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Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

The School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

What can Blackboard do for you?

A guide for staff

An introduction to - What can Blackboard do for you? Most students are familiar with web-based tools and the internet to support their studies in the University. A search of the internet will reveal hundreds of degree courses that can be studied online from a growing number of leading universities around the world. We cannot ignore the fact that the virtual world grows larger every day and that our own students want access to learning resources online. We need to develop and provide online learning resources in our own specialisms to support our students and supplement their studies outside the lecture hall and laboratory. Blackboard will open up a number of new opportunities for our staff and students. It will enable our teaching and support staff to engage with students in new ways through electronic forms of assessment, online communication and interactive learning materials. There are additional services we can make use of such as the Turnitin plagiarism detection service, Web 2.0 tools like podcasting and blogs and the potential to give our students individual feedback. These will all help to enhance the quality of our own learning and teaching. This short guide takes you through what Blackboard can do to enhance the learning environment, covering its main features along with brief examples of how these tools can be applied to your own area of expertise.

Professor Colin Bailey Head of School The School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences September 2008

Written and produced by Mike Smith and Maria Limniou The KTA Project Team Š The School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering August 2008


Contents Details



The delivery of learning content. Learning modules, types of learning content, uploading content to Blackboard. Communication between learners and tutors. Discussion Forums, wikis, blogs, journal and podcasting with Blackboard. Assessment. Written assignments, grading forms, computer-marked assessment, quizzes, self-tests surveys, IMS standards and assessment management. Turnitin plagiarism detection. The Management of learning. Student tracking, selective release, announcements. Managing groups. Use of standard templates



Important note for Course Builders



Useful Weblinks


Staff contacts in the School

1 2 3


4 6 8


Staff access to Blackboard Tutors log into Blackboard at You should then see the log in screen.

Enter your University user name and password and click, OK. If you are a newcomer to Blackboard there are two online courses you can enrol on to become more familiar with eLearning. Click on the Enrol button and follow the instructions given to register. Students access Blackboard via the student portal. The URL for students is,


What can Blackboard do for you? Blackboard supports learning and teaching in four areas, 1. The delivery of learning content 2. Communication between learners and tutors 3. Assessment and recording grades 4. The management of learning.


The delivery of learning content

Generally anything that can be digitised and stored on a computer can be made available to learners through Blackboard. Lecture notes, past papers, documents, links to e-journals, PowerPoint slide shows, audio clips, video clips and any content from the internet can be made available. Learning Modules help organise your course content. Figure 1 shows a learning module with the content links down the left. You can add new or move existing content around easily in a learning module. You can provide a mix of media, such as text, video and audio clips, assessments, surveys and discussion forums. All these can be brought together in a learning module. You can then zip, copy and export learning modules to other online courses if needed. Through Selective Release you can release content to students on a regular basis.

Content links Figure 1: A Blackboard Learning Module created using Course Genie.



Blackboard file types

Blackboard will accept most types of file but these will only work providing the user’s computer has the same software loaded on it. Video for example is encoded in several formats for use with Windows Media Player, Real Player, and QuickTime. For Blackboard, any video should be streamed using the University’s streaming server that the e-Learning applications team (ELAT) manage. Table 1 shows the type of content you can upload to Blackboard. Table 1: Suggested Blackboard learning content Web Microsoft Office files

Images Animation

Audio Podcasts Video Interactive models Migrated content


Web pages, HTML, XHTML files work best with Blackboard as they can be edited easily and load faster than other types of content. Word and Excel files, Power-Point presentations and PDF documents will work but these will load slower than HTML content. Course Genie is a useful tool that can convert Word documents to IMS content (clean and accessible HTML content) for Blackboard. Colour illustrations, photographs (JPEG or GIF), line graphics, maps, diagrams will all display in Blackboard. Animated images, Flash movies (FLV files) - with or without sound will load OK. Flash content will need the Flash Player on the users computer Narrated voice-overs, music, sound, language translations and MP3 files will work but any large audio files should be streamed. MP3 files that are fed to users using RSS feeds. Wimba Podcaster allows tutors to create podcasts easily. Films, video should be streamed through Blackboard from the streaming server. YouTube videos can simply be linked to. Visual Basic and Java based simulations, interactive models and 3D virtual tours will all integrate into Blackboard. Content from WebCT or any other VLE platform that is SCORM compliant will import into Blackboard. IMS based assessments will also import.

