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Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice? Take a SIP of this: Creating Comfortable Relationships with Blackboard

Grassroots thoughts on effective teaching for faculty, by faculty.

March 8, 2018

MSU Denver computer labThirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Many of us earned our degrees B.G. (Before Google), when computers served the function of word processors rather than a gateway to infinite amounts of information. Now technology and the internet have opened up new and different ways to teach, including online education. Higher education and K -12 settings are both seeing a sharp increase in the adoption of online courses. According to a new report from Digital Learning Compass, over six million students took at least one online course in 2015, representing more than a quarter (29.7 percent) of all higher education enrollments that year. With an increase in online classes being offered, more students are enrolling in these courses, but not all of them will be comfortable or familiar with the learning management system used here at MSU Denver: Blackboard Learn.

Try this: Creating Comfortable Relationships with Blackboard

The first step to helping your students develop a comfortable relationship with Blackboard is to understand or experience online instruction from a student's point of view. Most of us have probably taught an online course, but few of us have actually taken a course online. When you teach an online course, you become intimately familiar with the layout. You know where everything is and how to access it. The class makes perfect sense to you. However, for an outsider, your course may appear to be a complicated and irregular network of passages that is difficult to understand and navigate. For this reason, it is a good idea to take an online course (and get those professional development bonus points!) or at the very least, look at some of your colleagues’ courses. This will give you a sense of what it is like to try to navigate unfamiliar layouts.

Other suggestions for helping students become more comfortable:

Make sure students know they’re enrolled in an online or hybrid class and will be using Blackboard as the main medium for learning. Some students might miss this bit of detail when they enroll in the course. If possible, email students the course syllabus before the semester begins including a description of the course, hybrid dates (if the course is hybrid) and a list of prerequisite skills necessary to be successful online. The Educational Technology Center provides online learning and technology skills self-assessments as well as an overview of many of the skills and resources it takes to be a successful online learner (see this link: Online Courses ).

Reinforce that online classes take work. Some students take online classes because they think it will be easy. This is rarely the case, and students might not realize this until a few weeks into the semester. Emphasize to students early on that taking an online course means having strong time management skills and self-discipline.

Let them know when the course site will be available. Your students will worry that they’re missing something if they don’t see the course site in the learning management system. Let them know when it will be available.

Let students know where to go for help. Make sure that links to Blackboard Help, IT Support and other relevant campus resources are easily accessible to students.

Be present. Be available via email, phone, chat or instant messenger. However, this doesn't mean that you need to be available 24/7. Include a statement in your syllabus or on the "Your Professor" page explaining the days and times you are available online or via email, as well as a comment about when students can expect to receive an email response from you (generally, within a 48-72 hour timeframe). Also remind students that they can come to your face-to-face office hours if they are on campus. Some online students think that they cannot meet with their instructor in person because the class is online. The new MSU Denver phone system allows instructors to receive phone calls from their office numbers via their computers at home (if you have Skype for Business installed on your home computer). If you are not keen on giving out your home or cell phone numbers, students can call your office number and talk with you when you are not on campus.

Be compassionate. Understand that everyone has different levels of comfort with technology. What may be very simple for you, may not be simple to some of your students (such as attaching a Word document to an internal email via Blackboard). Adult learners may not be comfortable with the technology required for the course, certainly if they are returning to complete a degree after a number of years in the workforce.

Provide timely feedback on assignments, quizzes, and exams. If you expect students to meet assignment due dates and take quizzes during a specific time frame, then return the courtesy by grading and providing feedback sooner than later. The general recommendation is to grade assignments within one week of the due date. Make sure that students know where to check their grades via Blackboard.

Create a weekly routine. Either through announcements or class emails, provide students with weekly communications that recap the previous week’s activities and prepare students for the following week.

Design an organized course. If you’ve been tasked with creating an online course, seek out help. The Educational Technology Center provides instructional design support and Blackboard training.

Suggestions adapted from this article:

5 Ways to Make Online Students More Comfortable

The online world of learning is so very different than face-to-face classrooms. So, what does this mean for our first-time online students? It means adapting to a new way of learning. With the proper guidance and support we can assist our students in becoming successful online learners.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Creating Comfortable Relationships with Blackboard

Quality Matters is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating quality assurance in online education. MSU Denver is a member of this organization and the Educational Technology Center has two programs that dedicate resources and services to help faculty members develop their courses to be not only QM informed, but to also leverage best practices and the latest design strategies.

New courses (never been taught or moving face-to-face courses to online/hybrid formats) 

Existing courses looking for improvement (online/hybrid courses that are looking for continuous course improvement)

Each of these services allow the Instructional Design team to allocate hours to help faculty members develop/refine course objectives, alignment, assessments, content, videos, interactive applications and more. ETC is currently accepting applications from fall development (working on the courses in the fall and going live in the spring). Applications are accepted on a first come basis. These spots can fill up fast to it's better to apply early.

MSU Denver will be host the QM Mountain Regional Conference April 12-13.

Other resources....

When “Do as I Say, Not as I Do” Comes Back to Haunt You
Tips on how to be a more effective online instructor.

Lessons from My First MOOC: A Student’s Perspective” 
An instructor’s reflections on being an online student.

What to Expect when You’re Expecting to Teach Online”  
Great advice for instructors teaching online for the first time.

What Do I Do Now? Remembering What It Feels Like Being A First-time Online Student” 

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