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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!

Thoughts on Adding Technology to Blend Courses

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By in Content Development, Course Redesign, IMPACT, Musings on Technology on .

This Spring, I made a decision to enroll in a Blended Learning course sponsored by EDUCAUSE called “Becoming a Blended Learning Designer”. This MOOC requires participants to complete the course in six weeks, and during that time participate in discussions, blogging, and readings.

As I went through the readings for the first week of the class, two lines stuck out to me:

“Blended learning is not simply adding an online component to a face-to-face course.  Technology in a course should be used wisely – to facilitate student learning.”  (Thompson, 2015, p. 7)

I’ve seen cases all too often where faculty members try to add technology in to the course because they’re trying to meet a need.  They know they should be adding technology but they’re looking to add something that may not always be the most practical or the most appropriate for their class.  Some instructors I have worked with have looked to using the LMS to replace in-class quizzes, for example.  Great idea in theory, but they were not prepared for some of the variables:

  • Students trying to use smartphones or tablets to take the quiz (when the LMS doesn’t necessarily support this well)
  • Students taking the quiz with other students
  • Students using their notes/books for the quiz

The instructors in these cases were thinking it would be simple to replace their low-stakes quizzes with ones that could simply be taken online. But they wanted a full replication of the in-class experience, one that mitigated “cheating” (or as some prefer to call it, “collaboration”).

For me the first part of a blended learning course is determining which parts should go online, and which should not.  It should be a careful, deliberate process that seeks to allow technology to assist in teaching, not trying to force technology into a role that faculty may regret later.

If you are looking to redevelop your class, consider applying for the IMPACT program by visiting http://www.purdue.edu/impact. If you know what tools you want to use and need help getting those tools integrated into your class, contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist


Thompson, K. (ed.). (2015).  BlendKit Reader (2nd Ed.).  Retrieved from https://blended.online.ucf.edu/blendkit-course-blendkit-reader-chapter-1/

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