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Simple Thoughts for Simpler Times: ‘Think like a Student’

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By in Blackboard Learn, Content Development, Course Redesign, Distance Education, Getting Started, IMPACT, Morning Musings, Student Behavior on .

We all strive to create effective online learning content and experiences for students. Yet, when we are teaching content to students and designing our online course, it’s so easy to overwhelm students with lists and folders of materials, cross-links and multiple links, and giving them everything we ever wanted to them to know about our subject. I know I’ve been guilty of over-supplying the information and options in the past.  We just have so much we know about the subject and after all isn’t our role to teach and share what we know when we are doing instruction?

Interestingly, one of the consistent complaints we hear from students when we survey them in regard to the learning management systems, be it Blackboard or Canvas are: problems with navigation and knowing where to go first in the course, where to find something, or which links to use.

Actual student feedback comments from past surveys:

  • “Things are to scattered. Easy to loose track of where something was. Some things are everywhere you look and others are hidden.”
  • “It was hard to figure out how to submit assignments… so I would suggest making it easier and in one place. I just found it difficult the way either my teacher set it up as, or how the website was set up.”
  • “Collaborative group work was hard to manage. Not everyone knew where to look for our shared documents we were using.”

Now, various learning management tools take different approaches, some are better or cleaner than others; but we always have a certain amount of customization we can use to tailor the course how we see fit. How do we do that best?

One approach is to look at online courses you like or that are set up as “best practice” examples and borrow some ideas on course set-up. Taking part in workshops and sharing about online course design is certainly another approach.  Many of you have likely used both.

Let me offer another approach, slip on a different pair of shoes and think like a student.   You do it now without realizing it when you participant in our IMPACT course redesign program through the Blackboard content, complete an online MOOC or participant in any other online course for professional development.  I have had amusing comments from my IMPACT faculty, who sheepishly admitted they were short on time to complete their weekly online readings and activities.  One of them said he felt like one of his students must, by quickly scanning down the page to see just what he “had” to get done for the session today. So, if we are looking for shortcuts at times; what of course are the students doing? If we aren’t sure what to do first and poke around when we are in an online course for the first time; what are students doing?  The same, I would imagine. I don’t think we can write it off as students are being lazy when we are all challenged with time constraints and try to maximize our time on tasks.

While we like to give many options and much information, it’s best to help learners maximize their time on tasks too. So as you set up your entire course or a partial amount of your course online, think like a student.

Look at the course like you are viewing it for the first time.  Using the ‘student view’ options provided are useful for this as well.  Consider, is it glaringly clear where the student should start first? Is it without a doubt, clear what is required weekly and where items are found in the menu or content arrangement? Have you pared down content to focus on what the student ‘must know’ and moved additional ‘nice to know’ information into a reference area; so, they are not bogged down completing weekly tasks? How will they communicate with you and with other students? Ask a student to test drive your course and provide feedback.

To get started with assembling and arranging your content, here is a link from our ITaP Course Design Web page: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/cdm/index.html#faculty  or email our team at tlt-cdd@purdue.edu. Happy thinking!

Respondus Lockdown Browser


By and in Blackboard Learn, Musings on Technology, Tools on .

Cheating in school is a form of self-deception. We go to school to learn. We cheat ourselves when we coast on the efforts and scholarship of someone else. James E. Faust

In a recent meeting, faculty members and support consultants discussed the topic of plagiarism on examinations. As the discussion progressed, a faculty member from the mathematics department shared one of his experiences. He had given a take home examination which was mailed to students. In this particular case, some of international students enrolled in his course made a pact to cheat. Once the exam had been mailed, one of the members of this student group emailed the exam to a “math whiz” friend in their home country. The friend completed all of the problems on the exam and mailed the answers back to the group. The members of the student group “completed” and submitted their exams for grading. There was a glitch however. A disgruntled student, excluded from the group, came forward to tell of the professor of the incident. All of the students identified in this cheating incident failed the examination.

Cheating is not a new phenomenon on college campuses. Researchers have reported that a majority of college students have cheated over the course of their academic careers (Jones, Blankenship, & Hollier, 2013; Vandehey, Diekhoff, & LaBeff, 2007). When we turn our focus to cheating on examinations, we know that it is easier for faculty to monitor student behavior when they are present during the examination; watch the students, and have articulated exam policies, such as no books or notes, and observe the students. However, monitoring student behavior during an online examination is more of a challenge, due to the proximity between the faculty member and students, as well as the availability of Internet and other online resources (Jones, Blankenship, & Hollier, 2013).

Some faculty have the challenge of trying to deploy an exam in a very large lecture hall. Using paper or even Scantron answer sheets limit the test to questions and answers that can only be delivered on paper. They miss the immediate grading, question pools and multimedia questions possible when digital tools such as Blackboard are used to deploy tests.

One tool that Purdue University has implemented to curb the incidence of cheating on online examinations is Respondus Lockdown Browser (RLB). Respondus Lockdown Browser prevents students from printing, performing screen captures, or accessing web based resources when they take an exam.

