Ken King of CUNY was the first to joke that it took three decades for the overhead projector to find its way from the bowling alley to the classroom. His point, true until recently, was that classrooms have been technological backwaters, defined more by chalk and slate than by silicon.
In August 2000, the Provost decreed that every Princeton course should have it own web site. Until then, faculty habitually distributed their syllabi and course information on the first day of the class. Students had to travel to the reserve reading room to obtain most of their course readings.
Today, all courses at Princeton rely upon the BlackBoard CMS (Course Management system). For the students, the change is a welcome relief. Apart from the fact that they can’t now misplace their copy of the syllabus, Blackboard is a central repository for and integral component of every course. Students can read their course materials online, take part in online discussions, download a fresh syllabus, submit their work, and even take a quiz.
A number of enhancements made during the summer of 2008 have improved Blackboard’s functionality:
The Grade Center
To assist faculty administration of grades, a redesigned Grade Center has new capabilities and vast improvements over the previous Gradebook. Some of the new features or improvements include:
• Smart Views – the ability to categorize Students into groupings based on selected criteria. AIs and section instructors are now able to see only their own students;
• Inline editing – faculty can enter grades simply on the Grade Center’s spreadsheet
• Display – faculty can customize the display of the Grade Center.
• Ease of Use – A redesigned tool bar, the Action Bar, provides easier access to multiple functions;
• Reports – Faculty can create and print Reports that they can hand out to students;
• New grade calculations – Faculty can now view average and Minimum/Maximum grades, and they can create weighted grades or a grading Schema.
You can obtain more information about the Grade Center or watch a video overview.
In past years, faculty could use the Blackboard Content Collection, a central repository to store the documents that they could then place on their Blackboard course web sites. By using this content system, faculty could easily link documents to more than one Blackboards course site and more easily carry materials forward from year to year.
This year, Princeton has licensed the full, up-to-date version of Xythos on which the Blackboard Content Collection is based. This document management and collaboration solution, known now as WebSpace, has many powerful features. For example, faculty will be able share files or all kinds easily with University colleagues and others outside the Princeton community. Unlike the former Content Collection, such sharing does not require any kind of special ID or Blackboard access for outside parties.
Faculty are welcome to use WebSpace independently of Blackboard in support of collaborative research or simply as a convenient place to store key files. And of course, they can also use WebSpace as a more comprehensive replacement for the Blackboard Content Collection.
You will fine more information about WebSpace features here.
Blackboard’s Discussion Boards are an increasingly popular way to extend class discussion. Faculty can post relevant topics and permit students to enter their thoughts at any time. Students gain an opportunity to express their opinions and also to benefit from the thoughts of others.
New features in the discussion board include:
• Users can view course discussions in a Tree View that highlights titles in each discussion thread.
• Instructors can now mark discussion forums as “read” or “unread.”
• Users can now subscribe or unsubscribe to a forum.
For a visual introduction to the Discussion Board changes, you can watch a tutorial.
Web Appointment Scheduling System (WASS)
The Web Appointment Scheduling System (WASS) permits members of the University community to schedule office hour and other appointments using the Web. Although developed by the University outside of Blackboard, it is now possible to use the tool from within each course’s table of contents. Faculty, deans, and others can use WASS to create a web-based calendar on which they indicate their availability for appointments. Students and others can locate these calendars on the Web, find an available appointment time, and schedule an appointment. You may learn more about WASS here.
This new tool delivers course information and updates from Blackboard to users inside Facebook. Students who rely upon Facebook for other sources of information can now obtain new assignments, grades, and forum posts there. To add this new feature, log into Princeton’s Blackboard and select “Blackboard Sync” from the Tools module under the My Blackboard tab.
For security reasons, Princeton has opted not to display course rosters on Facebook. More information on this new application is available here.