Trello: An Obsessive Compulsive Person’s Favorite Program

My OCD Tendencies
One of the positive things that came out of moving to Purdue from my Northeast Pennsylvania abode was that I was able to break out of “the way I always did things” and start from scratch when it came to organizing various aspects of my life.  I had a fresh email account, a clean personal drive awaiting a folder structure and a file naming convention, a new desk with fewer drawers than before, and a new living space with much more storage than ever before.  How could I take advantage of all of these new things by setting them up in ways that worked best for my workflow?  I was committed to working “smart” and to setting myself up for efficiency.  I spent a lot of time organizing my physical spaces in ways that made the most sense for my daily living habits.  Since moving brings a lot of nuances with starting and stopping utility payments, beginning a new insurance plan, and keeping up with various renewals, it was also important to manage electronic information effectively.  I did this by making spreadsheets with notes for each month. When it came to projects at work, I was intentional and strategic about filing away relevant emails to OneDrive and keeping meeting notes in Google Drive. I am careful to keep my Google Drive account organized with archives of important documents and ideas.  All of this is helpful, but I was introduced to a tool I had not used before that revolutionized the way I both track projects and collaborate with team members.  It has been the best program for providing project updates.  It is called Trello, and it is an obsessive compulsive’s favorite program.

What is Trello?
Trello is a web-based program used primarily for project management.  It makes use of boards and cards.  It can be likened to a bulletin board with notes stuck on it with thumb tacks, except it’s an electronic version of that.  That might not seem useful until you discover all of the features that go along with it.

Boards are used to categorize.  For example, here at Purdue we have a board for “Special Projects.”

Cards are posted onto boards and are activities that fall within a category.  For example, the building of a TA training is a special project we are working on.  Cards can easily be moved from board to board as project statuses change.

Boards and Cards

Trello allows each user to add other users to a card.  The users can choose to subscribe to a card if they would like to receive email updates when any activity occurs on that particular card.  Each card can contain a checklist of tasks in order to track progress. Attachments can be added to the card to show the iterations of a project or to link important documents that are relevant to a project.


How Can Trello be Used?
Purdue’s Course Design and Development Unit uses Trello to track instructional design projects.  We move cards to new boards as we make progress on each project.  We start out with a “planning phase” board and end with a “continuous maintenance” board.  Team members make notes about their work on the course so that if others are assigned to the same course in the future they will have some background on what has already been done and have some context for the project.  It is helpful to refer to Trello during team meetings to receive updates on the current status of projects.  It is also easy to delegate projects to employees by simply creating a project card and adding them to the card.  The comment box allows one to note expectations, initial ideas, background information, etc. for the project.

Some other ideas for the use of Trello are as follows:

  • To-do lists: Daily lists/weekly lists/monthly lists
  • Travel plans: Lodging, dining, event tickets, finances associated with trip
  • Chore lists for yourself or your kids
  • Client contacts
  • Group projects
  • Bills/spending
  • Moving projects along a sequential path (e.g. “stakeholder buy-in stage”, “project charter stage”, “initial planning stage”… etc.)

Why Trello?
Trello is a preferred project management tool for two main reasons:
1) It stores all materials and notes relevant to each project in a central location.
2) It facilitates collaboration among team members by keeping them “on the same page” (or maybe the same card!), providing a quick and easy view of stages of projects and progress made.

It’s web-based and free to use, so try it out if you are looking for a way to stay organized or are seeking to build cohesion and efficiency among your team, professional sphere, family, or friends.  Manage your daily activities in ways that make sense, and that will help to make the most of your opportunities.

I still use other tools, such as Google Drive, to collaborate on documents and to archive materials for future reference.  Trello is not a replacement tool for collaboration and archiving but is rather a nice addition to the suite of organizational tools.  It specifically helps in managing projects and tracking their progress.  Enjoy!

