Staff Details page in Blackboard 9.1

Seems I’ve let my description of the functionality of Blackboard 9.1 slip a little bit. (Well, we’re waiting for a decision from the Infrastructure committee, on whether we can go ahead with the upgrade this year, and I am quite busy with other things. That’s my excuse anyway).

Nevertheless, Blackboard 9 won’t go away, and I have been asked to demonstrate it for a committee this afternoon, so I thought it worth adding another bit of “What’s the difference” to the blog. This is actually a very minor thing, but it took me a while to work it out, so it might be useful to record it. I was trying to add a “staff details” page, because I think it’s quite useful to identify staff to students and let them know when we’re available for consultation.

Now, the staff details page has always presented problems for those who use Blackboard less frequently, because it’s a tool page, rather than a content area. That’s a bit unintuitive if you ask me, since it only contains content. However, that’s the way Blackboard have designed it, so we’re stuck with it!

Anyway when I tried to add a tool link, I looked in vain for the “staff details” tool in the drop down list. It’s still there though – they’ve just renamed it “Contacts”, which I suppose is fair enough, since you might want to list an entire class in there, or people who are not staff, but whom students may need to contact. Still, if all you wanted to do was to post a list of staff, you don’t seem to be able to change the header on the page which insists on displaying the word “Contacts”. Of course, it may be that I haven’t found out how to do that yet, but while I’m on this, I would really like the ability to change, or remove the header on modules on the course home page, which again, doesn’t seem to be possible.

Blackboard 9.1 Assignments

Here’s the next instalment in my ongoing review of the functionality of Blackboard 9.1. Today I thought I’d have a look at the assignments feature, since there is a lot of interest in electronic submission of work across the University.

There are some improvements in assignment handling, in  the new version of Blackboard, without, as far as I can see any loss of features, at least not of features that we use.  The biggest change is that instructors now have the ability to set assessments for groups. That means two things. First different groups can be given different assignments, although, technically that can be done in our current version by using the adaptive release tool. More interestingly the instructor can decide whether they would like the students to submit a single piece of work on behalf of the whole group. (Some time saving potential there!). If this approach is taken, the instructor still has the choice of giving each student an individual grade, or awarding the same grade to the whole group. Of course a group can still be set up so that each individual member of the group has to submit an individual piece of work, although, if an instructor chooses to do this,  the option to give a single grade to the whole group is still available . Quite how this would be managed remains to be seen, but the technology will support it.

A nice feature when setting up group assignments is that once a student is assigned to a group, they can’t be assigned accidentally to other groups (their name disappears from the list of potential members). This can be turned off though, if an instructor wishes to have students in more than one group.  Similarly, by default, group assessments are only visible to members of the group.

Another additional feature is the addition of an option to allow multiple submissions, each of which can be graded. While this may seem to create extra work, there is something to be said for asking to see drafts of student work, if only because it can highlight obvious errors early on, and even detect obvious plagiarism. It’s also quite good practice for students to draft, and redraft their work, and this option would seem to provide some incentive for them to do so. There is also a submission history. While students have always been able to add comments to their submission, all these comments are preserved, so instructors can check back to see how far a students work has improved over the course of the assessment process.

There are some changes to the instructors view of a student’s submission, as illustrated here.

Instructors view of the student grade page
Instructors view of the student grade page

This appears to be cosmetic, in that the long page offered by version 8, has been replaced by a neater, tabbed appearance, each tab linking to different parts of the page.  There are also buttons each of which links to an activity that the instructor may want to do, such as actually mark the work.  Blackboard are also promising a feature which will allow instructors to mark work online, (that is, without needing to print it out)  and although they have demonstrated it to user groups,  this feature  is not available for the moment.