This summer I have enjoyed using Google+ in place of Blackboard‘s Discussion tool in two courses that I am teaching. Students were able to interact with each other, chat with participants in another course, and even learn with real-world education experts like +Holly Rae Bemis-Schurtz and +Larry Ferlazzo. An LMS (e.g. Blackboard) “protects” students by letting them only interact with those who are taking the same course.
I relied on Google+ to communicate with students so much that I failed to notice when links to my Blackboard courses were accidentally deleted one morning due to a system error. I only found out when a student reported that she could not submit homework because the course was gone from her Blackboard listing. Would my students have even missed Blackboard had it not been for the fact that they needed to post links to their work in the gradebook? (Don’t worry, the IT folks were able to bring back my courses so my students were able to finish uploading their assignments.)
For years, +Steve Wheeler, +Graham Attwell, and others have discussed the death of the LMS, or as they call it in Europe, the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). They see the LMS as top-down structure that stifles student and faculty creativity, and when the course is over everything is gone, including the community. In its place, they advocate for a Personal Learning Environment (PLE), where students control the digital learning tools they use. In a PLE, students control their own content and can continue to learn with their professor and peers even after the course is over.
Up until now I would have argued that many professors and students are not ready for PLEs. Instructors would struggle to keep up with the tools advanced students choose to use. Novice students would struggle to find ways to collaboratively construct knowledge with their technically advanced peers. However with Google+, I saw all students share articles, videos, docs, and their blog posts… pretty much anything they wanted from whatever tool they used to create it. Students gave each other feedback, and drew others into conversations, all without any coaching or training from me.
There is still plenty of room for improvement, such as an easy way to reference a previous post and a good home for static content. And oh yes, and we can not forget to include a secure place to access grades. As a professor, I think I could give up a lot of autonomy to students if we just agreed to collaborate using Google+. Heck, I might not need Blackboard at all. What do you think?
Satisfied with the Basics: 2012 Faculty Evaluation of Blackboard
Seattle Pacific University
Instructional Technology Services
Assistant Professor, Director
Instructional Technology Services
Seattle Pacific University has used Blackboard as its Learning Management System (LMS) since 1999. Technology has since rapidly developed and transformed the way in which we learn and teach. That being the case, Instructional Technology Services (ITS) surveyed full-time and adjunct faculty during February 2012 to assess the needs of faculty and their satisfaction with Blackboard (v. 9.1.6) to help address the following questions:
- Is Blackboard meeting current instructional needs?
- Are there areas for improvement within Blackboard that we can pass on to the company?
- Are there areas in which additional faculty training is needed?
Of the 91 faculty who completed the survey, 85 (93%) are using Blackboard. 70 faculty indicated that they are using Blackboard in the following ways:
- 96% use Blackboard with their traditional face-to-face courses.
- 33% use Blackboard with their blended learning courses. Blended learning is a style of teaching that combines “thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 148) which should result in a reduction of face-to-face class time.
- 13% teach fully-online courses on Blackboard.
- 4% use Blackboard for general departmental purposes and not for teaching a specific course.
The 6 (7%) faculty who took the survey but are not using Blackboard indicated they are primarily using email as a tool for communicating with students.
Overall, the majority of faculty (74%) who use Blackboard and took the survey were extremely satisfied (12%) or satisfied (62%) with Blackboard. The remaining 26% indicated neutrality (20%) or dissatisfaction (6%), and no one was extremely dissatisfied with Blackboard.
Faculty appreciate being able to share content, communicate and collaborate with students, and calculate grades on Blackboard. One faculty member writes, “I use Blackboard extensively in all of my classes. I like that I can post assignments, due dates, announcements, and create wikis for my students to collaborate with me and with each other.” Another shares, “Setting up course ‘shells’ has allowed me to increase collaboration among students who attend at different regional sites.” Faculty also appreciate some of the newest Blackboard tools: “Grading online is easier now with the ‘Needs Grading’ feature.”
Satisfaction with indivual tools witihin Blackboard is difficult to quantify because many of the features are not being used. The majority of professors are primarily using Blackboard to 1) post course content, 2) calculate grades, and 3) communicate with students via the Announcements tool. Advanced features such as rubrics, wikis, and blogs are not widely used.
This raises some questions:
- Are faculty aware of the advanced features?
- Do they simply need training on how to use the advanced features?
- Do they even have a need for the advanced features?
- Are the tools currently available within Blackboard user-friendly or are they too complex and thereby detering faculty from using them?
