Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An overview of the Blackboard LMS System

I'm going to preface this with the fact that this topic is just HUGE, so I chose to walk through the major concepts that I typically cover when teaching Introduction to Blackboard at Algonquin College.

What is an LMS or CMS? 
Consider these Content Management Systems as containers which mark each element that has been uploaded with specific features and properties.  Blogger, Wordpress or Drupal are all Content Management Systems which keeps content and can be grouped, tagged and sorted as needed.  The other feature however, is that when you want to visually update the look and feel of a webpage the navigation through the structure developed remains consistent while the "skin" is updated to change how it looks as you can see from the examples below. 
Illustration 1: Template samples
    
Retrieved from: http://mashable.com/2007/09/12/blogger-templates/
A Learning Management System has the additional feature of including an additional widget or application for managing grades. 

Navigating Blackboard
Upon logging in to Blackboard the first page you see is a landing page or Dashboard. The purpose of this dashboard is to aggregate information streams from a variety of areas and all of your courses to give you a general snapshot of what is currently happening. (sample below).
Illustration 2: Blackboard Dashboard
Retrieved from: boisestate.edu/lmshelp
The page aggregates deadlines and tasks from the calendars from all of your courses, as well as announcements in a main "news feed". Institution Announcements may have an additional window, as well as technical support.  To reach your courses, you may select them from the list on the right, or use the "Courses" tab to see a full list of all courses associated with this user.  This dashboard can be modified and rearranged to best suit the needs of the individual user.  
Inside the course we have a main menu down the left side, and the content is visualized on the right hand side. The Meno can link to the various tools, content areas and external links required for the course. Material can be grouped into folders which are content areas that run long down the page much like this discussion board post.  Or within Modules which operates much like the "books" feature being used to organize this MDDE610 course. 
Illustration 3: Blackboard Content Area
Retrieved from: https://help.blackboard.com
Building Your Course
I typically classify the tools within blackboard under three categories.  
  • Transmission  -  Broadcasting information for students to receive.
  • Interaction  -  Ways of getting students to interact with each other and the professor.
  • Assessment  - Ways for the instructor to receive activities and link to the gradebook.
Using these three categories I introduce the buttons circled above marked E in Illustration 3: Build Content, Assessments and Tools. Indicating the function of most items in Build Content are Transmission, the Tools are Interaction, and Assessments are assignments, tests and quizzes.
Blackboard has developed quite the list of Tools for interaction, and in my class I typically discuss Discussion Boards in order to provide guidance in developing guiding questions, time boundaries and overall netiquette. I always point them to our webpage which has a variety of videos and whitepapers to help them learn more about the other tools, as well as direct them to Curriculum Services were someone can sit with them and discuss their needs and help select a tool that may best serve them.
In an off the top of my head list (not complete) Blackboard has:
  • Annoucements (Running Blog type page which ties into Student Dashboards)
  • Discussion Boards
  • Wikis
  • Collaborate (a WebX, Skype, type live video conference tool)
  • Journals/Blogs
  • Turnitin (an outside vendor that has been incorporated)
  • Groups (For creating a shared space for teams of students)
In addition there are several basic admin tools like Calendar, My Grades, Email and Task Lists

The Gradebook
Essentially from there we travel to the gradebook which allows faculty to organize and communicate feedback to their class.  Assignments and tests are automatically connected to the gradebook, and manual columns can be created in order to upload things such as presentation and lab grades. Assessments can be weighted and tallied just like working in Excel, and it keeps learners informed of how they are doing.

The Retention Centre
A newer feature in Blackboard, this fabulous page gives you a snapshot of how your students are doing, and whether there is anyone at risk.  They look at Missed Deadlines, Low Grades and Last Access to the course, and will show you a dot beside those students that may be at risk. It is then up to the instructor to select students to further monitor and you will receive notifications and warning related to those specific students.
Illustration 4: The Retention Centre
 
Retrieved from: https://help.blackboard.com

Annnd...  That's about it!  We typically do activities along the way using a manual, all the while I point them back to our Bb Help page with how-to videos. By the end the goal is that faculty are familiar with the structure, have tried the features out, and are aware of several resources to return to for reminders when needed.
All the best, 
Heather

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