A blog for faculty, developers and system administrators focusing on the latest Blackboard Learn technical and commercial partner news. We’ll share documentation and information on web services and APIs along with Blackboard Partner updates and technologies.
Guest post by Dr. Deborah Everhart, Chief Architect in Product Management, Blackboard Learn and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Georgetown University.
As a Director in the Exemplary Course Program, I have the privilege and pleasure of reviewing dozens of course submissions each spring. Every year the Directors see course innovations that we’ve never seen before, and I’m personally gratified to see how faculty and instructional designers are using Blackboard Learn in ways that effectively address the needs of students. It expands my understanding of how we can continue to evolve our products, as well as giving me best practice ideas for my own course!
Delving a little deeper into the ECP experience, I interviewed Leslie Koberna from Texas Woman’s University, one of the 2011 ECP winners. When I asked her what makes her Oral Radiology course exemplary, she described her methodology for getting students engaged during the first week of the course. They are expected to complete activities that acclimate them to the course and familiarize them with the course materials and objectives. For example, they take a practice quiz based on the syllabus, which not only demonstrates that they’ve read and understand the syllabus, but also introduces them to the structure of Blackboard quizzes that they will be taking throughout the semester. Leslie makes sure every student is engaged from the very beginning, greatly improving their opportunities for success in the course.
A “Course Tour” guides students through the structure of the course and explains how “all assignments are designed around the module objectives to help you learn and apply the material.” Each topic includes both textual and video materials to help the students learn the material from different perspectives. Such a well-organized course makes even a challenging topic like oral radiology approachable.
As the person who helps manage our upgrade resources and change management programs, I am pleased to say that in the past year, we experienced the largest migration of clients moving from older platforms to the latest version of Blackboard’s learning management system. Over 2,000 institutions are now using or in the process of moving to Blackboard Learn™, Release 9.1. They are enjoying the benefits of improved workflow efficiencies for instructors and administrators as well as digital content integrations.
There are a few recent decisions that I want to take a moment to highlight. Both the State University of New York (SUNY) and Idaho State Board of Education recently selected Blackboard as a technology partner for online learning. This represents a trend in more decisions being made at the state-wide or system-wide levels.
I’ve been using course management software for a long time. As early as 1994, I was involved in a project called “The Virtual Classroom” at the University of Connecticut, trying to figure out how to supplement the course experience with online components. Our tools were Gopher, NCSA Mosaic, and a small web server. At the time, most students had to visit the library or a computer lab to even get online. I later started using WebCT at the University of Denver in 1997 and soon joined the company as an employee in 1999. I may have left teaching, but educational technology has been my profession and passion ever since.
My career has given me the opportunity to work with lots of educational software over the years, and in my role in Product Marketing here at Blackboard, I am closely involved with the evolution of the Blackboard Learn Platform. So it is with great anticipation that I look forward to my first peek at a working build of each new release. The excitement of seeing named features in working code for the first time remains a true joy of this job, but with Service Pack 8 I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew we were updating the user interface and continuing to improve core workflows, but the actual working product was beyond my expectations. I knew then that this was more than your average service pack.
I enjoyed working in the new software so much that I decided to do a product launch video for it. This would be too much fun to outsource. I dove into our demo course and recorded my actions with screen capture software. It didn’t take me long to figure it all out. Everything is still just where you expect it to be, but the user interface is so much cleaner that it truly feels new. Edit controls just get out of your way when you don’t need them, workflow improvements make it easy to hop from one course to another, and it all just looks so good. Speaking of looking good, there are over fifty course themes that you can apply to personalize your course or make it match your subject.
The more I used it, the more I loved it, and I couldn’t wait for the day when we could release it to all of you. Well, that day is here and I hope you will take this opportunity to try SP8 for yourselves. You can see more in the video below and you can learn more about the release at http://blackboardlearn.com/new where you can also sign up for webinars and upgrade cohorts. I’m confident that SP8 will save you time, make you more efficient, and make your time spent in Blackboard Learn more enjoyable.
While you are at it, take a look at how you, our clients, influenced this release with the Client Impact Report.
I hope you enjoy working with Service Pack 8 for Blackboard Learn as much as I do.
Guest Post by Dr. Shirley Waterhouse, Senior Director of the Office of Academic Excellence and Innovation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
January is the time of the year when we all seem to do some reflecting. As a director in the Exemplary Course Program (ECP), I look forward to this time of the year because I have the opportunity to begin the review of course submissions. I also take time to reflect on the progress of the ECP program and the yearly advancements in e-learning pedagogy throughout the academy that are demonstrated in the course submissions.
To go a step further in reflection this year, I recently interviewed several of the 2011 ECP winners to ask them to reflect on the process of submitting their courses. All of them commented on how valuable it was to receive input from peers at other institutions, and they all indicated that the recognition they received was very nice too. When I asked Lorna Kearns, an instructional designer with the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education at the University of Pittsburgh, about her experience with the ECP program and their winning course, Organization and Management Theory, she indicated that the self-review process was the most valuable component of the program for her and her colleagues. “Going through the self-evaluation process revealed insights not only about the course I submitted but also about other courses for which I provide instructional design support. Working with two of my colleagues as course reviewers offered additional opportunities for understanding what constitutes effective online course design.”
Maisie Caines, a Blackboard Exemplary Course Director and Faculty Development Specialist at College of the North Atlantic, recently spent time chatting with Teri Herron of Delta State University. Teri received the 2011 Exemplary Course Program Award for her Music in American Culture online course. So, how does a classically trained opera singer and music historian design and deliver an exemplary online course? According to Teri, it was a “completely wild ride.”
According to Teri: “We need projects that push us out of our comfort zones, because that’s what I’m asking my students to do every time they enroll in any of my classes.” When Teri approached Dr. Susan Hines, Director of Instructional Technologies at Delta State, about designing an online course, she asked for no forgiveness. “I want you to be really hard on me.,” Teri said, “I would rather work diligently one time and then have something upon which multiple layers can be built. You know, build a really solid foundation into which you can add or subtract content, add or subtract media, fuss a little bit with your learning modules… but have something really, really good, structurally sound…something that a student climbs into and thinks, WOW!, this person really cared when they put this together for me.”