded sessions at a more convenient time for me.

This year due to the pandemic a lot more organizations instead of canceling their conferences for the year they are utilizing platforms like zoom and Webex to put their conferences completely online.

Here are some links:

OLC Innovate 2020: https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/attend-2020/innovate/

The Inside Higher ed has posted a lot of different conferences: https://www.insidehighered.com/events_people

Tesol: https://www.tesol.org/ has its virtual convention in July. That one I am planning on attending so I can see the difference between OLC  and will be reporting back.

Katherine

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