OCTET

Oberlin Center for Technologically Enhanced Teaching

By

Letter to Faculty (based on student data in survey)

To all faculty Blackboard users:

This letter is written by a Student Tech Assistant in OCTET and is meant to reflect views from the survey, personal opinions withheld. Please direct any questions and concerns to octet@oberlin.edu
The complete survey results can be found here.

Within all the criticism of Blackboard, there were very strong calls for faculty users of Blackboard to do their part in making a better experience for students. Many of these students also admitted that the faculty’s work must be hard because they hate the clunkiness and frustrating glitches too. Overall students use Blackboard as a tool where they can access all their course information in one hub. That is why they want the course sites to be as simple, clean, and organized as possible. Blackboard has helped students stay organized and on top of their work, but to make sure Blackboard reduces a large factor of stress on students they need faculty to use it much more uniformly and effectively. This involves posting materials in an organized fashion and using productive tools. The steps you can take to improve your course site will be outlined in the next section.

“The most ineffective use of Blackboard is when documents within the course are not ordered well, and assignments and posts from previous years are still posted. When things aren’t updated and the documents on the website are not organized it is difficult to organize a work ethic around a course.”

The major factors in improving Blackboard for students that can be done by faculty are posting materials within folders and always in .pdf format so that it can appear directly on the screen. Especially the syllabus. Doing this will allow students to open the files within Blackboard and their browser, download them if they need to, and adapt or convert the file to their needs. .doc files need to be downloaded, not all students have Word, and managing files is apparently difficult for many students.

“If a file is a word document, you can’t view it in your browser–you have to download it. So by the end of the semester I end up with 8 billion copies of the same syllabus in my downloads folder because finding it on blackboard is much easier than wading through the abyss that is my downloads folder. Why is my downloads folder such a mess? Blackboard downloads. It would help if blackboard had a browser .doc viewer, or professors uploaded only pdfs.”

The grade center is also a very important tool for students. It allows them to stay up to date with their performance in a class and allow them to quickly figure out how they should organize their time and priorities. Many faculty do not utilize the grade center at all, or only have some assignments graded. Students need all grades to be posted clearly and as soon as possible, as well as use the weighted grade function of Blackboard correctly. Students would also love clear feedback on graded assignments and exams within Blackboard. Please reach out to OCTET for more information and support with the Grade Center.

“[The grade center’s] greatest shortcoming is simply its under-utilization by faculty. For example, very few professors keep grades updated in blackboard, so you must ask directly to know your status in a class. If all this info is organized somewhere anyway, why not display it somewhere useful for everyone?”

Outline of places to improve:

  • File organization
    • It greatly benefits students when the reading materials and other course materials are well organized within appropriate tabs. Inside those tabs, organizing files within folders labeled by the dates of the assignments and that reflect the syllabus is one of the best methods.
    • There are many ways to organize course materials effectively and overcome uploading issues. It is recommended that you reach out to OCTET via email or drop in hours.
    • Creating Digital Materials, Access Materials from past courses, Copy Materials between courses, Adding Files, Link to Files.
  • Using .pdf files
    • Exclusively uploading materials in .pdf format is a great workaround to Blackboard’s file viewing limitations. .pdfs are the most effective file to use as they can be viewed directly from your course site and can also be downloaded for student’s use. It is a format that is much easier to adapt for printing, adding notes and can be opened no matter the student’s access to personal computers and word processing applications.
  • Grade Center
    • The grade center came up in the faculty’s survey responses as a terrible and frustrating tool to utilize. The primary sentiment seemed to be that it took too much work to be a valuable tool. We recognize the many problems and slow loading of the grade center but would like to reach out to you and offer support with building your grade center as painlessly as possible since an overwhelming amount of students need that tool to be utilized well. Please email us to schedules meeting times.
    • Weighted GradesAssignments Feature
  • Discussion Board layouts (use tutorials or walk in support):
    • Most students hate discussion boards. They say that it is difficult to respond to people and foster actual dialogue and some students use the tool to skip readings.
    • There are effective uses of Discussion boards if it is a tool you find helpful for your course structure. Again, OCTET would be happy to assist you in building a discussion board that your students will use and will help the class workflow instead of hurting it.
  • Announcements
    • This was a mixed set of responses with some students wanting more announcements that pertained to important course information such as tests, quizzes, and due dates, while other students hate the announcement system and want less of them.
    • We believe that the most effective use of announcements based off of the responses is to send clear and concise email announcements for important aspects of your course, and maintain the syllabus as a live document if critical scheduling in the course changes.
    • Please look through the student responses to build your own interpretation on how students would prefer announcements to be utilized.
  • Student Suggestion: Use Google Appointments for students and advisees
“Training! Please train faculty. Don’t make them go through training, because that’s not helpful or fun for anyone. But the option of training would be so useful. Maybe even just a nice “how-to” guide they could access for things they need to do that’s very clear, with instructional videos and pictures. They have enough to work on without having to wrestle with technology.”

Resources at Oberlin Center for Technology Enhanced Teaching (OCTET):

  • There are currently templates for different kinds of courses in Blackboard if you want to use those as a launch point for your site.
  • OCTET has tutorials posted at octet.oberlin.edu and anyone can drop in to get help from staff members.
    • Hours change every semester but student workers can typically be found MWF Afternoons and TR Mornings.
    • Scheduling appointments by email is the most secure option.
  • Email octet@oberlin.edu for support from Albert Borroni and Larry Kasuboski as well as to have questions answered, resources linked, and appointments scheduled to make the Blackboard experience for you and students as smooth as possible.