Faculty Spotlight: Martha McKenna

Martha McKenna is a professor at Lesley University and the Director of the Creativity Commons. As part of her work to support creative exploration in teaching and learning across the university, McKenna is currently heading up a two-year grant-funded project called the Visual Literacy InFUSION Project. This cross-division collaboration aims to support faculty across the university in recognizing, promoting and evaluating non-traditional visual and media literacies in their classroom practice. As the project heads into its second year, we caught up with McKenna to see what role academic technology has played in the Visual Literacy project so far, and how it might intersect with the project’s goals going forward.

[eLIS]: The faculty involved in the Visual Literacies project are a diverse group from across the university, all with busy schedules and other priorities. How have Lesley’s academic technology resources helped to facilitate the project despite these challenges and lay the foundation for an authentic group collaboration?

[McKenna]: Academic technology played a critical role in connecting faculty across the university in the Visual Literacy InFUSION Project.  Through myLesley, we were able to create a learning community where communication was centralized, and where all resources were made available and easily accessible. We have also been able to capture all of our faculty’s activity in the community’s Blogs. The eLIS staff helped us think through how best to utilize myLesley, and helped us to adapt the tools to suit our unique purposes.

[eLIS]: What do you see as the biggest challenges that lay ahead as the Visual Literacies project moves into its second year and scales up to reach more instructors and classrooms across the University? 

[McKenna]: We are excited to move forward with the Visual Literacy InFUSION Project across the undergraduate schools. Since the Project encourages faculty to integrate text and image more creatively in their teaching and learning environments, faculty will naturally be expanding their use of digital resources in the classroom, and many could require exposure and training to support this evolution in their practice. We will also be counting on myLesley to help us reach and coordinate the efforts of greater numbers of faculty across the undergraduate schools.

[eLIS]: With the success of the project so far in a select sample of face-to-face classrooms, do you see potential for this work to impact distance education and online instructional practices at Lesley University? 

[McKenna]: The Visual Literacy InFUSION Project provides an opportunity for all faculty to think about how digital resources can expand the engagement of students in learning and expressing what they know through text and images using new media. This transformation away from text-centered instruction can only expand the way we look at online learning resources and delivery of instruction. And since our approach has students become active agents in their own learning through project-based assignments, it is perfectly suited to create new possibilities in Lesley’s online learning environments.

The Emergence of Learning Analytics: Evidence-based Decision Making

Learning Analytics is a fast-growing field in education focused on the use of data to improve teaching and learning. Learning management systems are starting to include dashboard tools with visual data displays, products like ALEKS use adaptive learning technologies in concert with analytics tools to provide students with personalized learning experiences, and Columbia University has recently established a Master’s degree in Learning Analytics.

While definitions vary, the focus of Learning Analytics is usually data that instructors and students can use, particularly during instruction, to positively impact learning. Below is an example of a dashboard in the open source learning management system called “Desire2Learn” showing course data for one student:


A different example of data used in teaching is shown below. This table is from Kaltura, which is integrated with myLesley (Blackboard). It shows data related to views of a video in an online professional development seminar facilitated in May, 2016. Such information can allow instructors to know which students are viewing the media and how much they are viewing:


Kaltura Data

A final example from the open source LMS called “Sakai” shows the nature of student interaction in online discussions through a social network diagram. This data can be used early in a course to find out which students are less involved, which could be future group leaders, and the level of collaboration in the discussions. As a course is running, an instructor might want to use this data to refine or redirect discussion activities, and enhance the course’s interactivity. This kind of useful information is much harder to discern using the typical discussion tools in learning management systems.


We have no doubt that you will continue to hear more about Learning Analytics as the technology you use to support your teaching integrates data that is more visually accessible and actionable. Making use of this information in the right way can only enhance the learning experience you deliver – making it more targeted and responsive.

To find out more about Learning Analytics that are currently available to in myLesley, contact elis@lesley.edu.

Goodbye Voice Tools

Blackboard has announced that it will be discontinuing the Voice Authoring tools in myLesley. This set of tools include Voice Authoring, Voice Board, Voice Podcaster, and Voice Email.
Record audio

Why the Change?

The Voice Authoring tools are built using Java, a programming language that allows for the creation of interactive applications that can run within your web browser. Unfortunately, Java applications can also be a vehicle for malicious software and viruses. Web browsers therefore ask you if you want to allow the application run before it will do so, especially if you are in a password-protected site such as myLesley. The allow option in your web browser can often be very hidden or located in a different place in different browsers. Most people won’t even notice the allow option and will simply think the content or tool is broken.
blocked java

The end result is java applications such as Voice Authoring are technically quirky, confusing, frustrating and often just not worth the effort. Rather than redesign the tools, Blackboard has decided to discontinue them and partner with VoiceThread to allow the use of audio with images.

While not a direct replacement for Voice Authoring, VoiceThread does provide a new feature set to allow you to do more with your audio. To ease the transition, VoiceThread has put together a nice guide, How Does VoiceThread Compare to Voice Authoring, to help you conceptualize using VoiceThread in place of Voice Authoring.


When is This Happening?

Blackboard will officially discontinue access to the Voice Authoring tools on August 31, 2016. However, Lesley will lose access to these tools on June 30, 2016 when our license ends.


How can I save my Voice Authoring content?

You can export most of your voice content to your computer. This tutorial will guide you through the process: Exporting and Importing Voice Authoring Content. We recommend that you archive your content no later than June 15, 2016.

If you would like to reuse your voice content, you may import the audio files into VoiceThread or Kaltura.


Need Assistance?

If you need assistance transitioning your content to other tools or archiving your Voice Authoring content, please email elis@lesley.edu

News from Canvas

On Wednesday, April 13, 2016, folks from Canvas joined several Lesley faculty and staff to give us a tour of the Canvas LMS and discuss what a Lesley course may look like if it were in Canvas.

Overview of Canvas

Canvas allows each user to set their notification preferences globally. Faculty and students may decide whether to receive notifications for certain actions (ex Announcements, Grading, Discussion Board posts), how often they receive the notifications (immediately, daily summary, weekly summary, no notification), and where they receive notifications (Lesley email, personal email, text message). Each individual sets his/her own preferences on a global level; they cannot be set for individual courses.

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Canvas allows you to create events directly in the calendar. Events added to the course calendar are automatically added to the syllabus area of the course.

Unlike in Blackboard, there is no date management tool within courses. Instead, you can shift dates when importing content or by manually moving the items on the calendar.

Content/Text editor
Canvas’ Rich Content Editor is easy to use, featuring formatting options similar to those in most standard content editors. You can record or upload audio and video directly into the text editor.

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Files, images, and links to course content (such as Assignments, Pages, Quizzes, Discussions, etc.) can easily be added from the Insert Content Into Page module in the right sidebar.

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Canvas course content is organized into modules, which function similarly to Blackboard’s learning modules. Clicking on Modules in the course menu takes users to a table of contents style list of course content. Clicking on a topic will take you to that item.

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Once in the module, students page through content sequentially using Previous/Next buttons. To view content out of order, students return to the Modules table of contents view and select the item they wish to view.

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Instructors can easily set restrictions for when students are able to view content, including time release conditions, requirements, or prerequisites before content is made available.


Collaborative Tools
BigBlueButton is built in to Canvas, allowing faculty and students the opportunity to meet online in real-time. BigBlueButton allows users to share audio, video, presentations, and more. BigBlueButton is browser-based, but requires Java in order to use the screen share function. The basic version of BigBlueButton is free, but Lesley may require a premium license in order to download and keep recordings for longer than 14 days.

Faculty may create groups for their course, where students can create pages, share files, have discussions, and participate in web conferences.

Assignments and Grading
Canvas Assignments can be set up to accept a variety of submission types, including the ability to accept URL content such as from a OneDrive or Google Doc.

Similar to Blackboard, SpeedGrader allows faculty to view, grade, and provide feedback to students without ever leaving Canvas. A SpeedGrader app is also available for grading on a tablet.

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When grading, instructors can provide text or media feedback as well as send messages to students who haven’t submitted their assignment, haven’t been graded yet, or scored less than or more than a certain grade.

Peer review is built directly into the Assignment tool, allowing students the option to review their peers.

Unlike Blackboard, all grading columns must be associated with a gradable item, such as an assignment, quiz, or graded discussion. Instructors cannot manually create grade columns such as for participation or a classroom oral presentation. Instead, instructors would create an assignment and specify “non submission”.

Questions from the Audience

How customizable is the course look and menus?
Unfortunately, Canvas is not as customizable as Blackboard. The course menu in Canvas contains links to course tools and content areas and is somewhat customizable. Faculty can choose to show or hide course areas in the menu and rearrange the order of the items based on their needs. You cannot add non-course tools to the menu such as links to outside websites or tools or create links to a specific part of the course.

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Canvas does have themes, though they are only for branding and look and feel. These themes can only be customized at the admin level and applied to certain programs or schools.

