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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].

Confluence as an Alternative Learning Management System

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By in Content Development, Software, Tools on .

Recently, a faculty member commented to one of my colleagues and I that Blackboard was simply “too much” for things he wanted to do within his course.  That got me thinking as to why someone might consider Blackboard Learn to be a tool that might be excessive for specific needs.

Blackboard Learn offers to faculty a rich set of tools – but what happens when a faculty member does not want to use the clear majority of those tools?  What if a faculty member only wants a place to place their syllabus and course schedule, content for students to read, upload an occasional video, and so forth?  Does a faculty member have an option for a simpler way to get course content to students at Purdue?

The answer is yes – the Confluence Wiki.

While it might seem odd that a wiki could be an alterative to Blackboard, the Confluence Wiki can perform many of the same functions for faculty that a traditional LMS would be able to provide.  Confluence offers the following for faculty:

  • On-Demand Course Creation:  Unlike Blackboard, where course sites are created automatically, faculty may create their course’s space (site) in Confluence on demand by using the Space Creation application located at http://www.purdue.edu/apps/Confluence.  This will automatically create a space on Confluence for the class and enroll all students and instructors in the class into the newly created Confluence space.
    Confluence Space Creation Application
  • Automatic Enrollment Management:  When a space is created using our Space Creation application, as noted before all students and instructors will be added to the newly created space.  In addition, as students add or drop the class, those changes are reflected in the Confluence space.
  • Content Management:  Faculty can easily upload documents and images to Confluence, and then quickly replace those documents with up-to-date versions.  For example, if the course syllabus changes, a new syllabus can be uploaded and replace the existing file.  Additionally, web links to other sites and to multimedia may also be included in Confluence.
  • Flexibility:  A Confluence space can be very simple (one or two pages with all the content needed) to highly complex, depending on needs.
  • Privacy:  Academic spaces in Confluence are only accessible to those enrolled in the course; they are not accessible by the public.

There are a few features Confluence does not have that is important to note.  First, Confluence does not offer integrated homework submission and quizzes/exams, like Blackboard.  Faculty who want to offer online exams (such as pre- or post- assessments) would be able to use Qualtrics and survey panels within the Qualtrics tool to control assessment delivery.

Also, Confluence does not offer an electronic gradebook, which would require students to track their own grades.  Additionally, while Confluence does offer the ability for students to comment on pages, there is no threaded discussion board available like what is available in Blackboard.

One other concern would be that if Confluence is used instead of Blackboard Learn, students will need to be directed to Confluence to access course content.  In this case it is recommended that any instructor using Confluence provide directions to students in class on how to access the Confluence site and make the site a favorite, so the site is quickly accessible after login.

Although there are these concerns, the Confluence Wiki does provide a great amount of flexibility on how the online portion of a course can be set up.  As much (or as little) information can be made available to students as desired.

While Blackboard Learn has many tools that faculty may wish to use in their teaching, there may be a desire for something that simply does not do everything that Blackboard can do, and that’s where Confluence can assist.  An example “course” in Confluence has been created at https://wiki.itap.purdue.edu/display/confcourse/Confluence+for+Courses+Demonstration+Home to provide some ideas on how Confluence may be used as an alternative to Blackboard.

Confluence for Courses example homepage  example course schedule in confluence

For more information about using Confluence as an alternative to Blackboard, or adding wikis to your course, please contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

Social Pedagogies and CourseNetworking at Purdue University

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By in Distance Education, Student Technology Kit, Tools on .

Purdue is currently collaborating with CourseNetworking (CN) to explore the possibility of offering faculty an alternative learning management system (LMS) that requires little administration and allows first-time users to quickly create courses independently. This light-weight LMS uses a familiar interface and focuses on academic social networking.

Ali Jafari, , professor of computer and information technology at Purdue’s School of Engineering and Technology and director of the CyberLab, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and the founder of CN was quoted in a recent Purdue News article:

“The learning systems we have today were developed almost two decades ago,” Jafari says. “We need to invent the next generation. We need to learn a lesson from Facebook and Twitter that connecting people together and let them learn from each other is a more effective way to go.”1

A new social learning-based system focused on networking and collaboration that produces a highly interactive learning environment, CN has the potential to connect instructors and students from around the world based on shared interests and subject areas. The walls between classrooms are broken down enabling learners from different classes and schools to have dynamic discussions and freely share learning resources through: Posts, Polls, Events and more. CN transforms the traditional teacher-centered learning environment to a more engaging and effective student-centered learning environment. Students enjoy their learning experience by “following” and “colleaguing” other learners, by compiling learning resources on their own, and through a unique reward system, collecting Anar seeds, that many instructors use to incentivize the learning and engagement.

Randy Bass in his 2012 Educause article, Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education, discusses the pressures that are being felt in higher education due at least in part to the evidence that significant learning experiences are happening outside of the formal curriculum. He describes the pressures coming from two sides: 1) “data surrounding experiential learning, and 2) the informal learning and the participatory culture of the Internet.”2

Instructors can create tasks in CN that include “Smart Links”. These links allow the students to quickly access functionality such as: creating posts, responding to polls, and submitting assignments into a “Dropbox” area of the course for grading.

The course interface is familiar to the students. CN is designed to allow students to post multimedia easily and efficiently. Students frequently share resources found on the Internet. This informally appears to be quite motivating for the students. Their observed interactions frequently indicate their understanding of the content being learned and their ability to connect it to real life experiences, making the learning relevant.

To learn more about CN, visit http://www.thecn.com

Debbie Runshe, Educational Technologist

1Tally, S. (15 October 2013). “Purdue, Course networking to collaborate on next-generation edtech.” Purdue News.

2Bass, R. (2012, March/April). “Disrupting ourselves: The problem of learning in higher education.” EDUCAUSE Review. 47(2), 23-33. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/disrupting-ourselves-problem-learning-higher-education