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Wayne State University

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Nov 7 / Geralyn Stephens

Something to Think About: Bb Exemplary Course Program

So, you’ve been teaching the online course for several terms now. Word has spread among students that the online section is the “place to be”. Each term, the class fills as soon as registration opens.  And, your SETs are finally reflecting the hard work you’ve put into online course design.  You must be doing something right!

Now would be a good time to consider submitting the course for international recognition through the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program (ECP). The ECP recognizes course creators whose courses demonstrate best practices in four major areas: Course Design, Interaction & Collaboration, Assessment and Learner Support. All submissions are evaluated by a peer group of Blackboard clients using the ECP Rubric. Submitting your course for review provides you the opportunity to:

  • Reflect on your own course design through a self-evaluation of your course and gain new perspective and insights on your course.
  • Receive detailed feedback on your own course development including best practices and areas for improvement.
  • Apply lessons learned from the Exemplary Course Rubric to your own courses or those you are helping to develop.
  • Gain professional development experience and recognition for your accomplishments and participation in the program.

All submitted courses are reviewed and receive detailed feedback on their design, interaction and collaboration, assessment, and learner support components.

Still Apprehensive?

There are many, many resources to help you enhance your course to ensure it fares well in the review. To begin, please take a look at the 2014 winners. Winning courses from previous years can be viewed here. Then, you might consider enrolling in the Designing an Exemplary Course MOOC. It’s free, self-paced and offers great ideas and strategies for enhancing your course.

Let’s Go For It!

Once you’ make the decision to go for it, there is support right on our campus. Last year, WSU was named an inaugural member of the ECP Review Council. The team was comprised of Dr. Fay Martin, Dr. Sara Kacin, Cindy Sulad and me. We are all willing to work with you to tweak your course for the review. Just drop us an email and we’ll get started.

I won the ECP in 2012 and I am a regular ECP course reviewer (2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014).  These awards are major deals and Blackboard ensures you are recognized and afforded the royal treatment at Bb World. So, your efforts do, indeed, pay off!

 ECP 2015 Submission date-> Mid-February 2015

Oct 17 / Geralyn Stephens

Blackboard Mid-Term Odd & Ends

Fall has arrived and we are approaching mid-term of Fall 2014.  We are fortunate in that there have been few issues with Blackboard.  However, we have yet to install Bb Service Pack 14 and that has precluded us from benefiting from some enhancements.  Overall, it’s been smooth sailing.  The following are odds and ends that I have collected to share with you.

Course Copied Announcements:  When you recycle Course Announcements which were included in a course copy or export/import transfer, please be aware that they do not appear as NEW in the student’s Blackboard home page under:

My Announcements

Meaning, your students will not receive any indication a NEW announcement has been posted.  For example, previously I simply changed the availability dates on the Announcement.  I would include the option

to students, as well.  Unfortunately, this modified announcement does not appear on the student’s Bb home page under  My Announcements.

Grade Center Nuances:  No, you are not crazy!  There are nuances within the Blackboard Grade Center that have absolutely no rhythm or reason.  There are special quirks that are not articulated or explained anywhere. So, take a deep breath, relax and try something different, when you encounter one of these special scenarios.  For example, there was no record within a student’s Grade Center for a missing assignment.  The column did not appear at all.  Resolution:  The Grade Center will only show columns in a student’s record when a score has been recorded.  So for a student who had not submitted an assignment, the Instructor must enter a “0” in the Grade Center column for the missing assignment to appear in the student’s Grade Center record.

Reach Out and Touch:  Remember the Contact Information you secured in the course’s Web Agreement for your online students?  Now, would be a good time to simply give them a call to provide support and encouragement.  I typically phone between 7-10 students during my weekly office hours.  It takes about 15 minutes because most are in class or working.  This reassurance is most often comforting to them.  And, students truly appreciate this effort in online classes.  For example, a student wrote on the course SET:  “Dr. Stephens called me and made contact to hear my voice and we discussed the course slightly and I could truly hear the passion in her voice regarding the topic.”

