The Productive Scholar: Dennis Hood on New Enhancements in Blackboard

FrontPage-ppt2At the first Productive Scholar of the 2013-2014 academic year, Princeton Blackboard Learning Management Systems’ Dennis Hood gave us a guided tour of the new features of the latest upgrades in Blackboard. The current version in use by Princeton evidences a sleeker Blackboard interface with added features to the most visited and used elements of the system. Some of these are listed below in brief and then summarized in the middle section where there are also links to video overviews that will allow to follow along and see the enhancements in greater detail:

Notable areas of enhancement in Blackboard:
Navigation & Global Navigation
Content Editor, including Video Everywhere (for language instruction, etc.)
Discussion Board

Improved tools/plugin integration:
WordPress Blogs
Piazza (discussion tool)
WASS calendar (office hour scheduling)

Global Navigation
Global Navigation overlay screen

Summary of Enhancements
Navigation & Global Navigation:
The first thing you may have noticed when you login to Blackboard is this overlay screen which is meant to point out the new global navigation menu. Some faculty logging in have thought that they were blocked from Blackboard. Do not fear! Just click “Close” to clear the overlay screen.

But wait! Underneath the overlay screen Blackboard has a new look! As a reference, you the old Blackboard front page is visible underneath the Overlay screen above. At the request of students who “just want to see [their] courses” Blackboard has done away with all the previous boxes, and produced a much cleaner look that immediately opens to a listing of every course in which a student has enrolled. Current and recent courses are on the left, and past courses are on the right along with a listing of placement tests and a searchable course catalog.

Course-to-course and global navigation from the main course page.

Global Navigation: Toggle that little arrow to access the new global navigation menu, and a smaller window will reveal a menu of both your recently visited courses, and your other courses. Course-to-course navigation: Additionally, toggling a chevron on the upper left of the page accesses course-to-course navigation, allowing you to easily move between course sites without having to completely exit either one.

Blackboard’s new Content Editor with the recently added “Video Everywhere” option.

Content Editor
The new Content Editor has been receiving quiet cheers and sighs of relief during our Blackboard site visits. A major upgrade from the previous “Text Box Editor,” which allows for the addition of original content and copy-and-paste text, as well as enabling image imports and text formatting. One key new feature for language instruction and video communication is Video Everywhere. Now faculty and students can record and/or insert video (using a webcam, smartphone, or Google/YouTube account). See Blackboard’s short instructional videos, Using the Blackboard Content Editor and Blackboard Learn Quick Hit: Video Everywhere Building Block, for more details.

For the first time the Princeton Blackboard Learning Management System team is encouraging the us of Blackboard Calendar. Now you can export to Google and Outlook; schedule course events, assignments, and due dates. There’s also a consolidated, color-coded view and filtering allowing for the selective viewing of  only course level items. See the short video, Blackboard Learn Quick Hit: Calendar Feature, for more details.

Blackboard has made some important changes to Assessments, the test tool, which should help faculty with test accuracy and analysis of student performance. Here are some highlights:

  • Automatic Re-grading: Let’s say after the instructor has made a test available to their students she/he then finds there’s a problem with one of the questions. For example, when the test was set up in Blackboard, an incorrect answer was indicated in the answer key, and the correct answer needs to be re-entered; or a significant percentage of students are misunderstanding one of the questions, so it needs to be rewritten or eliminated. Now you can go into Blackboard and re-edit or remove a question, as well as change its point value. If students have already taken the test, Blackboard will regrade their submission based on the changes you’ve made. Plus, you can set up Assessments to tell you which and how many tests had to be re-graded, as well as to tell each students that his/her test has been re-graded due to these changes.
  • Fill-in-the-blank question enhancements: If the answer is “Ben Franklin” with this feature you can indicate that the answer must include “Franklin,” resulting in the acceptance of all iterations of “Benjamin Franklin” (B. Franklin, Ben Franklin, and Benjamin Franklin). Additionally, if capitalization is important, say for a German language test, it is possible to configure the test to recognize capitalization.
  • Item Analysis: Allows for the assessment of a test so you can determine the relative difficulty of different sections of a test, which can also be useful for language placement tests. For more details on Assessments and Item Analysis, watch the Blackboard short video, Using Item Analysis in Blackboard Learn.

Discussion Board
This element has been modernized (though some instructors may prefer to use the Piazza plugin). Now all posts in a thread appear on one page, and contain the users’ course and forum roles. The Content Editor is accessible from this page as well. The new “Post First” setting allows instructors to require students to post before seeing their fellow student’s responses to prompt independent critical thinking. For more details about the changes in Discussion Board, see the Blackboard short video, Blackboard Learn Quick Hit: Discussions.

Summary of Improved Tools/Plugins
WordPress and Piazza
The improved integration WordPress and Piazza with Blackboard should make both plugins easier to use for faculty and students. Recently Piazza has grown so popular among faculty that Dennis authored support documentation for Piazza’s integration with Blackboard to better facilitate its in Princeton courses (and Piazza liked Dennis’ documentation so much they asked if they could use it). Both WordPress and Piazza now offer 1-Click Integration by clicking on the respective icon in the Tools area. WordPress affords the instructor the automated setup of a private course blog, access is limited to course enrollees. If you aren’t already familiar with WordPress you may want to review some video tutorials at Princeton has a subscription to this service, so it’s free–just enter your Princeton NetID and password at the CAS portal page to access the service.

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 8.17.50 PM
WASS (Web Appointment Scheduling System)

WASS (Web Appointment Scheduling System)
WASS is an Princeton-authored tool, and it’s undergone some exciting changes! New this semester: students can now access all the calendars for all of their instructors, as well as the names of instructors without calendars (and subsequently request those instructors obtain WASS for their office hours–judging by the recent uptick in such requests by faculty). Note for instructors: you will appear as never available in WASS until you set up your office hours by making specific blocks available. These will appear as the only times students can make appointments with you. Instructors can also use the WASS calendar to ensure office hours only occur during a class meeting day, or reading period, or intersession, or any combination of those times. Thus WASS is a very useful and flexible time-saving option as it has been programmed to recall those dates, saving you the effort. Additionally, instructors with multiple courses can restrict specific office hours to a specific course.

For further assistance with Blackboard at Princeton, and employing the enhancements and tools/plugins listed above, visit the Princeton Blackboard help portal, Getting Help with Blackboard, or contact Princeton Blackboard Support via email or phone: or 609-258-0737 (9:00am – 4:30pm weekdays, 609-258-4357 outside business hours).