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Tips for Communicating Effectively Using Blackboard
The announcement, discussion, and email features in Blackboard are just a few of the many tools available for faculty to communicate with students and foster collaboration during the course. What are the most efficient and effective uses of the Blackboard communication tools?
Below is a list of tips and recommended best practices for communicating with students using Blackboard. Please feel free to add your tip(s) to the list!
Compose emails in word processor and save for future reuse
Draft general email communications in a word processor and save in a folder along with other digital files used in teaching the course for reuse in future courses.
Email students from Blackboard
Sending emails to students from Blackboard will be delivered to their official university email address. Email the entire class, groups of students in the course, or select individual students. A copy of all emails sent are delivered to your email address for safekeeping outside Blackboard.
Remind students to identify themselves and the class in the body of the email
Students often forget that faculty teach more than one course at a time and potentially are receiving email from students from several different courses. Remind students to identify themselves in email messages and include the course name and/or course number in the subject of the email message.
Save a copy of Blackboard emails in a folder within GroupWise
Blackboard does not retain copies of emails sent. In order to be able to review emails previously sent, make sure to keep a copy of emails in a folder in GroupWise.
Notify students of assessment deficiencies directly from Grade Center
Available in Blackboard 8 and forward, faculty can email students directly from the Grade Center when needing to remind students of missing assignments and/or other assessment deficiencies.
Avoid using Blackboard's built-in Messages tool
Blackboard does have a built-in Messages tool, allowing for email-like communications to be sent and received within the course. In Blackboard 8, notifications of new Messages are neither obvious nor reliable. Until notifications of new messages are are improved, disable the Messages tool and use email instead.
Compose announcements in word processor and save for future reuse
Draft announcements in a word processor and save in a folder on your computer so that you can reuse in future courses.
Post important news items as announcements in Blackboard and simultaneously email to all students
The Announcement tool is ideal for facilitating communication to students about time-sensitive material such as reminders about upcoming due dates, changes in the syllabus, and corrections or clarifications of material. When needing to communicate such reminders or important news items, post as a new announcement in Blackboard and select the option to also "Email this announcement to all course users" to simultaneously send the announcement to all course users via email. To
Do not make announcements permanent so that Blackboard can organize them
The default setting when posting a new announcement in Blackboard is for announcements to not be permanent, in order that only the most current announcements (posted during the past 7 days) are featured when students access Blackboard. Do not adjust this setting, to ensure that once an announcement is over 7 days old, Blackboard will file it into an appropriate View folder. Students can continue to access these past announcements, but recent announcements are featured.
Include course links when notifying students of new course resources or assignments
If posting an announcement notifying students of availability of a new resource or assignment posted in the course, include a course link to that particular item so students can access with just 1 click when reading the announcement.
Create "HELP!" discussion forum and require students to post general questions there instead of sending via email
To reduce the amount of email from students, create a discussion forum called "HELP!" or "Questions & Answers" and instruct students to post general questions that they may have about the course to this forum. If students submit such general course questions via email, simply reply and kindly ask that they post their questions in the designated HELP! forum in the discussion board. Answering the questions in this public discussion forum allows all students in the course to benefit from the responses, eliminates the duplication of email responses, and makes it possible for students to help one another.
Enable forum subscription to "HELP!" discussion forum and subscribe to be notified via email when new questions are posted
Especially when not checking Blackboard daily, consider enabling the option to "Allow members to subscribe to forum" and "Include body of the post in the email." Then, subscribe to the forum to receive any new posts via email. This will ensure that Blackboard will send notices immediately via email when students post new questions as well as when they post responses to each other in the HELP! forum.
Create social forum for off-topic discussion
To keep topical online discussions focused, create a separate social forum for off-topic discussions and ask students to post their off-topic discussions there.
Specify due dates for required contributions
If participation in an online discussion is required, specify when initial posts are due as well as responses. For example, if a unit begins on Monday and ends the following Sunday, perhaps initial discussions are due by Thursday and midnight, with all follow-up responses due Sunday by midnight.
Include due dates for discussion contributions in forum description
If requiring student contributions to a discussion forum, include in the description due dates for initial posts and responses.
Make discussion forums available as needed rather than all at once
To reduce cognitive overload and help keep online discussions focused, make discussion forums available as needed rather than making them all available at the beginning of the course.
Reorder discussion forums in reverse chronological order to reduce scrolling
By placing the current discussion forum(s) at the top, students won't need to scroll to the bottom of the page to access the discussions, saving valuable time and making it easier for them to see which discussion(s) are the current ones.
Don't remove past discussion forums
Students may want to review past discussions as they proceed through the course. Rather than removing a discussion forum that is no longer active, simply reorder the forums so that current forums are near the top.
