Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Friday, May 30, 2008

Blackboard Self and Peer Assessment Tools

A few weeks ago, I gave you a link to look at a brief overview of the new Grade Center in BB8. The site has now been updated with a short overview of some new critical thinking features in BB8, called the Self and Peer Assessment Tools.

Visit http://www.blackboard.com/release8/ and click "Critical Thinking Tools" on the left to take a look. What do you think?

(FYI, it looks like we'll be going to BB8 for Spring 09. Apparently, it's not all that different from BB7 except for the major changes to the Grade Center, so hopefully it will be a relatively smooth transition.)

Random Bullets Friday

[Explanatory note: For those of you who are not big blog readers, "random bullets" refers to a day where the blogger has several small points to make but no one large theme to write about, so instead of one topic, the day's post is several unrelated bulleted points. You will often see this called RBOC ("Random Bullets of Crap").]

Apologies for not updating in the past week--I went away to visit a friend with a new baby for the long weekend, and then was at a VCCS meeting. Here are a few things on my mind now that I've returned:
  • I spent the last couple of days in Staunton at the Joint ASAC/Deans meeting. (ASAC is the Academic and Student Affairs Council of the VCCS, composed of VPs, AVPs, some Directors, and some provosts.) One of the things we discussed is that it's time for a new VCCS strategic plan. Can you believe that Dateline 2009 is actually just about here?
  • I've heard from a few faculty members that they experienced higher attrition this past semester (spring) than usual. Are you experiencing that, or does it seem about the same to you? Have any thoughts on what might have caused it, and/or what we could do to reduce it?
  • As of yesterday, ELI enrollments were up 13.1% over last summer (which is 2.6% above our growth target for the summer term!). The College overall is up 7.6% over last summer. So those of you who have been getting lots of queries from students about getting into full classes--that's part of the reason! If you do get those queries, please let Joanna Knoll (our new faculty liaison) know. It helps us to figure out where we need new sections and new instructors.
  • Have you tried yet to create your own avatar? (Do you know what an avatar is?) It can be a fun way to express yourself online. Nantana (one of our IDs) just shared with us one site where you can make them--check it out and play around a little! The IDs can help you put your avatar into your course, if you'd like to. The site is: http://uk.avatars.yahoo.com/index.html. If you want help with something like this, contact ELI ID Help (eliidhelp@nvcc.edu).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

I hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend.

How's the start of summer semester going so far?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blog Tips and Tricks

In speaking with some of you since I started the blog, I've learned that some of you are not that familiar with how to navigate a blog. (So I guess that having this blog for you has an extra benefit--you will get more comfortable using a medium that seems to be here to stay!)

In that vein, just a few tips/tricks you might not know about:

  • When you bookmark the blog, make sure that you bookmark the main page (http://elidirectorscut.blogspot.com/). If you do that, you will always pull up the blog in its fully updated version. If you bookmark somewhere else, you may not get the updated version.
  • Did you know that you can subscribe to the blog so that you will be notified when it is updated? This is called an RSS feed (RSS = "really simple syndication"). There's a link at the bottom of the main page where you can subscribe. By using the RSS feed, you save yourself the trouble of checking back into the blog but finding there has not been a new entry since your last visit.
  • If you haven't visited the blog in a while, or you want to go back to older posts to see new comments or follow up on a link I posted, go to the bottom of the main page and click "Older Posts." Or, use the archives I'm about to describe.
  • On the left, there are blog archives (and most blogs have archives somewhere on their menus) so you can view, for example, all the entries from April.
  • You can also use the labels feature (also on the left) to find a particular entry, or to focus on entries that most interest you. I create labels (i.e., keywords) for each entry. They appear on the left along with an indication of the number of posts about that topic. If you want to just read the posts about Blackboard, or just the posts about ELI policy, say, you can just click that label and it'll pull those entries up for you.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Help Me Understand

Faculty, I need you to help me understand something.

As you know, summer courses begin Monday. But at this point, some ELI faculty have not yet copied their courses over into their summer shells. It is likely that some of these will still not be done Monday, at which point we will begin getting confused student calls and I will have to begin contacting deans. (Not having your course copied and available for the first day of class is equivalent to not showing up to the first day of class for a face-to-face class, in my view.)

The notice that faculty needed to copy their courses into their summer shells went out quite some time ago (at least one month, probably longer). The instructional designers sent out a tutorial on how to do it. They didn't hear much back.

This week, they've been inundated with questions and confusion about what to do and how to do it. They are stressed, exhausted, and frustrated from having to respond to this flurry of last-minute activity and the need to very quickly make changes (such as creating new exam passes when you've changed an exam, checking that links in the course work, making sure the new "student support" information appears in each course, etc.) that they should have had a month, rather than a day or two, to complete for the courses they are responsible for.

So, please help me understand. What explains the fact that so many faculty are not taking care of their administrative tasks for their ELI courses in a timely manner? I know you are all busy--but everyone's busy, so that can't be all there is to it. Is it confusion about what to do? Is it lack of caring about ELI courses because they are overload courses or something "on the side" of a campus load or another full-time job? Something else?

And in addition to helping me understand why folks aren't carrying out their tasks, please help me understand what I or other staff members could do to help faculty understand ELI policies and practices and complete their needed tasks on time.

I've got my own ideas about both of these things, of course, and many of you shared some useful thoughts with me at my "meet the director" meetings. But I'm eager to hear more of your insights on these issues!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blackboard Tips & Tricks

Thanks to everyone for all the comments on eLogs, and the many other comments posted throughout the blog this week. Keep 'em coming!

