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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In-Class, Online, Hybrid, and Remote Teaching. Which is better?

I have been teaching for about 25 years at this point and I have taught in class, online, hybrid and remote classes. At this point, I have been teaching online, in-class, and hybrid courses for over 10 years, but I hadn’t taught a remote class, however because of the pandemic and Covid-19 I had the opportunity to teach remotely for a year. This gave the opportunity to reflect and realize that I don’t actually like teaching all modes of teaching.

Until 2010 I predominately had been teaching in a classroom. From the beginning of my teaching career and until the early 2000s I didn’t know that there could be a different way of teaching, but once I began teaching at UMB I discovered online teaching, not because the university was offering online courses at the time, but there was a lot of talk about online and online education. And well, that was pretty much it.

So, I began looking around and searching the internet in order to understand what that meant and wrap my head around it. I have to admit that because online education was in its infancy there wasn’t much out there at the time. Long story short I was able to begin teaching a version of a hybrid course (which had no name at the time) in 2007 and I was the only faculty in my department to do so. I was the odd one for a while as the only NTT (Non Tenure Track Faculty) that wanted to teach using online tools. I really thought that teaching online could eventually be a big deal and I wanted to learn early so I dived in. By 2010 I was creating and teaching my first online courses and that was so much fun and exciting for me because I was able to push education and learning to a different level. It also offered a lot of flexibility as far as not having to be stuck physically in the classroom. As a result, I ended up teaching exclusively online courses for 6 years and it was an interesting time for me as it gave me the opportunity to complete a second master’s degree in Instructional Design and raise my infant son.

In 2017 I was asked to come back to the university and teach in the classroom and as much as I love teaching face-to- face I did not want to give up my online teaching practice. So, decided to go full circle and teach a course that combined both online and in-class teaching techniques and tools, i.e., a hybrid course

and that is the way I taught until March 2020 when the whole world turned upside down and the majority of educators in the US ended up teaching remotely. We all thought that this way of teaching could work but it doesn’t really work because you get on Zoom and most of the students don’t like to show up at all unless you make it part of their grade, their cameras off, they don’t participate, and I ended up trying to teach or have discussion looking at black screen with students’ names on it. This ended up being a super difficult way to teach because no one was participating, and I didn’t know if students were even listening to me. It kind of felt like when I first started teaching English as Foreign language in Greece and as I spoke my little 2nd grade students did understand what I was talking about and just stared at me. Of course, after a year of teaching remotely I have managed to teach using Zoom, but it was my least favorite way to impart knowledge.

If I had to choose my favorite way to teach is the hybrid course, were I get to see my students in class once or twice a week and then the rest of the work is completed online. I love it because it combines both my strengths, in class discussion and personal communication with my students and online which allows me to use tool like Videoscribe by Sparkol to create e-learning videos and free material for my students to practice their grammar as well as expand their knowledge so much more that I could in a traditional classroom.

Katherine

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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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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:

Bbannotatemenu.png

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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Things I like and don’t like about Blackboard?

Let me start by saying that when I first started teaching online for the university, the only LMS they offered was Blackboard and I hated it because it wasn’t as intuitive or user-friendly as Moodle. I was exposed to Moodle when I was taking courses online for the Tesol Certificate on teaching online. That was in 2005, fast forward 15 years later I have come to appreciate Blackboard as it has evolved as much as I have. The thing I like the most is the structure it offers because I have found that while teaching online, students need structure and predictability. They also don’t like spending too much time looking for things in different spots and in all sorts of different folders. If you send students on a treasure hunt looking for the homework, readings, and videos for the whole semester they become extremely frustrated and angry. This was very stressful for me and my students, so I began experimenting with all sorts of different tool that were in Blackboard and outside of Blackboard. Through my journey I discovered what tools I like on Blackboard. So, today I thought I would talk about the tools that I like and don’t like on Blackboard.

Tools I like:

  1. The “Lesson Plan” tool, as it helps create a structured course because I can keep all of the information the students need for the week in one folder. In this tool I am able to include links, assignment dropboxes, connect to a specific blog and/or discussion thread, etc.
  2. The “My Messages” is another good tool because it keeps all of the students’ messages in one place and nothing ever gets lost.
  3. The “Announcement” tool allows me to send one message to all of my students at once straight to their email which so convenient when I need to quickly respond to everyone or let them know about something that is going on without having to log out and log into another website.
  4. The “Blog”, this tool is great since it allows students to reflect on what is going on and they can also read and respond to each other.
  5. The Sign-up sheet, I use this tool to have students’ sign-up for their group assignment. The feature I like the most is that it allows students to choose the group they want to be in.
  6. The reports tool is amazing because it allows me to see where my students have gone in the course and if they did the work, they say they did. I know it sounds like big brother, but it comes in handy when you have a dispute with a student.
  7. “SafeAssign” is another great tool that Blackboard created to detect if a student has plagiarized or not. It takes out the guesswork. The other thing that is nice about this tool is that it so easy to add it to an assignment and it does the work for me.
  8. The “Survey” tool is one that I had not used a lot in the past, but it came handy this semester because my students were so used to seeing me in class and we were able to come to a decision quickly, but once we met remotely it was easier to use the survey to make decisions since it allowed students to think and vote. In many, they felt better because it gave them power in the decisions I made, and it helped them feel included like when we were in class.
  9. “Blackboard Collaborate Ultra” allows me to connect live with my students without making the student learn new anything new or login to anything to a new website. I especially like this tool because I can use it for my virtual office hours and my students can pop in and out to ask me questions.
  10. The “assignment dropbox” is another great tool because it allows me to see the student’s paper and even correct it without having to download it on my computer. I also get to see when the paper was submitted which also helps a lot when there is a dispute with a student.

Tools I don’t like:

  1. I don’t like the inline corrections of the written assignment. I love the idea of it, but it is very difficult to use. I tried it on my computer with my mouse and there is no way you can draw with it. So, then I tried using my iPad with an apple pencil and it worked but not as well as other software. It is very difficult to do inline correction on a paper with multiple errors like the writing of an ESL student.
  2. “Data Management” is a cool tool if you know how to use, but If you make a mistake with the dates, it will throw the whole course off as far as the dates go and then I will have to enter all of the dates and time manually.
  3. “Rubrics”, that tool is difficult to use well at least the way I want to use it. Personally, I like to use it so my students can peer review each other’s writing. From what my students told me they can’t access the rubric before I post their grade so I cannot use it the I want to.
  4. The “Test” tool that imports and exports a test is also a good tool but difficult and cumbersome to use.

So, there you have it. As you can see there are more things to love on Blackboard than not. What has your experience has been with Blackboard?

Katherine

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