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Readers could easily label a web page called teachthought as one for a K12 audience. While I would argue that many resources designed for K12 adapt very well to the higher education world, this specific site has its hand on the pulse of academia in a way I find especially engaging. They have content related to higher education, K12, research, classroom learning, teaching, technology, social media, and best practices in all areas. I find myself sharing articles from teachthought with everyone in my world of teaching and learning. Here are a few:

7 Shifts to create a classroom of the future100 Search engines for academic research40 Important STEM Resources for women 249 Bloom's Taxonomy verbs for critical thinking

10 SImple ways to engage in lifelong learning The characteristics of a highly effective learning environment 10 Reasons Twitter works in education Smarter Teaching: 10 ways you'll know you're doing it right

Posted in Classroom, General Education, IMPACT, Musings on Technology, Professional Development, Training, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Using Anonymous Grading in Blackboard Learn

One of the features in Blackboard Learn that may not be as well known is the ability for student assignment submissions to be graded anonymously. This allows instructors, teaching assistants, and graders to grade student submissions without knowing who submitted the work. This can help avoid bias and ensure all papers are properly and fairly graded.

Anonymous Grading can be completed in two ways in Blackboard Learn. First, Anonymous Grading Grading Options in Blackboard Learnis now an option when setting up an Assignment in Learn. Under the Grading Options of an Assignment, a course instructor can enable Anonymous Grading so that student names will be hidden during grading. When setting this option, the instructor will also have to set a date to disable the anonymous grading; this can be on a certain date or after all submissions have been graded. The advantage of this setting ensures that if others are grading student submissions, the student work will be graded anonymously.

The second way to grade student work anonymously is within the Grade Center. When a grader is ready to review assignment Grade with User Names Hidden Grade Column Optionsubmissions, within the Full Grade Center there is an option within the assignment’s column to allow anonymous grading. This option, “Grade With User Names Hidden”, allows a grader to hide student names even if the option hasn’t been enabled within the assignment itself.  This option can be used if the Anonymous Grading option was not turned on for the assignment.  To access this option, go into the Grade Center, and click on the Options menu for the column.

While this option does allow for student work to be graded without the grader knowing whom the submitter is, it is important to note a major drawback to this feature in Blackboard Learn, and this drawback is directly related to a simple instruction that teachers have been giving students since elementary school. In school, students are told from an early age to write their names on their papers. In order to properly use Anonymous Grading, students need to be told to not include their names on their papers in any way. This could be counter-intuitive to the students, so it may be advisable to explain why names should not be included. When Anonymous Grading is enabled in the assignments, students are given a notice before they submit their work that their names shouldn’t be included on their work.

Anonymous Grading notice

Anonymous Grading can be a great way to avoid bias and other issues with grading student work. However, making sure that students know that they are to assist in the process of keeping their work anonymous is key in ensuring that this tool will work. If you have questions about Anonymous Grading or any other tool in Blackboard Learn, please contact our Consulting and Training team at

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

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How to Create Your Own Professional Development Network Using Twitter

Twitter Logo

Twitter logo

I used to subscribe to several academic magazines in an attempt to stay informed in the worlds of higher education, technology, and pedagogy. I stopped nearly all of those subscriptions the moment I started using Twitter as a resource-gathering tool. It saved me time, money and I found better and more current information. Like many online tools, Twitter can be used to waste your time however; you can also find useful resources and ideas by people and places you trust without having to set up an account.

1) Go to tagboard:
2) Type in a topic
No symbols are needed and no need to know what a hashtag is. Just enjoy the bounty that fills your screen.
If you really want to enjoy the power of Twitter, search a conference Twitter stream while the conference is in progress. Watch your screen refreshed with related links and additional information about speakers and topics. Perhaps someone will tweet a link to the book mentioned in the proceedings or a related article. Enjoy the live backchannel of interaction happening as people tweet and share information as it happens. The more popular the event, the more people tweet, the more resources you can pillage. To find a Twitter stream look for the Twitter hashtag # and search what comes after the # in tagboard.