Enjoy the remainder of the Fall term 2014.  And, remember the Holiday Season is just around the corner!

Sep 2 / Geralyn Stephens


Your online courses are up and running and there have been very few student inquires. I am sure you implemented the online communication mechanisms including the course Welcome Letter, the Getting Started video and the Q&A Blogs. Yes, things are off to a good start!

Many of your students have begun their readings and reviewed your lectures, videos and some have completed their initial assignments. Unfortunately, not all students are ‘present and accounted for’! They simply have yet to log into the course.  This could potentially be a problem not only for the student, but for you, too! Federal regulations specifically related to Federal Student Aid dictate that attendance data be factored into financial aid calculations.

What does that mean for online instructors? Will we need to document student participation levels, stop-out and drop out dates? Documenting their levels of participation need not be difficult, if you employ the Blackboard tools designed to track participation and attendance. The Blackboard Retention Center provides a variety of tools to monitor student participation, attendance, achievement and performance. Click here for an overview and video.

Early in the term, I use the Blackboard Retention Center to track student NO SHOWS. These are students who have never logged into the course and/or who have not accessed any course information. I count the number of days since the beginning of classes to create the “Rule”. Blackboard generates a listing of students matching the criteria. Then, Blackboard allows me to notify the students of their non-performance status. The email message sent becomes a permanent part of the student’s records within Blackboard. The following is the narrative I used recently:

 Dear TED 6020: Computer Applications in Teaching student:

Just a note to let you know that you have yet to log into the Blackboard course site and an assignment is coming due tomorrow.  Please make time to complete course assignments and activities.  Lack of participation will negatively impact your grade.  Your prompt attention is expected.

This term, there were six (6) students receiving the message. Two responded within three (3) hours and provided an update regarding their status. So, it works! Please view the 1-minute No Show Video, a step-by-step view of the Retention Center and how I use it to track/monitor NO SHOW students.

Feel free to make modifications to the narrative above and include in your course. If you have a related question, please post.

Aug 21 / Geralyn Stephens

Online Teaching Tip: Help! I have a Problem! (Module)

This term, I am teaching three (3) sections of the same Educational Technology course. At present, there are 25 students enrolled in each of the sections. That translates into 75 email messages during the first week of class that begin, “Professor, I need help. I can’t …..” ! The Help! I have a Problem! module has greatly reduces the inundation of student inquiry email messages during the first weeks of school. And, within 2-3 weeks, student email messages written directly to me are virtually non-existent.

The Help! I have a Problem! module is a Blackboard content area that provides students with details parameters for what they are to do when they encounter problems or have questions on course assignments and/or activities. The following items are contained within the module(see screenshot):

Direct Link to All Q&A Blogs: This is a Bb Course Link. It takes students directly to the list of all available Blogs. There is a separate course Blog for each instructional module, only available during the time the module is ‘open’. The narrative below also contains a link to an FAQ document containing questions from previous terms:

This blog is specifically for questions and answers related to the XXX module.  Please preview the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document before posting.  Either your classmates or Dr. Stephens will provide a reply. You may also post comments related to the Seminar, as well.  Click here for a brief video on how to create a Blog entry.

Support Groups: This is a Bb Course Link. It takes student directly to the list of Groups where they are members. There are communication tools within their group to communicate with each other. This strategy helps to build student communities and to also foster reliance upon their group members as they navigate the course. The narrative below describes the functionality:

Description:  This study group has been created to provide you with support from your classmates to complete course assignments. You may post questions, challenges, inspirational messages and anything you believe will help you and your group get to the Finish Line !

Dr. Stephens Contact Information: This is a Bb Course Link to my Instructor Contact page.

Chat with Dr. Stephens: This is a Bb Course Link to the Chat feature. The parameters for Chatting with me are detailed in the narrative below:

Please click here to initiate a conversation with Dr. Stephens.  I am generally online for student questions every day (except Sunday) from 11-12pm.  However, I am available whenever I am online.

