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Sep 14 / Geralyn Stephens

Bb Collaborate: Virtual Office Hours

Office Hours
One of the major challenges of online teaching has been how (and where) instructors are able to meet with students in realtime settings. This is a bigger challenge when students are not geographically near your brick & mortar office.  In the past, I have used virtual communication applications such as Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts.  Most students are familiar with these video telephony products because they use them extensively in their social networks.  However, none of these communication tools allow students to communicate with me within our online classroom.

This semester, I am testing Bb Collaborate to determine if this is a viable tool for realtime communication with my online students.  I will begin Virtual Office Hours next week.  In preparation, a Bb Content Area, Virtual Office Hours, has been created within my online course.  It contains foundation information needed for students to successfully communicate using Collaborate.  The following are links to resources the students should preview prior to using the Collaborate tool:

Also contained within this Content Area is the Collaborate Practice Session.  This is where students practice using the tool.   While I have not required any specific tasks, they are able to enter to Chat, enable audio/video and write on the Whiteboard.  A significant benefit for using Bb Collaborate is that the activity can be graded within the LMS!  To encourage students to explore the resource, I added Bonus Points to an assignment related to previewing the Collaborate application.  It will be very easy for me to determine who participated and award the points directly in the Grade Center.  Also, a Q&A Collaborate Forum was also created to provide students with a place to submit any questions related to the Collaborate tool.  I subscribe to the forum to stay on top of their inquiries.

Should you be interested in testing the feature in your Bb course, I have created a Course Package containing the Content Area I created.  If you would like to add to your online course, please email me at:   I will post an update later in the term regarding how Collaborate is working for me and my students with realtime Office Hours.

Wish me luck!

For WSU instructors, there is an online self-paced course to learn more about the tool.  It can be found here.   The OTL also offers Collaborate training sessions.

Apr 1 / Geralyn Stephens

Organizing Content using Blackboard Learning Modules (BbLM)

Oftentimes when we begin to prepare to teach online, we tend to think of replicating our face-to-face classrooms. We think in terms of how to deliver our lectures, deploy and monitor our exams and engage students in classroom discussions. I have found that students respond well to online curriculum that is designed and delivered in instructional modules.  Blackboard’s Learning Modules (BbLM) are a good design option for this purpose.

I use the course outcomes as the cornerstone of my instructional design. I create BbLMs that include the content, assignments and activities to move students towards the acquisition of content skills/knowledge. The BbLM creates A Table of Contents to guide students through learning opportunities. The inherent sequencing provides students with the option of moving through the module sequentially or by tackling assignments and activities when they elect to embark upon the task.

To begin, I include the module outcomes as an Item.  It is the first thing in the learning module. That way, students are reminded of what skills/knowledge they will learn in the BbLM. Then, a Course Link to the Q&A Forum is presented. Next, I create sub-topic folders containing related readings, videos, assignments, activities and assessments. As the following indicates, each TASK is labeled. This is important when students have questions or need more information because each item is tagged. For example, if there is an issue with a video contained within Seminar A/Section 1/Task 2 (see illustration below), students are able to identify exactly where the issue is located by its tag.


Click the image to enlarge.

To get started, please visit the Bb Help item. As always, should you wish to talk with me, directly please contact me at:


Mar 24 / Geralyn Stephens

Sharing Learning Outcomes across your Online Course

Learning outcomes are required as a component of syllabi in higher education courses across America. The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) core component 3.B.2 outlines the related parameters. HLC further defines an outcome as: “refers to the learning intended or to how much students actually learn.” This definition brings ‘outcomes’ front and center in face-to-face or online classrooms.

I address this requirement in my online courses in various ways.  I create a Bb Content Area, entitled Course Documents. This content folder contains the course syllabus and other general course documents, such as, the Welcome Letter and the Web Agreement. It also contains a Course Link to a Q&A Forum specifically for students to post their questions about any of the documents.

As illustrated below, I create a video that walks students through the course syllabus, line-by-line. In the video, I pay particular attention and emphasize the Course Outcomes section. I include where in the course the content will be covered and a brief overview of related activities and assessments is also shared. This recording replicates what happens in a face-to-face setting on the first day of class.


Click the image to enlarge.

Oftentimes, the course syllabus contains outcomes that support program goals. So, they are generally broad in nature. I suggest you might consider further delineating the outcomes into measurable tasks. I typically list these as an   on the first page of the Learning Module or Content Area.

Oftentimes, the course syllabus contains outcomes that support program goals. So, they are generally broad in nature. I suggest you might consider further delineating the outcomes into measurable tasks. I typically list these as a Bb Item on the first page of the Bb Learning Module or Bb Content Area.


Click the image to enlarge.

Reminders – Ensure that your course’s Learning Outcomes are:

  • Consistently labeled and easily located within the online course site, including the course syllabus and within each learning unit.
  • Written clearly at the appropriate level of proficiency
  • Written using measure-able language that describes what students are expected to be able to do after the instructional experience

Please email me should you wish more information or examples and illustrations.

Jan 20 / Geralyn Stephens

Class Introductions: Graffiti Needs Assessment (GNA)

This activity is an excellent way to learn more about student expectations from the course. Students may provide clues to their interests, professional goals and other facts about themselves. Given the diversity and privacy perimeters of various ethnic groups, ‘getting to-know you’ questions should be geared towards sharing information that may enhance the students’ experience in the course. The information gleaned can be helpful for enhancing the online instructional experiences for students.

The Graffiti Needs Assessment (GNA) was developed as a face-to-face strategy to provide information about students’ personal goals and objectives for the course (Goza, 1993). GNA are open-ended statements designed to solicit information from students regarding the proposed course content, assignments and activities. GNA questions (Goza, 1993, p. 103) are group according to one of three focuses:

  • Self-Concern Focus – When I enrolled in this class, I thought…
  • Task Focus – I hope we will study more about …
  • Impact Focus – [Content name] has influenced the world…

Implementation Details: Responses to the statements are included in an icebreaking activity. Responses might be submitted in the form of a written narrative, audio or video files. Students may also create avatars, ( and as a component of this activity to further ensure privacy. Such provides the instructor with a glimpse into the technical skills and interest of students enrolled in the course.

GNA information may be useful to the instructor when exploring strategies to create sub-groups or peer teams, for subsequent course activities and assignments. The responses may be used to fine tune how the course content is delivered. GNA responses can also provide evidence of gaps in students’ prior knowledge related to the content. To further engage online students, an instructor may consider using a trading card activity, such as one provided at

Students create trading cards, containing responses to the GNA statements. The cards are created online and downloaded as PDF files. Then, students upload and post the cards as a New Thread in the Discussion Board’s Learning About Us! Forum. To further encourage interaction, an instructor might require students to review the postings of their peers and share reactions as REPLY postings.  Please email me, if you’d like the Blackboard package containing this activity.

These are introductory activities that seek to secure the same information generated during initial face-to-face class sessions in higher education courses. Such activities are seldom scored or graded  in a face-to-face classroom. Thus, there is no need for students to be awarded credit for similar participation in an online course. There are additional online course icebreaker ideas found at:


Goza, B. K. “Graffiti Needs Assessment: Involving Students in the First Class Session.” Journal of Management Education, 1993, 17 (1), 99-106. DOI: 10.1177/105256299301700109

Jan 8 / Geralyn Stephens

STUDENT VIEW: A New Blackboard Tool

One of the challenges of online course design is viewing the course’s content, layout and it’s functionality from the student’s perspective. While Blackboard (Bb) has always had this capability, it was cumbersome and required multiple steps to execute.   Fortunately, the recent upgrade brought with it a great new tool: STUDENT VIEW.

The Blackboard support team has placed an introduction regarding Student View on the Bb home page.  The short video below (42 sec.) supplements that information.

 Student View Video

Additional information can be found on the Student View Blackboard Instructor Help page, as well.


Jan 6 / Geralyn Stephens

Course Syllabus Review: Using a Wiki as a feedback tool

A collective review of the course syllabus by the instructor and enrolled students is typically among the first faculty-student exchanges. In face-to-face classroom settings, instructors are able to immediately respond to student questions and comments.  Instructors are also better able to gauge levels of understanding by observing non-verbal cues from their students. These markers provide opportunities to expound upon information in more detail when students hesitate to ask questions.

In an asynchronous online course, it is especially important for instructors to review each element of the syllabus, in detail. The syllabus serves as the roadmap for the course and a clear, uniform understanding is desired. Most often in online courses, instructors review the course syllabus by creating a video. Then, students are asked to email or post their questions or comments on a related Discussion Board forum. While this traditional online strategy may serve the purpose, an engaging feedback alternative might be a Wiki.

Implementation Details: A wiki is an asynchronous website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users. In a Course Syllabus Wiki, with the commenting feature implemented, students may highlight and post comments or questions at the point in the course syllabus where they occur. Students have an opportunity to share their thoughts on other students’ entries and may also help their classmates reach clarification on their own concerns. Unfortunately, wikis limit anonymity; comments are linked to the wiki modifier. This is no different than students sharing comments and questions in a face-to-face review of the course syllabus. To implement this activity, perform the following:

  • Create a wiki site for your syllabus using or Our LMS, Blackboard, contains the Wiki feature.
  • Upload your syllabus to the Wiki and determine a timeline for feedback. Enable the Commenting feature. For this purpose, the Editing feature is generally not enabled because seldom are students allowed to make modifications to the course syllabus.
  • Share the link with your students. Include a written narrative, audio or video instructions for modifying the Wiki.  There are videos readily available using a simple Google or Youtube search.
  • After the closing date for feedback, host an optional synchronized conversation regarding the questions posted and suggested enhancements. Plan to record this session for those who are unable to attend. This would be a good opportunity to utilize the new Blackboard COLLABORATE feature, implemented over the holiday break.
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.