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What is Blackboard?
- Blackboard (Bb) is a brand of Classroom/Learning Management Software (C/LMS). C/LMS’s are platforms, typically licensed and supplied by colleges and universities, serve as an online location for posting assignments, syllabi, discussion topics, grades, announcements, and most any sort of communications between instructors and students.
- C/LMS’s are typically set up for each individual class and instructor. Many schools do not require the use of their licensed C/LMS but strongly encourage it.
- In a sense, Bb can be likened to a Social Networking site for instructors and students.
- Blackboard is the particular C/LMS employed by Boise State University and is therefore the system we, the authors, are most familiar with and therefore describe here.
What capabilities/tools does Blackboard offer?
- A variety of communication tools are available such as blogs, journals, and chat features. Because the school links each student to their requisite section, students email the instructor through Bb, and likewise, instructors can email an individual student, a group of students, or the whole class. The blend of public and private communication features can build confidence between the Basic Writing student and instructor.
- A popular communication tool with instructors is the Discussion Board feature. This allows instructors to post a question on an open forum where students may respond to the question or prompt as well as view and respond to classmate responses as well. They can also help foster collaboration between students and build a sense of comfort and community in the Basic Writing class.
- Blackboard offers the capabilities to set up groups where students can exchange files and collaborate with each other outside of class. This is a helpful tool for classes that are are strictly online or even hybrid (a mixture of in-class meetings and online work).
- Instructors can employ the Gradebook section that allows them to keep track of student work and grades. Students appreciate the ability to see and track their own points and grades as well.
- Because each individual instructor is provided a site for each class they teach, the instructor can manipulate and design each page independent of the others. This allows the instructor to specifically tailor their course site to their students whether they are mainstream or Basic Writers.
- Blackboard is built on a primary structure but instructors may change the appearance of their particular sites, including color, placement, particular tools they favor, and other details. They may upload files, assignments, texts, and set up particular subsections for different kinds of information they wish their students to have access to.
- A helpful aspect to Blackboard is the ability to manipulate the time and dates that files are visible/accessible by students. When files or prompts are set up on Blackboard, the instructor can set a window of time for availability in the instance(s) that they don’t want students working ahead or if they want to set a due date. This allows an instructor to set up their entire site at the beginning of the semester and then not have to worry about constantly updating it throughout the semester. It’s automatic!
- Instructors who teach similar classes from semester to semester, they have the capability to copy their old sections forward to their new sections so that they don’t have to recreate the wheel every semester.
How can Blackboard benefit Basic Writing students and Instructors?
- Because it mimics social networking sites, Blackboard increases communication between students and instructors.
- Blackboard potentially eliminates many of the common questions asked by students.
Imagine reducing the number of emails like these: “When is our paper due?” “How many pages does it have to be?” “What is the attendance policy?” “What readings are we to review?” “What happened in class yesterday?” “What is my grade in this class so far?” With information like this posted on Blackboard already, students can find the answers they want without filling up your inbox.
- From the students’ perspective, if all of their instructors use Blackboard, they can log in to their account and see their dashboard, and at a glance, get all the latest information across all of their classes much like they would see on Facebook or other social media platforms.
- The Blackboard developer does a great job of building and presenting tutorials in PDF and video formats to help build, manage, and navigate its features. Like searching for and watching YouTube videos, this instructional tutorials can be great learning tools.
What limitations to Basic Writing does Blackboard pose?
- While the software becomes intuitive the more it is used, the initial learning curve can be high. For Basic Writers with little to no technology skills in the first place, this may seem daunting.
- At this point, unless students copy and paste their papers into the assignment text box, instructors cannot read or markup student work from inside the program. This may cause added resistance by Basic Writers if the system is overly complicated.
- One of its positives may also be a negative. Because individual instructors can manipulate their site however they wish, students may find themselves struggling to adjust to several different Blackboard setups among instructors.
- For those that also employ the Blackboard Mobile app, they will find a lack of crossover between some features and tools. To date, the Mobile app is geared more toward students than instructors. The mobile app can be a great benefit for Basic Writers who may not have consistent access to computers or the full Blackboard site.
Why should I choose Blackboard for my Basic Writing class over other platforms ?
- There are several other C/LMSs available such as Moodle, Angel, eCollege, and Lore. To date, Blackboard dominates the industry with the widest array of tools and flexibility for instructors and students.
- EdModo is a social networking site modeled after Facebook. While EdModo allows for student recognition and familiarity of use, as well as several similar tools to Blackboard, it requires both students and instructors to set up an account to join and use it. This may be an issue to students or instructors who already have many other accounts or profiles. It can also present a challenge to those students whose access to the internet is limited at home.
- Google Sites is growing in popularity on many campuses; GS gives instructors nearly free reign to design and manipulate their site, as well as links to other Google apps. But this means instructors must spend a lot of time building their sites from the ground up. A big problem with Google seems to be its shaky stability and accessibility. The learning curve in the beginning stages of using Google SItes can be high and their is no guarantee that what you design and (try to) implement will work.