Login daily during the weekday to read new discussions and participate where appropriate
Rather than waiting until the end of a unit of study to read student discussions, it is often more efficient to login once per day during the week to read discussion contributions. Logging in more than once a day can be ineffective as there may not be any new contributions to read while waiting several days may result in an overwhelming number of discussion contributions to read. Also, responding where necessary within 24 hours is one way to demonstrate faculty presence in the course.
Collect threads for viewing offline
For instances when it is preferred to read student contributions to class disscussions offline, select all discussion threads in a forum and then click the Collect button to create a collection of all posts in a single page that can either be printed or copied and pasted into a Word file and saved for offline viewing.
Supplement text communications with audio
Especially in cases where the course is fully online or if meetings with students will be irregular, consider supplementing text announcements and discussion board posts with short audio recordings, perhaps as a podcast.
Create graded forums, if assigning a grade for discussion participation
In doing so, a new Grade Forum page is available that collects the forum posts for each student. Posts for a single student can be reviewed and a grade assigned directly from this page. Setting up a graded forum also automatically creates a Grade Center column for the forum. To turn on forum grading during forum set up, select the option to Grade forum and assign the appropriate number of points.
Use rubric for grading discussion contributions
The interactive rubrics tool available in Blackboard 9.1 SP6 and later allows for easy grading of a discussion using a rubric!
Use blog whenever discussion isn't structured and there is only 1 level of comments (authors maintain their individual voice)
While discussion forums in Blackboard are the traditional tool used for online asynchronous discussions, there are times a blog is a better tool than a discussion forum. In particular, if students are making individual contributions and commenting on one another's posts but not but not engaging in deep back-and-forth conversation.
Create "individual blog" when grading student posts or to sort posts by students
There are two different kinds of blogs that can be created for all course users: individual blog or class blog. Both types of blogs function similarly, with the main distinction being that in an individual blog, when a student accesses it, by default s/he sees their individual posts by default and then can click to view the posts of other students grouped together. On the contrary, in a class blog, a student by default sees all postings from all classmates together in a single list and then can choose like the individual blog to view the posts of a particular member.
Do not allow anonymous entries and comments
There is rarely ever a circumstance where allowing anonymous entries is helpful. Avoid this setting to always know who is making what contributions.
Index either monthly or weekly depending on length of course
The index you select in the blog settings will control the archive grouping of the posts to the blog. Choose the grouping that matches how you'd like to view the collections of posts.
Grade using rubric
Using the interactive rubric tool in Blackboard, create a rubric specifying how student contributions will be assessed and then attach the rubric when enabling grading of the blog. When grading a blog, instructors can easily see all posts a student made but NOT comments to others' posts. This is an important distinction to keep in mind between blogs and discussion forums when choosing which tool to use for class discussion.
Use wikis for collaborative asynchronous activities where single collective communication is to be created
While students maintain an individual "voice" when posting to a blog (as each new post to identified to a student), wiki contributions typically are part of a collective communication. All members of a wiki can edit existing pages and add new pages as well.
Include detailed instructions in "Instructions" field for how students are to contribute
Give students detailed and explicit expectations for what they are to do in the wiki.
Add more instructions in home page
Create an initial "home page" for the wiki and add more details as needed for what students are to do with the wiki. The home page is the first page the students see when accessing the wiki.
Model in a sample page what you expect
Create one or more sample pages where you model the type of content and format you expect for student contributions.
Create placeholder pages for topics or students
Structure averts choas! Consider creating an individual page for each student of the course to use as their "individual workspace" in the wiki and then have collaborative pages where students collective add their contributions.
Use journals for reflective activities
Online individual student and instructor can see new posts
Decide how frequently you will grade and create number of journal to match
Each journal will have an associated column in the Grade Center.
Give overall feedback when grading, but leave comments for individual posts
Feedback given with the score assigned when grading tends to be more prominent for the students to view. However, feel free to also give comments on individual posts students make to their journal.
Synchronous Presentations & Discussions
Offer synchronous chat option for Q&A
At times, it may be preferred to answer students questions in real time rather than through the discussion board. Offering an online office hour using either the build in chat or whiteboard tools,
, Adobe Connect, or some other synchronous tool such as Skype will further help develop a sense of faculty presence in the online course and provide students with a synchronous communication alternative to the discussion board.
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Archive synchronous sessions if possible to make available to those who can't participate live
If synchronous sessions are included, archive the sessions so that they who can't participate live during the sessions can still benefit from the information shared.
If you've shared a tip above, please add your name, institution, and email address to the list below so that we can publicly acknowledge your contribution. Thank you for sharing your tips!
Jason Rhode, Northern Illinois University,
Stephanie Richter, Northern Illinois University,
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