The First Week of Your Online Class

If you’re new to teaching online, the first week can be a little overwhelming. It can also be hard to tell if your students are doing anything until they start posting. Below are a few tips to help you get started. You may also want to refer to our Getting Ready for a New Semester post.

  1. Gauging Student Engagement: Use the Performance Dashboard to check on student access to the course. If a student has not accessed the course in the first week, contact them immediately (by phone if necessary). It is possible that students are not using Lesley email or have neglected to link their private email to their Lesley account.
  2. Managing Discussions: Familiarize yourself with an efficient workflow for monitoring, responding to, and assessing discussions or other group activities. A common work-flow for discussion management is:
    1. Check in briefly each day to monitor activity. If students are not on-task, use the Announcements tool to guide them back on track. If private communications are necessary, use course email.
    2. Consider your role in discussions. Keep in mind that too many posts by the instructor could discourage student interaction. On the other hand, do let students know that you are monitoring the discussion, even if your presence via posting isn’t necessary.
    3. When reviewing discussions in detail, use the “Collect” tool to view all the text at one time. You also have the option to print the discussion text.
    4. Use a printout of the students’ names, along with the text of the discussion board (electronic or paper printout), to assess the quality of interaction and postings.

For additional assistance and tutorials please visit our website or contact

Getting Ready for a New Semester

The Fall semester is fast approaching and there is so much to do. Below are a few reminders and tips from our instructional design team to smooth the way and get off to a great start.

Before Your Course Begins:

Personalize Your Course: Consider which aspects of the course you want to adjust.  At minimum, this should include parts of the syllabus (your contact information, for example). If necessary, contact eLIS or use our online tutorials to learn about Blackboard editing tools.

Review and update information as necessary in the syllabus that sets expectations for communication, group work, or instructor facilitation. For example, will the pre-established turn-around times for feedback work with your schedule? Keep in mind that changes you make in the syllabus might need to be checked against content you entered into myLesley to make sure the instructions align in both locations.

Set Up a Teaching Schedule: Consider setting up a teaching schedule to better organize your teaching time.  A schedule can help you to identify when to attend to different facilitation tasks (i.e. weekly announcements, daily discussion board check-ins, major project or paper feedback, etc.).

Familiarize Yourself with These Tools:
Performance Dashboard: Use this tool to quickly view if and when students are accessing the course.
performance dashboard

Announcements Tool: Recommendations for using this tool include:

  • Always make sure to send Announcements as emails. Embedded images, video, or audio will NOT be available to students in emails.
  • Use the Announcement Tool for:
    1. Welcome messages, briefly introducing yourself and the course
    2. Introducing a new week and wrapping up a previous week
    3. Providing whole-class feedback on discussions, group work, etc.
    4. Updating students on changes to the course or assignment scheduling
    5. Clarifying any confusion that multiple students have experienced

Post a Welcome Announcement: In addition to welcoming students to the course, you might point out the syllabus and other key documents to review before beginning the first module.

Taking care of these seemingly small things now can greatly help you stay organized and in contact with your students as you move through the course.

Learning Online: It’s a Process

Nancy Beardallprofile image teaches dance therapy courses for the Expressive Therapies program. This September, she taught her Body/Movement Observation and Assessment course online for the first time. To prepare for this new experience, Nancy worked with an eLIS instructional designer over several months to reimagine what her face-to-face content would look like online.

During the design process and while teaching online, Nancy had several realizations. As a dance therapist there’s an intuitive sense that informs her teaching. When teaching online, there’s also an intuitive sense to using and smoothly integrating the technology, but she didn’t have that technology vocabulary to guide her. This created a feeling of discombobulation of how the two would fit together. To overcome her obstacles, Nancy continued working through her content with an instructional designer and attended eLIS’ Summer Technology Institute, The Institute allowed her to use an inquiry model to re-examine her content with other faculty while at the same time exploring technologies and how they might ‘fit’ her content.

One of Nancy successful blendings of content and technology was the students’ final presentations. Students recorded and analyzed their application of specific movement theories. Their videos were uploaded to a course media gallery using Kaltura Video in myLesley. Nancy then scheduled synchronous online meetings in Lync. Each student had ten minutes to present their work and five minutes for follow up. Students reviewed each other’s videos in advance of the online meetings and posted feedback to the students within a few days after the meeting. Nancy found that the wait time between the presentation and the responses was an unexpected benefit. Students could review presentations at their own speed as often as they needed and they had time to think and process what they had experienced. She found their responses to be much more thoughtful as they balanced their initial reactions against longer reflections when they wrote their comments. They were simply “terrific.”

