Which Tool is Best?

One question we in eLIS are often asked is which tool is best for a particular assignment, or the obverse; what sort of assignment would a particular collaborative tool work best for? The answer, which I always imagine frustrates instructors looking for clear, unambiguous information to apply to their teaching practices is, “It depends.” We also make the point that it’s important to start from your learning objective and go from there. The tool should always be in service to what you’re trying to accomplish.

Once you have your objective defined, there are a number of considerations that can go into choosing which tool to use for, say, asking students to reflect on a reading, getting formative feedback to help determine what to emphasize in an upcoming unit, or encouraging your students to interact to inspire collaborative learning. Should you use the assignment tool or a journal? The discussion board or a blog? A wiki or VoiceThread? There may be instances where one or the other of these tools is the clear best choice, it’s true.

However, one of your main considerations should be what’s convenient and familiar to you and your students: what tool you know well enough that you can create an exercise that will bring the material or concepts you’re working with to life for learners. There’s no one tool that’s going to be the best in all instances, but if you have a go-to tool, you can almost always figure out a way to make it work for the task at hand.

In my parents’ home, the go-to tool for around-the-house, quick-fix situations was a butter knife. We used them to drive screws, scrape gunk off of pots and pans, pry up nails or push-pins, remove staples, open envelopes, scrape off excess putty or glue from quick repairs, spread butter on bread or baked potatoes, cream cheese on bagels, icing on cake, pull up burning toast out of the toaster, or in any number of other scenarios.

It may surprise you to learn that my dad was an auto body repairman, and there was always an extensive collection of tools out in the garage at our house, one of which could do almost any particular (non-food-related) job a little bit more efficiently. But a butter knife was handy, right there in the kitchen, and frankly, it did most of the jobs it was apt to be used for nearly as well as the thing you would have to go out to the garage on a cold night and rummage around to find.

Arguably the most versatile tool in Blackboard/MyLesley’s suite of tools is the discussion board. While there’s no justifiably convenient way to make it function as a private journal, for example, it does have capabilities well beyond its named purpose. It can be used as a makeshift blog or as a place to host visual student work, which is the way we most often see the wiki tool used. We’ve also seen it used as a place for students to post assignments.

The discussion board can be made gradable. Using the viewing setting “Participants must create a thread in order to view other threads in this forum,” it’s easy to make sure that students don’t see each other’s work before they submit their own. Once they do, they can automatically view the work of their peers. With the default settings of MyLesley forums, students are not able to edit their own work once it’s been submitted, although you can change that setting if you wish.

While the discussion board may be the most versatile tool in MyLesley — the true “butter knife” in your course site — it’s certainly true that virtually any of the tools available in your course site can be used in unexpected ways. It only requires your creativity and resourcefulness to find those new, unconventional repurposings.

How have you used MyLesley’s suite of tools in novel ways? We’d love to hear about it.

Set Up Your Grade Center in myLesley

Setting up the myLesley Grade Center is not always the most intuitive thing. However, with a little bit of thought, it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Step 1: Create Your Plan

The first mistake most people make is they start in the Grade Center. Going into the Grade Center is usually the last step. If you try to set it up piecemeal, you will inevitably miss a step or forget what you entered somewhere and then before you know it, you’re lost.

The first step is to grab you syllabus, list out your assignments and grading scale, and make a plan. Watch the video below to see an example.

 

Step 2: Create Your Content & Assignments

The next step is to create my content in Blackboard, assuming I haven’t already done this. I’ve already created most of my content, but I still need to create the Final Project assignment. This video from Blackboard shows me exactly how to create an Assignment so my students can submit their work and I can grade and provide feedback.

Need to create graded discussions? Review how to create discussion forums on our support page.

 

Step 3: Create Grade Columns

Now that I have created all of my content and assignments, I can finally go to the Grade Center and finish setting things up.

 

Step 4: Calculated Grade Columns

Decisions, decisions… Total column or Weighted Total?

See our support article on Calculated Grade Columns for step-by-step instructions.

 

Step 5: Organize Your Grade Columns

All the grade columns are set up and ready to go, but Blackboard has them organized based on the order they were created. This might not be the ideal set up for you. So change it.

View Blackboard’s video tutorial on customizing your Grade Center view for more information.

 

Additional Resources

Your grade center is now set up and ready to go, but there’s always more to know and more scenarios for set up. Check out these resources below or email elis@lesley.edu for assistance.

myLesley Grade Center and Grading
Advanced myLesley Grade Center and Grading

Grading myLesley Assignments
myLesley Rubrics
myLesley Faculty Resources

 

Coming November 5th: New myLesley Text/Content Editor

On the evening of November 5th, Blackboard will release their new text/content editor! The new editor has been streamlined to make adding content into your course easier and the new design will work better on both mobile devices and larger screens. Blackboard has also improved their accessibility tools and introduced a few brand new features.

