Tips for Efficient and Effective Communications Using Blackboard

The announcement, discussion, and email features in Blackboard are just a few of the many tools available for faculty to communicate with students and foster collaboration in their courses. What are the most efficient and effective uses of the Blackboard communication tools? Below is a list of a few tips and recommended best practices for efficient and effective communication with students using Blackboard.

Email

  • Compose emails in word processor and save for future reuse: Draft general email communications in a word processor and save them in a folder along with other files used in teaching the course for reuse in future courses.
  • Email students from Blackboard: Emails sent to students from Blackboard will be delivered to their official university email address. Email the entire class, groups of students in the course, or select individual students. A copy of all emails sent from Blackboard are also delivered to your email address.
  • Remind students to identify themselves and the class in the body of the email: Students often forget that faculty teach more than one course at a time and potentially are receiving email from students from several different courses. Remind students to identify themselves with their first and last name and not just their Z-Ids  in email messages and include the course name and/or course number in the subject of the email message.
  • Save a copy of Blackboard emails in a folder within your GroupWise account: Blackboard does not retain copies of emails sent. In order to be able to review emails previously sent, make sure to keep a copy of most emails in your GroupWise account.
  • Notify students of assessment deficiencies directly from the Grade Center: Faculty can email students directly from the Grade Center when necessary to remind students of missing assignments and/or other assessment deficiencies.
  • Avoid using Blackboard’s built-in Messages tool: Blackboard does have a built-in Messages tool, allowing for email-like communications to be sent and received within the course. In Blackboard 8, notifications of new Messages are neither obvious nor reliable. Until notifications of new messages are improved, deactivate the Messages tool within the Control Panel and use email instead. To deactivate the Messages tool in the Control Panel, click Manage Course Menu under "Course Options" and then click the "Modify" button next to Communication.  Click "Unavailable" for Messages and then click the "Submit" button.

Announcements

  • Compose announcements in word processor and save for future reuse: Draft announcements in a word processor and save them in a folder on your computer so that you can reuse them in future courses.
  • Post important news items as announcements in Blackboard and simultaneously email to all students: The Announcement tool is ideal for facilitating communication to students about time-sensitive material such as reminders about upcoming due dates, changes in the course documents, and corrections or clarifications of course materials. When necessary to communicate such reminders or important news items, post as a new announcement in Blackboard and select the option also to "Email this announcement to all course users" to send simultaneously the announcement to all course users via email. Note that if students have installed Blackboard Sync either in Facebook or on their mobile device, they can access announcements on either of those platforms as well, without even needing to login to Blackboard.
  • Do not make announcements permanent so that Blackboard can organize them: The default setting when posting a new announcement in Blackboard is for announcements to not be permanent, in order that only the most current announcements (posted during the past 7 days) are featured when students access Blackboard. Do not adjust this setting, to ensure that once an announcement is over 7 days old, Blackboard will file it into an appropriate View folder. Students can continue to access these past announcements, but recent announcements are featured.
  • Include course links when notifying students of new course resources or assignments: If posting an announcement notifying students of availability of a new resource or assignment posted in the course, include a course link to that particular item so students can access with just one click when reading the announcement.

Asynchronous Discussions

  • Create "HELP!" discussion forum and require students to post general questions there instead of sending via email: To reduce the amount of email from students, create a discussion forum called "HELP!" or "Questions & Answers" and instruct students to post general questions that they may have about the course to this forum. If students submit such general course questions via email, simply reply and kindly ask that they post their questions in the designated HELP! forum in the discussion board. Answering the questions in this public discussion forum allows all students in the course to benefit from the responses, eliminates the duplication of email responses, and makes it possible for students to help one another.
  • Enable forum subscription to "HELP!" discussion forum and subscribe to be notified via email when new questions are posted: Especially when not checking Blackboard daily, consider enabling the option to "Allow members to subscribe to forum" and "Include body of the post in the email." Then, subscribe to the forum to receive any new posts via email. This will ensure that Blackboard will send notices immediately via email when students post new questions as well as when they post responses to each other in the HELP! forum.
  • Specify due dates for required contributions: If participation in an online discussion is required, specify when initial posts are due as well as responses. For example, if a unit begins on Monday and ends the following Sunday, perhaps require that initial discussion posts are due by Thursday midnight, with all follow-up responses due Sunday by midnight. If requiring student contributions to a discussion forum, include in the description due dates for initial posts and responses.
  • Make discussion forums available as needed rather than all at once: To reduce cognitive overload and help keep online discussions focused, make discussion forums available as needed rather than making them all available at the beginning of the course.
  • Reorder discussion forums in reverse chronological order to reduce scrolling: By placing the current discussion forum(s) at the top, students will not have need to scroll to the bottom of the page to access the discussions, saving valuable time and making it easier for them to see which discussion(s) are the current ones.
  • Do not remove past discussion forums: Students may want to review past discussions as they proceed through the course. Rather than removing a discussion forum that is no longer active, simply reorder the forums so that current forums are near the top.
  • Login daily during the weekday to read new discussions and participate where appropriate: Rather than waiting until the end of a unit of study to read student discussions, it is often more efficient to login once per day during the week to read discussion contributions. Logging in more than once a day can be ineffective as there may not be any new contributions to read while waiting several days may result in an overwhelming number of discussion contributions to read. Also, responding where necessary within 24 hours is one way to demonstrate faculty presence in the course.
  • Collect threads for viewing offline: For instances when it is preferred to read student contributions to class discussions offline, select all discussion threads in a forum and then click the Collect button to create a collection of all posts in a single page that can either be printed or copied and pasted into a Word file and saved for offline viewing.
  • Supplement text communications with audio: Especially in cases where the course is fully online or if meetings with students will be irregular, consider supplementing text announcements and discussion board posts with short audio recordings, perhaps as a podcast.
  • Create graded forums, if assigning a grade for discussion participation: In doing so, a new Grade Forum page is available that collects the forum posts for each student. Posts for a single student can be reviewed and a grade assigned directly from this page. Setting up a graded forum also automatically creates a Grade Center column for the forum. To turn on forum grading during forum set up, select the option to Grade forum and assign the appropriate number of points.

Synchronous Presentations & Discussions

  • Offer synchronous chat option for Q&A: At times, it may be preferred to answer students questions in real time rather than through the discussion board. Offering an online office hour using either the build in chat or whiteboard tools, Wimba Classroom, Wimba Pronto, or some other synchronous tool such as Skype will further help develop a sense of faculty presence in the online course and provide students with a synchronous communication alternative to the discussion board.
  • Archive synchronous sessions if possible to make available to those who cannot participate live: If synchronous sessions are included, archive the sessions so that those who cannot participate live during the sessions can still benefit from the information shared.

For more information on teaching using Blackboard, visit the Teaching with Blackboard site at: http://www.niu.edu/blackboard

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