Blackboard: The Digital Teaching Symposium Spring 2021

Last week I attended Blackboard’s symposium. What a refreshing conference! Even though it was remote it had so many interesting sessions. I wish I was able to listen in on all of them, but that is always the case with conferences, you can’t be in two places at once. In the past when I used to go to conferences with colleagues we would split up and go to different sessions so we could then meet up and share what we learned. The other plus of online conferences is that you can go back and listen to the recorded sessions. So I am hoping to go back and listen to a couple of the sessions I wish I could have listened to, but overlapped with the one I was participating in.

Despite the fact that I have been using Blackboard for over a decade now, I still learned a lot during this conference. I liked how other faculty from all over the world are using this platform. As well as the different tool/apps they use with Blackboard. Looking back in the last 10 years Blackboard has evolved into an amazing teaching platform. It has gone from a very static interface to a fluid and flexible one. It allows the educator to customize it to reflect his/her course requirements as well as the students’ needs. I am not saying that it is perfect, but it has come a long way since I began using it. I have come to appreciate how it helps me to create a very organized course full of information that my students can view and learn from.

During the conference I learned about how to better engage students during the Covid-19 Pandemic. I listened to two educators talk about an app called Padlet, which is an online notice board where instructors can use it to post notes, links, images, videos, document files, etc.  I have not had the opportunity to use Padlet, so I don’t have a real opinion about it, but it seems like an interesting app to use. If you want to find out more about it you can go to: https://padlet.com/

I also learned that I can add video comments to my feedback which is a pretty cool feature as it can make me more accessible, and it gives students the opportunity to get to know me better. The educators that presented in this session were saying that students really like the video feedback as it helps them feel like they are having a real conversation with their instructor. Students compared it to feedback they used to receive when they came to their instructors office hours.

In a different session the speakers talked about was how to organize a Blackboard course, some of the tips they gave were:

  1. Make content easy to find
  2. Give students a checklist
  3. Group content by week or unit
  4. Set intermediate deadlines
  5. Use learning modules for content that must be completed in a set order.

As I was listening, I was happy to see that I do most of what they talked about. The only thing I don’t do is intermediate deadlines. Which I am thinking might be a good idea for large groups assignments to make students accountable.

The other topic I really liked was the session that was all about badges and games. I am not sure how I can incorporate that in my courses, but I will spend part of the summer thinking about this because I believe it is important for students to get small rewards for their work that has nothing to do with their grades.

In one of the sessions, they talked about highlighting exemplary work. The presenter said that it makes the student whose work is highlighted feel rewarded and it also shows to the rest of the students what their teacher considers a representation of good writing. Although I see the value in doing that, I don’t like posting the best assignment because I believe that writing is subjective and personal so if I post what I consider to be the best version of that assignment I feel that I am not allowing my students to be creative and to explore their own writing. Having said that this idea did make me stop and think about it and why I wouldn’t use it.

My favorite session was the one that the presenters talked about how to facilitate group assignments as this is a difficult area for me to manage. I seem to have a difficult time motivating students to work together.  I appreciated the tips they gave. I really loved the contract that each group has to sign and agree to, which makes them accountable to each other as well as me. In addition it assists them in completing the work. I also liked the rubric they had created as it laid out the expectations for the assignment.

The other interesting idea that came up during this session was groupthink. This concept occurs when a group of people begin to constantly agree with each other without using critical reasoning or evaluation. This happens when the group is trying to avoid conflict thus stifling creativity and individuality. The way the presenter got around this problem was by using De Bono’s six thinking hats. This method is used to augment the conversations between group members. The way I understood it, this method frees team members to be more open and, in some instances, critical with each other. If you want to read more about this method you can go to : https://www.debonogroup.com/services/core-programs/six-thinking-hats/

Image copied from https://mgrush.com/

All of these concepts about how to approach group work were very interesting to me and I will be digging deeper and trying to find way on how to use all or some these ideas and I will be writing a post at some point about how I implemented these ideas as well as what happened  

Finally, I have to say that this symposium gave me a lot to think about as I will be reevaluating my courses for the year as well as I prepare to go back to on-campus teaching. I can’t wait to go back and explore and unpack all of this new knowledge.

Katherine

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Adapting and Reinventing Our Lives During Covid

Lately I have been thinking about the positive things that have come out of the year that will always be known as the time of Covid-19, isolation, and lockdown. It is also going to be remembered for reconnecting with the people that matter the most. This year forced us to pause and offered us an opportunity to refocus and prioritize only on what is important in our lives such as family, friends as well as taking better care of ourselves and each other and being extremely adaptable!

