The NSF STEP Project at the University of South Florida

March 31st, 2015

Dr. Kandethody Ramachandran visited Xavier University of Louisiana to discuss the details and accomplishments of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) Project at the University of South Florida (USF). Dr. Ramachandran described how methods were instituted that effectively advanced student success in Calculus. The STEP project at USF is based on the premise that success in calculus is the gateway to success in the STEM fields. STEP is aimed at increasing STEM graduates through intervention programs in the Engineering and Life Science Calculus sequences. Through this project, several transportable strategies such as, one stop extended hour tutoring lab (STEM Mart), project-based teaching, and peer leading have been developed and implemented. These multiple strategies have transformed the teaching of calculus at USF and are leading to increased retention and pass rates for students. Also, faculty are enthusiastic in implementing these strategies in their class rooms. STEM Mart is a tutoring center that provides undergraduate students in the STEM disciplines an opportunity to receive free tutoring from other successful undergraduate students selected by the program. In project based teaching, “bridge” projects were introduced into Engineering Calculus II and III and Life Sciences Calculus II. Students work with a faculty member or supervisor in their workplace to define a problem, write and analyze appropriate equations, and write a narrative report – in essence, they write a story problem, and then answer it and write it up as a scientific report. In peer leading, a curriculum of inquiry-based activities was developed that follows the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. Undergraduate peer leaders lead weekly, 50-minute guided-inquiry sessions in Engineering and Life Science Calculus I. The curricula developed by faculty and graduate students focus on guiding students to discover concepts of calculus prior to lecture, along with algebra and trigonometry warm-ups. These strategies have proven successful with an overall pass rate that went from about 50-55% before project inception to about 70-73% by the end of six years.

Grade Contracts With Your Students

March 26th, 2015

by Karen Nichols

Have you tried grade contracts? There was a discussion about them in our POD (Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education) listserv. They’ve been around for several years now, but I’ve never tried to use them. I can certainly see pros and cons to having a grade contract, and I’m sure the subject being taught will influence how the contract is set up.

Contract clipart

After reading the recommended articles (links posted at the end), it seems the grade contracts take the essential elements of the syllabus and change the general requirements to more personal goals. So perhaps a grade contract would be an effective way to make sure the students have read and understood these course requirements.

The tricky part of a grade contract is that you are spelling out for the students what they must do in order to earn a “B” (or an “A” or a passing grade) in your course. It seems that a grade contract reinforces the emphasis so many of our students place on the grade earned rather than the material learned and I am not sure I can agree with that.

Having a set of straightforward tasks that must be completed at a certain level of competence in order to earn a specific grade also seems it will remove a great deal of subjectivity from the whole process. To some, I’m sure they would see this more objective measure as a positive, but in my French classes, I often reward effort or take into account other intangible elements so I’m not sure the grade contract would serve the students as well as no contract does.

Even though it seems I’m against the contracts, I’m really curious after reading how students’ grades improved with them.  I may try them in my online French class this summer.  Check out these recommended resources and see if a grade contract may help you and your students, and let us know if you decide to try it!

Sources from the POD listserv
From Psychology:

From Comp/Rhet:

In general:

Growth and Fixed Mindsets in Mentoring

March 25th, 2015

by Tiera S. Coston

Growth Fixed Image

How would you feel if someone told you that your intelligence, talents, and personality were fixed traits that could not be changed? What if someone else told you that these same traits could be nurtured, developed and grown throughout your life? How would you feel then? The answers to these questions have an enormous impact on a person’s mindset, and consequently, in mentoring. A mindset is a set of beliefs that an individual has about his/her most elemental traits. When we, as mentors, foster a fixed mindset (whether consciously or unconsciously), we may leave our mentees with the belief that their intelligence, abilities and talents are already determined and nothing can be done to change them. However, when we foster a growth mindset, our mentees are shown that their traits can be developed throughout their lives with conscious and sustained effort. Mentees can then begin to see a world without limitations. GROWTH AND FIXED MINDSETS IN MENTORING: THE TALE OF THE HELP AND THE HINDRANCE focuses on examining those behaviors, many of which we may be unaware, that foster the growth and the fixed mindsets. It also provides some helpful scenarios that demonstrate how to foster a growth mindset and discourage a fixed one. Finally, a mindset quiz is included to help you (and your mentees) determine what kind of mindset you have.

