The Blackboard App: A Student’s Perspective

Today’s post is by Lesley grad student, Mike Yaniv.

It is no secret that the reality of being a graduate student means balancing a personal, academic, and financial life. Often, students have jobs, internships and full-time course loads. Consequently, one of the more challenging but critical aspects of being a successful graduate student is not necessarily the course load itself, but managing the flow of information, time, and organization. As students rely more and more on technology to handle an increasing stream of information (and memory retention), good quality applications are not only important but are becoming crucial. The Blackboard mobile app represents a convenient and effective tool that has quickly become integral for managing time and coursework.

screenshot of the Blackboard Student app

Bb Student App screenshot

Opening the blackboard student app presents the student with the activity stream window, which includes recent course announcements, upcoming due dates, and recent course activity (including graded assignments, recent discussion board posts/replies). The app also allows students to easily participate in discussion boards, contribute to blogs/journals and wikis, and even submit assignments. Additionally, by going into the course view, all the information students need is presented in one convenient screen, allowing students to view current grades, due dates, announcements, course content, discussions, and instructor information.

This kind of robust package, combined with a convenient and easy to understand interface, has significantly improved my time management and organization. Navigation through the app is seamless and natural, requiring a very small learning curve while retaining a feature-rich experience.

In order for this app to really live up to its potential, we recommend the following best practices:

  • Use the Announcements tool for course communication. This will ensure that students receive the information in myLesley, in the app, and also via email. More information on using the Announcements tool may be found here: Communicating Within Your myLesley Course.
  • Add due dates to assignments, tests, and other graded content (such as graded discussions, blogs, etc.). This will ensure that students can track and manage upcoming due dates for all of their course assignments in the calendar tool.

Ensuring the quality of content and following a best practice approach to building a course can have a meaningful and positive impact on student performance and experience in a course. Together with the Blackboard mobile app, managing a course has the potential to become less stressful and a lot more manageable.

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Blending Diversity into Online Teaching

As a way to incorporate Lesley University’s Inclusion Plan into teaching and learning opportunities, we created a new activity in our Online Teaching Seminar this February.

eLIS’ Teaching Seminar is designed to help prepare first-time online instructors to facilitate their courses. One of the exercises in the seminar is to participate in a discussion about scenarios that instructors may encounter when teaching an online course. We created a new example where one student makes a racist remark towards another student in an online discussion. We then ask our seminar participants how they would handle the situation if this happened in their course.

We had the instructors prepare for the discussion by reading a couple of resources on diversity and inclusion teaching:

Based on the readings, the instructors had a great conversation and offered advice to one another.

One question that was heavily discussed was the idea of depersonalization when debating potentially sensitive topics. Instead of asking students how you may feel about a topic, you can ask them to present an argument for or against said topic.

Additional topics that developed during the conversation included:

  • After an incident occurs, do you address the whole class or just address the students directly involved?
  • Is there a need to provide statistics or studies to controvert racist assumptions?

There may not be a definitive answer to these questions, but we wanted instructors to wrestle with these questions and deepen their own standards for teaching.

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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.

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Looking at Technology on the “Horizon” for Higher Education

The NMC Project Initiatives ModelWith new technology developments in education constantly increasing and changing, how do you keep up with the latest technology trends for higher education? How do you decide which technologies to implement and how to do this effectively? Where can you find examples of what other universities and faculty are doing? One option is to read the 2014 Higher Education Edition of the Horizon Report, an annual publication of the New Media Consortium (NMC), in collaboration with the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). This annual publication, released early this year, examines key trends, challenges, and specific emerging technologies or practices that are predicted to have a major impact on higher education over the next five years. An international panel of experts in education, technology, and related fields identify the topics that appear in the report.

The report identifies six key trends grouped by estimated time of impact, six significant challenges grouped by difficulty, and six emerging technologies grouped by estimated time of adoption (1 year or less, 2 to 3 years and 4 to 5 years).

To give some examples, the report identifies key trends such as the “Growing Ubiquity of Social Media” and the “Integration of Online, Hybrid and Collaborative Learning” as likely to drive changes in higher education over the next 1 or 2 years. Significant challenges, according to the report, include “Low Digital Fluency of Faculty” and “Keeping Education Relevant”.  Technology identified as having an important impact on higher education for the 1 year or less horizon include the “Flipped Classroom” and “Learning Analytics”.  To find out more about these and other trends, challenges, and technologies in the report, you can download a free copy of the report from the New Media Consortium (NMC) here. You can also find out more about the research process behind the report by checking out the Horizon Report’s wiki.

The Horizon Report encourages and inspires discussion and this past May I was able to attend a 2014 Horizon Report Symposium that was presented at NERCOMP (Northeast Regional Computing Program) in Norwood, MA. The symposium, organized and led by Bryan Alexander (one of the Horizon Report’s expert panelists), offered the chance to attend a presentation and to discuss the report and it’s implications with other higher education professionals, including educational technologists, instructional designers, IT professionals, librarians, administrators, and faculty.

The presentation was structured around Bryan Alexander’s wiki resource for the 2014 NERCOMP Horizon Report symposium, which includes links to related articles, websites, videos and more, as well as notes generated from the day’s discussion. Throughout the presentation, participants shared concerns, success stories, and even failures around the implementation of various new technologies. As is often the case, in the end more questions were probably raised then answered, but it’s always helpful to hear issues and examples from other professionals who are working with technology in education.