- Instead of focusing on adding more advanced features to its system, should Blackboard work on enhancing existing features?
Further research is needed to determine the answers to these questions.
Despite the expressed overall satisfaction in using Blackboard, some faculty are frustrated with the Blackboard user interface: “It is awkward, not user-friendly, and not intuitive. Many common processes should be done with a single click, but are not.” In Blackboard’s effort to add new features, faculty share that Blackboard has made processes more complex and time consuming: “…they haven’t seemed to streamline the process for already existing options; at least, not in a noticeable way.” For example, the Announcements tool used to allow an instructor to simply type a message and click submit to post it. Now, faculty are forced to choose between “Select Date Restrictions” or “Not Date Restricted” before clicking Submit. In short, more clicks have been added to what should have remained a simple process.
On a larger scale, Blackboard continues to make small changes on how menus are laid out requiring faculty to relearn how to navigate their course sites and thereby generating some frustration. Faculty also express dissatisfaction with the basic processes of making a course or item within a course available; they would like to accomplish these tasks with a simple click of a button. They would also like to edit a document directly within Blackboard rather than have to download the item, modify it, and upload it again; they would prefer something more akin to working with a Google document. Blackboard does offer this feature in a more expensive version of the program. A workaround may be to link to cloud-based documents that can be altered locally.
The greatest dissatisfaction expressed by faculty was with Blackboard’s Grade Center: “Setting up Gradebook is too laborious & time-consuming.” Another participant writes, “Weighted grading in Blackboard is clunky and hard to figure out.” Others share that the number of clicks it takes to access assignments and download or upload grades is cumbersome. Faculty would like the Grade Center to function more like Microsoft Excel or Google Docs Spreadsheets where there is more flexibility in freezing panes and filling down scores. Faculty would also like the option to return an assignment via the Grade Center even if it was not originally submitted that way.
ITS will share this valuable feedback with Blackboard, alerting them to the needs of faculty. ITS will also look to better educate professors on available tools and how those tools may be utilized to enhance instruction.
Faculty indicated that they would like specific training on how to use the following tools in or with Blackboard:
- Discussion Boards
- Journals, Blogs, and Wikis
- Tests and Surveys
- Grade Center
- Adobe Connect
- Incorporating Videos
ITS has created a number of online tutorials and has hosted several workshops on these topics and will continue to expand and improve their documentation, workshops, and just-in-time training. ITS will also continue to explore technologies that are user-friendly and cost effective to improve the teaching and learning experience for both faculty and students.
Thank you to all of the professors who took time to provide feedback for this report.
Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education : framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Satisfied with the Basics: 2012 Faculty Evaluation of Blackboard by Sallee, Janiess & Wicks, David is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at davidwicks.org.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://davidwicks.org/about/.
Each school year predictably begins with Seattle Pacific University professors asking me one of two questions:
- What new technologies are you examining? Or,
- How do you keep up with all the changes?
Professors who ask the first question usually follow up with a statement about how fun my job must be to be able to spend all day “playing” with technology. Professors who ask the second question usually follow up with a statement about how they were just getting use to the last round of changes and they have no idea how I can keep track of all the updates. I enjoy the challenge of helping both groups as they seek be successful in their use of instructional technology.
According to Smaldino (p. 1-2), instructional technology is the “integration of teacher and student use and knowledge of tools and techniques to improve student learning.” This definition encourages me to develop better workshops and one-to-one trainings and to continually search for new tools and techniques that can enhance learning.
So, what new technologies are we looking at this fall? Here is a quick table:
|eBeam||Mobile interactive whiteboard tool that allows professors to take the “Smartboard” with them to class.|
|StagePresence||LectureCapture tool that increases social presence by capturing presenter as part of the presentation. Presenter uses gestures to control presentation.|
|Edmodo||Private Facebook-like social networking tool used primarily by K-12 schools to communicate with students and parents.|
|CourseSites.com||Free learning management system (LMS) from Blackboard that allows professors/teachers to have up to 5 free online courses using the latest version of Blackboard Learn.|
|Instructure||New LMS that integrates Web 2.0 tools such as Google Docs and Twitter.|
|NookStudy||Electronic Textbook Reader that works on Mac and PC. Limited integration with Blackboard.|
|iOS 5 and Various iPad Apps including: Fuse, ScreenChomp, VoiceThread||New iPhone, iPad operating system has great features that eliminate need for home button. Fuse is for capturing video, ScreenChomp is a whiteboarding tool and VoiceThread is a reflection/asynchronous discussion tool.|
How do I keep up with all the changes? First and most importantly, I have excellent colleagues in Instructional Technology Services (ITS) who are dedicated to providing great services for faculty. Janiess Sallee, Dominic Williamson, and David Rither do such great work managing their projects that I rarely have to deal with workflow issues that may consume other managers’ days. We also have a great student staff who willingly learn new technologies and are able to explain the costs and benefits to us from a learner’s perspective. Second, I have a great personal learning network (PLN) of colleagues around the world through my relationships with MacLearning.org, MERLOT, Sloan-C, NWACC, and educators I interact with on Twitter. Finally, I have been encouraged to teach courses in the School of Education, which allows me to see first hand what works for those on the bleeding edge as well as those who want to apply instructional technology in a more conventional manner.