Bb Tip #134: Customizing the Grade Center

March 25th, 2015

image of a keyboard with a customize key

Instructors can customize their view of the Grade Center by hiding and/or reordering columns to focus on specific columns and reduce scrolling. Hidden columns are not deleted from the Grade Center. Instructors can show/hide and reorder Grade Center columns at any time.

Follow these steps to do it.

You can hide Grade Center columns in one of two ways.

Method One – Hide Column

image showing Grade Center column menu options

Method Two – Column Organization

image showing Grade Center Manage menu with Column Organization selected

  1. On the [Manage] menu, select [Column Organization].
  2. Click the checkbox to the left of the column you want to hide and then click on the [Show/Hide] button.
  3. Click [Submit].

When you use Column Organization to hide a column, this will hide the column from the instructor’s Grade Center view. However, students can still see the hidden column in My Grades. To hide columns from students you should use the drop-down menu to the right of the column name and choose “Show/Hide to Users” or edit the column information and answer no to the “Show this Column to Students” option. You can easily tell when a column is hidden from students because in the instructor’s Grade Center view, the column will have a circle with red slash next to the column name.

Additionally, instructors can also use Smart Views to get a focused view of the Grade Center.

Want more information?

Customize the Grade Center [Video]
Reorder, freeze, and hide Grade Center columns
About Smart Views
Working with the Grade Center
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Check out help for instructors at
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

To Flip or Not to Flip?

March 23rd, 2015

by Janice Florent

image of chalkboard with flipped classroom written on it

By now, most professors have heard of a “flipped classroom” and a number of them are “flipping” their classes. The term “flipped classroom” is often applied to a wide range of approaches to teaching. Flipping in its various forms involves a key trait: It inverts the traditional relationship of students and teachers. Flipping seeks to put the learner at the center of a course instead of the teacher.

The value of a flipped class is in the repurposing of class time into a workshop where students can inquire about lecture content, test their skills in applying knowledge, and interact with one another in hands-on activities. During class sessions, instructors function as coaches or advisors, encouraging students in individual inquiry and collaborative effort.

Many professors try flipping, struggle with it, and quickly revert to straight lecturing. What do you need to think about if you are considering flipping? Here are some resources to guide you.

7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms
Flipped Classrooms Quick Start Guide
How Flipping the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture
Toward a Common Definition of Flipped Learning
Going Beyond the Basics of Flipped Learning

Using Word Clouds in Education

March 19th, 2015

by Janice Florent

Word clouds allow you to visually display text data. Word clouds are also referred to as a text clouds or tag clouds. Word clouds are popular for text analysis because they make it easy to spot word frequencies. The more frequent the word is used, the larger and bolder it is displayed.

iWordle: I have a dream speech

When it comes to finding the deeper meaning in a text passage, a word cloud is a simple application that you might have seen as a cute bit of fluff rather than a useful academic tool.

Word clouds are being used in education to sort through important ideas and concepts quickly. A glance at a word cloud is an easy way to preview a passage, or to analyze text. So what does this mean for your courses? Joseph Kern’s article, “Word Clouds in Education: Turn a toy into a tool,” lists some interesting ways word clouds can be used for readings and assignments.

