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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.
- 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
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
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
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].
Blackboard Learn offers the ability for instructors to create and deploy assessments that can be automatically graded (or even a mix of automatically graded questions plus instructor-reviewed essay questions). However, there are some pros and cons to consider if you’re considering adding Blackboard-based assessments to your course.
Pro: Assessments can be automatically graded and points added to the Grade Center.
Most question options in Blackboard Learn (with the exception of file upload and essay questions) are able to be automatically graded with the points immediately added to the Grade Center. This allows students to receive immediate feedback on the assessment, and removes the task of having to manually enter quiz grades into the Grade Center.
Con: Assessments can be automatically graded and points added to the Grade Center.
What can be a pro can also be a con. The automatic posting of scores can remove from the instructor the ability to review the assessment results before making the scores public to the students. Yes, it is possible to hide the results from the students and keep the scores from being added to the Grade Center, but that does require some additional work on the part of an instructor to go back later and turn back on options to show the results and include the scores in the Grade Center.
Pro: Short in-class quizzes can be moved to Blackboard and taken outside of class, freeing up time that is better used for instruction.
For instructors who want to provide short quizzes to assess student knowledge on a regular basis, moving the quizzes out of your class and into Blackboard can preserve instructional time. Time and date restrictions may be added to the quiz to ensure students are not able to start their quiz before or after a specific day/time. This also allows students who may have been unable to attend class to participate in the assessment of their knowledge.
Con: Quizzes provided outside of class removes instructor control of who can take the quiz.
While it is more convenient to give quizzes outside of class, it may be difficult (if not impossible) to make changes to the quiz to prevent students who didn’t attend class from taking the quiz. For those teaching a small class, it may be possible to release the exam to everyone but those students; however that changes for those who teach large lectures. If a student makes a decision to skip class, that’s their decision – so why should they get a chance to take a quiz on Blackboard that they would have missed if the quiz was given in class? The more students there are in your class could mean that it may be more difficult to control access to the assessment.
Pro: Quizzes and tests given in Blackboard allow students to take their assessment when they are ready.
Class time may not always be the right time for some students to take their assessments. Maybe they are not fully prepared, perhaps they’ve had several other tests or quizzes that day, or maybe their work schedule prevented them from being ready to take the assessment. By placing the quiz or test in Blackboard, students have the flexibility to start the assessment when they are ready, regardless of the time of day. If the student wants to take the quiz at 3:00 am, no problem!
Con: Allowing students to start their assessment when they are ready will only give them an excuse to wait until the last minute.
While not every student is a procrastinator, there are some definite issues with students being allowed to start their exam when they are ready. Students who choose to wait until the last minute to take the exam do run some additional risks. What happens if their computer or their Internet connection experiences technical problems? What if there’s a problem with Blackboard? In these cases the students who have waited may not be able to complete the exam before the deadline, and then a choice will have to be made if they can have another attempt at the assessment.
Pro: Blackboard Learn offers several settings to help make each assessment unique, and there are tools available to help reduce the chances of academic dishonesty.
Blackboard Learn does offer settings for assessments that can help reduce dishonesty. First, question answer options can be displayed randomly via a setting that is turned on when the question is created. Second, questions can be displayed in random order through a setting on the test options. There is also the option to display one question at a time instead of all at once. Additionally, Purdue provides Respondus LockDown Browser as an alternative browser for test taking. Students can download the LockDown Browser, and instructors can force students to use the LockDown Browser for the exam instead of their preferred web browser. (LockDown Browser only allows students to take the exam; it shuts down access to instant messaging and other resources). Feedback on exams can also be restricted so students can’t print the questions and answers on their exams to share with other students.
Con: It’s great there are all these settings and tools to try to reduce dishonesty, but instructors have to use them, and there can still be cheating.
