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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Online Group Work

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One of the biggest challenges I have faced when teaching online is getting students to work collaboratively and successfully to complete a group assignment online. Over the years I have discovered that it takes a lot of planning and thought to make sure that the students will have a positive experience. However despite all of the effort put in designing a group assignment if the students are not willing to collaborate and work together. It seems that their biggest issue is responding to each other in a timely manner. Some things I have discovered in order to make the process smoother are:

 

  1. Have clear guidelines on about the group assignment. I create assignments that are straightforward with as much information about my expectations as possible.

 

  1. Offer different types of online collaborative tools such as Google docsor Evernote Evernote
  1. Resolve any issues quickly. I let the students know that if there are any issues they need to email me or post a question in the Q&A and I try to resolve any issues within 24 hours.
  1. Keep groups small. No more than 3 students per group because if it is more or less then it can become complicated. When there are only 2 students in the group I have found that many times 1 of the student does not communicate quickly enough with their group member to complete their work and either end up doing the work at the last minute or the other student is left to write the whole assignment on his/her own which is not what I want. On the other hand, if there are 4 students in a group it is harder for the students to coordinate and collaborate with each other because there are too many emails and texts occurring to keep track. cell phone imageOn the other hand, if there are 3 students in a group things seem to work better because they are able to work better with each other. Even if one of the students does not end up participating during the group assignment there are still 2 students that can successfully complete the assignment.

 

Katherine