Digi Know: You can see what student’s see

A tip that a few people have found useful recently is using Edit Mode in Course Resources to check what students can see in modules. This has come in handy when academics have been told by students they can’t see some content.

Simply by turning Edit Mode off, you’ll be able to have a student eye view of a module area. Here’s the difference it makes to the module menu:

Edit Button in Course Resources

Digi know: The Blackboard Evaluation Tool

The Evaluation area within the Blackboard Control Panel, provides tutors with an easy way to check student engagement with Blackboard content and monitor progress against the module average. Tutors can choose to monitor individuals or groups of students who may be falling under a particular threshold of attainment or engagement, they can then communicate with them accordingly and take immediate action for improvement if necessary.

It is important to note that currently only tutors have access to the Evaluation area, students do not get to see data on their own performance, nor data on any of their wider cohort. The TEL Team would also recommend that all performance metrics are only used as a prompt for further investigation, statistics only tell a part of any story and whether or not a student is classed as ‘at risk’ is very much down to the discretion and discernment of individual tutors.

There are three constituent parts to the Evaluation area within Blackboard, they are as follows:

Module Reports:

Tools within this area allow tutors to run off reports at any time throughout the duration of the module lifecycle, and thereafter. Particularly useful are the reports on the ‘Overall Summary of User Activity’ and the ‘Course Activity Overview’. Tutors can choose to view data on specific students across specific timeframes, they can also run a report on the entire cohort across the full duration of the module.

Tip: If the report is viewed as ‘html’ as opposed to ‘pdf’, the report becomes dynamic and can be drilled into, meaning that the ‘Course Activity Overview’, for instance, becomes a handy way of viewing which students have been looking at certain pieces of content, when, and for how long.

Performance Dashboard:

The Performance Dashboard is a handy at a glance way to see when students last accessed your module, if they’ve viewed any pieces of content you may have set for ‘review’, and whether they’ve posted anything to the Blackboard Discussion Board.

Tip: If you have a particular piece of content that is important, such as assessment guidelines/criteria, and you want to check whether students have accessed it, set it for ‘review status’. Once this has been done you will be able to see at a glance whether that content has been viewed by using the Performance Dashboard.

To set the review status on a file or folder, turn on Edit Mode, click the downwards chevron arrow when you hover over the content, and choose ‘Review Status: On’. You will then be able to see who has accessed this content and when – by using the Performance Dashboard.

Retention Centre:

The Retention Centre is perhaps the most useful of the three tools in the Blackboard Evaluation area, because tutors can customise what appears in the ‘risk table’ and set the thresholds for determining when students are ‘at risk’. To create these rules, click on the ‘Customise’ label, when in the Retention Centre. Please note that there are a set of pre-configured rules in the Retention Centre, as set by Blackboard themselves.

Tip: By clicking on an individual student within the Retention Centre, tutors can access a 360 degree view of all student activity, against the module average. They can then choose to manually monitor a student if appropriate. Alternatively, by clicking on the ‘at risk bar’ at the top of the Retention Centre, tutors can choose to communicate to all at risk students collectively and perhaps make small interventions for immediate improvement, if appropriate.

Digi Know: Changing the Landing Page in Course Resources

Course Resources is currently set up to open straight to Announcements. This landing page can be changed to another item the menu. If you are not using Announcements, why not set the landing page to your study materials or the location of your submission point, when the assignment deadline is near.

To change the landing page, go to the Control Panel and click on Customisation.


Then click on Teaching Style and scroll down to the section “Select module entry point”

Module Entry Point

Select the Entry Point you want from the drop down and click the Submit button to save the changes.

TEL me more – January 2016

Have a Very Bokeh Christmas

Image from: Brandon Warren shared under CC BY-NC 2.0

The first TEL me more event of the new year took place on the 6th January where we discussed the use of an interactive quiz tool called Socrative (previously covered in other TEL me more sessions for November and May), Box of Broadcasts to provide students with access to free to air television programmes and Aurasma an augmented reality tool to provide links to learning content and activities within physical spaces.