How can I share quizzes or other content with other faculty?
Canvas has a built-in learning object repository called Canvas Commons, which allows faculty to find, import, and share resources with each other.

Can I add captions to a video that I upload to Canvas?
Yes, you may add a caption file to any video you upload to Canvas. You will first need to upload the video then use the Subtitle Creation Tool to add subtitles or captions via Amara.


Does Canvas offer Screencasting capability, for example to create course tours?
No, Canvas’ video recording tool is webcam only. Faculty can currently use Kaltura CaptureSpace Lite for this purpose.

How well are courses imported from Blackboard into Canvas?
Generally speaking, courses imported to Canvas from Blackboard map out pretty similar. Folders and learning modules will import as Canvas modules, Blackboard items will import as Canvas pages, Discussions, Assignments, and Tests will import as their respective Canvas tool. Some content, such as blogs and journals, will not import as Canvas does not have those types of tools.


Learn more about the LMS Review and check out the info sheets on all of the options we are reviewing. Please share your thoughts and questions with us by emailing elis@lesley.edu.

News from Blackboard

On Friday, April 8, 2016, our Blackboard Customer Success Representative joined several of our faculty to provide a tour of new features in Blackboard and a sneak peek at upcoming products.

SaaS and What That Means to Us

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a method of distributing software via the internet. There is nothing for the software user to install or update on their own computer. The software company handles all the updates and fixes to the software on their end and the next time you log in to the site, you see the new changes. If you use Google apps, OneDrive or VoiceThread, you are already using SaaS software.  

Lesley University is interested moving to Blackboard’s SaaS model for several reasons. It would eliminate the need to make Blackboard unavailable every August for two or three days to perform upgrades and required maintenance. We would also be able to get fixes and updates faster without having to schedule downtime with Blackboard. myLesley should also perform better and faster, especially at high usage times such as the beginning and end of semesters.

Blackboard Mobile Apps

Bb Student allows students to submit assignments, take tests, and view content from their mobile phones and tablets. Assignment files can be attached from Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive. The ability to participate in discussions is coming soon. Bb Student is available for iOS and Android devices.

Bb Grader is an instructor app for grading student work submitted via the Assignments tool. Faculty can view, sort, annotate, and provide audio and video feedback. Graded work can be returned to students one at a time or all at once. Bb Grader is currently for iPad only.

Get them now. They’re free!

Upcoming Attractions for Blackboard Learn

Blackboard has several new products and features that are available now or coming soon. We are particularly excited about the OneDrive integration. This would allow faculty and students to add content or submit assignments directly from OneDrive. No more downloading documents from OneDrive and having to upload them into myLesley. OneDrive integration is currently only available for SaaS.

Blackboard has developed Blackboard Ultra, a whole new version of its learning management system (LMS). Blackboard Ultra is designed to be more streamlined, more intuitive, less complex, and focused on the student experience.

blackboard ultra course view

This new version of Blackboard is still under development and doesn’t yet have all the tools we would want to see in an LMS. However, if you are interested you may preview Ultra now. Go to preview.blackboard.com and register. You will get two Ultra courses and two original courses to compare.

Questions from the Audience

There were several Lesley faculty members in attendance at the demo, both in person and online… and they brought their questions. Here are a few highlights.

How are changes implemented if we are on SaaS?
Maintenance updates and fixes are implemented continuously behind the scenes rather than waiting for a scheduled maintenance window and downtime. New features and changes to existing tools roll out with these maintenance updates, but are turned off initially. This allows Lesley to pick the best time to release them to our faculty and students. Don’t worry. You won’t get a new gradebook in the middle of finals.

What is the list of features for Blackboard Ultra that will be coming in the future?
Blackboard Ultra looks very interesting, but it’s still missing a few key elements. Tests should be available sometime this summer, but there’s still no blog or journal tool. Below is a roadmap of features that are currently available, currently in development, and still on the to-do list. Check out Blackboard’s roadmap webinars for all the latest information on what’s to come.

Blackboard Ultra roadmap

Are you planning to move to Blackboard Ultra soon?
No. There is currently no plan to move to Blackboard Ultra. It simply isn’t ready. Instead, we are looking at moving our current version of Blackboard/myLesley into the SaaS cloud in order to get better performance and faster updates and fixes.

What about accessibility?
Blackboard takes accessibility very seriously. Get all the information on all their products at blackboard.com/accessibility


Learn more about the LMS Review and check out the info sheets on all the options we reviewed. Please share your thoughts and questions with us by emailing elis@lesley.edu.