Online Orientation

July 28, 2008 – 1:26 pm

Addressing diverse needs through online orientation experiences

Weds. 8:30

See Handout.  They’re from Excelsior College, formerly Regents College in Albany NY.  They were an entity of the state but no longer.  They have 33,000 students but no buildings, classes, faculty offices.  The whole deal is at a distance.  They are one of the top educators of nurses, and their second large population is the military.  They use Vista but this talk has nothing to do with the platform.

They have over 250 online courses per year.  I don’t understand how 33,000 students fit into 250 courses . . .

Vista Orientation for Instructors

Vista Orientation for Students

Of course they need to do all their training online, as they do everything online.

Their challenges include a broad array of student skills, departments, and remote equipment.  This can be difficult for, say, the military.  And many of their students are non-traditional.  Finally, they start new “semesters” every month, so they have rolling enrollment and the training must be up all the time.


They address departmental differences with icons – each department has different needs, so there are separate orientations for each department.  Users just select the correct icon to get the correct department.

To address the varied technical skills issue they created a number of video demonstrations.

They address information overload by eliminating overlap between the two different orientations. I don’t see how this helps either the students or the faculty.

Because instructors are always coming in they get immediate access to VOI.  And no, I don’t understand how this strategy corresponds with the one above.

Excelsior College


The students also face many of the challenges faced by the instructors.

Of course the distance training is conducted on Bb.

They use a modular approach so students can go straight to the area in which they need help.

With a broad population of students they have tech skills modules to fit the widely ranging needs of the students.

Online course help button leads to a general help page.

*They have a Known Issues link – very important, say, for the problem with special characters in filenames, or using Word 2007.

After the initial version was out they went to both students and instructors and asked what they were having trouble with and made a second version.  This was after a few months, and then a year out they did the same thing and created a third version.

This is a real course with tests and the like – it’s not a Sandbox, it’s an Orientation Course.  This is another good idea that we might want to think of.


Visual: They find the video orientation was very useful.

Dynamic: Talk to students and instructors on a regular basis and see what are the problems that most need addressing.

Convenient:  you want the orientation to be as broadly available – and linked from everywhere.

Concise and Complete:  Both policies and practice activities.

Website =

Write them and they will give you some kind of test access: — Andrea Lala — Erin Driscoll

Online Discussions

July 28, 2008 – 1:12 pm

. . . in large, lecture only courses.

Patricia Dinneen – Inst. Designer

First let me suggest that this is the last session on the last day and there was nothing else available.

The speaker works at George Washington University in DC. They have lecture-based classes with sections. In addition to the instructor there is a grader in a class with about 120 students.

Faculties are from good schools and are accustomed to critical thinking.

Assertion: Online forums can provide most section benefits with attention to:

  • Organization of the posting
  • Good questions
  • Grading
  • Participation
  • Quality assessment
  • Feedback (teacher presence)
  • Balancing structure with flexibility

What is the value of having sections in a large lecture course? I wondered, because her description of the course didn’t allow for sections. So she got all these suggestions about what sections were good for, then I asked who was teaching the sections – she answered there are no sections. Then went on talking about sections.

Huh? And that was the murmur in the crowd. Why is she on about sections when the courses she is talking about don’t have sections? People are walking out.

Then she offers a list of the great things about distance learning. Been there, done that.

Case #1:
So they had six students per group, 20 groups (120 students). Oh, and one professor to monitor them all, one professor to mind them, one professor to bring them all in the darkness bind them. And surprise, it didn’t work. At the end of the semester she implemented an informal survey of how the course went, and only a quarter of the students responded. Yet even with this paltry population the presenter goes into the data.

Somewhere in this presentation she suggests that this is one of the most expensive schools in the nation. Maaaan, if I had a kid it wouldn’t be going to this school . . .

Case #2

  •  Groups of 15, short, guided questions.
  •  9 forums, 3 to clarify text, 6 are policy oriented
  •  The grader read the discussions and the professor “spot checked.”
  •  Participation is 25% of the grade. Grading is check, check plus.

After some time he adapted his approach:
• Post before class
• Quotes can’t be repeated (between students)
• Made posting directions more vague (I’m really not kidding here) to make students “less rule-bound.” Rules like, say, quotes can’t be repeated between students . . .

Results of case #2:

  • Students complained in both questions
  • Responses were more in depth and more creative, perhaps because the questions were more vague.
  • Good participation
  • Faculty member got good feedback from the professor

Soo –
Can online forums replace sections? Remember, they don’t want sections in order to save money. This in one of the most expensive schools in the nation — she concludes YES THEY CAN!!!!

