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New Features in Blackboard Learn Service Pack 11

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By in Blackboard Learn on .

Purdue will upgrade to Blackboard Learn Service Pack 11 during the 2013 Summer Session. With this upgrade to Service Pack 11 will come several notable changes that faculty will see as they use Learn. While the look and feel of Blackboard will not change dramatically, several new features will be introduced to enhance the use of Learn.

New Visual Text Box Editor
Blackboard has revamped the Visual Text Box Editor to add some new features and to allow for easier formatting of information.

New Visual Text Box Editor

There are several new options within the editor:
Preview:  The Preview button Preview Button is not a new feature, but it is relocated to the upper right hand corner of the menu.  Clicking the Preview button will allow you to see what you have entered in the text editor in a pop-up window. This tool can help you determine if any additional formatting work is needed.
Full Screen: The Full Screen button Full screen button, also located in the upper right and corner of the text editor, will open your text editor to the whole screen, removing the restrictions on the size of the text editor in Blackboard. To return to the normal view, click the Full Screen button again.

Record from Webcam:  Blackboard has introduced it’s Video Everywhere service. which will allow for the integration of user-created videos (via an attached webcam) within the text box. When clicked, this button Record from webcam icon will allow instructors to record a video with their webcam and save it to YouTube, where the video will be saved as a non-searchable video and will then be entered similar as a YouTube mashup video in the text box.
Emoticons: The Emoticon button will allow instructors and students to include small images that will indicate the “mood” the student or instructor was in when writing the text of the message – whether happy, sad, or even sarcastic! This can help instructor and students read postings (like discussions) with the appropriate context.

Paste from Word: There is no longer a separate “Paste from Word” mashup within the text editor. Instead. Blackboard has improved the ability for content from Microsoft Word to be directly pasted from Word into its text editor, by removing unnecessary formatting information and converting it from the XML language used by Office to HTML.

Item Analysis
Blackboard has added item analysis for assessment questions. Instructors can use the item analysis tool to help determine if there were questions within the exam that may have been problematic for students.

Item Analysis

The Item Analysis tool provide exam statistics, including questions it finds within its analysis that are “easy”, “medium”, or “hard”, and provide statistics on individual questions to back up its analysis. Discrimination on questions is available after several students complete the assessment. The analysis can be run at any time the assessment is available.

Discussion Forums – Force Students to Create Initial Thread
For courses that use discussion forums, a new setting on discussions will prohibit students from viewing discussion forums without contributing a post! Instructors can now require students to add a new thread to a discussion forum before the student can read any of the posts within the forum. This can help ensure students’ posts are unique and are not influenced by other posts within the forum.

Set options to force initial thread in a discussion board

Blackboard has greatly improved its Calendar feature. Now, the Blackboard Calendar will show assignments and events in all classes. All instructors need to do is ensure they include a Due Date on assignments and assessments to have those items appear on the calendar. Instructors can also add other class items to course calendars, and students can add items such as study group meetings and organization meetings to their portion of the calendar.

Bb Learn Calendar

By default, all events from all courses will display. Previously, the calendar was restricted to individual courses within Learn.

This is the first post going over some of the new features in Learn. More information about these exciting improvements to Learn will be posted in the next several weeks!

For more information about the new features in Blackboard Learn, or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at tlt-consulting@lists.purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist


Add Headings to Word Documents in Your Blackboard Course

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By in Accessibility, Blackboard Learn on .

Documents you put into Blackboard, and other web pages, must be accessible to people with disabilities. There are simple techniques you can use to improve the accessibility of documents as they are created. This article will show you how to easily add structural headings in Microsoft Word for Windows 2007 and 2010.

Why are structural headings important?

They are probably the most important accessibility improvement to make in a Word document. Headings provide organization to the document, and they are retained when exported to other formats.


When a sighted person wants to “skim” a document to find specific information, she will most often look for any organizational structure (headings) that the document contains. By reading the headings, the portion of the document containing pertinent information is quickly and easily found.

A person with a visual impairment is able to skim an electronic document in a similar way, using screen reader technology. To do this, the document must be created with structural headings. In Word, one uses heading levels in Styles to provide this structure.

Export to other formats

A Word document that includes proper heading structure will retain that structure when exported to PDF or HTML. In both cases, the resulting document is more easily used by individuals who use screen reader technology.

How do I create structural headings?

Avoid simply enlarging the font size and bolding the text. When accomplished in this way, the document still has no structure that can be detected by a screen reader. The proper way to create a structured document in Word is to use Styles.

Word 2007

Styles are found prominently on the Home ribbon. Select the text that you want to be identified as Heading 1. Click on the Heading 1 option in the ribbon’s gallery of styles. For more details, press the F1 key for Word help and search for “headings”. Then open “Style basics in Word”.

Word 2010

Styles are found on the Home ribbon. Select the text that you want to be identified as Heading 1. Click on the Heading 1 option in the ribbon’s gallery of styles. For more details, press the F1 key for Word help and search for “headings”.  Then open “Add a heading”. A video showing how to apply styles is at: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/videos/redir/va101820568.aspx.