Bb Tip #133: Grade Center

March 18th, 2015

The Grade Center is more than just a way to record students’ grades. It’s a dynamic and interactive tool, allowing instructors to record data, calculate grades, and monitor student progress. In addition to being able to record grades, instructors can track student work and share private comments and feedback with students throughout the semester.

image showing Grade Center

The Grade Center is integrated with gradable items such as tests, assignments, discussion boards, blogs, journals, wikis, and ungraded items, such as surveys and self-assessments. Instructors can create Grade Center columns for activities and/or requirements done outside of Blackboard, such as exams given on paper, oral presentations, and participation.

Students also benefit when their instructor uses the Grade Center. Students have the opportunity to adjust their approach to learning to improve their performance when they see their grades and instructor feedback.

Follow these steps to do it.

Listed below are links to previous Bb tips on using the Grade Center:

Want more information?

Working with the Grade Center
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Check out help for instructors at
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.


March 16th, 2015

Personal Viewpoints Panel

Quick, what does RTX RFP stand for? That’s right, it’s the Rising Tide 10 Request for Proposals.

CONTACT: Rising Tide Programming Committee [email]
WHO: Rising Tide NOLA
WHAT: Rising Tide X: Conference on Civic Activism & New Media
WHEN: 10 Years Post Deluge |Saturday, August 29, 2015
WHERE: University Center | Xavier University of Louisiana


Rising Tide NOLA, Inc. presents RISING TIDE X, the 10th annual civic activism & new media conference centered on the recovery and future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We invite you to be a part of it.

It has been ten years since Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of the Levees.  In that decade, we have endured other hurricanes & evacuations, the worst oil spill in US History, and a disappearing coast. There’s been an ongoing reorganization of public schools, Department of Justice consent decrees with police forces and prisons while violent crime continues to be a problem, a former governor running for Congress, a current governor running for President, one former mayor reporting to prison. There’s been rapid gentrification and unequal recovery, massive investment in tourism, selective enforcement of rules governing live music, and new hospitals we may not have the money to operate. At the same time, people interact with their communities, government, and news in dramatic new ways. From a daily paper to personal blogs to online newsfeeds to snappy Twitter commentary, we occupy a very different space from a decade ago in both physical and informational senses.  Each of those years, Rising Tide has hosted a conference to explore that space from outside the official narrative of What’s Going On, to give voice to those left behind in the wake of the New Orleans Miracles, to remind folks that you can’t advertise oil off the beach with a PR campaign, and to point out any number of places We Are (Still) Not OK.

At Rising Tide, we want to put that off-script, unofficial, read-between-the-lines story front and center. We invite you to be a part of it. We do so with this request for proposals for programming, panels, and presentations. 


Proposals should include the following:

  • a brief description of the topic you wish to address
  • a list of participants/presenters describing their relationship to or expertise on the topic
  • how the programming will be presented to the audience
  • how the audience will be involved in the presentation through questions, participation, discussion, etc.

Please email brief (2 page max) proposals in plain text, word documents, or PDF attachments to



Rising Tide encourages:

  • Focus on civic activism – making changes in the community
  • Collaboration between organizations to add multiple and diverse perspectives
  • Using social, alternative, or new media to share information, empower communities, and/or organize activism

Programming at Rising Tide is subject to broadcast via webcasts or social media tools.

While programming is free to address political topics, Rising Tide maintains a strict non-partisan forum, current elected officials and campaigning candidates for political offices are discouraged from participating in programming.


Rising Tide attendance has averaged more than 100 attendees, media, and volunteer staff annually. Conference content live streamed on the web averages over 1000 unique viewers during each event, with archives on our website.

Last year’s conference featured a keynote address from education activist Andre Perry, and hosted programming on Lost New Orleans History, the Young Leadership Council (YLC), civic engagement to fix the Treme Center, and religion in Post-Katrina New Orleans . Past speakers have included Lt. General Russel Honore, U.S. Army (ret.), acclaimed local writer Lolis Eric Elie, professor of history Lawrence Powell, Treme and The Wire creator David Simon, geographer Richard Campanella, journalist Mac McClelland, entertainer Harry Shearer, and authors David Zirin, John Barry, Christopher Cooper, and Robert Block. Previous panelists and a description of programming history can be viewed on the Rising Tide website.

