Tag: Teaching Tips

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Welcome to the Fall Semester! – September 2020 Faculty Newsletter

September 2020

We hope everyone is having a smooth transition into Fall semester! The Office of Faculty Development and Instructional Design (OFDIT) will be sending out a newsletter a few times each semester with updates on tools and resources from individual teams within OFDIT, and professional development events to assist with your online teaching needs.

We are pleased to present our first newsletter here!

Ensemble Video
Have you heard of Ensemble Video? If you’re using video in your SPS course, then Ensemble is something to consider. It’s features match, and in some cases, exceed those found in video hosting platforms like YouTube or Vimeo. Think of Ensemble like you own SPS YouTube channel but with significant advantages for educators, like no social media interruptions, no advertisements, no suggested videos. Furthermore, it’s integrated into Blackboard and tied to the SPS captioning service. More details on our Ensemble Video SPS Faculty page.

If you’d like to learn more, please consider registering for one our information sessions coming up. In the session, we will introduce the tool’s more salient features, including student viewing data, the Blackboard integration, and streamlined professional captioning. Auto-publishing, in-video quizzes, and student video submissions will also be discussed.

Annotate Tool in Blackboard
We would like to introduce everyone to Annotate, a new integrated grading tool in Blackboard, replacing Box View. Annotate allows instructors to provide customizable feedback to students’ assignments when they are submitted as any of the supported file types (not when entered as text directly). Annotate is integrated directly in the Grade Center; i.e. submitted files will open right in your browser so you can readily use available grading tools, such as free-hand drawing and erasing, or highlighting and underlining. Another option is to use images from your computer as well as ready-made or customized stamps (e.g. “approved” stamp or “draft” stamp). Annotate also features options for both in-line commenting and written comments, which appear in a side panel. Finally, Annotate allows you to download a student’s submission with your annotations, and to search for specific text within a submission.

To learn more about Annotate, please watch this video and review the Annotate support site by Blackboard (which includes a list of accepted file types when using Annotate). Reach out to our team at facultysupport@sps.cuny.edu for any questions you might have.

Important Note on Grading: CUNY Blackboard times out after 60 minutes. Be sure to save any grading comments before the 60-minute time limit or else you might lose your work.

Before you go, please remember our fall trainings and events! We are continuing our regular informal meetups on Oct. 21 and November 18. We also hope to see you at our upcoming faculty discussion on Trauma-Informed Pedagogy on October 2 from 12.45-2 EST. Please register using this link. Our fall trainings include sessions on Zoom Meeting for Student Hours, A Cut Above: Making Your Videos More Professional, VoiceThread: Humanize Your Online Course, Student Engagement in Online Learning, and more. Find more information and registration links on our SPS Faculty Community Site.

Thank you for reading! As always, please contact us at facultysupport@sps.cuny.edu with any questions or support requests. See you at one of our upcoming events, or for our next newsletter in October!

Your OFDIT Team

 

Teaching Tip: Using the Re-ordering Button in Blackboard

The re-ordering button in Blackboard is a neat way to re-arrange items on a page, such as discussion forums, weekly folders, etc., without having to scroll and then drag things all the way up and down with your mouse. This feature can be helpful when having to re-arranging items on a long content page, or if you’ve ever re-ordered items on your course site and had them mysteriously return to their previous order. The re-order button also helps users who cannot use the drag and drop feature in Blackboard because of mobility or other issues.

On your Blackboard course page, select the Keyboard Accessible Reordering icon in the upper right-hand corner.

In the Reorder box, select the item you’d like to move from the list. Use the Move Up and Move Down icons to adjust the order and click Submit.

Navigating Discussion Threads on Blackboard

After the latest Blackboard upgrade in December 2016, a new (old) feature has been re-introduced to your course sites: arrow buttons for navigating threads on the Discussion Board.

You’ll find these buttons in the top right corner of each thread page. If you use individual threads for each student in your weekly discussions, you might find these buttons particularly helpful for navigating from thread to thread, or to jump to the first / last thread with one easy click.

Happy navigating!

Teaching Tip: Facilitating Group Work in Online Courses

Group work promotes engagement with course material and prepares students for workplace collaboration; still, some students dread it. Careful planning can help you design online group activities that give your students the benefits of working collaboratively while avoiding the pitfalls of online group assignments.

group-work-imageIn online environments, it can take more time to coordinate group tasks and divide responsibilities among the group. It is a good idea to build in at least three weeks for groups to work on a small-scale assignment. Since online students do not have class meetings where they can exchange ideas and arrange their responsibilities, it is also important to ensure that each group has its own workspace, such as a group discussion board. Encourage members to connect early on, perhaps through an ice-breaker you design, before the assignment begins. The ideal group size online is three or four, since it is not uncommon in larger groups for some members to contribute less than others. For more information about best practices for online group work, check out Blackboard’s blog post or this article from Online Learning Insights.