Heading 1 Style selected on Home ribbon






Documents you put into Blackboard have to be accessible to people with disabilities. Adding structural headings to your Word document makes it much more accessible. Use the techniques described above to easily add structural headings in Word.

Additional Resource

Visit WebAIM’s excellent page on creating accessible Word documents.


Writer: Dean Brusnighan, ITaP Assistive Technology Specialist

Considerations of Accepting Homework in Blackboard

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By in Blackboard Learn, Content Development, Tools on .

If you’re considering accepting homework via Blackboard Learn, this can be a benefit to both you and and your students.  You can reduce the amount of paper that you need to work with by accepting your assignments electronically, and your students can simply submit their homework to you when they’re finished and not have to worry about printing their work out.  You can also have full control of assignment submissions by turning off availability of the assignment to students when you choose.  However, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you choose to accept homework via Blackboard.

•Specify file format(s) you will accept as homework
Students for the most part may have programs like Microsoft Word where they can create their homework submission.  However, there may be students who choose to use alternative programs such as Apple’s iWork, OpenOffice, or Google Docs.  To avoid incompatibility with the programs you may have available, it is recommended that you clearly specify the file formats that are acceptable.  If you intend to make comments within the students’ homework submissions, you’ll need to make sure students submit work in a format you can open and edit (which may eliminate PDF as an acceptable format).

Most students will have access to Microsoft software, and the older Word format (.doc) should be accessible by most word processors.  Rich text format (.rtf) is available in most word processors and should be a permissible format for students who do not have Microsoft products.  If you specify word processed documents to be submitted in .doc or .rtf format, all students should be able to comply with this requirement.

•Do not use special characters in the name of your homework assignment
Blackboard Learn gives you the option to download all student assignment submissions at one time by clicking on the options menu button for the column in the Grade Center for the assignment.However, special characters in the name of your assignment can cause an error if you try to download all student files at one time.  Special characters include symbols such as:  @, $, %, &, and #.  It is advised to only use alphanumeric characters when entering the name of your assignment.

•Include specific instructions and files for your assignment within Blackboard
Including instructions for your assignment can help to reinforce the expectations that you have for your students’ work.  Instructions can be added to your assignment both as text within the assignment or attached as a separate document (or documents if necessary).  You can also attach special files (such as worksheets, document templates, etc) to the assignment as well.

To include instructions as text within your assignment, type your instructions into the  ”Instructions” text box.  If you have a separate file with the instructions of the assignment, or a file students must download to complete the assignment, in Assignment Files click “Browse My Computer” and upload the file(s) the students need from your computer.

•Control Student Access and Submissions to the Assignment
In Blackboard you can control student access and submissions to the assignment.  When setting up the assignment you will have options that you can specify for the availability and number of times a student can submit their assignment

In the Number of Attempts option, you can decide if a student can submit an assignment once, as many times as they want, or a number you set.  If you allow a single attempt, the student can only upload their assignment once.  In the other options, the student can upload their homework more than once and Blackboard retains all student submissions.

In the Limit Availability option, you can make the assignment available during a specific period of time.  You may elect to display the assignment for only a one week period, or allow students to access the assignment from the first day of the class until the day the assignment is due.  You can set a Display After date, a Display Until date, or both.  If you will accept student homework submissions up until the time your class starts on a specific date, you can set the Display Until date to that date and time.  After that date and time, the assignment will no longer display in the Content area to the student.

•What Students Should Do When Submitting Assignments
Students should take some responsibility in ensuring that their assignments upload correctly to Blackboard.  Students should do the following before submitting their work to Blackboard:

-Save the File.  Students should save their file in the file format specified one more time to ensure any changes they have made at the last minute are retained.

-Close the File.  If the file is open when being uploaded to Blackboard, the file may be corrupted.  This will prevent the file being opened correctly but it may not be apparent that the file is corrupted until it is opened for grading.

After the file is uploaded to Blackboard, the students should verify the file uploaded correctly.  Students will see a receipt screen stating the file was uploaded after they submit their work.  On that screen will be included a link to their file in Blackboard; students should click the link to see if the file opens correctly.  If the file opens successfully for the student, it should open for instructors as well.

•Provide an Alternative Submission Method if Homework Upload Fails
If a student attempts to submit their homework and their upload fails, giving a secondary option is recommended.  That could include sending the file by email, via FileLocker, or another means.  You can also clear a students’ homework attempt in Blackboard, or provide an additional submission attempt within the View Grade Details for that student’s upload.

•Using SafeAssign
SafeAssign is an option you can use if you want to add a plagiarism check to a student’s homework submission.  There are several limitations to SafeAssign though that a standard Assignment does not have.  First, in SafeAssign you cannot upload files for students to download; you can only include text instructions.  Also, SafeAssign only allows one student file to be uploaded where a standard assignment can allow students to upload 2, 3, or more files.

