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Instructional Technology

May 7, 2010

Blackboard 9.1
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 1:35 pm

We have Blackboard 9.1 installed on our test system. The new version, while not very different from version 9.0 does have some exciting new features that instructors will find useful.

First, we finally have a wiki tool built into Blackboard. This latest collaboration tool is easy to use and can be used by an entire class or can be used by groups. Group wikis can, be viewed by only group members or viewership can be opened to the entire class. Group wikis can only be edited by the students in a group. At first look the wiki is easy to use. Here’s what the wiki looks like (click on the image to see a full size image):

screen shot of wiki in Blackboard

screen shot of wiki in Blackboard

Other notable changes include a rubric wizard that allows instructors to create and share the rubric  by which they will assess student work, and changes in the content creation options. Instructors can create content items containing audio, video, images, files, and links to Youtube videos and other social media.

Since our upgrade to the test system is still being tested, I’ll be posting updates as I find other noteworthy changes.

February 18, 2010

Blackboard Problems and Word
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 2:30 pm

We are experiencing increasingly frequent problems with the display of text in Blackboard when users copy text from Word into Blackboard text boxes. This problem is especially common when text is copied from Word 2007 or Word 2008. In addition, display problems are more common with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser than the Firefox browser.

When Microsoft released the most recent versions of Word they change the file format. Word Documents are now xml files. Xml is a language of the web. Unfortunately, some of the ways that Microsoft is using xml are not consistent with the standards for web use. So, when you copy that code into a web form (a Blackboard text box, for example) you get unexpected results. The web browser interprets the code in accordance with the web standards and displays it. If the code is not compliant with the standards, the browser tries to interpret it or it might ignore the code. Internet Explorer seems to try to interpret the code, Firefox seems to ignore the non-compliant code.

In the past we’ve recommended that users compose lengthy posts, whether discussion board or in other areas, using Word and then copying and pasting into the text box. Before Microsoft’s format change, that process worked OK. The procedure of using Word, which most users were comfortable using, provided a safety net in the case of a failure in the user’s connection to Blackboard. A copy of the post was safely stored on the user’s computer and they could easily copy and paste again, rather than having to regenerate a long or complicated post.

What to do now? There are a few things that can be done to preserve long/complicated posts in the event of a dropped connection. First, compose in the Blackboard text editor using the Blackboard text editor tools to format the text. Next, before submitting, copy and paste the text into a word processing tool. You can use Word for this but, NotePad (windows) or TextEdit (mac) work better if you have to copy and paste back into Blackboard. Finally, save the file from the word processing program in PLAIN TEXT format (txt) and close it if you are using Word. If you need to copy and paste the text back into Blackboard, you can open the file and will have only text and no extraneous code that can cause problems. Copying the plain text back means that you have to reformat the text in Blackboard, but it will display correctly.

An example:

I posted the following text from Word 2007 into a text box in Blackboard:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse vestibulum arcu in nisl malesuada blandit. Aliquam feugiat ornare massa non convallis. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Proin sagittis metus nec ante convallis posuere. Cras nec sapien eros, luctus porttitor enim. Nunc sagittis, orci sit amet porttitor accumsan, odio metus lacinia odio, rhoncus luctus augue mi sed odio. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Morbi lacinia orci sit amet lacus aliquet quis porttitor turpis tristique. Duis vehicula mauris sit amet sem adipiscing imperdiet. Suspendisse nulla lorem, vulputate sed consequat at, pellentesque laoreet nibh. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Duis suscipit neque eget neque dignissim in facilisis nulla dapibus. Sed placerat mi eget metus suscipit non accumsan velit mollis. Donec eget aliquam dolor. Vivamus vestibulum ante nec dolor tincidunt vitae euismod arcu ultricies. Ut sollicitudin hendrerit sagittis. Nullam quis ligula est.

Cras nec orci quam, et vestibulum nunc. Quisque malesuada diam vel nulla dignissim id pellentesque justo congue. Aenean vitae leo mauris. Vivamus diam odio, lacinia sit amet porta sit amet, ullamcorper eu elit. Mauris nec orci vitae nisl rutrum volutpat. Cras quis lacinia tellus. Aliquam erat volutpat. Donec mattis, libero id consectetur viverra, ligula arcu dapibus lacus, eget pharetra tortor tellus quis lacus. Suspendisse potenti. Maecenas sit amet quam nulla, non ullamcorper dui. Curabitur in dolor arcu, vitae cursus enim.

This text file contains what actually was pasted into Blackboard. Note the additional code. There is a lot of code beyond that needed to display the formatted text on the webpage.

