Posts Tagged ‘Blackboard’

How to organize your gradebook in Blackboard 9.1

These slides are from a workshop that I have facilitated numerous times. The workshop is popular because Blackboard’s Grade Center options can be overwhelming for faculty as they attempt to set up a gradebook for the first time. The options can be confusing, especially when dealing with questions about the use of categories, weighting, and extra credit.

This workshop provides a strategy instructors can follow to set up their gradebook so that it aligns with their assessment strategy. One missing feature in Blackboard’s Grade Center is the ability to “fill down” when all or most students receive the same grade for an activity.  I include three bonus slides at the end of the workshop that explain how to overcome this issue by exporting the grades from Blackboard, “filling down” in Excel, and then importing the updated gradebook back into Blackboard.

I would love to learn your tips for helping faculty become more proficient in their use of Blackboard’s Grade Center.  Also, if you use another LMS, how does your LMS deal with issues such as “filling down”, weighting, and extra credit?

Can using a tool like Google+ lead to the death of the LMS?

August 26, 2012 7 comments

This summer I have enjoyed using Google+ in place of Blackboard‘s Discussion tool in two courses that I am teaching.  Students were able to interact with each other, chat with participants in another course, and even learn with real-world education experts like +Holly Rae Bemis-Schurtz and +Larry Ferlazzo. An LMS (e.g. Blackboard) “protects” students by letting them only interact with those who are taking the same course.

I relied on Google+ to communicate with students so much that I failed to notice when links to my Blackboard courses were accidentally deleted one morning due to a system error. I only found out when a student reported that she could not submit homework because the course was gone from her Blackboard listing. Would my students have even missed Blackboard had it not been for the fact that they needed to post links to their work in the gradebook?  (Don’t worry, the IT folks were able to bring back my courses so my students were able to finish uploading their assignments.)

For years, +Steve Wheeler+Graham Attwell, and others have discussed the death of the LMS, or as they call it in Europe, the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). They see the LMS as top-down structure that stifles student and faculty creativity, and when the course is over everything is gone, including the community. In its place, they advocate for a Personal Learning Environment (PLE), where students control the digital learning tools they use. In a PLE, students control their own content and can continue to learn with their professor and peers even after the course is over.

Up until now I would have argued that many professors and students are not ready for PLEs. Instructors would struggle to keep up with the tools advanced students choose to use.  Novice students would struggle to find ways to collaboratively construct knowledge with their technically advanced peers. However with Google+, I saw all students share articles, videos, docs, and their blog posts… pretty much anything they wanted from whatever tool they used to create it. Students gave each other feedback, and drew others into conversations, all without any coaching or training from me.

There is still plenty of room for improvement, such as an easy way to reference a previous post and a good home for static content. And oh yes, and we can not forget to include a secure place to access grades. As a professor, I think I could give up a lot of autonomy to students if we just agreed to collaborate using Google+. Heck, I might not need Blackboard at all. What do you think?

Satisfied with the Basics: 2012 Faculty Evaluation of Blackboard

April 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Satisfied with the Basics: 2012 Faculty Evaluation of Blackboard

Seattle Pacific University 

Janiess Sallee
Assistant Director
Instructional Technology Services 

David Wicks
Assistant Professor, Director
Instructional Technology Services 

Seattle Pacific University has used Blackboard as its Learning Management System (LMS) since 1999.    Technology has since rapidly developed and transformed the way in which we learn and teach.  That being the case, Instructional Technology Services (ITS) surveyed full-time and adjunct faculty during February 2012 to assess the needs of faculty and their satisfaction with Blackboard (v. 9.1.6) to help address the following questions:

  • Is Blackboard meeting current instructional needs?
  • Are there areas for improvement within Blackboard that we can pass on to the company?
  • Are there areas in which additional faculty training is needed?

Of the 91 faculty who completed the survey, 85 (93%) are using Blackboard. 70 faculty indicated that they are using Blackboard in the following ways:

  • 96% use Blackboard with their traditional face-to-face courses.
  • 33% use Blackboard with their blended learning courses. Blended learning is a style of teaching that combines “thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 148) which should result in a reduction of face-to-face class time.
  • 13% teach fully-online courses on Blackboard.
  • 4% use Blackboard for general departmental purposes and not for teaching a specific course.

The 6 (7%) faculty who took the survey but are not using Blackboard indicated they are primarily using email as a tool for communicating with students.

Overall, the majority of faculty (74%) who use Blackboard and took the survey were extremely satisfied (12%) or satisfied (62%) with Blackboard.  The remaining 26%  indicated neutrality (20%) or dissatisfaction (6%), and no one was extremely dissatisfied with Blackboard.