Using Blackboard to accept student homework submissions can reduce the amount of paper you have to handle and allow students to submit work when they complete the homework when they finish it – whether it be 3:00 in the afternoon or 3:00 in the morning.  It is important to keep the considerations above in mind though when using Blackboard to accept work from your students.  If you have questions about utilizing assignments in Blackboard, please contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

Taking Care When Setting Up Your Class in Blackboard Learn

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By in Blackboard Learn, Content Development on .

For faculty who are utilizing Blackboard Learn to either supplement an existing face-to-face class or who teach a class entirely online, one aspect that is easy to overlook is the look and feel of the class.  For faculty using Learn, not only should care be taken to determine what content will be made available to students, but also with how the material is presented.

Strange and Banning (2001) note, “It is clear that the campus physical environment is an important feature that influences students’ attraction to and satisfaction with a particular institution” (p. 12).  A lot of attention is paid to how a campus appears physically.  Should not the same care be shown when putting together a course in the campus’ virtual learning environment?

Course Site Aesthetics

When a course site is created in Blackboard, it is loaded with a default Purdue University template.  Changes can be made to the look of individual course sites by using course themes and altering the look of the course menu.Customization menu in Blackboard Learn

The look of courses in Blackboard Learn may be altered by going to the Control Panel within a course site, then clicking on Customization.  Within the menu, clicking Teaching Style will display the course theme options and the menu options.

There are a number of course theme options available for selection.  The theme to an instructor’s favorite color, or it may be changed to match the season, or to a theme appropriate for the course’s area – there are themes for specific fields of study that may be applied.  Course themes may also be changed in the upper right hand corner of the Learn screen by clicking on the palette icon. Learn Palette icon

Course Theme Examples (click thumbnail for full view):

Night Theme

Chalkboard Theme

Vista Theme

Biology Theme

The menu can also be altered.  The default plain text may be altered to change the text color or the background, or the menu may be changed from plain text to buttons.

Select Menu Style













Within the Teaching Style area of the Customization menu, under part 3, “Select Menu Style”,  the menu can be altered.  With the text style menu, the background and/or text color can be changed to a preferred look.  Alternatively, if buttons is selected as the menu style, a plain or textured button may be selected, and Blackboard Learn will present options that can be selected..

Course banners may also be added within Learn.  Course banners are images that will appear on the entry page to courses, and can be created with common image editors like Photoshop, Paint, GIMP, or PaintShop.  However, banners can also be created with Microsoft PowerPoint.

Course banners should be 8 inches wide by 1 inch high (768 pixels by 96 pixels). With PowerPoint, banners can be created by selecting Page Setup from the Design ribbon, then selecting “Banner” under the Slides Sized For: option menu.  An example of a banner created with PowerPoint is below:

example of Blackboard Learn Banner




Course banners should be saved as .jpg, .gif, or .png files.  To upload a course banner, within the Teaching Style area of the Customization menu, under part 6, “Select Banner”, click the “Browse My Computer” button to locate the file for upload to Blackboard Learn.

Upload Banner







The uploaded banner will only appear on the entry page of the course.  The benefit of a course banner is that it is able to present an attractive verification of what class the student is accessing.

Alterations in how a course is displayed can help a faculty member make a course more inviting to students and also show a bit of the personality of the faculty member, especially if the course is completely delivered online.

Logical Placement of Course Information

In Purdue’s installation of Blackboard Learn, by default there is a “Course Content” link on the menu of each course.  Faculty who are placing documents, videos, and other materials within the course can utilize this single area.

Within the Content Area, content folders can be added to allow faculty to separate content being used for specific weeks or learning units and place them into appropriately labeled folders.  This will allow students to quickly access and find the materials they need to complete assignments or to read or view materials that will reinforce what they learned in lecture.  Using learning modules can also accomplish this task.

Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) cited research that pointed out that student performance in courses where instruction was highly organized performed better than their counterparts in courses where organization was low.  While this study was focused on lecture, for faculty teaching courses completely online or utilizing tools like Blackboard Learn to blend technology into their course, organization of course material logically for students to easily access and use within Blackboard should be considered carefully.

Additional content areas can be added to your Blackboard Learn menu to help with placement of content or exercises within Blackboard.  Some faculty members elect to create a separate content area for quizzes and exams.  Other faculty may create content areas for resources that students will need access to that may not be directly related to the course content but will assist students, such as links to the library, writing center, or other campus academic resources.

Grouping content together can allow students to find what they need on a Blackboard Learn site quickly and efficiently.  This can build student traffic to Learn and allow faculty to look at placing more and more materials on Learn that students can access on their own.

Final Thoughts

While there can be a focus on simply getting material onto Learn, using careful planning to place content within Learn, and altering the look and feel of a Learn site, can make Blackboard Learn an important resource for all courses, regardless of delivery method.  Small things like making a course more attractive can demonstrate to students that the instructor wants them to view Learn as more than just an online resource, but as an important component of their class.  For more information on how to utilize the tools within Learn to alter the look and feel of your course, please contact tlt-consulting@lists.purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist



Pascarella, E. T. & Terenzini, P. T. (2005).  How college affects students, volume 2.  A

            third decade of research.    San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strange, C. C. & Banning, J. H. (2001).  Educating by design: Creating campus

           environments that work.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass