2009 (01) February »
What’s New in Blackboard 8.0
Author: Annette Feravich
Many of you likely noticed a change to Blackboard last semester or over the summer if you were teaching. WSU recently upgraded to a newer version, and for those of you unable to attend our “What’s New” workshop, highlighting the major changes, we wrote an article detailing the new features. The major change in the Blackboard 8.0 upgrade is primarily with changes from Gradebook, which is now called the Grade Center. Additional improvements and updates, however, extend the usefulness of this course management system beyond just grading. New technology such as self and peer assessments and Blackboard Scholar® facilitate learning. Other improvements in the Content system make sharing and collaboration much easier, while additions such as Safe Assign and a Browser check enhance instruction and communication without complicating it. Below is a short synopsis of the newest upgrades in Bb 8.0.
The New Blackboard Grade Center
No longer referred to as the Gradebook, the new Grade Center includes new interfacing, fewer clicks, and greater flexibility. Improvements in the Grade Center design make navigating easier. Instructors have the ability to freeze specified columns in place while scrolling through others for more convenient viewing. Modifying, hiding or removing a column can be accomplished with a single click. Instructors can also create and save distinctive views of student grades, allowing them to filter student grades based on a set criteria, using Smart Views.
New grading options also mean flexibility. Instructors can over-ride a score or exempt any score, and eliminate high/low scores from calculations. Clicking on Grade Details from the drop down menu for each individual score allows instructors to view a student assessment and then easily access any other student assessment in a single click. Other big improvements include the ability to email students directly from the Grade Center and to build custom reports that include assignment and grade information that can be sent immediately to a single student, student groups, or the entire class.
Self and Peer Assessments
Using technology similar to the Assignment function, instructors can now require students to evaluate their own and peer submissions. In doing so, students gain new perspectives on important course material and engage critical thinking skills in order to accurately assess papers. Instructors create a self-peer assignment inside any Content Area from the drop-down menu on the right. Here they determine the number of students that will assess each student paper, deadlines for uploading assignments and assessing randomly assigned students, and criteria that students will use to support their assessment. During the assessment period, students reward points based on instructor criteria, which is viewable at the time of assessment. Once the assessment period expires, students can view points awarded and any comments posted by the assessor(s).
Integrated within the Blackboard system is a basic license for Scholar, a social bookmarking system that facilitates the transfer and sharing of relevant information. By entering Scholar through Blackboard, the instructor can easily access important information on the internet and automatically upload it to a Blackboard course as it becomes available. Using a tagging system created by the user, individuals are able to locate public information according to institution, author, topic or some other unique criteria identified by the user. Instructors can then view pertinent information, bookmark these locations to save it in a personal bookmark directory and upload it easily to content areas within Blackboard for student viewing. Additionally, instructors can create search parameters that scan the web for material matching set criteria and link these sites automatically to a content area right in Blackboard. This gives students and instructors easy access to the most up-to-date information on chosen topics as they become available on the internet. Blackboard Scholar uses the same drop-down menu in a Content Area to create Scholar links that is used to create other items, such as Self and Peer Assessments and Safe Assign assignments.
Several years ago and after much consideration, the Committee for Academic Integrity recommended that WSU purchase a license for Safe Assignment, plagiarism detection software. The decision to purchase the license was based on performance and critical options available only through Safe Assignment. Today, a new version of the software, called Safe Assign, is now available free through Blackboard. Although some features have been compromised, Safe Assign is still powerful software that, when used in conjunction with other strategies, is a proven deterrent to plagiarism.
Using the drop-down menu in any Content Area (see picture above), instructors can create an assignment whereby all submitted student manuscripts for that assignment are automatically uploaded to Safe Assign for plagiarism detection. Instructors who suspect individual manuscripts are plagiarized can also submit individual manuscripts for detection. Once papers are submitted, Safe Assign generates a report that identifies suspected sources, the percentage of the document or any suspected passage that is matched to outside resources, and then links to any suspected source available. Using Safe Assign as a teaching and learning tool is also possible if students are allowed to submit drafts prior to final submission. This gives students an opportunity to correct citing, quoting and referencing errors prior to grading and possible sanctions.
New features in the Content Management system allows for greater collaboration between and among faculty on projects that span departments and disciplines.
In the past, sharing information was easiest with those already enrolled in your course. With improvements in the Content Management system, faculty can use the Collaboration page to create, initiate and manage collaborative projects using multi-state workflows. Each member can then read, edit or add to the current project, making input across disciplines, time, and space much more convenient. Improvements in e-portfolio now allow users to create personal portfolios, collect artifacts relevant to teaching within the e-portfolio environment, and view portfolios submitted and shared by others in a single click. Users can also subscribe to directories so they are notified when new material is added to the directory.
The browser check, conveniently located as you enter Blackboard under the My Blackboard tab, allows students and faculty to determine if their computer has the software necessary to run all components of Blackboard loaded on the current computer. Upon clicking on Test your Browser, current computer components, along with required and optional components are listed with green checks next to those components already installed and red X’s next to components that are not currently installed. Instructors can search the internet or contact the OTL if there are concerns relative to the downloading and installing necessary software.
Hopefully, this article inspires you to look into the newest features in this major upgrade to Blackboard 8.0 to enhance your teaching and learning practices. Please check the OTL website to view our workshop calendar and sign up for instruction that suits your needs. If you are unable to meet during the regularly scheduled workshops, please do not hesitate to contact the OTL at firstname.lastname@example.org or 577.1980 to set up a personal consultation on upgrades mentioned here or on other technological and pedagogical issues. And be on the lookout for another Blackboard upgrade coming in May. The OTL will be offering training for faculty on the new features.