Uploading content to Blackboard

Blackboard’s File Manager allows you to upload and manage files. The Import Tool lets you import content from other Blackboard courses, learning modules, computer-marked assessments, surveys and self-tests. Blackboard works best with HTML content. Microsoft Office documents will work but will load more slowly. Web pages written in HTML, XHTML, Dreamweaver, FrontPage, JavaScript or a similar web development tools will work in Blackboard. Remember to move any CSS files (Cascading Style Sheets) to Blackboard’s File Manager to maintain the formatting of your pages. For developing HTML content quickly, Blackboard supports the Course Genie plug-in which converts WORD documents into IMS compatible content. Tutors can write their course material in WORD and when completed start Course Genie which converts the document into a set of HTML pages complete with web links and images. Course Genie is a very useful tool and is available for download from the university network at 5


Communication between learners and tutors

Blackboard offers a variety of communication tools that allow learners and tutors to keep in regular contact with one another either synchronously (like live chat) or asynchronously (such as e-mail or discussion forums). Blackboard is good at facilitating activities like collaborative group work, where tutors set tasks for groups of learners to work on and monitor their progress online. The Discussion forum tool can be used to support the discussion of a course theme and allow the learners to communicate with each other throughout the course. Documents, images, web links and files can be attached to messages. Discussion forums need moderation but generally learners in HE are mostly sensible and forums tend to run with only a little input from moderators. Table 2 highlights some of the useful communication tools available in Blackboard. Chat Live one-to-one discussion in a course. Chat and Live discussion but with whiteboard space for enabling online lectures. Whiteboard Who’s online Talk live with who is currently online in Blackboard. Announcements Send a pop up message to students to remind them of events. e-mail Send a message to all students who are enrolled on a Blackboard course. Discussion forum Facilitate online discussion with groups of students. Wiki Wikis allow people to work collaboratively on tasks. Amend and develop content. Previous versions of documents are stored. Journal A reflective, personal diary that allows students to keep their own notes. Blog The Blackboard blog can be contributed to by everyone in the group. Podcasting Podcast your lectures using Blackboards Wimba Podcaster tool. Voice tools A suite of tools from WIMBA integrated into BlackBoard. Voice Tools – Voice Board, Voice Direct, Voice Presentation and Voice Recorder


Wikis, journals and blogs

Wikis enable groups of students to work together on the same task to create things like, a group presentation, a collaborative report or a group website. By using a Wiki, students can each change a documents format, add new content and the wiki keeps track of all the changes. The wiki can revert back to earlier versions if needed. The wiki tool that will be integrated into Blackboard during 2008-09 will be Confluence wiki. If you currently work with your own wikis, you can simply hyperlink to these from within Blackboard. The journal in Blackboard is only viewable by the learner themselves and not by others. It looks like the discussion tool but allows learners to make their own notes, complete their own diaries or action logs and is intended to be used for reflect-after-action. BlackBoard’s blog tool allows learners to post information that is seen by everyone on the course. Blogging is becoming a popular way of communication and it can be used successfully for supplementing pre-written course content with up-to-the-minute information about the course such as, errata, exam dates, urgent news, events, visiting lecturers etc. Two useful functions of Blackboard blogs are, they can be assigned to individual groups of learners and if required they can also be assessed, either by tutors, or by learners themselves through BlackBoard's peer-review.



Podcasting with Blackboard

Wimba Podcaster is a tool that allows tutors to communicate using recorded voice and audio with learners. For more details see, To use Wimba Podcaster, shown in figure 2, all you need is a standard microphone/headset. Wimba supports MP3 and WAV audio files and supports iTunes and RSS feed formats. iTunes offers a growing number of freely available educational Podcasts through its iTunes University (iTunesU) service. Figure 2: Wimba Podcaster RSS and I-Click buttons for Podcast subscription.

Simple controls, Play, pause and stop. The maximum time indicator can be adjusted from the default setting of 10 minutes record time.

Clicking on New, starts a new podcast recording session. The RSS button and I-click buttons are for publishing your podcast to your audience. You can import mp3 audio files and export your recorded file into learning modules, assessments and other BlackBoard applications. It is relatively simple in Blackboard to set up any of the communication tools for learners and teaching staff to use. Students enjoy communicating online as seen in the growth of services like MySpace, FaceBook and Bebo and they can keep in touch with each other 24/7. The discussion forum can become central in supporting course communication. You also have an account of everything that was discussed, these can be assessed if need be and the discussions themselves add value to the students learning experience.