Key factors:
Organize postings

  • Fit the number to the time period.
  • Limit weekend deadlines
  • Require references creatively
  • Encourage threading


  • Give participation enough weight
  • Consider some flexibility in assessing individual responses
  • With limited instructor participation grading becomes a source of feedback


  • Teacher presence is important, but less so than in online learning
  • Students need to see the relevance to lectures and readings

Balance Structure with flexibility

Respondus Lockdown Browser

July 28, 2008 – 1:01 pm

Shea Ramquist

The browser locks students out of browsing, copy-and-paste.  Full screen, so it can’t be minimized.  Students can’t open up any other file on their computer.  The right-click is locked down, and the control and function tools don’t work.  Screen copy is turned off.

This would work in a lab, but not when the student is at home and can get help from a friend or have another computer open.  If SRs answer is “well, at least it works in a proctored environment,” then why not save the money and just proctor the exam?!!

Instructors use remote exams because it is easier, and it isn’t distance learning if students have to come to campus for assessments!

Respondus Lockdown Browser

What if students lose their Internet?  The proctor can re-set the test with a password, or one can do a hard re-boot.

For the administrator there are control panel settings that allow customization of the system.

Honestly there are problems enough with the Bb assessment tool as it is; this product seems to me to add a layer – or more — of problems.  You think we get complaints now?  Ha.

There is a free two-month pilot.  Their website has movies and such to demonstrate the product.

Audience member asks if this will change settings on the home computer?  SR suggests that it is non-invasive. All those settings will be restored when the test is over.  Even hard-boots sometimes require bringing Lockdown back up and immediately closing it in order to re-set the settings.  Yeah – you try and explain that to all the students. Again, more problems, but now instead of just problems with the test students are going to complain that we mucked up their computers.  There might even be a liability issue.

Audience member brings up the obvious question:  how does this work when the student is at home?  SR suggests it’s best in a proctored environment.  Jiminy.  See my point above.

The other obvious point – how can the proctor password be given to the student if power goes out at home?  SR says:  send the student the password, and then change that password.  Yeah.

With all these devastating questions he cuts out the Q&A and moves on to the StudyMate Class server.  This is a very hard sell – at least half the people here were present for the StudyMate session.

Respondus StudyMate

July 22, 2008 – 12:03 pm

StudyMate: Class Server Demonstration
Shea Ramquist


Will start with a live demonstration.

“Ultimate study group,” that will allow students and faculty to create and share flash projects. Engaging and fun, he promises.

Works in the “Classic” environment. Students will see View and Edit tabs. User goes to Flash cards and can create questions and answers. And there is a Hangman option. The Challenge game is a Jeopardy! rip-off.

He suggests that creating questions/answers is both fun and educational. Sounds kind of childish really, but I’m sure Molly would use it in her classes. COE people can use it to demonstrate techniques to our Teachers of the Future!

Collaboration settings allow groups of students, the entire class, or the instructor to edit each project.

Advanced instructor options allow users to export items to the Bb grade pool, or to create downloadable XML versions.


StudyMate items can be added to classes in the same way that assignment manager can – by using the drop-down menu on the right hand toolbar of the Assignments (or whatever) tab.

Some volunteers are going to log on and create some items. I see a problem already in that the volunteers need Internet connections, and to my understanding no one does. The Bb_World tool hasn’t worked all day. As I guessed, instead of people logging on and creating the items the are calling out answers and he is entering them (which rather eludes the point of having people really get in and try it). It also drags out the process. Yaawn.

See the Respondus Website for all sorts of documentation, even some hands-on.

Also a free Beta is available – I think it works through December of this year. Even if you don’t buy the license you’ll be able to keep the lite version of the product.

Someone asked about equations, and Shea said they are looking into it, but don’t know yet.

They’ve done no studies on the subject, but they have anecdotal data. And that data is that students loved it. Loved it. Did it help them learn? We can only guess, though one audience member suggested that there have been studies indicating that games-based learning has been very effective.

Short demo – was to have lasted 50 minutes but only went for 30.

Extreme makeover

July 22, 2008 – 11:54 am

Erin —-, head of instructional design. Exemplary course design winner.

University of North FL – Jackonsonville. 16,000 students, 500+ faculty.
1200 instructors on Bb, 1900+ active users

They create Bb templates that can be used across multiple courses. Any Bb course can be used as a template for another.