Send Email to Dr. Stephens: This is a Bb Course Link to the Send Email to the Instructor link. The parameters set here are critical to maintaining and managing student questions and other inquiries. Please take a moment to really read the narrative!

Use this link to send an email to Dr. Stephens, if this is NOT a question related to anything in the course.  For example, if you are having a technical issue, then contact the HELP DESK.  If the question relates to some aspect of a course assignment, then please post the question on the related Q&A Blog.  This link is the first one on this page.  That way, everyone benefits from the response. If the question is of a personal nature and it is related to the course, then please email Dr. Stephens.  For example:  It is late November and you had emergency surgery and will be incapacitated for much of December and may not be able to complete the course before  December 8, 2014She will respond within 6-8 hours, unless you send the message on a Sunday.

I also reiterate this in each of the video overviews within course modules. Finally, if God can take Sundays off, then so can I!

Feel free to make the modifications to any of the narratives above and include in your course. Please check back next week for the next tip related to Online Teaching:  Course Overview Video. If you have a related question, please post.

Aug 12 / Geralyn Stephens

Engaging Online Students: The Web Agreement

The course Web Agreement outlines parameters and helps to ensure that students begin your online course with all the required technology resources and tools. It is another cornerstone for building a strong communication foundation. The Web Agreement articulates detailed course expectations and informs students of their responsibilities. It also provides me with documentation should there be an issue down the road. And, it helps to avoid the most dreaded student whine: “You didn’t tell me I needed that!“  The Web Agreement enables me to hold students accountable and I have used it’s contents as evidence when student appeal.

My current Web Agreement was created using a template developed several years ago by Dr. Mary Brady, Senior Lecturer, TED/COE. It has been recently updated to include more current information.  Here is how the process works:

The Web Agreement Test is the course’s first assignment.  I begin the process by discussing the Web Agreement, in great  detail, during the course’s Opening Video.  The document is clearly identified and readily available in the Course Information content area, in PDF format. If students have questions, there is a Bb course link to the Q&A Blog (course) where they  may post their questions.  During the first week of class, I monitor the blog closely to address any questions or concerns.  Because of the Web Agreement’s importance, Bb Adaptive Release parameters are established for the test.  Students are not able to proceed with any other course activities until the Web Agreement test has been completed.

Also, one of the best features of the Web Agreement is that it solicits contact information for each student! This can be valuable information should you wish to reach a student regarding course activities. Their preferred contact information is right there in the test! (See question 10 on the Web Agreement Test.)  One of my online teaching Best Practices includes reaching out to every student via phone sometime during the term.  The contact information provides immediate access to the best number to reach the student.  I’ll share more about this strategies later in the term.

Please click here to download a MS Word document containing my current Web Agreement. Click here to download the Bb Packet for the Web Agreement Test. Here are instructions for uploading the test. A how to video may also assist you with the upload. Begin to pay particular attention at the 1-minute mark. Once uploaded, you may make modifications to the test and its items. Feel free to make the modifications and include in your course.

Please check back next week for information regarding another online course cornerstone, the Video: Course Overview. If you have a related question, please post.

Aug 8 / Geralyn Stephens

Engaging Online Students: Welcome Letter

Are you receiving email messages regarding your online course from students? Unfortunately, students who registered for the course have no idea what is to happen next. To avoid confusion and delayed starts, one might consider using the WELCOME LETTER as a way to introduce students to the course.

Getting off to a good start is critical to building a strong communication foundation. Several years ago, Dr. Mary Brady, Senior Lecturer, TED/COE, created the Welcome Letter for her online students. It has been recently updated to include more current information.   The Welcome Letter is a cornerstone of the foundation. How it works:

I create a formal letter on university/college stationary. This gives it an official look. Then, I attach it as a PDF file to an email message originating from my class roster within the Learning Management System (LMS).  At WSU, our LMS is Blackboard (Bb). The letter contains the following elements:

  • A statement to thank students for selecting the online course option,
  • A paragraph about when the course will begin and how to access course information.
  • Please consider including an LMS tutorial that might be beneficial for students to complete prior to beginning the course, if you are not including this as an instructional component. At WSU, the student interactive tutorial can be found at: There, students may self-enroll in a Bb tutorial to gain insight into the fundamentals of using the Bb LMS at WSU.   (The Bb Course ID:  CIT_1301_BLACKBOARD_BASICS_PERM)
  • Information about how to contact you with issues or concerns prior to the beginning of class.

Please visit here to download the MS Word document containing my Welcome Letter for Fall 2014. Feel free to make modifications and share with your students in the coming weeks.   The related email message reads as follows:

Hello Everyone:  Just a note to let you know that I am excited about starting another academic year!  And, I am also looking forward to working with you as we explore the area of Educational Technology.  Attached is the course WELCOME LETTER.  It details the next steps.  As indicated, the Blackboard course site will be available on Wednesday morning, at 12:01am.  You may begin course activities then.  In the meantime, enjoy the dog-days of summer!
Your Instructor~
Dr. Geralyn E. Stephens
“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” ― Albert Einstein

Please check back next week for information regarding the next cornerstone: the Online Course Agreement. If you have a related question, please post.

Aug 1 / Geralyn Stephens

Welcoming Students to your Online Course

Each Fall, I look forward to returning to the university with excitement. The level of anticipation ranks right up there with Christmas mornings, when I was a child. Why?

For the past 12 years, I have taught online courses, exclusively. During the summer, I research instructional strategies and techniques that I might employ to further engage students and increase their level of involvement with the content, their peers and with me. My goals are for these learning activities to transcend the technology and for the levels of students’ comprehension and application to increase. While these are great goals, they pale in comparison to my bottom line: I want students enrolled in my online courses to believe their investments of time and financial resources were well spent.

Getting off to a good start is critical to building a foundation. I have found the following four (4) strategies most beneficial to building these cornerstones of an online course:

1)   Welcome Letter – This can be a simple email message sent to all students enrolled in the course. The message should contain the following:

  • A statement to thank students for selecting the online course option
  • A paragraph about when the course will begin and how to access course information. You might also include an LMS tutorial that might be beneficial for students to complete prior to beginning the course, if you are not including this as an instructional component.

2)   Course Agreement – This is the agreement related to course expectations and conduct. It may contain hardware and/or software requirements. It should contain contact information for the student, as well. I create a Blackboard Quiz for students to acknowledge and accept responsibilities outlined in the agreement. There is also a fill-in-the-blanks item for their cell phone contact numbers.

3)   Video: Course Overview -The video highlights various aspects of the course and provide students with general information about how the course functions. There should be a reassuring tone in its presentation. It should also contain something about you as the instructor. Students want to know that you are human, too! So, sharing something about your professional background, as well as, something personal, i.e., hobby, interest, pets, humanizes you right from the beginning!

4)   Help! I have a Problem! – Students need reassurance that they will not be left alone when problems arise with the LMS or something related to the course. A module dedicated to detailing how to handle these situations when they begin the courses reduces anxiety for students and you!

Please check back for more about each of these over then next several weeks. If you have a related question, please post.

Jul 23 / Geralyn Stephens

Student Feedback as a Component of Student Engagement

Monitoring student interaction with the content, their peers and the instructor is key to ensuring student engagement. Student feedback can be a monitoring strategy that may provide them with an opportunity to respond to their education experience in your online/hybrid classroom.

As teachers, we’d like to believe that our instructional delivery plans reach all students. We’d like to believe that the activities and assignments are aligned to the objectives and outcomes for our course. We conducted research and selected resources and materials that support the content. However, seldom do we poll students about the usefulness or effectiveness of any of these tools to reach the objectives and outcomes.

Soliciting student feedback, within content modules, provides the instructor with information that can be used to enhance upcoming lessons. For example, I previously included essay questions in with multiple choice items on an exam. Students were able to repeat the multiple choice section, if they were not satisfied with their score. Unfortunately, there was no way for students to know their scores until the essay portions were scored. And, I had not planned to score the essay questions until after the due date. As a result of student feedback regarding this situation, I modified future exams to be two separate tests. The multiple choice portion and the essay questions then became separate exams. Now, students are able to make informed decisions. These are all very simple options in the Blackboard LMS.

