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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Online Learning at WCC Needs Its Blackboard

Learning online is inevitable at WCC. Before students graduate or transfer to another college or university, they will have either taken an online class or had an online component in their regular classes. And that means they use Blackboard.

Blackboard is the leading teaching and learning software today. With more than two-thirds of WCC instructors using Blackboard for at least one of their classes, there’s no doubt that online learning is simply part of the WCC experience.

“Blackboard usage has been steadily growing since I started here in 2005,” said Jared Slayton, Blackboard tech specialist. “There’s a lot more saturation of Blackboard in courses across campus, and students are the driving factor in that. They like it because of the My Grades feature.”

Students Like to Track Their Progress

Blackboard’s My Grades is the student view of the instructor’s larger Grade Center feature. “My Grades allows them to see how they are progressing as the class goes on,” Slayton said. “They might use it in one of their courses and then encourage other instructors who don’t use it to add it.

“Depending on how the instructor sets up their Grade Center, there can be a long list of gradable activities. Students can see the entire record of what they have done in class, which they like a lot. And depending on how the instructor has set up the test, it will even tell them what they got wrong on it.”

Recent Upgrade Expands Online Options

This fall, the College upgraded Blackboard to version 9.1. Besides adding compatibility for browsers such as Internet Explorer 9 and Google Chrome, the upgrade introduced three new gradable activities: blogs, journals, and wikis.

“We already use Blackboard for assignments and tests, so online student engagement at the College is growing,” Slayton said. “Wikis, journals, and blogs are designed for students to communicate online with one another.”

While most students are familiar with journals and blogs, wikis aren’t so common. The best-known wiki is Wikipedia, which Slayton said is the largest wiki on the web. A wiki is an environment where anyone can create pages, link them to other pages within the wiki, and edit other people’s work.  It’s the ultimate group effort. Everyone collaborates on what amounts to a living document.

“In Blackboard the faculty can give the entire class access to a wiki,” Slayton said. “Just give them a topic and let them go.

“Or they can break students up into groups and each group will have a wiki. Then it becomes a team project where all the students in that group are working on a single document that they’re researching together. It builds on itself. If I were a student, I’d be really excited to be working on something like that.”

Pilot Tests Conducted Before Software Updates

Sometimes it’s best to wait for some of the bugs to be worked out before updating software. And that goes for upgrades to Blackboard at WCC.

“We have been trying to strike a balance between integrating new features and making sure that the environment is stable,” Slayton said. “We didn’t move to Blackboard 9.1 as quickly as we could have.

“First, we underwent two pilots. The first was considered a failure because we had too many problems. So we held off until a few service packs were released. Then we had another round of piloting and that was much more successful. With major releases, we prefer not to go live until we’ve had a successful pilot.”

How to Get Started With Blackboard

Slayton recommends that students new to Blackboard visit a page with customized videos about how to use Blackboard at WCC. Another online tutorial site also has helpful videos.

Students also will experience Blackboard when they enroll in Introduction to Online Learning, a non-credit, self-paced class that’s useful preparation for anyone who wants to take an online class at WCC. More information about Blackboard is available on WCC’s website.

Students and faculty with Blackboard questions can contact the Blackboard help desk at 734-477-8724 or blackboard@wccnet.edu. The help desk is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30am to 11:00pm, Friday from 8:30am to 10:00pm, Saturday from 8:30am to 5:00pm, and Sunday from 8:30am to 9:00pm.

The number one question that students ask Blackboard help desk staff is: “Why don’t I see my class in Blackboard?” Several answers are possible:

  • The instructor may be working on the class and hasn’t made it available yet to students.
  • Classes don’t appear in Blackboard until the semester begins, or in some cases a day or two before.
  • The instructor doesn’t use Blackboard in the class.

Today’s Events

  1. All day The Clay Gallery: Expanding Edges
  2. 10:00am–1:30pm Spring Arbor University Visit
  3. 10:00am–1:00pm University of Michigan-Dearborn Visit
  4. noon–1:30pm Interview Skills Workshop
  5. noon–4:00pm Eastern Michigan University Visit
  6. 2:00pm–4:00pm Madonna University Visit
  7. 3:00pm–6:00pm Entrepreneurship Center Open House
  8. 4:00pm–5:00pm Book Club - Eat, Drink, Vote: an Illustrated Guide to Food Politics

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