They have a Bb orientation course (not unlike the last session) and uses a template for that, also for the various workshops they teach. This would be a good idea for us: create Captivate presentations for each of our most commonly offered faculty workshops. She has intro to teaching online, intro to hybrid teaching, blogs and wikis, etc.

She propagates templates via Copy Course. Can also use course creation wizard.

Three steps:

  1. Create content: Do it outside of Bb using Dreamweaver, etc. Save all associated files in a single folder.
    • Links should be relative unless you are linking to Bb content. In that case you can open the content in a different window and use copy-paste.
  2. Zip package
  3. Add item and unload.

Hint: create link roll in in order to maintain links for different sites.

So in essence this has nothing to do with making over a page, but with propagating pages across the site. A disappointing session because we already do this kind of thing. The point was interesting, but a whole session for one good tip seems like a lot . . .

Course banners: She created a course banners page that people can draw from, as some faculty didn’t use them, and others aren’t very good. She took some pix of her own and cut them. She also created some University-specific banners. Maybe we can create college- and/or department-specific banners. OK, two good ideas.Try either 450×90 or 500×100 pixels.
Course evaluations:Not valid for us because of our evaluation process.

Uses an RSS feed for her help pages.

They have a calendar of maintenance, so they can tell faculty when Bb will be down. Might be hard for us because we can’t predict when IS is going to get around to an upgrade

We really need to overhaul the support areas.

Module development

Active Learning

July 22, 2008 – 11:47 am

Wayne and Karen Jacobs
LeTourneau University

They ask us to discuss good experiences with education, and bad experiences.  Some of the good were when the instructors were involved, and bad was when they were not.

So then we play Jeopardy with some very easy questions to answer.  Answers to question.  In an event, people who answered correctly got prizes thrown to them, and there was lots of laughing and involvement.  No one slept through it.  Active learning.

The kinds of things Molly does in class are active learning – have the students hold debates, re-enact historical events and the like.  Role-playing.

Question is, how does this transfer to the online environment?  The Lincoln-Douglass debates I’ve held in class since the wagon trains rolled west have never worked online.

Start with some things that work in an in-person class:

  • One-minutes paper – self explanatory
  • Muddiest or clearest point – see above
  • Affective response – behaviors, attitudes, beliefs.  This would work well in Racism and Sexism, or Blonna’s sexual health class.
  • Daily journal
  • Reading quiz —
  • Clarification pauses – Stopping to ask if there are any questions – to see if people are not paying attention.

Affective response and clarification pauses don’t work online.  But think about using the rest.

  • One-minute papers can be done in the discussion board
  • Ditto muddy/clear.  He doesn’t do this in real time, but checks it every day.  Also these are not part of the assessment.  Someone suggests that this can be done anonymously, as some students might be afraid to admit they don’t understand something.  This is one example where the online environment offers a feature not possible in the traditional class.
  • Daily journal.  Say with journals – which he calls “blogs.”
  • Reading quiz – Real short Bb-graded quizzes

  Using questions:

How does the instructor ask questions?  The Socratic method can make some people feel uncomfortable, and it is difficult in the online environment.

Sometimes when a student answers a question he asks another student to summarize the first one – to see if they are listening.  Honestly a lot of this sounds like traditional environment stuff.  In any event, he also uses student-created questions in his courses.


  How do they act it out online?  Through the discussion board.  She says she gets more raw feelings in class because people are ruder online.  Well, that’s not how she put it, but that’s how it comes out.

She says the same thing re: debates.

See as a resource – lots of games and lesson ideas. 

Engaging learners

July 22, 2008 – 10:53 am

First guy is an instructional tech from a minute Catholic school in TX

Trainer role changes from sage on stage to ringmaster

  • Instructors share ideas
  • Peer to peer learning
  • Ask specific questions
  • One slide per question
  • Discuss and give prizes (?!)
  • Homework opportunity

Every ten minutes take a break.  (you’ve got to be kidding)

Second guy is a logistics instructor from US Army College in Fort Lee Maryland.  He is the only one who teaches totally online.

He has a targeting (as in guns) course online that sounds like an extended video game.  He gets little help from either the IS or the IRT analogues.  When other instructors run into the same barriers they come to see him.

His solution is less people (over which he had no choice) means more technology.

He bought a solution called Articulate, and used it instead of PowerPoint.

Honestly I don’t understand how or why this presentation was accepted.  They have a bunch of guys speaking to extraordinarily specific problems/solutions for a short period of time, and struggling to fit their presentation in a bag called “less is more.”

Third guy works at another religious school with an enrollment of less than 1500.