The Survey Tool within Blackboard provides an easy avenue for soliciting and collecting student feedback related to the content and instructional activities within the online/hybrid classroom. Once acquired, courses can be enhanced based upon the information provided. The Survey Tool provides general data analysis and statistical information. Student responses to open-ended questions also share insight into their educational experience.

To begin, select not more than five (5) questions to be included in the survey.  The questions I use include:

  • The Seminar/Module was well organized.
  • The materials presented in the Seminar/Module were clear and understandable.  The examples and/or illustrations helped me to understand the subject matter.
  • The readings contributed to my understanding of the concepts presented in the Seminar/Module.

Develop a Likert scale that outlines the scope. I use Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree/Disagree, Disagree or Strongly Disagree.

In my Educational Technology course, I added another question, taken from our Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) is:

  • How much did you learn in the Seminar/Module?

The response options include:

  • The Seminar/Module introduced me to new concepts and/or technology and helped me gain an awareness of how my lessons may be enhanced by integrating the technology introduced.
  • The Seminar/Module presented concepts and/or technology that are familiar to me and I learned how my lessons may be enhanced by integrating the technology introduced.
  • The Seminar/Module presented concepts and/or technology that are very familiar to me and I learned how I might demonstrate some instructional application.
  • The Seminar/Module presented concepts and/or technology that I am proficient using for instructional purposes and I am able to integrate all topics presented into my instructional delivery systems.

I also include one (1) open-ended question:

Please recommend at least one (1) thing that might be added to Seminar/Module XXX to help a future online COURSE NAME/NUMBER student.

Another benefit of the Talk-to-Me survey tool is that it provides the instructor to gage the pulse of the course as it relates to Students’ Evaluation of Teaching (SET) scores. The multiple choice questions I use are the same questions our institution uses on our SET evaluation instruments. After completing the Talk-to-Me surveys within each instructional module, students have grown accustomed to responding.

As always, please post your questions.  I’d like an opportunity to share more about the Talk-to-Me survey tool.

Jul 23 / Geralyn Stephens

COURSE CONVERSATIONS: Keeping the momentum going!

After a strong sense of community has been developed, I provide students with an opportunity to further expand their application of the content by soliciting input on related real-life scenarios. This is done through what I call: Course Conversations.  These discussions provide them with a topic related to the content and solicits their input.

Course Conversations are optional and ungraded.  As the semester progresses, students grow increasingly more comfortable with the flow of interactions.  This includes peer-to-peer and student-instructor communications.  At this point in the course, students also welcome a chance to ‘talk’ about what they are learning in non-threatening ways. Course Conversations are NOT graded and participation is optional.

The following is an example of an optional Course Conversations, using the Discussion Board feature of Blackboard (Learn), in my Education Technology course:

SCENARIO:  Earlier this month, we were driving north on I-69 and we passed many, many cars with children watching video on the car’s individual DVD players.  It got me to thinking about riding in a car as a child.  We did not have DVD players, mp3 players, game boys, or other electronic devices.  We simply had the radio (which was usually not on one of our favorite stations) and our imagination.  I can remember helping my younger sister learn the alphabet by pointing out letters, such as K for Kmart, on our travels.  I can remember talking with my parents about the sites along the way.  All of this contributed to our Prior Knowledge and Experiences bank.

What do you think will be the educational impact of so much technology in automobiles today?

The scenario provides students with an opportunity to share similar experiences, as well as, reflections on their learning. I have found that students use these ungraded Course Conversations as a way to share their thoughts and ideas about how what they are learning applies to daily life. I believe my students benefit from such peer-to-peer exchanges by having an opportunity to articulate their premises and by asking clarity questions from their peers in non-threatening forums. My students believe these casual Course Conversations mimic those held by students awaiting class in university hallways or other gathering centers.