Provide a platform for accountability and peer evaluation.
It’s important that group members be held accountable for the quality of their contributions, their levels of responsibility, and their professionalism in the group setting. Peer evaluations provide you with a way to factor those behind-closed-doors variables into each student’s grade. It’s a good idea to schedule peer evaluations several times over the course of a term in order to provide opportunities for adjustment and improvement. It’s also a good idea for you to check on groups to evaluate their progress and gauge whether all members are contributing. If you see that a group member is not participating, you can send them gentle reminders to get them back on track. You should also decide what kinds of consequences will be in place for group members who don’t participate, and communicate this clearly to students.

Build in opportunities for groups to interact with each other.
There are several ways to implement inter-group interaction. For example, the whole class could work on a single large project, with each group producing one part of the whole. At the end of the course, students can see and experience the final product they all contributed to. Alternatively, each group can work on its own version of a smaller project, and in turn provide feedback and critiques to other groups while seeing different approaches and perspectives. Wikis are a great tool for implementing both methods. As this article on effective online group work states, group activities often fall into one of three categories:

  • There’s no right answer, such as debates, or research on controversial issues.
  • There are multiple perspectives, such as analyzing current events, cultural comparisons, or case studies.
  • There are too many resources for one person to evaluate, so a jigsaw puzzle approach is needed with each student responsible for one part.

Also, see this blog post on four strategies for effective collaborative group work. Ultimately, the goal is to design group work that is truly collaborative, i.e. the students will benefit more from doing the activity as a group than doing it alone.

Want to learn more about facilitating group work in your Blackboard course site? Sign up for our training on October 21 at noon.

Krystyna, Sarah & Antonia

 

What Do OFDIT and Stevie Wonder Have in Common?

Besides our outstanding musical ability? Our goal of promoting accessibility!

If you tuned into the Grammy’s last month then you may have noticed musician Stevie Wonder’s call for greater Disability Rights. His appeal is part of a broader movement of people across the country and around the globe working to make institutions, including universities, more accessible to all people.

Locally, instructors here at CUNY SPS are joining the ranks of other educators to make their schools, classes, and course materials accessible to people with disabilities.

word cloud accessibilityKeeping in mind the diversity of our students, faculty, and staff, including individuals with disabilities, OFDIT collaborates with instructors and administrators to make all of our online learning environments accessible and inclusive, and to contribute to a richer learning environment. In order to fulfill this goal we created an Accessibility Resources Site listing materials on Universal Design in Learning (UDL), as well as how-to guides for creating accessible course documents.

This month we continue our efforts through the introduction of a new Accessibility Training Series covering how to use the tools already at your disposal to make your online courses accessible to all students. Sign up for our short lunchtime training sessions on accessibility features in Microsoft Word, captioning course videos, and more. We look forward to continuing our work with faculty to ensure that we serve all of our diverse students!

Antonia, Dominique & Sarah

PS: Check out our latest UD Nosh post on the third UDL principle, featuring your colleague Prof. Julie Maybee from the Disabilities Studies Program as our co-author! (Thank you, Julie!)

Helpful Habits for a New Semester!

The beginning of the semester is always a good time to try something new to make teaching more effective and more efficient. We’d like to start the spring semester with both a pedagogical tip and a practical tip that hopefully will make your courses more successful and less time-consuming to manage.

Pedagogical Tip: Be consistent in both the structure and formatting of elements in your course site. For example, compare these two screenshots of my announcements page with each other:

consistency blog post

While it’s true that the second picture looks a little boring, compared with the variety in colors, titles, and fonts in the first picture, students will find it easier to develop the habit of attending to weekly announcements and to absorb the information they contain when the structure and the formatting are consistent.

Another reason to keep formatting consistent and low-key is to make text more accessible to screen readers, i.e. text-to-speech programs used by the visually impaired. Screen readers can get tripped up by inconsistent formatting or text with lots of different types of emphasis. So pick a font that you like and stick to it, and pick either bold, underline, or italics for emphasis, and stick to that. It will make things easier for both you and your students!

See our Accessibility Resources Site for more information on accessible course sites and materials.

Practical Tip: Keeping your Dev sites up to date. As you all know, the process of getting online courses up and running at the beginning of the semester can be a bit hectic (or even very hectic). A great way of making your own life easier is to keep your Dev site updated with all the changes you make to your course during the semester (the ones you want to keep, of course). You have a couple options for how to go about this:

  1. Always make changes to the Dev site immediately after making them in your live course
  2. change_log_doc1Keep a log of changes as you make them in the live course site in a document or spreadsheet. You can even keep this document in your course (just don’t make it available to users). Then, at the end of the semester when things are not so hectic, take an hour or two to sit down and add all the changes you want to keep in your Dev site.

Why is this so useful? Once you’ve updated your Dev site, your course is ready to copy. All you have to do at the beginning of the next semester is adjust all the due dates and availability dates for time-sensitive items in the course. This makes for a relaxing break!

