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Instructional Technology

December 2, 2010

MS Word and Blackboard
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 11:06 am

In the past I’ve often suggested, especially to students, that to avoid losing a long post to Blackboard that users compose content in Word and copy and paste to Blackboard. In the past this worked. The early versions of Blackboard did not have a text editor that formatted text, and this wasn’t much of a problem. However, current versions allow formatting of text and the hidden code in text copied from MS Word began causing problems. The most recent versions of Word have a new file format and use XML. XML is a markup language similar to HTML, the code of the web. Because of the similarities between XML and HTML the hidden code in Word text is often interpreted by browsers with varying results. Often the effects produced by this code make the text appear in a way that distorts the text or even makes it invisible.

To avoid problems users should take steps to avoid coping Word code into Blackboard. Granite State College’s Educational Technologists have posted a set of instructions that outline how to copy text from Word and remove the code that causes problems:

October 19, 2010

Classroom Response Systems
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 11:48 am

For those members of the Assumption community that have used clickers you are aware of some of the problems we have experienced with the PRS system that we currently own. The short version is that due to upgrades to MS Office the PRS clickers no longer work with MS PowerPoint 2008 for Macintosh. While there are workarounds, I’m looking for a solution that will work for both Windows and Macintosh and which will allow students to respond on mobile devices so you don’t have to hand out and collect clickers in each class. I have found a couple of contenders and IT will begin reviewing them soon.

May 24, 2010

Blackboard Production system upgraded
Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynn Cooke @ 9:36 am

After a number of conversations about whether to update to Blackboard 9.1 or wait, we finally decided to update the production system for the summer terms. There are a few changes to the system but most users should adjust easily. There are changes in the menus for the content areas, more choices and, I think, more intuitive menu names. The instructor control panel now has a direct link for the Grade Center and you can add favorite smart views to the control panel for easy access.  The big addition is the wiki feature. For those using wikis you can now set them up in any class without contacting IT.

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:

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