One of the challenges discussed during the session was how to encourage engagement during large group teaching sessions. One of the suggestions was to use a tool like Socrative and Maggie Gale, from the College of Life and Natural Science, talked about how she has used this tool to engage students on the subject of moral reasoning. Starting by providing them with a scenario to consider, a multiple choice question is then posed from which they can then choose, the answer is then debated within the session. Maggie also provided some tips like asking students before the session to bring along a mobile device so they can interact with session content (this can be done in Course Resources Announcements), have two screen available for you to view, so one can display the presentation slides and the other responses from Socrative and finally check the room in which you are presenting before the session to see what equipment and connections are available for connecting additional devices like tablets and laptops.

Another approach was also discussed called ‘Think, pair, share’ where students are given a question which they answer, they then work in a pair to discuss which answer they consider to be correct and why and then students are asked to re-vote on the original question to see if their response has changed. It is at this point that the academic then reveals the correct answer and explains why this is. This could be done using Socrative but could also work with just using post-it notes where the student chooses a post-it colour based on their answer and sticks this to their forehead, allowing others to talk to someone who chose a different answer from the one the chose.

Box of Broadcasts (BoB)

The potential use of Box of Broadcasts was also discussed with Debbie Alston, College of Life and Natural Sciences, talking about how she has used this to provide students with access to programmes which discuss climate change including the film ‘An inconvenient truth’ and programmes with David Attenborough. Links to these resources have been provided in Course Resources. Box of Broadcast has also come in useful during live sessions with clips from programmes being provided during sessions of a maximum of 15 minutes duration. An article was mentioned which provides details about how video can affect student engagement with the shorter videos proving to be more engaging.

Suggestions for learning activities for using BoB included:

  • Students searching for relevant programmes outside of sessions and bringing this back to discuss or posting these to discussion boards within Course Resources.
  • Add a link to a relevant clip or programme within an announcement in Blackboard and then discuss this clip within a face-to-face session. to send out.
  • Create a playlist of programmes and then share this with students as a resource for the module (this could include clips as well as full length programme.

Useful features of the tool identified within the TEL me more session included:

  • The ability to search the transcript which then highlights the use of a word within the recording so you can navigate to this.
  • You can add up to 10 clips from one programme and this then creates one clip. You can then create up to 5 clips a day.
  • BoB also provides reference information for programmes and this can then be adapted into the required format by the student.


Aurasma was also discussed, as the academic staff who attended had seen this demonstrated at the TEL Christmas Market and felt there was lots of potential to use this tool with their students. In particular how this could link to video which can provide additional help with a learning resource. Some ideas for use included:

  • Embed triggers within a journal article to link out to video which helps to support the analysis of the resource.
  • Interactive posters where Aurasma triggers the students talking about the poster content or links to related video such as videos of a fashion show.
  • Using a door sign on an academic office door to trigger a video talking about the areas of interest they have for research to help students choose their dissertation supervisor.
  • Triggers on laboratory equipment which to help remind them how to use this when they actually use them.
  • Provide different triggers to students so they see different resources and then get them to share their opinion about the different resources in pairs or groups.
  • Link to BoB resources to show relevant video clips to students.

Other tips

  • Add the trigger into Course Resources
  • If using video the students prefer to see the informal you rather than a polished well rehearsed video which does not seem real.

Hopefully you have found this post interesting and don’t forget to come to the next TEL me more event on Wednesday 3rd February 12:00-13:00.

Don’t just think question types… think questions… then types

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

In my role, I see many module leaders present themselves with assessment questions that have been written to fit the question types offered by Blackboard (Course Resources).  In my opinion this does not always lead to effective assessment as what we are presenting to students is a collection of questions that Blackboard can handle rather than an assessment.  For example I recently saw 3 questions that collectively was supposed to ask about the students’ knowledge of the statistical averages.  The question asked was ‘What is the mean / medium / mode of the following numbers?’.  This was followed by a range of numbers and the student could pick a number from a selection presented.

This had been written after whoever wrote it had seen the question types and rather than thinking ‘what do I need to assess?’ (i.e. the students’ ability to differentiate between the different statistical averages), just simply written some simple maths questions which could be guessed at.

When I spoke to the academic in question, they informed me that the intention was to assess the student’s ability to understand and differentiate the different averages and had thought that multi-choice was the way to do this.  They actually wanted a question that asked about the different types but thought that as multi choice would make it too easy as it could possibly give the answer, instead went for a maths question as they thought that some calculation would be needed.

Going back to the original learning outcome (the ability to differentiate between the different statistical averages), I asked what would be a successful learning outcome – the answer being ‘the median being the middle value when laid out in order, the mode being the most common number and the mean being the result of summing all the numbers divided by the number of test results’.

From this we can see that there are three terms that the student needs to learn, rather than being able to do the maths.  So, straight away, there is a requirement to ask what the terms mean rather than if a student can add and divide numbers.  Therefore we instead need to ask ‘What is meant by the mean / median / mode?’.

The problem, however, is that if we ask 200 students, we could get 200 different correct answers.  This problem could be reduced by asking this as a multi-choice but without some very well written distractors the answer could be given away.  So… why not turn the question around, i.e. ‘What is the middle value when laid out in order?’.  The answer would then be ‘the median’.  This could be posed as a question that required a typed in answer as it is a single word.  Allowances for spelling errors can be made within Blackboard and as all exam results are checked, anything that may manually require an upgrade can be done.

A final thought – if you do want to test a student’s ability to actually do the maths, then don’t go for multi-choice.  Ask it as a calculated numeric.  Don’t just think question types… think questions… then types!

If you’d like to know more about this, please get in touch with me – Ian Hallsworth

Accessibility Series: Delivering Accessible and Inclusive Blackboard Collaborate Sessions

Flower alone

Image from Doug Wheller shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Using Blackboard Collaborate to deliver online sessions with your students can help to bring together students at a distance whilst still enabling them to receive teaching materials and interact with each other. However, there are a few things that disabled students might find particularly challenging about accessing this type of learning opportunity.

For example:

  • Following the multiple channels of communication can be difficult especially if some of them are inaccessible to the student (e.g. audio for hearing impaired students).
  • Activities requiring immediate interaction can be more challenging for those with dexterity and spelling issues.

You may also be unaware of whether any students have a disability because they might not have disclosed this to you before the session.

In order to help remove these barriers for students it is important to think about accessibility when you are designing your session. Keeping the design of the session simple, providing easy ways for students to interact, as well as providing a balance between providing interest and ensuring content is accessible is a good starting point, however, take a look at the guidance provided below for more specific information on using Blackboard Collaborate inclusively. You might also find the Accessibility Guide for Participants useful for you and your students.

This advice has been put together based on information from the webinar held by the JISC Regional Support Centre in Wales on 29 January 2013 called ‘Webinars that work: how to minimise barriers and maximise inclusion’. Resources and a recording of this session can be found at Lunchtime Bytes 2012/13 (scroll down to the session on 29th January).

The resources have been divided into sections that look at what to do at different stages of the planning process and by disability.

General Advice

Before the session

  • Find out the needs of the students before running the session.
  • Let them know the limitations of the software.
  • Show them how to optimise the layout for their needs (Accessibility Guide for Participants).
  • Get them to test any third party tools they use to see if they work with Blackboard Collaborate, e.g. colour overlays.
  • Review your session plan and based on the needs of the students arrange any adjustments that are required.
  • Consider getting someone to type closed captions into Blackboard Collaborate – this could be a participant in the session, another tutor or someone hired for this purpose. Instructions on this can be found at Accessibility Quick Guide: Captioning in Blackboard Collaborate.

During the session

  • Check regularly that no one is having problems, as you can’t assume students will make you aware if they are.
  • Stress where in the sessions contributions are optional, so that students do not feel pressured to participate when they do not need to.
  • When getting participants to type questions into the text chat area, get them to prefix them with Q to help you and others find them more easily.
  • Get everyone involved in contributing to accessibility during the session. For instance, helping with typing closed captioning, explaining visual elements on the screen, speaking clearly and at a reasonable pace.

After the session

  • Get feedback after the event and encourage students to be open with any difficulties they faced.
  • Provide post event resources including links to recordings, transcripts and any files that were used during the session e.g. PowerPoint slides.

Specific Advice by Disability

Details about the features of Blackboard Collaborate for different disabilities can be found on this page on the Blackboard Collaborate website.

However, here are some additional things to consider when planning a Blackboard Collaborate session. It looks at the challenges faced by these students and some of the possible adjustments.

Blind or Visually Impaired


  • Does the student listen to the presenter or to the screen reader? Which is most important? There can sometimes be a conflict between the two which can be disorientating and create confusion.
  • How can the students access the visual information presented during the session?
  • Some functionality may not accessible, even using assistive technology.
  • How can the student keep up with the multiple threads of communication (text, video and sound) by sound alone?


  • Provide students with an outline and resources for the session beforehand so students know which to focus on at a particular point.
  • Check whether students are happy for others to know about their disability and how they prefer this to be explained to their fellow students.
  • If possible, test any features you intend to use with the student in advance of the session.
  • During the session, let the student know at what point they should focus on the presentation, discussion or information read out by the screen reader. They may need to silence the screenreader at particular points.
  • Try and avoid relying too heavily on the text chat, repeat any points raised here verbally so students understand what others might be responding to.
  • Describe any key content of slides, especially images, do not assume that these can be seen.
  • Build in time for aurally summarising the key points of the session so far, ask others to contribute to this to ensure you have covered everything.
  • You might consider giving the student permanent “open mike” so they can request clarification at any time.

Deaf or Hearing Impaired


  • How can the student tell what the presenter is saying? This could be the content of the session as well as the instructions on how to participate.
  • Will the students have time to make sense of text dense information? If there are closed captions, information in the text chat area and text within a presentation it can be difficult to take this all in at once and keep pace with the session.
  • For some students keeping up with the multiple information threads can be even more challenging as they are working in a second language, with their first being British Sign Language or another countries sign language.


  • Check whether students are happy for others to know about their disability and how they prefer this to be explained to their fellow students.
  • Depending on the content of the session, a presenter could work from a script which is sent to the students before the session. If they deviate from the script then this can be flagged in the chat by the facilitator.
  • For activities, during the session, consider adding the instructions to the text chat or on an activity slide (remember this can be challenging for slow readers).
  • Before the session provide students with knowledge of the terminology used during the session, as this can help with reading.
  • Ensure the images you use support the text on the slide and are not distracting.
  • Build in time for summarising, in the text chat, the key points of the session so far, ask others to contribute to this to ensure you have covered everything.
  • If you are utilising a sign language interpreter pause regularly to ensure they are given enough time to translate what you have said.
  • It may be possible to transmit a video of yourself talking so students can lip read. However, this can be made more difficult if the connection speed is slow and the video ends up being jumpy.

Specific Learning Difficulty


  • Will the students have time to make sense of text dense information? Trying to take in information in the text chat area and text within a presentation can be difficult all at once.
  • Will students be reluctant to participate in the text chat area because they fear poor spelling and typing speed?