Faculty appreciate being able to share content, communicate and collaborate with students, and calculate grades on Blackboard. One faculty member writes, “I use Blackboard extensively in all of my classes.  I like that I can post assignments, due dates, announcements, and create wikis for my students to collaborate with me and with each other.” Another shares, “Setting up course ‘shells’ has allowed me to increase collaboration among students who attend at different regional sites.”  Faculty also appreciate some of the newest Blackboard tools: “Grading online is easier now with the ‘Needs Grading’ feature.”

Satisfaction with indivual tools witihin Blackboard is difficult to quantify because many of the features are not being used. The majority of professors are primarily using Blackboard to 1) post course content, 2) calculate grades, and 3) communicate with students via the Announcements tool.  Advanced features such as rubrics, wikis, and blogs are not widely used.

This raises some questions:

  • Are faculty aware of the advanced features?
  • Do they simply need training on how to use the advanced features?
  • Do they even have a need for the advanced features?
  • Are the tools currently available within Blackboard user-friendly or are they too complex and thereby detering faculty from using them?
  • Instead of focusing on adding more advanced features to its system, should Blackboard work on enhancing existing features?

Further research is needed to determine the answers to these questions.

Despite the expressed overall satisfaction in using Blackboard, some faculty are frustrated with the Blackboard user interface: “It is awkward, not user-friendly, and not intuitive.  Many common processes should be done with a single click, but are not.”  In Blackboard’s effort to add new features, faculty share that Blackboard has made processes more complex and time consuming: “…they haven’t seemed to streamline the process for already existing options; at least, not in a noticeable way.”  For example, the Announcements tool used to allow an instructor to simply type a message and click submit to post it.  Now, faculty are forced to choose between “Select Date Restrictions” or “Not Date Restricted” before clicking Submit.  In short, more clicks have been added to what should have remained a simple process.

On a larger scale, Blackboard continues to make small changes on how menus are laid out requiring faculty to relearn how to navigate their course sites and thereby generating some frustration.  Faculty also express dissatisfaction with the basic processes of making a course or item within a course available; they would like to accomplish these tasks with a simple click of a button.  They would also like to edit a document directly within Blackboard rather than have to download the item, modify it, and upload it again; they would prefer something more akin to working with a Google document.  Blackboard does offer this feature in a more expensive version of the program. A workaround may be to link to cloud-based documents that can be altered locally.

The greatest dissatisfaction expressed by faculty was with Blackboard’s Grade Center: “Setting up Gradebook is too laborious & time-consuming.”  Another participant writes, “Weighted grading in Blackboard is clunky and hard to figure out.”  Others share that the number of clicks it takes to access assignments and download or upload grades is cumbersome.  Faculty would like the Grade Center to function more like Microsoft Excel or Google Docs Spreadsheets where there is more flexibility in freezing panes and filling down scores.  Faculty would also like the option to return an assignment via the Grade Center even if it was not originally submitted that way.

ITS will share this valuable feedback with Blackboard, alerting them to the needs of faculty.  ITS will also look to better educate professors on available tools and how those tools may be utilized to enhance instruction.

Faculty indicated that they would like specific training on how to use the following tools in or with Blackboard:

ITS has created a number of online tutorials and has hosted several workshops on these topics and will continue to expand and improve their documentation, workshops, and just-in-time training.  ITS will also continue to explore technologies that are user-friendly and cost effective to improve the teaching and learning experience for both faculty and students.

Thank you to all of the professors who took time to provide feedback for this report.


Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education : framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Satisfied with the Basics: 2012 Faculty Evaluation of Blackboard (PDF)

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Snow Day Instructional Technology Resources

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

A few years ago Seattle Pacific University’s Dean’s Cabinet asked me to put together a list of eLearning tools that faculty can use if classes are cancelled due to inclement weather. Today’s snowy weather along with a prompting from my boss encouraged me to share an updated version with SPU faculty.

Instructional Technology Services provides training and support for all tools mentioned below. Our website includes a list of recent workshops. SPU Faculty: If you have questions about a particular tool and can’t reach me, there is probably a professor in your school who has experience.


ITS also provides instructional graphics, scanning, and digital audio/video services. While I don’t like the idea of  having an emergency situation that forces professors to use these tools, I do like the raised awareness of our digital services and tools.  Maybe, just maybe, some new professors will consider using these tools and techniques for their everyday instruction.

Six Questions About Using Rubrics for Assessment in Blackboard

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

In this screencast, David Wicks addresses six questions faculty may have about using the Rubric feature in Blackboard 9.1.