He works with modules: self-contained topics of study that provide a context for all related material, assignments, and discussions.  (Really?)

All of these people really do have to work with less/more, as they don’t have any resources. I mean, fewer resources than even the AT team.

Module 1: Intro to Bb Groups

Module 2: Lifecycle of Groups

His point is that one must think ahead and structure a course into modules that build on each other.  We suggest something of this nature in the Bb Inst., but maybe we could guild on it

Fourth guy is a girl who works as a community college somewhere in the orbit of the city of Chicago.

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. Chinese proverb

Anyway, she preaches active learning via playing.  Her icon is a sandbox.  Her faculty are enrolled as students in the training course, as are ours.  But she tells them to go out and “play.”  They participate in discussions and take tests.  And they do so playfully. She doesn’t talk about Bb itself in any detail, but gives them time to work on Bb using non-academic topics.

I have a feeling our faculty would get bored and start checking their email, shopping for shoes, editing their Facebook pages . . . leaving them off to “play” is likely not structured enough for our – or I’d think most any – faculty.

How do we want faculty to feel when they leave?  She wants them to feel happier than when they come in.  Ours slink out ASAP.

Fifth guy is an instructional tech in a tiny community college on the Mexico border in California.  They teach firefighting, law enforcement, and dental hygiene. 

His slides are very good – they are the only illustration/assertion modeled PPT,  and everyone else, including all the instructional technologists, do the statement/roster model.

Uses Tim Gunn to suggest:  Make it work!

Do flashy banners, as well as interesting faculty intros and syllabi.  Use graphics in them and the course materials.  Use graphic icons to make the web links look like, well, links.

This guy is better than the previous presenters combined.

Host your own project runway. That is, have a competition between instructors.  People like competition, games.

Have them use things like Dreamweaver and Photoshop to spice up the site.

Bb Sync

July 21, 2008 – 11:47 am

Situation for students –

A vast majority of students have Facebook accounts.  It is one of the most used apps among college students.  Unfortunately academic life is not well represented in Facebook; students see it as a social site, not an education site.

Our goal should be to connect with students in ways and places that are meaningful to them.  From the university side the means of that connection has to be secure.

Bb’s solution is Bb Sync

It is available for Bb Learning System 7 and up. Enterprise people are encouraged to use the building block.  This will all even out in NG (the new system).

It is offered at no cost.

Bb Sync Process

When student installs the Bb Facebook app it will look for the client whether it’s installed or not.


From the regular Facebook interface one can enter Sync, which has a series of tabs across the horizontal axis.  The tabs:

What’s new – just what it sounds like

Announcements – ditto above.  Note that both of this tab and the one above are actually synced to the content (except multimedia clips, which are linked).  One note:  the content is synced every hour.  One user in the audience suggests that students in his school think the time is too long.  Of course students would like to see syncing in real time, but the presenter suggested that they had to balance the needs of the student for immediacy with the capability of the system to scan and load all that data.

Forums – just shows any changes in the last week, but clicking on the changes will bring you back to the Bb case

Materials – same as Forums

Grades – grades are not being transmitted – changes are noted, as with Forums and Materials.

Course Maps – Full hierarchical map (like the one on Bb itself).  One can see the entire hierarchy of content and click on any of the content to be shunted back to Bb.

Rosters – Each Bb course has a roster.  That information is pulled into Bb synch.  Anyone in the course who has installed the Facebook app appears in the roster an can invite anyone.  It honors both the privacy settings on Bb and those on Facebook. I guess this would be the save and secure side of things.  It looks like all the roster is listed, but some users can choose to include invites, while others can opt out.

The final tab is Scholar, which is the social bookmarks feature.

If a user is at multiple Bb institutions (like many of our adjuncts) users can employ the Facebook app across campuses.  Assuming that each campus uses Bb Learning System and Bb Sync.

A student can invite other Facebook users to install the Sync app, but it doesn’t enter the other user into the class.  It’s just a means of propagating the Sync app across users.

What’s coming up?

 -NG brings all versions together.

-The same process (see the chart above) will allow users to Sync other devices.  He does not suggest which other tools are in the pipeline, but suggests that the coming Keynote will make some suggestions along that line.

n.b. – See keynote, but the other planned syncs include iPhone, myYahoo!, and iGoogle

Release 8.0

July 21, 2008 – 11:11 am

Newly designed grade center.  Jeez, we just got a new grade center, and now they want us to introduce faculty to yet a new one?!

He suggests that this grade center represents the best of WebCT and Bb.