Thanks also for voting in the poll about your use of course evaluations at ELI. It seems like we need to work on that, if just as many of you don't even look at them as find them useful! I've got it on my agenda for the summer. If you have specific suggestions about how you'd like them to work, please post them here or in response to the entry about evaluations. I always want to hear what you have to say!

Finally, we have a guest blogger today--Laura Shulman. Here are some thoughts she wanted to share about Blackboard. We both look forward to hearing what tips and tricks you have to share!


Something I'd like to see discussed on the blog is "Blackboard tips and tricks." I have accidentally discovered some very useful tricks and work-arounds and I have to wonder what I've not discovered that others have. I'd like to know how other faculty use the various features of Blackboard. For instance, there are three things I've discovered this semester regarding more effective use of the grade book:

1. When students are dropped or withdrawn from a course, we all know that their profiles can be changed to make the course "unavailable" to them. But they will remain in the grade book and this can be unnecessarily confusing for faculty as we continue to track the progress of our remaining active students. I discovered that when changing a student's profile to make a course "unavailable" I can also change their status from "student" to "guest". This removes their name from the grade book. Any recorded grades and feedback will remain in tact (although not showing). Should there be a need to give them access to the course site again, their status can be changed back to "student" and all their grades and work are once again showing in the grade book.

2. For years I've been entering grades as points - under the impression that this was the only way Blackboard could do the calculation to add up a total points/final grade. Perhaps this was the case in the earlier versions but at least now, I have found that if specific points don't matter so much, we can simply enter grades for individual assignments as a letter (providing we set up the grade book assignments to show the grade in letter format). If we have a point total/weight given for individual assignments and enter a letter grade, the grade book will automatically calculate a point value and add that to the total points earned thus far. For instance: a student gets a B on an assignment worth 50 points, the grade book will add 42.5 points to the total points. (at least that's how it works for me, I use a 1000 point scale and the standard of less than 60% = F)

3. Also, the "totals" column can now show the "weighted grade" (in letter, percent or point totals) or the "running weighted total". The "running weighted total" only includes work graded thus far in the calculation. I think this will be a great aid to students who want to know "how am I doing". They can see instantly that the average of all work done thus far is, for instance, a B - even if it is based only on half the course work. The "weighted total" that includes all assignments - done or not - will be deceptive because, the total grade will show as an F or D and students often wonder how they can have such a low grade when they've gotten all A's and B's on everything they've done thus far. They don't realize that the "weighted total" grade is counting work not yet done/graded as a zero for purposes of calculation.

I would be most interested to learn how other faculty are using all the various new features of the new discussion board (or any other tips & tricks I may not be aware of).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Let's talk about eLogs

As you all know from Monica's message yesterday, we're having problems with eLogs. That'll be resolved soon and I'll let you know when you can get back on.

But we have a bigger issue here. As some of you know, eLogs was created in house years ago, and then significantly altered later by a second in-house person. It has developed many complexities, redundancies, errors, and problems over time, and since we lost our full-time database administrator (Kevin Salazar, who some of you knew), it has been ever harder to keep it going. We have been advertising for a replacement for Kevin but have been having little luck finding someone qualified to fill the position. At the same time, the question arises whether we want to use up a staff position for someone to keep an in-house product going if it may not even be the best tool for us to use.

So I'd like us to begin a conversation about eLogs and the possibility of eliminating it. (Please do not freak out on me, eLogs users!) I know that some of you use eLogs extensively, and many ELI staff do as well. So I need to hear from you about what specifically you use it FOR and how much you do each of those things. ELI staff will be giving me the same information. Once I have a full assessment of its uses, I can begin to effectively explore what software alternatives we could use to allow you to perform those same functions without all of us encountering all the problems and hassles we have with eLogs. Maybe that product doesn't exist, and the answer will be to stay with eLogs. But maybe we can accomplish our tasks with something better and eliminate a lot of headaches.

So please post a comment--what do you use eLogs for and how much? And if anyone has experiences at other colleges or in the private sector with software you think might be useful for these tasks, please post that as well!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Excuses, excuses

It's that time of the semester... assignments are pouring in, and I know you are all swamped with grading and, in some cases, finishing up summer course revisions, course copying, etc. as well. This is a tough time of year in part because everyone gets tired and cranky, and our students get full of annoying and exasperating excuses. So for those of you who like inspirational quotes (personally, I have an irrational fondness for them), here are two to help get you through this tough week:

"Do as much as you can and take it easy." (Jara Julku)

"Your own negativity, or others' around you, can very easily sink beneath your feathers and into your skin. It can sap you of your energy, strength, and imagination. So waterproof yourself. Flip it, and look at the bright side. Or if that fails, stuff your fingers in your ears and sing loudly." (Mina Parker)

Good luck this week! And if it helps to vent, post a comment with your most annoying or humorous student excuse.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Essence of Teaching

Are you familiar with the Tomorrow's Professor listserv? It's an email list that sends short excerpts from articles and books on higher education topics twice a week during the academic year. Not all the articles are highly relevant to community college education, but many are. (When you go to the link below, you will find, in addition to the article I'm referencing, links to the archives as well as instructions for how to subscribe.)

Here's a recent posting, "Five Short Stories on Teaching" (http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/cgi-bin/tomprof/posting.php?ID=693). Do these ideas reflect your philosophy of teaching? What's missing from these five stories? How do you put these ideas into practice in your distance courses? Are they harder to achieve at a distance than they are in a face-to-face learning environment?