BlackBoard’s assessment tools are a very useful means of supporting students in the University. Support for assessment breaks down into four areas, • • • •


Written, tutor-marked assignments Computer Marked Assessment (including self assessment and surveys) Assessment management (the grade book, assessment manager, and assignment dropbox) External tools supporting assessment (Turnitin, Respondus, IMS )

Tutor-Marked Assignments

Written tutor-marked assignments, reports and project proposals can be submitted electronically by learners to Blackboard’s Assignment Dropbox. Tutors can see the assignments that have been submitted here. When you write a new Blackboard assignment (or computer marked assessment) a column automatically appears in the course Grade Book. This works like an Excel spreadsheet and keeps a record of all the assessment scores by all the students enrolled on the course.

Figure 3: Blackboard’s Grade Book. Each assessment is given its own column.

There are several types of column in the Grade Book. Numeric, alphanumeric, or selection list. Columns can be combined so that a final grade can be determined such as adding the grade for Assignment A to Assignment B etc, giving an End of Course (final) grade as shown in figure 3. There is a robust audit trail of the adjustments made to assignment marks, recording the new score, previous score, the date the change was made and who made the change. Blackboard uses a useful feature called Grading Forms to assist in the grading of assignments. A standard grading form is shown in figure 4. 8

Figure 4: A Blackboard grading form. A new blank form has three columns and three rows which you can then add to for your own assignment criteria and performance indicators.

As you complete the grading form for the learner the form totals the score for you. To complete the grading form you can add General Feedback to the learner in the comments box. Clicking on the Save button saves the comments and returns the assignment back to the student.


Computer Marked Assessments

Computer marked assessments fall into three categories, • • •

Quizzes (Blackboard’s term for a computer marked assessment) Self Tests Surveys

Quizzes are marked automatically. There are ten different question types you can use to create a computer marked assessment. These are shown in table 3 calculated answer combination full in the blank jumbled sentence matching multiple choice (one correct)

multiple answer (many correct) paragraph (needs tutor to mark) short answer true false Table 3

Each question can be ‘banked’ so you can build up a question database. A new computer marked assessment can be quickly generated from the database. Another aspect of the assessment features in Blackboard is that it is IMS QTI standards compliant. ( This means that any questions written in other Blackboard courses and VLE's like Moodle or WebCT can be imported and re-used. 9

Surveys and self-tests use the same question types as quizzes but with a slight difference. Surveys only appear in the grade book as completed or not completed so staff can see if a student has completed the survey. Self tests (often called self-answer questions or SAQs) don’t appear in the grade book and are used to provide immediate feedback to learners so they can check their own progress through the course content. Tutors cannot monitor student performance if self tests are used, whereas quiz results will appear in the Grade book.


Assessment Management

Assignments and assessments are handled separately in Blackboard. For assignments tutors use the Assignment Dropbox to collect student work which is found in the Instructor tools menu in the Teach Tab. This is where all your students scripts will arrive. Scripts will usually be WORD documents attached to the assignment form which you can then open in Word on your PC, add your comments to and re-save. If you wish, you can use a Blackboard Grading Form to help you mark any written assignments provided you have written one for the assignment. Computer marked assessments (quizzes) are submitted automatically on completion to Blackboard’s Assessment Manager shown in figure 5. Once a quiz has been submitted, after about a minute, a student will see the grade for this in My Grades in the student tools menu.

Figure 5: The Assessment Manager showing the list of computer marked assessments

The Assessment Manager lists all completed quizzes submitted by learners along with their corresponding scores. Figure five shows the Attempt which you can click on to open their paper. You can then go through the learner’s attempt, see where they went wrong and add feedback on individual questions if you need to. Like assignments, you can add general feedback at the end. You can override the quiz grade and upgrade or downgrade student scores if required. This is shown in figure 5 in the Grade column in brackets alongside the original score. 10


Other tools for supporting assessment

Turnitin A major issue facing higher education is plagiarism. It is relatively simple for people to claim another’s work as their own with the internet and copy / paste tools. To assist in detecting suspected plagiarised work, Blackboard has access to Turnitin, the plagiarism detection service operated in the UK through JISC. Turnitin is a useful visual indicator of possible plagiarism in student work.

Figure 6: The Turnitin service showing here returned student scripts with originality scores.

Assignments can be sent individually to Turnitin or as a batch. (As a zip file) Clicking On the Originality Report will show a learners script with sections highlighted in different colours from Red to Blue. Alongside the coloured highlight is a reference to the website or work that has matched what the student uploaded in their script.

