Blackboard is the Learning Management System used at Emory University. It has many built in tools for distributing material, communication and evaluation. You can find the homepage for the system at http://it.emory.edu/learning_management and the shortcut for logging onto the system is at https://classes.emory.edu.
Emory's IT department has a page with help files for many of the aspects of Blackboard and also a page with frequently asked questions. I am using the current version of Firefox successfully. I understand that Safari and Chrome also work fine, but I have also heard that IE9 might be a bit of a problem - you may need to go into the Tools menu and select "Compatibility View". You can check your browser from the Blackboard home page to see if it is compatible.
Blackboard has a large number of capabilities to support classes, but many of these are "legacy" tools. I will only use the tools that are necessary to run the class - that has the advantage of keeping things reasonably simple. If you ever have trouble finding something, please let me know.
My design strategy for Blackboard sites is to use the Announcement tool as the entry point. There will be just notes from me about the class, and I can force the system to email really important announcements. Blackboard also allows you to check an option and have all announcements generate an email to you. In addition, there are notification features in Blackboard that work with announcements.
On the left side I will create a menu that links to everything you will need to access for the course. Nothing will be "hidden" inside a folder that you have to use multiple links to find. I will also use the built-in "Course Documents" folder to house everything for the course, but you should never need to use that.
For content and collaboration, I will use only three tools from the many available in Blackboard: Blogs, Wikis and Journals. The gradebook, My Grades, will be available for me to let you know how you are doing. I will also use the calendar to set up important due dates, so that you can have them imported into your personal calendar.
Students will not be able to create the Blackboard site, but here are some short videos on how I set things up. These are primarily for other faculty members, but this may help you to understand the structure of my approach to Blackboard.
- Site construction overview
- Create the content areas in the Course Documents folder
- Create the menu structure
Blogs are pretty common and WordPress is an excellent blog tool that is widely used. Blackboard has their own implementation of a blog tool that is similar, and I have a short video on how you can create and edit blog posts for the class.
Most blogs will be open for everyone to post to, and there will always be a question-and-answer blog. When I answer your question on the blog, you and everyone else will know the answer. If the answer to a question is is critical, I will also post an announcement.
I will sometimes create special blogs for specific purposes. If there are TAs working for the course, there will be a blog for them so that all announcements from them will be in one place. I will often also set up an introduction blog for the class, so everyone can post a short bio and picture and we can all get to know each other.
If there are study groups in the class, blogs will also exist "inside" the group - group members can blog to each other but not to the rest of the class. I will also be able to see these group blogs, so this will be an excellent way for groups to submit their assignments.
A blog ends up as a series of posts over time, each separate from the other. A wiki is a more general document with multiple pages, and Wikipedia is the most commonly known example. Blackboard has their own implementation of a wiki tool - there is a short video about working with wikis.
Some wiki sites in the class will be for me to store the material associated with the class and you will not be able to edit those pages. This will look like a document with links to files: course notes, spreadsheets, videos, etc. So instead of a list of files, I will be able to describe the various files in a document structure. Since I will have many pages available, I can organize the material into a structure so that you can find everything.
If important files are added to these wikis, I will typically add an entry in the Announcements tool.
Other wikis will be open for editing by everyone in the class. I will often use these for discussions. What will happen is that the document will expand as everyone adds their thoughts, and you can add your content at the appropriate place in the page. You will also be able to start an entirely new page. I will discuss some wiki etiquette, but a good practice is to "sign" your entries, by putting your name at the beginning, perhaps changing the font color, or by using horizontal lines to separate your content from others.
A feature of wikis is "history": as each change is made, copies of the page are made so that each version is available and can be compared to others. This will be important if something accidentally gets deleted from a page - we will be able to go back and retrieve material.
Journals are similar to blogs but are more specific to Blackboard. They are designed to allow students to create content that is shared only with the instructor.
In my classes, I will use journals to collect assignments from students and then give feedback on the assignments. For the student, posting an assignment is very similar to making a blog post, and files can be attached just like in a blog post. Everything is time stamped so assignment deadlines can be checked. Journal entries cannot be deleted, so if you post something that is incorrect, just make a new post with the corrections.
In addition to comments about your submission right in the journal, grades will also be posted to the Blackboard grade book.
If there is the need for group assignments, Blackboard supports assigning students to groups. I will make sure these are set up correctly, and what you will see at the bottom of the menu bar is "My Groups" and then the name of your group. What you will have there is a group blog and a group wiki (and many other tools if you want to use them).
These blogs and wikis are private to the group, so you can share files and create reports there. When you want to submit an assignment, just create a blog post in the group blog. I will be able to access it and provide feedback.
Other Blackboard tools
There are some other tools that are useful and might be used by other faculty:
- Tests and Surveys
- I might use a survey from time to time, but we have other tools for this. For my classes, the testing features in Blackboard are not sufficient.
- Discussion Boards
- This part of the Blackboard site is a threaded discussion list, much like you see on some financial site message boards. Some faculty will use these since the discussions are mostly text based. I will use wikis as a replacement so that we can more easily share files and pictures, as the topics we will be discussing will require more than just text.