Some of the benefits of Respondus Lockdown Browser include:

  • Forced Completion of Assessments:
    • Students cannot accidently (or intentionally) exit the exam.
  • Leveling the playing field:
    • By preventing students from using Internet resources and applications during the exam; ensuring that all students have an equal chance to be successful on the exam.
  • Hacker Tested
    • Respondus team continually monitors/addresses security issues as they arise.

A helpful addition some have used is Respondus LockDown Browser and Monitor. The benefits of adding the Monitor addition allow students to:

  • Test remotely while still being secure.
  • Use the computers web cam to record the student taking the test.
  •  View thumbnail shots of each student taking the test.


  • Instructors can require students present their student ID to confirm the person taking the test is the person enrolled in the course.
  •  Ask students to perform an environment test where they record the entire surrounding area.

Implementing Respondus Lockdown Browser





For more information regarding product use, training, and support, please visit Respondus LockDown Browser information page.


Jones, I.S., Blankenship, D., & Hollier, G. (2013). Am I cheating? An analysis of online students’ perceptions of their behaviors and attitudes. Psychology Research, 3(5), 261-269.

King, C., Guyette, R., Piotrowski, C. (2009). Online exams and cheating: An empirical analysis of business students’s views. Journal of Educators Online, 6(1).

Vandehey, M., Diekhoff, G., & LaBeff, E. (2007). College cheating: A twenty-year follow-up and the addition of an honor code. Journal of College Student Development, 48(4), 468-480.

Blackboard xpLor: Learning objects sharing tool


By and in Blackboard Learn on .

Blackboard xpLor is a cloud-based learning object repository (LOR) which allows instructors to create and share learning objects through the learning management system. The xpLor cloud provides permission-based access to objects that can be shared individually, institutionally or globally. A learning object is a resource, usually digital and web-based, that can be used and re-used to support learning. It might be a webpage, file, simulation, video, podcast, audio file, assessment, etc.

Content created and shared through xpLor utilizes Creative Commons licensing protecting the intellectual property of the content creator. Various levels of the Creative Commons license are available.

Overview of xpLor

How to use xpLor

In the course under “Build Content,” choose “xpLor Content.” First time users need to sign up for an xpLor account. Below is the xpLor dashboard.dashboard_dashboard


  • Discover: Browse or search content currently shared with your account in Blackboard
  • Create: Links to the create interface, with options to automatically open content editors for different resource types such as page, file, link, discussion, assignment, or quiz.
  • My Content: Links to the main search interface limited to only content created by the current user, with options to automatically switch to published or draft resources.
  • Course Content: Links to the main search interface limited to only xpLor content associated with you, with options beneath to switch to other courses (if applicable).
  • Channels: Links to the main channels search interface, with options to create a channel or switch to channels subscribed to or managed by current user.

How to Set Sharing Permissions
_permissionsettingAfter a learning object is created, in the Share With drop-down list on the right, select who to share the resource with.



  • Everyone: Any user within xpLor can add this resource to their courses and to channels.
  • Approved Users: Only specified users can add this resource to their courses and channels.  
  • No one: Restricts the use of the resource to only you, the author.

How to Add Copyright to Your Resource

Before publishing any learning objects, please add copyright. Note: Instructors can not change the copyright applied to a resource after it has been published.


  • Everyone: Any user within xpLor can add this resource to their courses and to channels.
  • Approved Users: Only specified users can add this resource to their courses and channels.  
  • No one: Restricts the use of the resource to only you, the author.

** Instructions on Creative Commons: Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that develops licenses and licensing structures for digital content, specifically open and freely distributable content. Descriptions of the types of licenses are available on the Creative Commons website http://creativecommons.org/licenses/

For more information about xpLor, please request a consultation at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu


Blackboard Official Help Site https://help.blackboard.com


Discussion Board, Blog, or Wiki… How do I choose?

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By in Blackboard Learn, Distance Education, Tools on .

A frequent question that comes up is what the difference is and how to decide which tool to use for activities in a course – discussion boards, blogs, wikis, or journals.  The tools are similar in some ways, allowing students to post text and other materials, but do operate in ways that make them more useful for some course activities than others. The following is a brief description of each and some examples of when to use each in a course.

Discussion Board

Discussion Boards

  • a communication tool that that allows individuals to collaborate with others through posting or answering questions
  • topic centered
  • frequently used as a supplement to in-class activities
  • Examples:

o  class discussion

o  class debate

o  peer review

 For more information see: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/tools/blackboard/learn_res/fac_res/boards.html



  • a web site that shares an individual’s or group’s log of events, insights or opinions; from the words web log
  • author centered
  • frequently used as a place to reflect
  • Examples:

o  course learning reflection

o  resource review

o  record of research activities

 For more information see: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/tools/blackboard/learn_res/fac_res/blogs.html



  • a web page that allows a group of users to create and modify pages easily and quickly; from the Hawaiian words Wiki wiki meaning quick
  • content/document centered
  • frequently used as a collaborative space
  • Examples:

o  group projects

o  group writing assignments

o  planning events and activities

For more information see: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/tools/blackboard/learn_res/fac_res/wikis.html


Debbie Runshe, Educational Technologist

Diagrams have been adapted and made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike Creative Commons License from Worsham, D. (2007, June 27). Blogs and discussion boards – What’s the difference? Wisconsin Union Blend. [Weblog post].