Using BlackBoard to encourage students to take more responsibility for their own learning
I don't rate myself as very skilled with computers. I got into e-learning when my colleague, Cynthia Marsh, and I saw a problem with language teaching and went on a Blackboard (BB) training course, and put 2 and 2 together. I then found BB so easy to use that I have started to use it for other modules too. So what I'm going to say is not remotely technical. Just an account from experience. As you will see, I like using BB.
The issue we identified was the lack of class time for teaching, and the need to persuade students to do more independent learning. This was tied up with a second issue: the fact that the class contained students who were at different levels, and had different needs. Our solution was to use independent learning to get all the students working at levels appropriate to their needs.
What we did was to produce a guide to relevant resources (print, audiotape, video, CDs, web), and give students advice on how to use them. We made the guide in form of a Word document so it was searchable. For example, if a student wanted materials on participles, it would be easy to use Find facility to track down the relevant materials.
We assess the independent learning through a dossier of work that the students compile during the module. The dossier is intended to be a consolidation of work done in class, concentrating on areas where the student identifies weaknesses, and at the appropriate level. The first section of dossier is handed in at end of reading week, to encourage students to use the reading week and become familiar with the materials. The finished dossier is handed in at the end of the semester.
These docs could have been distributed to students on paper. But we put them on BB.
In case you've not seen a BB site, it's a combination of noticeboard, cupboard, set of web links, and collection of emails. You can find out more from the Learning Team in Information Services.
Our reasons for using BlackBoard were:
- ease of use
- there are initial training events, like the one I went on. Bb also has built-in on-line tutorial. This was v helpful. Less so, since previous version of Bb upgraded, but not the tutorial, but basically the operations are v simple and v quick. There is also contact person to ask for advice.
- any document in Word can easily be displayed on the site, so we could use existing materials
- you don't have to remember to provide docs at particular times: these can be put on site, with date for release
- Useful that if Bb closes down for any reason while in use, save is done automatically
- students don't need to be trained to use Bb. Whether they need training to use the documents you put on it is obviously up to you
- most students are happy to use it, only exceptions are those who don?t like using the internet in general
- Makes it esp easy for students to find web sites recommended: just click. No need to copy the URL.
- access for students at all hours, term and vacation, and from desks on campus, at home, or abroad
- you can specify which users have access to the site, so it can be as private to the module or as public as you wish
- no need to photocopy all the documents (students can just select the parts they want of the docs they want)
- ease of updating documents and web links (find new item? just post it on site, or amend the existing doc and post announcement to tell students what is new)
- answer given to one student can be posted so that all can see it, avoiding need to answer same question several times
- can be used for posting announcements, eg next week?s language coursework, so that there is no confusion about what was said, and absentees are not disadvantaged by missing the info
- docs can't get lost, by student or staff
- site can be used over and over again with new cohorts of students, and archived if you want
- student contribution
- can set up Bb so that students can write in with comments, finds etc. Potentially this means you can get discussion going outside the classroom. Have found this happens mainly when students not meeting face to face, ie in vacation time. You can decide whether to intervene in these discussions or not, eg to answer questions, dispel misapprehensions that are being aired. Actively used boards need more monitoring. But doing this takes only a minute or two every few days. I recommend setting clear guidelines on the admissibility of discussing assessed work. (Though of course face-to-face discussions and emails cannot be monitored similarly.)
- students often have very good grasp of web resources, and can be encouraged to share these, as long as you relieve them of the worry that doing so is not cool.
- encourages independent learning
- our BB site offers guidance from the teacher and support from other students, but leaves the student to choose resources, and activities, and to monitor own performance
We also found some disadvantages:
- Easiest to enrol students in batch from Saturn, which implies waiting for Saturn to create list. Additions to the Saturn list can be enrolled piecemeal.
- Can only enrol students once they have username, so not for use right at beg of year 1.
We have only run this independent learning dossier for one complete cycle, so rather early to assess success. All students used it, some a great deal (BB has facility for checking on student use). Dossiers did show entirely satisfactory evidence of independent work. Also evidence of setting selves challenges. We'd have been pleased if students had used greater diversity of media; can work on this. For myself, I find Blackboard so convenient, particularly as storage for documents and web links, that I have set up sites for another two modules since, and I propose to continue setting up new ones and expanding the existing ones.
I leave you with the thought that setting up e-learning doesn't necessarily have to be time-consuming or difficult.