By: Bethany Croton

Related resources about using Twitter as PD resource
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Instructional Designers Increase Student Satisfaction

Every day, millions of students log onto a learning management system. Too often they find syllabi that are inconsistent with the actual course contents, disjointed activities, and links that require them to navigate a complicated maze. More times than not, colleges and universities assume that they have a great online learning product and maintain that they just need to execute better strategies to sell it. In reality, the need lies in the investment of the product itself.

The academy is full of subject-matter experts. That’s great, if passing information to students is the goal. But the goal ought to be loftier than that. If the learning management system is a mere repository of information, students will be passive recipients of knowledge. In contrast, a system that invites students into a highly collaborative community is one that encourages them to generate and analyze ideas and to share ties to real-world contexts. This type of environment connects people and ideologies in ways that can significantly shape and change their worldview as they challenge existing cognitive schemas. As the cognitive domain is affected, there is the potential to expand out from personal change to ubiquitous change. And, dare I suggest that this is the type of learning that taps into the affective and even spiritual domains, impacting people in their deepest parts? From a holistic perspective, all facets of the individual influence the way he or she interprets and applies knowledge. Adolescence and emerging adulthood are typically credited with the stages of development invoking crises of identity, but human wrestle with their interpretations of the world and how they impact the core of their being throughout their entire lifespan.

Online education is on a spectrum with “mechanical” on one end and “relational” on the opposite end. It can be as mass produced as Ford’s Model T or it can be as personalized as the custom made license plate on the back of it. Online education is a competitive market that ought to be customer-driven. Those who reengineer their processes involved in the delivery of online education based on that premise will thrive. Those who do not will fail to understand and meet the needs of people who are looking for a high-quality education that warrants its financial investment by meeting some essential expectations. These include the following: Convenience in a fast-paced and dual earner society, engaging and relevant education that allows for them to see where their intended career goals meet, and personable faculty and staff who see them as individuals with unique roles to play in the world using education as a means to meet that end.

So how can colleges and universities develop online courses that accomplish these goals? Investing in instructional designers can play a key role. Contrary to popular belief such designers are not in the business of changing content, as they understand that the faculty members are the experts on that. Rather, instructional designers exist to help subject-matter experts deliver content in ways that resonate with the learner and minimize learner distractions and frustrations. Instructional designers can help ensure that syllabi and course contents are congruent, that the navigation of the course interface is intuitive, that learning objectives align with course activities, that assignment expectations are clearly communicated, and that courses do not have the appearance of being thrown together in a hurry. They exist to ensure that the customer, or student, is the primary focus. An online course is not simply about the content; arguably, it’s also about how the content is designed and delivered.

Instructional designers not only help subject-matter experts produce excellent courses, they can also champion faculty training initiatives so that courses are logistically sustainable as online teaching techniques evolve and emerge, and they can also design training programs with the goal of increasing performance for support staff involved with supporting the customers. Building an online program with the help of instructional designers can improve the product, position a college for continuous development in a world where technology changes rapidly, and build an organizational culture that adopts a “customer-first” mentality. These constitute the greatest needs of the online learning movement today.

Most people would argue that their most teachable moments are not usually when they are downloading scores of PDFs from the Internet. Their worldview is not typically shaken by reading the latest news on Twitter or reading alone in a corner at Starbucks. Their best thoughts and ideas have come after having hallways conversations with colleagues, and their most memorable learning has taken place through relationships with others. Knowledge retrieval happens most frequently in the same context in which it was encoded. That context often involves human interaction, or some kind of meaningful activity. Special attention needs to be given to how this transfers to the online medium. This is why instructional designers are essential. They take content and bring it to life. They take a learning management system and turn it from a website into an online classroom. That’s what students expect: They want to log into a community. If they just wanted information, they could use Google for that. Colleges that understand the importance of good instructional design are more likely to produce an online product that retains students.

Another important role of instructional designers and educational technologists in helping online students succeed involves tracking and analyzing student activity. The online learning platform is full of data, and it would behoove administrators to use it to make data-driven decisions about how to reevaluate and modify the product to meet the students’ needs.