December 16, 2009

Blackboard Project NG – Preview of things to come…
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 4:27 pm

Blackboard is providing accounts to it’s customers to preview, and provide feedback about, the future of the Blackboard line. I just got my account for the Project NG Playground, an implementation of Blackboard with features being considered for future release. There isn’t much change in the interface which is a good thing given the struggles some users have had getting used to the version 9 interface. I did notice that Blackboard has developed a wiki tool and added grading to the blog, journal, and wiki tools that is similar to grading for discussion boards. One odd feature that is in the “Playground” is the option to put a  link to a “blank page” on the course menu. When the link/page is created the instructor/course builder is prompted to create content for the page. It looks similar to creating an item  in any of the content areas. I’m not sure what to make of this yet, I haven’t fully explored the built out site they gave me to see how they propose using such pages.

More information in the future as I get time to play on the “Playground”.

November 3, 2009

Cell Phones in the classroom…
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 6:29 pm

No I’m not talking about using cell phone for furtive texting  but other educational purposes. Since most of our students have cell phones is there a way to leverage them for educational purposes (and texting just might be useful). I’ve been playing with my own phone since I discovered that it has bluetooth and I can connect it with my netbook, my Modbook and other computers and exchange files.

Most newer phones have at cameras that can take stills and videos. There are some obvious uses for pictures and videos. You could have students keep a video diary. You could have students record video of each other speaking a foreign language, performing a task, or interviewing each other.

You might also give students a real reason to text in larger classes. Using AIM you can have students text questions during class. You could keep an AIM window open on a laptop to monitor questions. Or you might use AIM to poll students, kind of like using clickers but with more open responses allowed.

Now to review some of the literature and find out what others have done or are doing with cell phones…

Automating processes in Mac OSX
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 6:23 pm

I discovered a cool tool today on my Modbook. It’s Automator, an OS X tool to automate processes. It’s really a GUI interface for creating scripts. Within minutes I created a script to batch resize photos and another to take image files and create a PowerPoint slideshow with one image per slide. Cool!

Here’s a link to the archive file containing both scripts.

October 15, 2009

Did you know? Streaming Media and Blackboard
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 1:23 pm

IT and Media Services work together to bring videos of some campus lectures to Blackboard. If the Media Center recieves a request to video tape a lecture or other campus event, that video can be converted to be streamed from IT’s streaming server. Once posted to the streaming server the appropriate web page can be posted to Blackboard providing access to the content to your students within your Blackboard site.

October 8, 2009

NBC News Building Block
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 12:45 pm

In the next couple of weeks we will be testing the NBC News Building Block for Blackboard. This building block provides access to archived video and multimedia that can be displayed within Blackboard. According to Blackboard the Building Block provides:

  • News footage of historic and current events
  • Primary source documents, articles and political cartoons
  • Photographs, images, charts and graphs 
  • Critical analysis and mini-documentaries

More information at: http://archivesbb.nbclearn.com/portal/site/BbHigherEd

September 10, 2009

Class Lists in Blackboard
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 5:15 pm

The almost universal feeling among faculty I’ve talked to in the last week is that Blackboard’s new method of listing students is, to put it politely, unfriendly. For many it’s unusable. As I’ve often suggested during training workshops, if you don’t like a feature let Blackboard know about it. The more people asking for change the more likely it will come. To let Blackboard know how you feel about the changes in the new version you can send an e-mail to suggestions@blackboard.com.

In the meantime, a workaround to get a list of all users listed in your class is to use the users link in the users and groups section of the control panel and search any of the fields using contains as the delimiter and % as the search string. Now how obvious was that! And it doesn’t work with the roster tool!

Blackboard Woes
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 5:05 pm

We’ve made it through the first week of the semester and what a week it was! After a frustrating start for all the Blackboard users we finally diagnosed and hopefully resolved the network problems that plagued the system since we changed out the hardware on August 19th. Only once we had a load on the system did we discover the problems.  Thanks to those who reported problems. We realized midway through this week that others were having problems but because sometimes they could get things to work they assumed that the problem was them. It wasn’t!

August 25, 2009

Blackboard Hardware Upgrade
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 11:25 am

Last week’s upgrade of our Blackboard system was completed without too many glitches. We’ve now moved from a single server configuration to multiple servers. This configuration should provide better performance for our users. As in the past you access Blackboard with a single URL (http://blackboard.assumption.edu). But instead of being connected to a single server, you will be connected to one of two servers with the least number of users connected. These two “front-end” servers run the Blackboard application and talk to the “back-end” machine which stores your content and the database that drives the system.

In addition to the new server system, we are changing how long we leave content on the production system. In the past we left all courses on the production system. This provided easy access for repurposing content from old courses for current offerings. However, this practice began to slow down the system.  This past spring we consulted with Blackboard regarding how we could better manage our system to improve performance. One recommendation was to delete old content from the system. As an interim solution we have moved our old production system into an archive role and will be deleting courses older than 2 years from the current production system. The archive server will have course older than two years, newer courses will be deleted to avoid confusion. This work will be completed in the next couple of weeks.

This fall we will be conducting an instructional technology survey. As part of that survey we will be gathering information to guide us in develoying a system to archive old courses off the production system but providing an easy method for faculty to repurpose content in current courses.

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