Blue Green (low)



Red (high)

Blue highlighting on a returned student script would suggest a low probability of plagiarism. Red on the other hand would suggest a high probability of plagiarism.

Respondus You may be familiar with Respondus which is a tool used for creating computer marked assessments which staff have used when devising assessments in WebCT. Blackboard will import assessments that have been built using Respondus.



The Management of Learning


Tracking learner activity

Blackboard provides a number of tools to help manage your learners. Tracking reports in Blackboard show the student activity on your course. A typical report will show, when a learner last logged in, how long they logged in for, how long they have spent in the course, what work they have completed etc. Figure 7 shows the different types of report you can generate.

Figure 7: The tracking report options

Tracking offers seven types of report. Select the report type required and enter the date range you want the report to look at, then Click on, Run Report. This will return a spreadsheet like report giving details of all your students and their activity.


Selective Release

A useful feature in Blackboard is Selective Release. Rather than give students all the course information up front, you can release learning modules say monthly. You can do the same with assessments and set these in such a way that they are released only when certain criteria has been met, such as the achievement of an earlier assessment. You can release information to learners on key dates, for a fixed period if required.



The Blackboard Announcements tool allows you to send important messages to learners, reminders to submit coursework, important dates etc. that will pop up on their screen when they log in or while they are working.



Managing Groups of Learners

One of Blackboards administrative strengths is its ability to set up and manage groups. If you had say 500 students on a Blackboard course, you could set up the Group Manager to create 50 groups of ten learners to work together on an activity. The Group Manager tool shown in figure 8.

Figure 8: The create groups option

You can create random groups of learners, shuffle learners between groups, or allow learners to sign themselves to groups using sign-up sheets. Figure seven shows an example group that was set up with four groups of a maximum of ten learners.

Figure 9:

Blackboard will allocate all the learners into groups as shown in figure 9. You can then set up discussion forums, blogs and allocate assessments to each group if required.



The use of standard templates

To help staff produce online courses, the School of MACE has developed a set of standard templates for Blackboard. Blackboard courses generated through Campus Solutions will be created using the standard template style shown in figure 10. The template has a banner at the top of the page in the School colour scheme. There are four different versions of this with a different logo on the right for Mechanical, Aerospace, Civil and Engineering Management. Icon Unit Information: Your Assessment: Staff Room: Your Study: Your Support:

What is included Programme handbook, Unit Specification, Course Unit Survey, Course Contacts. Past Examination papers, Assessments and assignments. Hidden to students, an area just for staff. Learning modules, reading lists, lecture notes, topics, and tutorials. Blackboard related information for users. Table 4.

Figure 10: The standard Blackboard template for the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

The templates ensure consistency across Blackboard courses and help students to become familiar with the tools for their course. Figure 10 shows down the left-hand side that the template has also given the tools the student will need to study the course. More tools can be added later by the course builder through the Manage Course button and Add Tools.



IMPORTANT NOTE for Course Builders

When you log in to BlackBoard, in your Course List in the centre of the screen, you may see two instances of the same course that you have been assigned to. (Depending on your access rights.) For example,

MACE10004 Solids & Structures for Aerospace and Mechanical E (015026) - MACE10004 &Development MACE10004 Solids & Structures for Aerospace and Mechanical E (015026) - MACE10004 &LEC1 2008-9 2nd Sem If you have BUILD access rights, it is important that you ONLY work in the section marked with the DEVELOPMENT suffix. Please leave the other title alone. This is the LIVE section students will be working in. Contact the Course Administrator Vera Sokolovski (for UG Courses) when you want to make a new Blackboard Course LIVE to students.


Useful web links

Accessing Blackboard Staff should go to

And enter your network username and password. Students access via the student portal at

Information about e-Learning at The University of Manchester e-Learning at Manchester There are a number of HOW-TO guides here explaining Blackboard in more depth. Blackboard Login, account and software problems – contact ELAT, The eLearning Applications Team, based in Room B38 in Sackville St. Clearspace Online Support Forums (includes Blackboard)


Staff Contacts for BlackBoard in the School

Pariser Building:

Room B28a

Vera Sokolovski and Wei Hu

George Begg Building:

Room B15

Mike Smith and Maria Limniou


Š The KTA Team, The School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, September 2008


What can BlackBoard do for You?  

A Guide for Staff

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