I consider it a joy and a privilege to serve the faculty and students of Seattle Pacific University. My department wants to help professors be successful with instructional technology, regardless of their skill level. And yes, it is fun to get to “play” with technology all day.
Smaldino, S. E., Lowther, D. L., & Russell, J. D. (2011).Instructional technology and media for learning. Boston, Mass: Allyn & Bacon.
Blackboard plus Sprint does not equal true love. A recent article in the Chronicle about Sprint’s lawsuit against Blackboard reminded me of a conversation I had with my Blackboard rep during the Spring. I told him I was tired of seeing Blackboard promote partner “deals” that aren’t addressing the real challenges of online learning (e.g. collaboration and assessment). To his credit, he listened and put me in touch with the Blackboard Idea Exchange, a stealthy group at Blackboard that focuses on making the core product better. My first impression of the BIE is positive but I still think Blackboard places too much emphasis on marketing partnerships with other companies that add little value to online learning. Let me explain what I mean by this.
Before the Sprint deal, Blackboard promoted an offer with NBC News where customers received free content, but it was only a sample and schools had to pay handsomely if they wanted true Bb-NBC integration. Before that it was “free” lecture capture with Echo360 which was only a free trial and the actual storage and scaling came with a cost. In each case, Bb charged their “partner” to be featured. In return, the partner agreed to give a product or service away, which gave them an opportunity to be introduced to existing Blackboard customers. While there is nothing illegal or immoral about this, Blackboard promoted these relationships as product enhancements instead of the third-party trials. Both could be true but they need to make it very clear that these enhancements won’t benefit all without an additional cost. Take Blackboard Mobile Learn for example. It is promoted as a mobile app that gives faculty and students access to their courses on a variety of mobile devices. However, many schools including my own, failed to fully understand the limitations caused by the Blackboard/Sprint relationship, even after reading the promotional web page. Personally, I thought the app would work for any device on wifi and only Sprint devices over 3G/4G networks.
The Blackboard/Sprint partnership makes little sense for anyone. While Blackboard Mobile Learn is a good first attempt, it is still a half-baked native app with limited features. Faculty and students who use Bb for more than just a document repository find the course website to be more useful than the app, and they don’t have to worry about it being blocked because they are using the “wrong” mobile carrier. Sprint should have known better than to think they would gain an advantage by purchasing rights that prevented their competitors’ devices from working with Mobile Learn. People hate having their mobile services blocked, just ask the BART Authorities. Instead of switching mobile carriers, the educational community is more likely to become frustrated with those responsible for preventing access.
You may be asking yourself, if this is true, why haven’t we heard more complaining from educators and students about limited access to Bb Mobile Learn? Thank Blackboard for insisting that under this deal, Mobile Learn would be allowed to work on iOS devices using WiFi. Sprint should be thankful that this is the case. Otherwise, no one other than Sprint customers would have been able to try Mobile Learn, and those using other phone carriers may have complained about this app being withheld from them. Instead, iOs users have been able to download Bb Mobile Learn, try it, figure out that it is currently lame (see user ratings) and forget about it because it is a free app. No harm, no foul.
Given the amount of money that Sprint is suppose to pay Blackboard, it is clear that Blackboard continues to offer these third-party “enhancements” for financial reasons. However, with the current publicity from the Sprint lawsuit, I don’t think that this practice can continue for much longer. This may be considered bad news for Blackboard’s new owner as it appears that one profitable part of Blackboard is not sustainable. Hopefully under this new ownership, Blackboard will learn a lesson and sharpen its focus on true innovation that enhances teaching and learning such as better ways to collaborate or give students feedback. Maybe they will give higher priority to the work of the Blackboard Idea Exchange. Otherwise, those of us who have been loyal customers may begin looking for a new LMS partner.