  • Check whether students are happy for others to know about their disability and how they prefer this to be explained to their fellow students.
  • Reassure students that it is the value of the contribution over correct typing or spelling which is important.
  • Depending on the content of the session, a presenter could send text dense information out to the students before the session.
  • Ensure the images you use support the text on the slide and are not distracting.
  • Build in time for aurally summarising the key points of the session so far, ask others to contribute to this to ensure you have covered everything.
  • Give the option for students to use the open mike for questions or comments, they may feel more confident using this than the text chat.
  • Consider using an easy to read font and text size to make this easier to access for students.

Physical Impairment


  • Will the student be able to fully participate if they only have keyboard access to all functions?
  • How will the students cope with the speed of writing needed to contribute and the need to navigate between different tools to contribute to multiple threads?


  • Check whether students are happy for others to know about their disability and how they prefer this to be explained to their fellow students.
  • Depending on the content of the session, a presenter could send any resources to the student before the session so they can prepare for what they might want to say.
  • Build in time for aurally summarising the key points of the session so far, ask others to contribute to this to ensure you have covered everything (navigation may be trickier without a mouse).
  • Give the option for students to use the open mike for questions or comments, they may feel more confident using this than the text chat.

Key Points

There are a number of key points to take away from the information in this blog post.


Promote an open dialogue with your students about their needs. The more open they are about their requirements, the more you can ensure that any adjustments you make are supportive of their needs rather than introducing additional barriers. They may already know what works for them, so you will not have to try lots of different things to find the right approach.


As with most things preparation is the key. Make sure that you have considered the needs of your students well in advance of the session and make the resources you are planning to use available to them in advance.

Follow-up resources

Make sure you follow up the session by sending out any resources linked to the session e.g. transcripts, recordings, resources and links. To continue promoting an open dialogue with your students, provide them with an opportunity to provide feedback about the session and encourage them to let you know whether they experienced any problems accessing the content or the activities.

Accommodations help all

Remember that many of the suggestions made here can help all students and if the accommodation is detrimental to others then it is the wrong one.

Updating your Course Resources Test

For many people it is time to start updating your tests delivered through Course Resources (Blackboard).  Anyone that requires assistance or guidance should contact Ian Hallsworth (I.Hallsworth@derby.ac.uk) in LSR as soon as possible. However, one of the benefits of delivering tests through Course Resources is that they are very easy to update yourself.  You can do this by following the brief steps outlined below:

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Apologies from Turnitin

Any of us involved with the new eSubmission process will know that recently we have had some issues with students struggling to submit their work due to system downtime. As the notice on Blackboard said, ” it was a global issue at Turnitin and was beyond the control of the University.” As far as we are aware all issues relating to this downtime have now been resolved. Continue reading

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI)

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is an IMS specification aimed at providing a single way to integrate rich applications – referred to as ‘Tools‘ – with portals such as Learning Management Systems (e.g. Blackboard) – know  as ‘Tool Consumers’ .

Now I realise that this sounds a bit technical, and unfortunately it is.  This one really is for the developers, but the impact of implementing LTI will be beneficial to students and teachers alike.

So lets look at what LTI will allow us to do and what the benefits are…

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The Beginnings of an Online Distance Learning “Manifesto”!

A few weeks ago I was asked to contribute to a discussion which sought to classify how the University of Derby should approach its online distance learning provision in an ‘ideal world’, and whether or not we could align this approach with a wider ethos. Speculating about what an ‘ideal’ distance learning module should comprise of, I began to systematically work through what I deemed to be the best bits of innovative content on our VLE, hoping to be able to formulate the bare bones of what I will pretentiously call a manifesto.

From a learning technologist perspective I’m particularly interested in whether or not this manifesto can potentially define a set of principles to support tutors in uniformly structuring their content, and in-turn influence how that content is delivered to students. A threshold standard designed principally for our online provision, if you like.

Having never lived in anything resembling an ideal or perfect world, the seven points below were as far as I got with said manifesto, but if anybody in the blogosphere has any thoughts about how I can improve or build upon these points then I’d love to hear from you.

So, without further ado.

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