Have a great spring semester,
Sarah & Antonia

Happy New Year! And: Getting updates through “Subscribe” for Blackboard discussions

All of us at OFDIT wish you a happy new year and hope you have had enjoyable holidays. May 2016 be a successful teaching year for all of you.

Starting last year, SPS is now also offering a 3-week winter session. When teaching an intensive course over such a short time, it can be especially challenging to keep up with new Discussion Board posts in your Blackboard course site. One solution for both you and your students is to use the Subscribe option offered for individual discussion forums. By enabling this feature — and subscribing to either entire forums or particular threads — you will receive an email every time someone in your course posts a new entry.

Aside from using this feature in an intensive course, where being responsive to students’ questions is even more time-sensitive than usual, it can also be helpful to enable subscriptions for forums such as “Q&A” or “Ask Your Instructor” in any of your spring or fall course sites.

Here is how to make subscription an option for yourself and your students:

1) On your course site, go to the discussion board.

DB dropdown menu2) Hover over the title of the discussion forum you’d like to enable Subscribe, click the downward arrow and select “Edit” from the menu.

3) On the next page, scroll down to “Subscribe” options.

DB allow subscriptions4) Here you can allow subscriptions to either the entire forum (recommended for Q&A forums, for example), or to specific threads within the forum. You can also choose to either include the body of the post in the email, or simply a link to that post.

DB subscribe5) Back on the Forum page you will now see the option to Subscribe on the banner above the list of threads. Make sure to click it to receive email notifications, and to let your students know about this option as well.

6) If you ever want to stop receiving these emails, simply click Unsubscribe.

Please note, after receiving an email reminder you will still need to log into Blackboard to leave a post or reply.

We have also created a new quick guide with more detailed step-by-step instructions for your reference.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions about this, or any other Blackboard features: Sarah Kresh and Antonia Levy

 

Troubleshooting Final Grades Calculation Brings Vacation Closer

happynewyearThe end of December signals the approach of the New Year. OFDIT hopes to help instructors manage their workload and bring those celebrations even closer with the publication of new Quick Guides explaining how to easily tabulate students’ final grades using either Total Column or the Weighted Total Columns.

Both guides outline which settings to check to guarantee that your students’ grades are accurate and easy to report.  Generally speaking, final grades correspond to the percentage of points students have earned relative to the number of point possible. In Blackboard, there are two ways you can calculate final grades: either by using Total Points and by setting up a  Weighted Total.

A Total Column calculates final grades by simply adding up all of the points a student has earned and dividing it by the total number of points possible in your course. In other words, the weighting of assignments is done by assigning a different number of points possible per assignment. For example, a paper worth 100 points counts more toward a student’s final grade than a quiz worth 10 points.

In contrast, a final grade calculated using the Weighted Total is based on the respective percentages you assign to various columns and categories of assignments. When setting up the Weighted Total column, you’ll determine the weight of either a column (i.e. a single assignment, such as the Final Paper), or a category (i.e. a group of assignments, such as discussions or quizzes). A Weighted Total is calculated independently of the actual points an assignment is worth. For example, in a scheme where essays are weighted to comprise 25% of the final grade and quizzes 10%, a paper worth 10 points and a quiz worth 10 points would have different values (weights) for the final grade. The Weighted Total quick guide walks instructors through the process of making sure their calculation is properly arranged to compute accurate grades.

Whichever method you use to calculate your grades, OFDIT can help. We are offering targeted training on this precise issue via our Brown Bag Bytes lunchtime workshop series. To register for these or other trainings please sign up here, or fill out our form for one-on-one training.

Happy New Year and Happy Grading!

Dominique & Antonia

Teaching Tip: VoiceThread introduces threaded comments

If you have used VoiceThread in your course then you already know that it is a great tool for creating a discussion around a multimedia presentation, a PowerPoint slide show, a song, or even just a page of text. Recently VoiceThread introduced a few new ways for participants to interact with VoiceThread slides: direct replies, threaded replies, and private replies.
comments in VT

  • Direct replies allow you to click on a comment and have your reply appear directly below that comment, instead of putting your response at the very bottom of the comments bar.
  • Threaded replies are like direct replies, but they start a thread from the original comment and they are visually distinct so you can see who is participating in a particular thread of comments.
  • Private replies are recommended for individual feedback or for private “sidebar” conversations between VoiceThread participants.

See this VoiceThread video for a short overview of these new reply options.

Here’s what a thread of replies looks like:

VoiceThread threaded repliesAllowing threaded replies is not a default setting in VoiceThread. Here’s how to enable them:

  • On your VoiceThread Home screen, hover over the VoiceThread in which you want to enable threaded commenting, and select Edit in the lower left corner.
  • On the next screen, click on the blue pencil on top to edit the VoiceThread settings. In the window that opens, select the Playback Options tab and tick “Enable threaded commenting.”

The threaded reply icon will now be available when participants click on a comment.VoiceThread add threaded replyIf you have any questions about replies (or any other feature) in VoiceThread, please feel free to contact Sarah Kresh or Antonia Levy.