Following are some key takeaways from the event:

  1. It’s important to use new technology effectively to meet learning goals, rather than just for the sake of the new technology (even the most promising technology can be used poorly).
  2. There is a need to devise ways to support faculty in learning new technologies and help them to implement the technologies in effective and beneficial ways.
  3. There is a need to make sure the use of the technology is of benefit to the students and the learning process (especially in the case of technologies such as learning analytics).
  4. It’s also important to consider issues of concern, such as distraction (especially with social media and mobile devices), increased faculty workload, student privacy, and digital citizenship, among others.

A quick video overview of this year’s Horizon Report can be viewed at the New Media Consortium’s YouTube channel or below:

If you’d like to explore how some of the key trends and technologies from the Horizon Report can be applied to your own teaching (trends such as “The Growing Ubiquity of Social Media” or “Integration of Online, Hybrid and Collaborative Learning” and technologies such as the “Flipped Classroom”), contact eLIS at elis@lesley.edu.

Source for trends, challenges, and technology examples mentioned from the Horizon Report:

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freemam, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report:  2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

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Celebrate National Poetry Month with Apps!

Mix poetry and technology?
Yes! Try these apps.
They’re  fun and free!

April is National Poetry Month and that means it’s the perfect time to take advantage of technology to discover, read, or listen to poetry, or even to write and record your own. Whether you teach poetry, or just want to enjoy it or know more about it, you’ll find the apps listed below all offer a different way to experience this exciting world of words. The apps listed here are just a small sample of what’s out there, and are limited to apps that are free.

poetry_found_appPoetryfrom The Poetry Foundation, is a wonderful resource that gives you a portable library of thousands of classic and contemporary poems. It’s a great way to discover new poets and poems or just to look for your old favorites. Of special interest is the “spin” feature, which finds poems by random combinations of subject and mood. You can also manipulate these combinations manually, so you can find a perfect poem to suit the moment.  A large variety of poems and poets are included, ranging from Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe to Lucille Clifton and Billy Collins. Audio versions of some of the poems are available as well. Favorite poems can be saved and shared. New poems are added monthly and more poems are available on The Poetry Foundation website.

the_poetry_apThe Poetry App, by the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, provides an opportunity to see and hear classic poetry performed by professional actors. The app, which has a rather attractive and unusual interface, includes over 100 poems by 16 poets. It offers text versions of each poem, audio and/or video introductions and performances of the poetry, and background essays on the poets and their poems. There’s even an option to write, record, save, and share your own poetry. Thirty or so actors (Ralph Fiennes and Roger Moore among them) read the poems. The poets represented are mostly British and American “classic” poets, so it’s not an app for contemporary poetry, and it’s not the largest selection, but it’s an enjoyable way to experience various interpretations of the works of some great poets read by some great actors. The interface includes some hidden interviews and performances to discover as well. Favorites in text, video or audio can be saved and shared.

poetry_daily_appPoetry Daily, by Poetry Daily, is a handy little app if you want exposure to new poetry or poetry publications but don’t know where to look or don’t have a lot of time to go searching. It delivers a new poem to your device every day. Poems are contemporary and are chosen from new books, magazines and journals. Each poem includes a short note about the poet and the publication in which the poem currently appears and provides a link to the publisher. There are also options to find random poems, search the archive, and save and share favorites.

fridge_appFridgePoems, by Color Monkey, is a new app that’s pretty basic but it can be addictive and great for inspiring your inner poet. It mimics magnetic “fridge poetry” without the fridge! For those unfamiliar with the concept, you are provided with a limited selection of words and you can use as many (or as few) of the words as you’d like and arrange them any way you’d like on a virtual “fridge” to create your poems. The program lets you take a snapshot, save, and share your poetic masterpieces. You can also purchase additional word sets. There are a number of these types of apps available, so you may find others you want to check out with different interfaces and additional word choice options.

Poetry Everywhere, by WGBH,gbh_app is an app for the Poetry Everywhere project, created a few years ago by WGBH and David Grubin Productions in association with the Poetry Foundation. Basically, this app offers the chance to attend a poetry festival on your mobile device. It features videos of contemporary poets reading their own works with introductions by Garrison Keillor. Although the app itself only has 20 or so poems, more poems and poets are available from both the Poetry Foundation and the PBS Poetry Everywhere websites. The PBS site still highlights a different poem each day and includes a closed caption option for viewing the poems. Both websites also include student-created animated films of some of the poems, offering unique visual interpretations.

ravenThe Raven, by vNovel Interactive, offers an atmospheric version of the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem. This presentation of the “The Raven” comes with a spooky audio reading and accompanying artwork, as well as music and sound effects to enhance the mood and experience of the poem (including the “rapping” and “tapping” on the chamber door). The app was created a few years ago, and there isn’t much in the way of interactivity, other than to choose to have the poem read to you (recommended) or to read it yourself, but it’s still a nice example of how images and sound can be used effectively to enhance text. It’s also just a fun way to experience the poem.

Have you had success using any of these apps or other technology to teach or enjoy poetry? Perhaps you have a favorite app, website, or software that you’d like to recommend? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

All of the apps listed here are available for iPhone and iPad and Poetry, from The Poetry Foundation, and The Poetry App are also available for Android. If you would like to know more, or are interested in suggestions about how these apps might be used, feel free to contact elis@lesley.edu.

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