When it comes to online education, instructional designers are the game-changers. Whether or not they are utilized and the extent to which they are utilized can make or break one of the most crucial outcomes in higher education: student satisfaction. An investment in instructional designers is an investment in the product. Rather than focusing on the marketing while the product is suffering, invest in the quality of the product and then let the marketing fall into place. This is the key ingredient to the next significant advancement in online education. When it comes to breakthroughs, online education is long overdue. Such breakthroughs are not unthinkable, yet they seem to emerge very slowly.

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Simple Thoughts for Simpler Times: ‘Think like a Student’

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:  or email our team at Happy thinking!

Posted in Blackboard Learn, Content Development, Course Redesign, Distance Education, Getting Started, IMPACT, Morning Musings, Student Behavior | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Adding Technology to Blend Courses

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 If you know what tools you want to use and need help getting those tools integrated into your class, contact us at

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist


Thompson, K. (ed.). (2015).  BlendKit Reader (2nd Ed.).  Retrieved from

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How is Student-Centered Instruction Different than Traditional Instruction?

Student-centered learning looks at where students are when they enter the classroom and attempts to customize teaching to allow students some freedom in choosing how to learn. This kind of teaching allows instructors to free themselves from the traditional lecture and allows them to change the learning space to one that best fits the needs of the student. Students are led to what they need to know instead of listening to someone tell them and they can become actively engaged in their learning.

What has been for some, a liberating style of teaching and learning, frees instructors by allowing them to lead the adventure instead of dispensing it. It is not unusual for instructors to struggle with the transition in the beginning and many feel as if they are giving up some control, which is not inaccurate. However, giving up some control allows students to become actively engaged. Learning can reach new heights without limit. More focus is often put on the quality of students questions instead of the quality of their answers. Higher order thinking skills are engaged since students are able to keep moving towards a goal, work together, ask questions and build on what they know. According to John Dewey in his book entitled How We Think, he notes deep thinking takes time and cannot be expected to happen when prompt answers are required (Dewey,1910). Student-centered learning allows students to make those higher order connections by giving students time to explore and be actively involved in their learning.

This change in the dynamic of the classroom can often intimidate those new to the process, but I liken it to a typical lab experience often seen as a normal part of many lecture courses. That shift instructors feel when they go from lecture-based courses to a lab class is the shift they are referring to in student-centered instruction, switching from dispenser to facilitator and learners going from passive to active learning. Most of the instructor’s work happens before the lab begins with perhaps a pre-lab, setting up the equipment, making sure students stay on task by outlining lab report requirements and having students turn in documentation showing what they have done. This is student-centered learning. The instructor set up the experience and then sits back and let them experience it. There is no lecturing during a lab, yet students learn. Learning through active engagement helps students better relate what they are doing to what they already know resulting in higher levels of retention and comprehension (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

Although not a new concept, some may struggle with the shift to the student-centered approach. Taking this familiar concept and applying it to the lecture part of a course is something many might find foreign. Many others have found it worth their time in making the transformation in everything they teach because many students are more engaged and respond much better to being an active participant in their learning. Other students though who were counting on putting in seat time for another lecture series while chatting on their phone, napping or doing other things have been found to resist the expectation they engage.  Each instructor needs to decide what is best for their learners, but keep in mind there is no one right way to create a student-centered environment. Your subject material, student population, and personal comfort level should all be taken into consideration.

The IMPACT Program at Purdue University provides resources and support for instructors to redesign their course in a student-centered way. The comfort level of the faculty member is of utmost importance and nothing is imposed without the instructor initiating the desire for change.

On April 10th, IMPACT will be hosting Eric Mazur who will be talking about how he transformed his course from lecture to student-centered. Faculty, staff, and students are invited to attend.


By: Bethany Croton


Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers.

Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. New York: D.C. Heath & CO.

Related Links and Articles:

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