Nancy’s second realization was that she probably talked too much in her face-to-face classes. She wasn’t able to do that online. As a result was that the students did more of the talking and presenting while she listened and guided. Nancy liked the result of hearing her students as they worked through the content so much that she is now trying to shift the balance in her on-campus classes and talk less allowing her experience teaching online to inform her face-to-face teaching practice.

If Nancy had one piece of advice for faculty new to teaching online, it would be to realize that “it takes a village” to learn. You won’t be doing this by yourself. Work with the eLIS designers, other faculty and even your students to learn the design, teaching and technology skills you will need. It will be an iterative process. There will be frustrations, but there will also be successes and unexpected benefits. The final result probably won’t be what you originally envisioned. With time, patience and a willingness to adapt, it can be much better!


Track Student Performance for Early Outreach

Once upon a time, Blackboard had an Early Warning System to alert you about students who might need outreach or additional assistance. It was a good idea, but it was clunky, awkward to navigate and hidden away. Therefore, no one used it.

The Early Warning System has now grown up and evolved into the much easier to use Retention Center.
retention center alert

The Retention Center allows you get an at-a-glance view of how your students are doing. Alerts tell you if students haven’t logged in to the course recently, aren’t participating in course activities, have missed due dates or have grades below a certain threshold. You can easily navigate through multiple courses to get an overview or click for more details on a specific course.

You can choose to monitor at-risk students and contact them directly from the Retention Center. The Retention Center will keep track of your notification emails and any private notes about the student such as special accommodations for disabilities, additional assistance provided or extenuating circumstances. You can also set up custom alerts or edit the existing default alerts for a course. Only instructors and teaching assistants can see Retention Center information in myLesley.

Retention Center main page

Start using the Retention Center now! There is no setup required.

You can access the Retention Center in two ways: the My Blackboard menu in the top right corner of your window or from the Evaluation area of your course’s Control Panel.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 3.16.45 PM

To learn more about how to use the Retention Center and its robust features, check out the Using the Retention Center tutorial.


Ideas for Giving Online Students Clear Feedback

By Koui² (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsStructuring a feedback cycle in online course is in many ways no different than in a face-to-face one.  For example, if you are using peer feedback, you may already be using some of these strategies:

  • Ask students to use a standard set of criteria and a protocol to guide their feedback
  • Set expectations – emphasize the value of giving feedback. Research shows giving feedback has a positive impact on students’ own work.
  • Make giving, receiving and using feedback part of assessment
  • Create  a feedback loop:
    1. Ask those whose work is being reviewed to point out to reviewer(s) what they’d like help with in particular. Encourage them to ask questions of the reviewer.
    2. Ask students in final drafts to write a brief piece explaining how they used the feedback they received.

Some benefits of this feedback structure include:

  • Increasing student accountability for quality of feedback
  • Increasing skills in giving and using feedback
  • Streamlining  final review of student work
  • Determine the success of the feedback system
  • Determine/improve students’ skills in giving and receiving feedback

Due to the lack of physical presence and changes in learning and teaching workflows, there are a few options that can improve that cycle.

Online Tools

In addition to the suggestions above, online tools can strengthen feedback and in some cases save time in giving feedback. For example, using voice rather than the written word can deepen the quality and quantity of feedback. Consider that speaking for three minutes produces about 500 words at an average rate of speech. Quality of feedback can also improve because the tone and quality of voice is retained, and this can enhance the depth and clarity of information in a message. Voice feedback has an immediacy that text does not, increasing students’ sense of your presence.  Tools using voice include Blackboard voice email and the voice authoring tool that is available wherever the full text editor exists.

Blackboard’s Video Everywhere tool allows you to record yourself speaking to students. Consider whether your feedback would be enhanced by the use of video. In the case of online course welcome messages, video of the instructor can be very useful in establishing a sense of your teaching presence.

Narrated Movies
Sometimes called “screencasts”, narrated movies can add a visual element to your feedback. For example, you may want to give feedback to the whole class, highlighting some key points in an assignment. Using VoiceThread, you can post a PowerPoint slide with bullet points and narrate those with a voice-over. You can also embed your webcam video directly into a slide.  Using SnagIt, you can record a narrated movie of whatever is open on your desktop. This might include written or visual student work. With a tablet computer, you can draw on the screen as you speak, adding emphasis to the points you speak to.

Articles on Feedback in Higher Education:

If you would like more information about any of the feedback strategies or tools in this post, please contact