Because of the technological advances i.e., the internet as well as software like zoom, skype, what’s app and so many other apps, we connected with our loved ones more than we ever have been. So, the lockdown has not been so isolating as one would think. Being home gave us more time to do other things like go for a walk or video chat a friend something that is not always possible when you are working in the office with other people around you.

It also revealed to both employers and employees that work can continue from home without people losing their momentum. Partly the reason why countries did not go completely bankrupt was because with the help of the internet people could continue working from home.

For me and my colleagues this meant that courses were to be taught remotely. Faculty and administrative staff went online. Our usual department meetings were also held online. While it can be tiring being in front of a screen all day it also has its advantages.  As a faculty I am not always on campus and unfortunately, I don’t live close enough so I can pop in and out of the university to attend workshops, tentative meetings or even conferences as I have to schedule these extracurricular activities around my son’s activities. I don’t mind putting my child first, but I am also a very driven career-oriented person and I have loved being able to participate more.

Thus, as I was reflecting about how work from has changed, I realized that during the last 12 months I have attended more work meetings and workshops than I have in the last 5 years. I receive emails about all sorts of events that are online and since I am home, I log into zoom and listen in. I have never felt more connected and so well informed about work before. It has been amazing. I say this because I have taught online before and at the time the university did not have anything online expect for a small number of courses so if you did not drive to work there was no way you could be part of a meeting, workshop, or conference. During that time, I felt extremely isolated and disconnected from everything and everyone at work.

The necessity to keep things running has made people creative and resourceful. For example, this week as well as next week I am attending 3 different conferences without having to leave my home. Furthermore, since everything had to be put online, I was given the opportunity to grade writing portfolios online for a different department, which is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. It gave the chance to see what that department considers good writing for graduating university students especially since I teach in a similar department for business students. This was such an interesting experience that I would not have been able to have if the pandemic hadn’t occurred.

So, my hope for the upcoming fall semester and new school year as we gear up to return to in person learning is that the university will continue to stream in person workshops and meetings for those that cannot always make it to campus. If they continue to use tools like zoom, they will find that attendance is going to be a lot higher as more of the faculty will log in to join the conversation.

Let us continue to reinvent the world and our lives!

Katherine


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Pronto. Is it a good idea?

A little over a month ago the university informed us that we will be piloting a new tool called Pronto, which is chat tool with an app that is fully integrated into my Blackboard courses and students can send me a message straight to my cell phone.

On their website the company is calling their app a “communication hub created for the everyday user. It connects people via chat and video, so they can learn faster, work smarter, and communicate seamlessly.” https://pronto.io/

So far, I have mostly used the chat portion of the app and I am really enjoying it because I don’t need to stay in front of my computer to communicate with my students. Nor do they need to wait for me to log in so I can respond.

I believe that apps like Pronto will assist in learning becoming more mobile. When I first heard about the pilot, I knew that my students would like this tool because they are always on their phones. If they can’t do something on their phones, they feel that it is too much of an inconvenience to have to log into their online/remote course on their computers.

I like that it is connected to my courses so students don’t need a separate login and that they can either log into our course or download the app on to their phones in order to send me a text.

To be honest, I thought that I would get inundated with a lot of text messages. Overall, I haven’t felt that I got so many that I am overwhelmed, and it actually reduced the number of student emails I receive every week. I am able to quickly and efficiently respond, solve and/or troubleshoot any problem or questions the students might be facing/having.  

Initially I found that the students didn’t expect me to text them back so quickly and were a bit surprised with the quick turnaround in my responses. I also really love being so accessible and more available without having to go to my email. This way of communicating seems to be making my students happy and it makes my job easier and less stressed as I can respond no matter if I am home working or as I am waiting for my son to finish his swim practice.

Besides the real time chat Pronto offers features like video chat for one-to-one meetings or meetings up to 20 participants and with 400 observing, as well as being able to send announcements. In addition, they also offer live translation which means I can be typing in English and students can be translating what I am writing in their native languages in real time. What cool feature for ESL or EFL students.

The other feature that I just started to use this week is the group tool. It was so easy to create groups in pronto. The way I am using this tool is for a group assignment that my students are currently working on. Many of them were reflecting last week in their blogs that they are having a hard time connecting with their group members or they playing email tag with each other. I am hoping that using Pronto will help alleviate the frustration students feel when their group members are not more available and/or do not respond faster. Of course it remains to be seen how it will work and if the students will use Pronto to its full potential, but it is definitely worth trying.

Overall, Pronto has been a wonderful addition to the arsenal of online tools that the university has decided to have us try out. We are so lucky to have such an amazing, forward thinking, and innovative IT department and e-learning team.

Katherine

Katherine

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