Thanks to the upgrade to Blackboard around the Fourth of July holiday, there are now a few new tools and features available in your courses. As you begin to prepare for the fall semester, I thought it would be helpful to share a little more about each one.
When you log in to Blackboard you will now notice your name in the upper right corner, as well as small number indicating notifications available for your review. Notifications like these are available for faculty and students and include a list of all courses you are enrolled in, a view of discussion posts across all courses, general updates on course activity, as well as retention center notification (which we will discuss in greater detail below) and calendar items across all courses. The notifications area also provides a quick way to navigate from one course to another within the system. Another new feature available through the My Blackboard Notifications area is the ability to add a photo to your Blackboard profile. The profile picture next to your name in the upper right corner is nice, but the real benefit of this feature is that the photo will also be visible through interactions within a course. For example, when a student authors a blog post, discussion board message or a journal entry, you will not only see their name, but their profile photo will be visible as well next to their message. Especially for courses that spend a significant amount of time communicating within Blackboard, this provides a personal touch to the course that was not previously possible.
New Content Editor
The new content editor is an improvement over the previous content editor and will perform much better with the copy and pasting of text from outside sources, like Microsoft Word documents. You will see in the image below all of the same functionality is available in the new editor so hopefully this change won’t be too significant for most, but might relieve a few formatting headaches that we have had in the past.
As mentioned above, the calendar will appear as one of the options in the My Blackboard Notifications area. The new calendar view will now display calendar events across all courses and each item will be color-coded based on the course with which it is associated. This view of the calendar is extremely helpful for students who want a single place to view the deadlines in all of their courses at one time and any possible overlaps. The overall look of the calendar is now similar to the look and feel of other modern calendar tools and includes many common features that you are probably used to already, like viewing the calendar by day, week or month and the ability to drag and drop items from one day to another. Faculty and students can also add personal items to their Blackboard calendar that are not associated with any specific course, but private to the individual. It is also now possible to import the Blackboard calendar into other outside calendar tools like Gmail or Outlook if desired.
Improved Discussion Features
In general the discussions tool will look the same as previous versions, but a few new features really change the flow of conversations that are possible. The most significant improvement is that all posts within a discussion thread now appear on one single page. This makes it much easier to read a conversation without having to go back and forth between pages for each message that you are trying to read. As well, it is now even easier to reply to a message of another class member and the message can be written directly in-line with the conversation. Another new feature in the discussion area is the ability to restrict student access to discussion responses from their peers until they have already posted an original response of their own. This feature will cut down on the issue of students only replying to the comments of their classmates instead of posting their own responses to the question directly. The usability enhancements and new features in the discussion tool will make a real difference in courses that rely heavily on the discussion tool for course communication, especially online and hybrid courses where instructors and students spend a significant amount of time within this area of the course.
New Assignment In-line Grading
If you use Blackboard for the electronic submission and grading of student work in your courses, this is the feature where you will most likely notice the biggest difference. Blackboard has incorporated totally new functionality within the Assignment tool. The creation of a Blackboard Assignment is the same and is still done from within a content area of your course. However, once students begin to submit their work and you visit the Grade Center to review it, you will quickly notice the changes. All documents submitted by students will be immediately available for viewing from the View Attempt window directly in the browser without downloading the files to your own computer. Comments and annotations to the student’s work can also be done directly on this screen. This method of providing feedback to students on their written work is an alternative to using the track changes functionality available within Microsoft Word. However the track changes method is still available for those that prefer that process. Both the original student submission and the document including annotations can be downloaded to your own computer for archiving. This new functionality should make the process of grading and providing feedback on student papers faster since you will no longer need to download and upload documents for each student.
The new Retention Center features are an improvement to what was previously available in the early warning system within Blackboard and is available under Evaluation in the Control Panel of every course (shown to the right). The Retention Center is only available to instructors and allows for the identification and communication with students who may need further assistance in the course. A number of rules are added by default to identify at risk students, including students who have not accessed the course for at least five days, students whose overall course grade is at least 25% below the class average, students who have missed assignment deadlines and students who are at least 20% less active overall in the course than their peers. These rules are completely customizable and additional rules may also be added.
Click here for the BB_WhatsNew PDF, a short summary handout on all of the new features.
Please remember to visit the Educational Technology website for more information on Blackboard, including documentation and tutorials for faculty and students, as well as a list of upcoming events and workshops. Also, I am always available for 1-1 training sessions on any specific tool in Blackboard you would like to learn more about.
Best of luck with your fall semester classes!