The Questions:
How should I prepare to create a rubric in Blackboard?
How do I enter a rubric in Blackboard?
How do I edit the Rubric Grid?
How do I associate a rubric with an assessment?
How do I grade with rubrics?
How do I view a Rubric Evaluation Report?

Six Questions about Rubrics in Blackboard 9.1 (PDF)

If you want to learn more about rubrics please see watch an associated video on this topic by Professor David Denton:

Instructional technology, then, now, and in the future

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a presentation I gave at the 2011 Seattle Pacific University Faculty Retreat. During the presentation I facilitated a discussion on the successes and challenges we faced in instructional technology ten years ago. We compared that with where we are today, and where we appear to be going in the near future. Retreat organizers asked presenters to tie in the events of 9/11 as it occurred during the 2001 Faculty Retreat. I did that by showing how the 9/11 page on Wikipedia (started in 2001) has changed over the years.  I also referenced the Internet Archive Blog which is featuring a 9/11 tribute.

View more presentations from David Wicks

Blackboard + Sprint ≠ True Love

August 31, 2011 6 comments

Image by Dominic Williamson

Blackboard plus Sprint does not equal true love.  A recent article in the Chronicle about Sprint’s lawsuit against Blackboard reminded me of a conversation I had with my Blackboard rep during the Spring.  I told him I was tired of seeing Blackboard promote partner “deals” that aren’t addressing the real challenges of online learning (e.g. collaboration and assessment).  To his credit, he listened and put me in touch with the Blackboard Idea Exchange, a stealthy group at Blackboard that focuses on making the core product better. My first impression of the BIE is positive but I still think Blackboard places too much emphasis on marketing partnerships with other companies that add little value to online learning. Let me explain what I mean by this.

Before the Sprint deal, Blackboard promoted an offer with NBC News where customers received free content, but it was only a sample and schools had to pay handsomely if they wanted true Bb-NBC integration. Before that it was “free” lecture capture with Echo360 which was only a free trial and the actual storage and scaling came with a cost.  In each case, Bb charged their “partner” to be featured. In return, the partner agreed to give a product or service away, which gave them an opportunity to be introduced to existing Blackboard customers.  While there is nothing illegal or immoral about this, Blackboard promoted these relationships as product enhancements instead of the third-party trials. Both could be true but they need to make it very clear that these enhancements won’t benefit all without an additional cost.  Take Blackboard Mobile Learn for example.  It is promoted as a mobile app that gives faculty and students access to their courses on a variety of mobile devices.  However, many schools including my own,  failed to fully understand the limitations caused by the Blackboard/Sprint relationship, even after reading the promotional web page. Personally, I thought the app would work for any device on wifi and only Sprint devices over 3G/4G networks.

The Blackboard/Sprint partnership makes little sense for anyone. While Blackboard Mobile Learn is  a good first attempt, it is still a half-baked native app with limited features. Faculty and students who use Bb for more than just a document repository find  the course website to be more useful than the app, and they don’t have to worry about it being blocked because they are using the “wrong” mobile carrier.  Sprint should have known better than to think they would gain an advantage by purchasing rights that prevented their competitors’ devices from working with Mobile Learn.  People hate having their mobile services blocked, just ask the BART Authorities. Instead of switching mobile carriers, the educational community is more likely to become frustrated with those responsible for preventing access.

You may be asking yourself, if this is true, why haven’t we heard more complaining from educators and students about limited access to Bb Mobile Learn? Thank Blackboard for insisting that under this deal, Mobile Learn would be allowed to work on iOS devices using WiFi. Sprint should be thankful that this is the case. Otherwise, no one other than Sprint customers would have been able to try Mobile Learn, and those using other phone carriers may have complained about this app being withheld from them.  Instead, iOs users have been able to download Bb Mobile Learn, try it, figure out that it is currently lame (see user ratings) and forget about it because it is a free app. No harm, no foul.

Given the amount of money that Sprint is suppose to pay Blackboard, it is clear that Blackboard continues to offer these third-party “enhancements” for financial reasons.  However, with the current publicity from the Sprint lawsuit, I don’t think that this practice can continue for much longer.  This may be considered bad news for Blackboard’s new owner as it appears that one profitable part of Blackboard is not sustainable. Hopefully under this new ownership, Blackboard will learn a lesson and  sharpen its focus on true innovation that enhances teaching and learning such as better ways to collaborate or give students feedback. Maybe they will give higher priority to the work of the Blackboard Idea Exchange. Otherwise, those of us who have been loyal customers may begin looking for a new LMS partner.

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