In a recent post I wrote about eBooks being one of six emerging educational technologies to keep an eye on in the near future. Continuing with that theme, I would like to share about the current status of mobile learning or m-learning in higher education and at Seattle Pacific University. The 2011 Horizon Report predicted that mobile learning will move towards mainstream adoption during the 2011-12 academic year.
In this post, I will:
- Define mobile learning.
- Describe how it can be used in higher education learning.
- Share examples of how Seattle Pacific University professors are using m-learning with their students.
- Share an upcoming opportunity for SPU faculty to discover more about how mobile learning can be used with their students.
What is mobile learning?
Mobile Learning or m-learning definitions fall into one of two camps, tech-centric or learner-centric. Traxler (2005, p. 262) defined m-learning as “any educational provision where the sole or dominant technologies are handheld or palmtop devices.” This definition clearly focuses on the technology being used rather than the learning that takes place. Learner-centric definitions emphasize the location of the learner –anywhere, and the timing of the learning activity –anytime (O’Malley et al., 2003). I choose the second definition to stay centered on learning and keep “the tail from wagging the dog.”
How is mobile learning being used in higher education?
Quinn (2011) shares Four C’s of Mobile that can help educators stay focused on appropriate uses of this educational technology. First, mobile devices can be a great way to access learning Content. Students can watch videos, listen to lectures, and even read articles or books on their mobile devices. SPU’s iTunes U site was recently optimized for iPhone and iPad use. Second, mobile devices are great tools for Capturing content. Students can use their phones to take pictures, as well as record audio and video, all which can be used to document evidence of their knowledge and skills in a course. Third, students can use mobile devices to Calculate. Instead of purchasing and lugging around a separate calculator, students can buy a scientific calculator app for less than a dollar that is available wherever they carry their smart phone. Great computational apps like Wolfram Alpha can be useful for finding and sharing statistical data during classroom discussions. Fourth, mobile devices can be used to Communicate with others. Students can send emails, texts, and use voice and video technologies to interact with their peers and professors. The Four C’s promote anywhere, anytime learning, allowing students to engage in learning activities in places where they might not be carrying their textbook or have access to a computer.
How is m-learning being used at SPU?
Seattle Pacific University professors are experimenting with mobile technologies in both face-to-face and virtual settings. One example is from Assistant Professor of Economics, Geri Mason, who has students answer a higher-level question at the beginning of a class using cell phones as a personal response devices or clickers. She uses PollEverywhere to survey students, having them text answers to an online database where they display on the projector screen as they are submitted. Once all students have participated, she has them break into small groups and discuss their answers. When finished, she calls on students to defend a position from one of the responses. Professor Mason also uses this technology for short quizzes, taking attendance, and gathering feedback on data collection assignments. She has harnessed what many would consider to be a disruptive technology and uses it for active learning.
Education Professor Andrew Lumpe has recently experimented with Blackboard Mobile Learn on his iPad. Blackboard Mobile Learn is a native mobile app version of Blackboard available on Apple mobile devices, as well as Android, Blackberrry, and WebOS (formerly Palm) smart phones. He has used it to participate in discussions with students in an online graduate course. Professor Lumpe gives the app mixed reviews for now. He likes how easy it is to navigate around the course on the iPad. He also likes how discussion forums are graphically represented. However, he does not like that the Control Panel is unavailable to make changes to the course and wishes there was a feature to receive notifications when new discussion posts are made. For now professors and students may prefer to use the browser version of Blackboard on their mobile devices.
Are you interested in learning more about m-learning?
Instructional Technology Services will be hosting a workshop on mobile learning on June 15, 2011 at 2 PM in the Library Instructional Lab. Professor Mason will share about her experiences with PollEverywhere and I will share highlights from an invited presentation I recently gave in Syracuse, New York at the SUNY Online Learning Summit.
Photo Credit: Dominic Williamson, Senior Graphic Artist, Instructional Technology Services
- How to set up and organize teams in Bb.
- Options for using wikis within/outside of Blackboard.
- How to use a specific collaborative tool (EtherPad).
- What browser should I be using?
- What happened to the Control Panel?
- How can I see the course as students see it?
- How do I copy content from an existing course?
- How do I modify the navigation menu?
- Why do all announcements seem to be permanent announcements?
- Compared with Blackboard 8, how many clicks will I save when I upload a document?
- How do I see a roster of my students?
- How do I modify the window so I can see more content and fewer navigation options?
- How do I create areas for group projects?
- How do I create signup lists for student projects?
- How do I make my course available to students?