Some students are going to attempt to cheat on their online exams no matter what bumps or barrier that are put in their way. Even if an online exam is proctored, does that completely dissuade a student who intends on being dishonest from attempting to sneak in a crib sheet? It probably won’t stop someone determined to cheat on an exam. It does take some effort and planning to ensure all steps are taken to reduce the chances students will try to cheat, but it’s not foolproof. If a student is taking a test at home using the LockDown browser, what stops them from getting out their smartphone or to get access to another computer?
Pro: Using Blackboard to provide my students with their quizzes and assessments reduces the amount of copies that have to be made of the questions, and eliminates using separate answer sheets, helping to drive down costs.
Think about how many paper copies of exams are made. How much is spent on photocopying a large exam alone? How much do special scanned answer sheets cost? By using Blackboard for assessments, the amount of paper copies that are made can be reduced and potentially eliminated in some cases. This can not just save money due to the reduced number of copies made, but it can also
Con: While it’s great to be able to reduce the number of copies made in some cases, it may not be the best idea to move all assessments to Blackboard only.
While it may be worthwhile considering making a move of some quizzes and other assessments to Learn instead of providing those in class, it might be best to reserve these moves to low-risk/low-impact assessments. Unless the class is taught exclusively online, keeping high-value assessments in a monitored, controlled atmosphere (such as the classroom) allows students to seek assistance when needed, and for faculty to observe and address any issues that might arise during that time. In some subjects, using paper may actually benefit the student as the student can demonstrate their work to the instructor
These pros and cons are not the only issues surrounding online assessments. As an instructor, you should make the decision as to how best assess your students’ knowledge of the material you are teaching. Hopefully these pros and cons have given you something to think about. If you would like to know more about possibly adding Blackboard based assessments to your course, please contact us at email@example.com.
One of the new tools introduced with Purdue’s recent upgrade to Blackboard Learn Service Pack 14 is inline grading. This new tool will change the way many faculty who accept student assignments via Blackboard Learn provide feedback to students on their assignments.
Previously, when students uploaded assignments to Blackboard, course instructors would have to download any files the students uploaded to Blackboard. Instructors downloading assignments would potentially face several issues:
- File incompatibility: If a student used a word processing program that saved the file in a format that the instructor’s computer could not read, the student’s work would be inaccessible to the instructor for grading purposes.
- Viruses/malware: Downloading student files could be dangerous if the student’s computer was infected with a computer virus. However, the reverse was also true if the instructor added comments to the paper and returned it to the student electronically, and the instructor’s computer was infected with a virus.
- Limited feedback: Removing the student’s work from Blackboard and having to grade the papers externally could be seen as tedious, and could impact the amount of feedback given on the paper, especially if there is a tight turn-around time for student work to be returned.
So how does inline grading address the three points above? First, while inline grading does require students to submit work in Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, most free office productivity suites will save files in older Word, Excel, or PowerPoint formats (*.doc, *.xls, or *.ppt). Additionally, inline grading will accept PDF files as well. The files that are uploaded in compatible formats are converted to an HTML5 document that can be manipulated within Blackboard.
Files that are uploaded in one of the compatible formats do not have to be downloaded to be viewed (although this option is available). Grading of submitted work can take place completely within Blackboard – student work can be reviewed, annotations added, and comments embedded within the document. Being able to add comments and annotations within the document inside of Blackboard reduces the time it would take to download the file, make those comments in a word processing program, then upload the altered file back to Blackboard.
As an instructor who used inline grading during the Spring 2014 term, I found myself giving my students much richer feedback on their work than I had in the past. I no longer had to download papers to add annotations and re-upload the papers to Blackboard, or give long explanations in the feedback area about areas I wanted to comment on. I was able to provide positive and constructive feedback exactly where it was needed, and then use the feedback area to provide general feedback to my students.
For faculty looking for a way to accept papers electronically, inline grading provides a new option for accepting, grading, and returning student work. If you are interested in learning more about inline grading or need assistance using this feature in Blackboard, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For instructions on how to use Inline Grading in your course, download our instructional handout.