Maximize instructor efficiency, increase flexibility, increase customization, powerful data analysis, and greater communication.

Self and Peer assessment:

Don’t we have that already?  In essence, create a rubric and have students judge themselves and each other.  Students grading students, either with names attached or anonymously.  Created originally by the University of Dundee – he stresses that this is a product created by educators.

Bb Release 8

Safe Assign – Plagiarism tool:

This tool compares assignments to various databases.  Which databases?  Are they any good?  How do they compare to the database we have now?  It works like the one we have:  looking for matches.  He suggests one advantage is that it is free, no extra cost. Hmm.


This is a Social bookmarking tool. How is this better than blogrolling from  This may be a question work asking.  Perhaps it is more collaborative than what can offer.  He suggests that it lives on beyond use of Bb (which would be one of the advantages – may be another question).


Has made workflow more useful.  We might want to ask Hilary to look at this.  Makes collaboration easier.  Enhanced Metadata.

For more information see:

Product Tours

Quick Tutorials

Rubrics & Bb

July 20, 2008 – 2:13 pm

How can I create a rubric that helps instructional designers, professors, and students?

See the handout “Let’s talk about writing learning objectives or learning outcomes.” She has an example of a learning objective, and then asks us to write our own.

The example is: Given a French sentence written in the past or present tense, the second semester student will be able to re-write the sentence in the future tense with no grammatical errors.

Mine is: Students will be able to discuss the social, economic, and political causes of the US Civil War.

She asks if the students should be able to cite examples, and I point out that I used the term “discuss” specifically because it implies that they are multiple points of view that can be considered. OK, she takes that, but then asks if I want students to be able to cite sources. I acknowledge that I assume that students will use citations, and that assumptions are the road to perdition. She picks up on that and suggests that one of our goals will be to draw out all those implied assumptions.

Some people are too general, one is far too detailed. For the most part she is teasing out means by which we can compose a single sentence that is specific and leaves no holes.

Someone stresses that it is possible to have too many expectations. There is much discussion, ranging from support of detailed expectations to the suggestion that each course should have a single sentence for the entire course.

Next exercise featured a grid of six criteria on the vertical axis and four levels of achievement across the horizontal. Then we were given 20 slips of paper with statements that fit somewhere on the grid. As a rule the polars – exemplary and “requires more work” – are fairly easy, but “good/acceptable” and “needs improvement” were very difficult. The criteria were:

Clarity of criteria: distinction between levels; readability of scoring; clarity of expectations/guidance to learners; support of metacognition/awareness of learning; engagement of learners of rubric development.

That whole thing with “engagement if learners in rubric development” strikes me as silly. The leader explained how she sat down with a class and they hammered out a rubric (18 students). But who is going to expend time that can be used for content on giving students input on the rubric? And in many cases the rubric – or at least the list of learning outcomes – is already decided.

Clear expectations can be an out for faculty who need to justify grades, someone suggests. I wonder about that; if the instructor has scholastic integrity s/he won’t have difficulty justifying the grade.

Then we did an exercise where we all did our own rubrics.
The guy from Puerto Rico shows us a rubric right on Bb. Turns out it is the Outcomes module for the Content system. We’d have to have the entire Content system to be able to do this (and we don’t).

Similarly, the session ends with a push for Vista, and the grading form that comes with it. A version of the product will appear in v9, titled NG (for Next Generation).

One nice feature of the interface are tabs for Build, Teach, and Student View. Many of our faculty have been bugging for the student view, so this would be nice.

See the Vista screen shot, perhaps a harbinger of the NG product:

Vista Rubric Interface

Not that it really matters, as we don’t have anything close to this, nor can we buy it. We have to wait until we install NG.

Bb World, 2008

July 20, 2008 – 2:01 pm

The annual Blackboard conference was held in Las Vegas during the heat of the summer: mid-July.  The temperatures combined with the rigor of the conference itself to keep me inside for the entire period.  Literally the only time I was out of the hotel/conference facility was to get back and forth the airport.  I have about a dozen posts, mostly sessions and keynotes.  Vlad “The Implorer” Pichardo also attended, and if he has any notes he’d like to share I’ll publish them as well.

Bb World, 2008

Comments are welcome.  There is nothing in this blog that could be consiered sensitive, so feel free to distribute the URL  to people who might find it useful.

Cheers, Robert

Bb Administrator

July 20, 2008 – 1:56 pm

This is my blog about administration issues for Bb.  Posts includes updates on new features, timing for new course creation, planned downtime and known problems.  Use the comments box for more information or email Robert Harris at