Some Best Practices
Best Practices on Blackboard
A course structure that is simple, well organized and allows for student participation through various activities is likely to succeed. Here are some best practices for creating a successful course on Blackboard.
- Simplicity. Use a simple and clear layout to help students find the resources and materials easily. Label files with meaningful names that identify the materials. Don't use unusual characters in titles, or there may be some instability experienced with the software.
- Organization. Organize your course in a logical manner. Consider modular organization such as by topic, week-by-week or grouping similar content together (e.g., readings grouped together in one folder).
- Participation. Student participation in course activities keeps them engaged throughout the term. Create forums for discussions between instructor and students or amongst students themselves using the Discussion Board tool. Use the Tests, Surveys and Pools tool to gauge student's understanding of topics with brief quizzes that are not used for grades, but can help them identify their weaknesses by showing them correct answers. Consider collecting formative feedback throughout the course by using the Surveys tool available through the Tests, Surveys and Pools tool and creating forms that can collect text responses.
Instructors are encouraged to upload course materials for students to view and download. At the very minimum, instructors should place the course outline within their Syllabus Content ARea. The following guidelines should be applied when posting content:
- Be mindful of copyright. Bill C-11, brought into force on November 7, 2012, broadens the scope of the fair dealing exception to specifically include education, in addition to research, private study, criticism and review. Fair dealing for the purposes of education does not currently require attribution of the source and author. Please become familiar with the conditions surrounding the Fair Dealing Exception and the latest copyright information which is available on the Leddy Library site: http://leddy.uwindsor.ca/copyright. To secure copyright clearance of materials use the Library’s copyright clearance services (http://leddy.uwindsor.ca/leddy-library-copyright-clearance-service).
- Consider using more than one file type for a document, including PDF, HTML, and RTF files instead of using only Microsoft Office documents (.docx, pptx, etc). This ensures that students can view the documents properly, minimizes the file size and makes them available on multiple platforms while providing options for those who need assistive technology to access files.
- Organize similar materials together. This will help not only students, but you and your TAs or GAs to locate information quickly.
- Pay attention to file sizes. Large files (10 MB or more) can be problematic for some students to download and can slow down the overall Blackboard system for other users. Downloads may “time-out” when large. Some tools will restrict large files from being uploaded. Consider using uView (http://www.uwindsor.ca/uview) for uploading and streaming videos (that you have permission to share with your class) or linking to other sources of the file rather than uploading directly to your site.
Communicating with Students
Blackboard provides several ways for instructors to communicate with their students.
- Email. Instructors must use a UWindsor email address to communicate private information to students (grade information, accommodations, etc). Using non-UWindsor email (i.e. Gmail, Yahoo, Rogers, etc.) is not recommended even for non-private correspondence. Encourage your students to contact you using the Email tool. Consider the purpose of your message before emailing all students in a class. Sending Announcements or Emails should be used judiciously, as students will start to disregard emails if overused. If the message is of low importance and urgency, consider placing the message in a Discussion post or as an Announcement with no notifications selected.
- Discussion Boards. A forum should be organized and structured to allow students to follow conversations. Using weekly topics can help minimize message creep and close discussion topics to new postings when the conversation comes to an end. Build an FAQ section. When a student emails you a question, the answer to which may benefit other students, then place the question and your response in the discussion board. Identify whether it will be you or your teaching assistant(s) that will monitor the discussion board to help ensure a safe and respectful learning environment.
A resource to help you decide which tool might serve you best is found from the Magna Publications Teaching and Learning Selecting the Appropriate Communication Tools article.
In an online learning environment, the best solution is to use a combination of communication tools. For example, to relay important or time-sensitive news, use email and announcements. To emphasize the main teaching points, create discussion threads for students to consider and deliberate.
Regardless of the communication tool, please try to remember the following general guidelines.
- Facilitate, do not dominate, discussions. Be the online ninja! Know when to jump, and when to hide.
- Define for your students when proper English is expected and when it may be less formal. For example, an online chat office hours session may not be as strict with communications as you might expect with an online forum. Ensure you model appropriate behaviour and communications yourself!
- Ask open-ended questions that promote critical thinking. Avoid questions that will result in a "yes" or "no" answer, or if one student answers correctly, the rest of the students have nothing left to add.
- Ask participants to share responsibility for advancing discussions. Give them a model response to work from demonstrating what you are expecting from them.
- Encourage participants to give constructive feedback to one another. Provide them with some good examples of constructive feedback. There are many sources online to refer to.
- Be clear about your expectations on student participation and how you will evaluate them. For example, in the instructions, list the required number of posts to a discussion board forum. Also, make sure your expectations are realistic with regards to learning hours. While it may only take you a few minutes to comment on a posting, often students have to research their responses longer or have to translate from their first language to English which will take longer. Know your audience.
- Inform students which communication tools will be used and where to locate them. Sometimes screenshots can help them locate various features within the tools they need to use.
- Define different types of behaviours and responses in the various contexts students may encounter. For example, define graded versus ungraded activities or formal versus informal language. Consider a mutually developed code of conduct and make sure that is visible in the course site.
- Provide a calendar or schedule of communication activities so students can prepare to participate.
- Identify the minimum number of times students must log in to your course, and the number of hours students need to spend completing course activities and communicating with their classmates.
- Be available and responsive to your students on a regular basis. Inform them how long it will take you to respond to email questions or comment on journal and blog entries. Try to log in if you are an online instructor, at least every 24-48 hours to see what is waiting for you.
- Establish an environment of respect and acceptance for all participants. Discuss the rules for online etiquette—often called netiquette—to avoid potential problems.
- If possible, you can also use traditional methods of communication, such as the telephone, fax, or the postal system. Although these require additional cost and coordination, you can use them as an effective way of communicating with students in online courses. Sometimes, a phone call to each student during the term is a good way to establish rapport.
The Blackboard Grade Centre is the only secure way of releasing course grades to students, so they can view only their individual results of the assessment using their Blackboard access.
Tentative final grades can be then transferred from the Grade Centre to UWinsite Student. Remember to finalize your grades within UWinsite Student, otherwise, grades are considered as being in Draft mode and won't be processed.
Final grades are then released to UWinsite Student only after decisions for grades have been finalized by Deans or Department Heads. Note: UWinsite Student is the official site for showing final grades, not Blackboard.
Grading Participation: An Alternative to Talking for Points
In an article by Maryellen Weimer, PhD, author for Faculty Focus from Magna Publications, Grading Participation: An Alternative to Talking for Points, Dr. Weimer discusses an alternative way for students to think about what participation means in the classroom. She raises issues for students to think about such as, "At the end of the course, how will you know if your skills (regarding participation) have improved?" "How could participation be improved in this class?" "Should teachers call on students if they haven't volunteered? Explain why." There are several more question prompts for students discussed in the piece.
Dr. Weimer's article discusses how using a written assignment for participation to make students aware of classroom interaction and their contributions to it specifically, may provide more insight for students about "talking for points" vs. "making points" that you might find interesting and applicable in your own courses.
More of Dr. Weimer's articles for Faculty Focus can be found at her Author Archives.