Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

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 When students are dropped or withdrawn from a course, we all know that their profiles can be changed to make the course "unavailable" to them.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).


Don Gregory said...

Laura, these are very helpful tips-- especially the first one. Another use for this technique would be to remove students from the visible gradebook when they finish the class, without removing their records from the course site. This would eliminate the need to download the gradebook as often, since a student's records could always be retrieved.

Aggie Taormina said...

Laura, that tip about changing in active students to guests is wonderful and I am going to use it now. Thanks.

I was in love with the old digital drop box as a secure way to send graded essays back to students as well as keep a record of them in the blackboard. Now I use a workaround. I set up each graded essay as an assignment and ask them to attach the graded essay to a note that they have turned the essay in. I can see from the gradebook that there is something in the assignment slot. I open the essay in Word, use Track Comments and capital letters and highlighting to make my comments, then save the file. I use the view feature in the gradebook to leave a short comment and then attach the graded file to the comment and submit the grade.

JSage said...

I'm wondering why, when a student has dropped a course or withdrawn, we don't just remove them as a user. Is there any reason to keep them in the course? If they get reinstated somehow, we can add them again. Probably happens rarely.

Jennifer Lerner said...

Hi Jud,

Good question. You, as a faculty member, can remove the student if you choose to. We just don't recommend that because if you remove the user, you remove all that user's work, course statistics, etc. If we ever needed to provide records of what that student did in the course, that would then be a problem.

You can achieve the same result, though, by modifying that user's status in the course. Make the student inactive (which means the student can no longer access your course), and give the student "guest" status to remove him from your gradebook. That way, as Don mentions, records are preserved, but the student does not get in your way in your recordkeeping.