View the New Content Editor video for a sneak peak of the new content editor.

Better for All Devices

The editor is better suited for all devices—small screen or big—and editor tools will no longer open in new pop-up windows for a better mobile experience.

The toolbar will show as many tools as it can for the size of your screen before wrapping to the next line. Show and collapse the additional tools with the ellipsis icon.
ellipsis tool to show or hide more tools

Adding Content: The Power of Plus

Blackboard content editor with callout to Add Content buttonThere is now one easy menu for adding content from your computer or integrated tool. Click the Add Content button to upload content such as files or images or built-in tools such as Kaltura or Hoonuit (formerly found under Mashups).

Uploading multiple files? Instead of uploading them one at a time you can now upload multiple files at once.

Improved Accessibility

New Blackboard Accessibility Checker

The editor itself is more accessible to all users, and the new Accessibility Checker helps you make content more accessible as you’re adding it to your course. Combined with Blackboard Ally, you can ensure that your content is more accessible to all users.

Text Formatting, Bullets, List

Blackboard content editor with callout to formatting options

Options for formatting text, bullets, and lists are now presented in recognizable ways rather than just as text, more closely matching other editors, such as Google and Microsoft. For example, font choices will appear as those fonts and bullet options will display visually as those bullet types.

New Table Options

Blackboard content editor with callout to Table button and options

Creating a table has been simplified with a grid selector instead of a pop-up. When adding tables, column widths default to use percentages rather than fixed widths in order to ensure that they display nicely on different screen sizes.

Better Copy and Paste

Paste formatting options: choose to keep or remove formatting in the pasted content

Tired of wonky formatting when you copy and paste from Word, Google, etc.? Blackboard will now allow you to remove the extra HTML that gets in your way and still retain basic formatting.

Spellchecker Updates

New improved spellchecker suggests replacements for misspelled words

The Spellcheck tool has been improved for language and an updated and expanded dictionary. Click the tool to run spellcheck.

Simple Embed

Image of simple embed using the content editor

When pasting links to websites such as YouTube and Vimeo, the videos are automatically embedded for inline playback. Other sites including The New York Times, WordPress, SlideShare and Facebook will embed summary previews. However, you will still need to use HTML in order to embed VoiceThread content.

Easier HTML Editing

sample source code using HTML Editor

When authoring or editing HTML, it’ll be easier to find what you’re looking for with line numbers and tag colors.

Display Computer Code

Blackboard content editor with callout to Insert Code button

Authors can now share formatted computer code snippets. This is very useful for computer science classes.

 

 

 

 

Merging Your Content with the New Course Menu

A new course menu and template were created for this Fall. The purpose was to create more consistency for students across all their courses and to embed supports where possible. However, if you are copying content from a previous course in myLesley to your Fall 2020 course, you may need to merge the two and clean things up a bit.

What’s in a course menu?

There are three main types of course menu items: content areas, tool links, and web links.

Course Content & Assignments is a content areaContent Areas are places in your course where you post various types of course content, such as items, uploaded documents, assignments, and more. Think of them as a folder on your computer where you group common items together. Course Content & Assignments is an example of a content area.

 

Tool Links are links to tools that are part of Blackboard or integrated into Blackboard, such as Discussions Boards, Class Email, My Grades, etc.

 

 

Technology Resources is a web linkWeb Links are links to external content. This external content can be anything on the internet that you wish to link to. For example, Technology Resources links out to the IT & eLearning Support Site at Lesley.

 

Course content and Communication are headers in course menuThe new course menu also contains Headers. These are non-clickable titles for groups of related content. They can be renamed, edited or moved just as any other menu item. “Course Content” and “Communication” are examples of a header.

Your course menu is completely editable by you. Course menu items can be renamed, moved, deleted, and hidden from student view.

Modify menu

A Common Issue After Course Copy

If you copy your course content from a prior course you may notice that you have menu items for “Course Content” and for “Course Content & Assignments.” myLesley (Blackboard) will not merge these two content areas together automatically. Just as with folders you create on your computer, these are two separate containers with different names. You need to tell Blackboard what you want it to do.

Fix your course menu in 3 easy steps

1. Rename menu items

Many faculty choose to rename the older “Course Content” menu item to “Course Content & Assignments.”

For more information see Modifying your Course Menu.

2. Delete menu items

Delete the original (now duplicate) placeholder content.

Be very sure to delete. There is no undo.

Also, delete any duplicate or unneeded menu items that copied to clean up your course menu and make it easier for your students to navigate your course menu.

3. Reorder menu items

When a course copy is done, all new content copied in is at the bottom of the menu. You can easily reorder the menu items, but clicking on the double arrow icon to the left of the menu item and dragging it to a new location.
move icon

 

For more information see Modifying your Course Menu.