Guest Post by Brian Nielsen, Northwestern University

It’s really exciting when you see students pitching in together to work on a class project. They’re excited, their conversation is animated, there’s joy in the sharing of the knowledge they are soaking up, and often there’s pride.  Class projects don’t always go this way, and, for the instructor, sometimes they’re risky.  If motivation wanes, if one or two students in the group don’t pull their own weight, a project can fall flat, leaving the teacher to pick up the pieces with a shrug, or maybe an extra test.  But when it works, it’s wonderful.

Here at Northwestern University we’ve seen some of those great projects, and, we think, have had a hand in making them happen through our development of a new Blackboard Building Block that we’ve called Bboogle.  We chose Bboogle as a concatenation of “Blackboard” and “Google,” a rather obvious play on the “Bb” Blackboad logo and Google Apps for Education, a service very quickly growing in popularity across the country.  We use the pronunciation “ba-boogle” to signal to others the double-B, making sure that people recognize the significance of Blackboard as a partner in bringing this software into being.  “Ba-boogle” does sound a bit funny, but the humor is meant to signify something too: the joy of helping foster collaborative learning experiences for our students.

Bboogle offers a simple means for an instructor to make links in their Blackboard course sites directly to Google Docs, Calendars, and Sites, without requiring a second login for either themselves or their students.  But, more than that, it automatically sets permissions on the Google Apps side to accommodate the instructor’s intention for collaborative editing, defaulting to allow students in the class to modify the documents and sites rather than just view them.  The result is the easy creation of opportunities for collaboration between teacher and student, and encouragement for faculty to design class activities that are deeply collaborative.

We’ve seen some really interesting class projects come out as a result of our Bboogle development, and we’re pleased that Blackboard has helped us out with a software modification that makes Bboogle much easier for other institutions to install the building block.  We maintain Bboogle as an open source project at http://projects.oscelot.org/gf/project/bboogle/, and Blackboard’s certification and central distribution of Bboogle allows us to continue development and experimentation with the software.  It’s a win-win story for both Northwestern and Blackboard, and we think adoption of Bboogle by more Blackboard customers will encourage more collaborative learning projects, benefitting teachers and students alike.

Brian Nielsen is Project Manager for Faculty Initiatives within the Academic & Research Technologies unit of Information Technology at Northwestern University. His work is primarily in faculty development, web collaboration systems, CMS, and document delivery applications. He has taught at Northwestern’s School of Communication and the University of Chicago. With a Ph.D. in library and information science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brian has published and lectured extensively on the Internet, libraries, technology, and information policy. His current interests are in service design and information literacy.

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