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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].

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

Can Purdue Have a Better Course Management System?

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By in Blackboard Learn, Musings on Technology on .

Purdue University has hosted and supported the current central course management system (CMS, sometimes known as a learning management system or LMS), Blackboard (formerly WebCT) Vista since 2004.  Fall 2011 begins a welcome change to the new version of Blackboard’s CMS, Blackboard Learn (version 9.1).  Although Blackboard Learn 9 was released in April 2010, Purdue was unable to move to it previously because it did not offer multi-institutional functionality that would allow regional campuses the opportunity to administer their own systems (that functionality is due out by the end of 2011).  Blackboard Learn is the first “united” version of the CMS that phases out the Blackboard Vista line inherited from WebCT.


As a member of the Teaching & Learning group in ITaP that has done training, consulting and support for instructors using Blackboard Vista for the past several years, I’m as familiar with its drawbacks as are many of our long-suffering faculty and students.  “Too much clicking”…. “non-intuitive interface” …  “clunky and old-fashioned” … “incredibly slow” are only some of the comments we have become used to hearing.  Several of these are certainly not surprising, given that the basic interface of Vista hasn’t changed much since 2004 – that is a very long time, given the lightning speed of technology change since then.

Not that we haven’t had our own special experience with these problems, but these type of complaints don’t appear to be an isolated phenomenon.  They mirror those in a study from The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, which summarized several different studies on CMS usage and reported that the students widely complained about slowness and “ease of use.”

The Distance Education study was cited in The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2010 (ECAR), which noted that “over the last few studies…the percentage of respondents who feel positive or very positive about the CMS experience has dropped from 76.5% in 2007 to 50.6% in 2010” (81).    The ECAR study did not delve more deeply into the reasons for the increased dissatisfaction for CMSs.

This issue takes on increased importance in higher ed, where the CMS has become all but ubiquitous.  The 2009 EDUCAUSE Core Data Service report notes that more than 90% of its responding institutions provides at least one central CMS – be it homegrown, commercial, or open source, and ECAR reports that 90% of students in their study had used a CMS.

But while dissatisfaction has grown, ECAR also reports that over half of their respondents described their experiences with the CMS as being “positive” or “very positive.”  Most interestingly, “respondents who use a CMS more frequently report more positive experiences using it” (83).

Whether a new paradigm based on social networking sites (SNS) will overtake the more traditional CMS remains to be seen.  There are privacy and security concerns for such a move, and students have only slowly been moving toward embracing the encroachment of academics on their social life.  CMSs are incorporating some features based on SNS, and some small percentage of faculty have begun to move their courses to SNS, yes, but for the time being – and perhaps for a while — the CMS remains the most important learning technology in higher ed.

A tool is just a tool.  It proves its worth in how it’s used.  A CMS can be implemented – and supported — badly or well, and it also be used by faculty badly, or well.  The implementation of Blackboard Learn on the Purdue campus provides faculty, students and ITaP an opportunity to make it a powerful tool for teaching and learning, shaped by the needs of our own community.   For the sake of our students, it’s an opportunity we cannot afford to waste.

To learn more about the implementation of Blackboard Learn 9 on the Purdue West Lafayette campus, see the Blackboard Learn project page.


Andri Ionnou and Robert Hannafin, “Deficiencies of Course Management Systems: Do Students Care?”  The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 9, no. 4 (2008): 415-425.

2009 EDUCAUSE Core Data Service report

The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2010

Writer: Donalee Attardo, director of instructional development, Academic Technologies, ITaP

Blackboard Innovative Teaching Series for Faculty

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By in Classroom, Content Development, Distance Education, Events, Professional Development, Software, Tools, Training, Uncategorized on .

Blackboard Innovative Teaching Series (BITS) will offer four, 30 minute “snack-sized” faculty webinars that will be taught by faculty from higher ed institutions and supported by Blackboard experts.  The focus will be on best practices and pedagogy for online learning.  Click here for more information or to enroll http://bb.syncslate.com/schedule/

March 1, 2011 – 2:00-2:30pm – Ten Ideas to Help Students be More Engaged in Online Classes

March 8, 2011 – 2:00-2:30pm – Assessing Student Engagement for Continuous Course Improvement

March 15, 2011 – 2:00-2:30pm – Efficient Collaboration and Team Building in the Distance Learning Environment