More information is available at the Rising Tide website:; at the Rising Tide blog:; on the Rising Tide Facebook page; and the organization can be followed on Twitter @RisingTide.

Rising Tide NOLA, Inc. is a non-profit organization formed by New Orleans bloggers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federally built levees. After the disaster, the internet became a vital connection among dispersed New Orleanians, former New Orleanians, and friends of the city and the Gulf Coast region. A number of new blogs were created, and combined with those that were already online, an online community with a shared interest in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast developed. In the summer of 2006, to mark the anniversary of the flood, the bloggers of New Orleans organized the first Rising Tide Conference, taking their shared interest in technology, the arts, the internet and social media and turning advocacy in the city into action.

Photo credit: Personal Viewpoints Panel by Maitri, on Flickr

How to Be a Better Online Teacher

March 16th, 2015

by Janice Florent

image of an apple with teaching online written on it

Faculty readiness to teach online and student readiness to take online courses are key to success in online education. In a Campus Technology article, Paul Beaudoin writes,

Teaching in the blended or online learning environment is not a direct transfer of the traditional face-to-face class. The challenges of online learning often require a different set of skills that may not come easily to brick-and-mortar instructors.

Paul suggests six things instructors can do to be better online teachers. They are:

  1. Maximize your digital savvy
  2. Be an active and engaged participant
  3. Reinvent your wheel
  4. Include your learners in the learning process
  5. Reassess assessment
  6. Realize it’s okay to fail

To find out more about his suggestions for being a better online teacher, read Paul’s article “6 Ways to Be a Better Online Teacher.”

Improving Continuous Participation in Discussion Boards

March 13th, 2015

by Karen Nichols

Are your students like some of mine in that they often wait until the last minute to post their discussion board assignments? When that happens, you have more grading to do all at once plus the opportunity for a really great discussion is missed because students are merely trying to complete an assignment before the deadline rather than practice engaged learning.

Tony Birch gives two ideas to help maintain a continuous flow of discussion posts in his article “How to Encourage Continuously Interactive Online Discussions” published in eLearning Industry earlier this year.  In his article, he recommends two techniques to improve the flow of discussion posts.

First, he suggests instilling a sense of social purpose for posting in the discussions.  Your objectives for each discussion should be clear to the students–they should understand why they are being asked to discuss a topic.  They should also be made to realize that their participation (or lack thereof) directly influences the success of the discussion and learning experience.  The students should take ownership of the discussions. To assist them in achieving this requires fairly quick feedback from the instructors which includes suggestions like, “Student X posted an interesting viewpoint on this topic.  Why don’t you have a look and discuss your take on it?”  So, rather than giving the general direction of “respond to at least two of your classmates’ posts”, you are helping to direct students to certain posts.  In that way you can match up some students according to different criteria–a weaker one with a stronger student, two students with similar or different ideas, etc.  This type of feedback can also ensure that everyone has received some response to their post and no one is left out of the discussion.

Another way to discourage last minute or all-at-once posting is to reward students who post early and/or throughout the given time for the discussion board.  The author suggests adding Timeliness into your grading rubric.  Here is the one he uses for a week-long discussion:

Timeliness All posts are after Friday or all posts on a single day First post no later than Wednesday; other posts prior to end of week Posts early: First post no later than Wednesday; at least one other post Friday or before; posts on several days of the week
0 pts 1 pts 2 pts

The author notes that the total number of points is 13 so adding these 2 points affects the grade by 15%.  Explain to the students that they can potentially raise their grade by 15% just by posting on time.  The difference of a whole letter grade can be a significant incentive.

Well, what do you think of these two ideas?  Can they work for you with your discussion boards?  Are you using other techniques with success?  If so, please share!