The Goals of Freshman Seminar

October 31st, 2014

As many of us in Freshman Seminar begin planning our service learning projects for the spring, it’s important to remember that part of the purpose of service learning is to further the academic goals of the course. Keeping the two aspects of service learning in mind, meanigful community action and integration of the course’s curricular goals, helps to establish a strong purpose for the project and helps distinguish the project from community service. With this aim in mind, this might be a good time to take another look at what the academic goals of Freshman Seminar are:

  • To critically examine the interdisciplinary theme of social justice in relation to a liberal education;
  • To cultivate an understanding of self in relation to community;
  • To invest in Xavier’s mission to promote a more just and humane society;
  • To enhance your writing, reading, and speaking skills;
  • To develop competency in technological applications used on campus.

The first three goals here speak the most to service learning, although the last two can certainly be furthered through a good project as well. But while goals 2 and 3 seem to lend themselves naturally to service learning, I think it’s the first goal that really offers the most opportunity. It’s this idea of a critical examination that will most distinguish this experience from service experiences the students may have had in high school and through church groups. In fact I see as a worthy aim of service learning to simply convince students that there is a difference. The difference, of course, lies in how we apporach the social issues we choose to address, how we present them, how we discuss them, what we learn about them. Add to this critical examination of social justice the aspect of its relation to a liberal education, and many more avenues are opened to explore: Are endeavors such as these built into how we conceive of the purpose of a liberal education? From where does this idea come? From when? From whom?

One measure of success might be the degree to which our students become aware of ideas like these. But perhaps a better measure is the degree to which our students internalize these ideas, how much they buy in, how much their perspective changes from one in which they see the value of giving back and doing their part, to one in which they understand and empathize with those they help. Freshmen entering their second semesters often know everything, but what they know is that some people need more help than others and that helping them helps only them. Often what they don’t know is why some need more help, how helping them helps us all, and why it’s our responsibility to do so.

Jeremy Tuman

Midcourse Reviews for Online Classes Too

October 27th, 2014

CAT has just wrapped up our season of midcourse reviews. After piloting the online midcourse reviews last spring, we offered this service to all of our online instructors this fall during the same period as our face to face ones. In fact, the procedure is quite similar to the face to face midcourse review. We create a questionnaire on Survey Monkey for each instructor who requests the online midcourse review using the following three questions:

1. What is working in the online course (what is helping you to learn)?

2. What is not working(what is keeping you from learning)?

3. What are your suggestions for improvement?

We then send to the instructors the unique link for his or her students, along with a message from CAT explaining what the review is, why the instructor is requesting it and of course, the fact that the survey is completely anonymous.

We keep the survey open for a few days and once it’s closed, we create the midcourse review report which summarizes the student feedback and delete the survey.  We then meet with the online instructor either face to face or via videoconference and discuss the report.  Like the face to face midcourse reviews, CAT does not keep copies of the reports.

So, if you’re teaching online in the near future and would like to take advantage of this service, don’t worry! We’ll contact our online instructors each semester to remind you.


Bb Tip #111: Grade Center – Needs Grading

October 22nd, 2014

If you want quick access to items that are ready for grading, the Needs Grading page can help you determine what needs attention first and allows you to access it quickly. You can view all items ready for grading or for review on the Needs Grading page, where you can begin grading and reviewing or sort and filter columns to narrow the list. Student attempts are placed in a queue for easy navigation among items.

image showing Grade Center-Needs Grading

Alternatively, within the Grade Center you can easily see items that ready for grading because they will be identified by the “Needs Grading” indicator.

image showing student work with Needs Grading indicator

Sometimes instructors are expecting student work that is ready to be graded to have the “Needs Grading” indicator but instead the “Attempt in Progress” indicator is shown.

image showing student work with Attempt in Progress indicator

Listed below is an explanation of how the “Needs Grading” and “Attempt in Progress” indicators work:

When an instructor creates a wiki, blog, journal, or discussion board and chooses the Grade option, but does NOT check the box to the left of the “Show participants in “needs grading” status after every…” option, student attempts will have the “Attempt in Progress” indicator in Grade Center. These attempts will not be shown on the Needs Grading page.

Once a student has submitted their work, editing the item (i.e., wiki, blog, journal, discussion board) and checking the “Show participants in “needs grading” status after every…” box will NOT change the “Attempt in Progress” indicator for that student. However, the “Needs Grading” indicator will work correctly from that point forward for students who had not yet submitted their work before the “Show participants in “needs grading” status after every…” box was checked.

Because the “Attempt in Progress” indicator will not change for those students who submitted their work before the “Show participants in “needs grading” status after every…” box was checked, instructors should go into the Grade Center and enter a grade for those students.

Bottom line, in order for the “Needs Grading” indicator to be displayed in the Grade Center, instructors should set the “Show participants in “needs grading” status after every…” option BEFORE students start submitting their work.

Additionally, for student submitted work that has started but does not meet the minimum number set in the “Show participants in “needs grading” status after every…” option, the Grade Center entry will show the “Attempt in Progress” indicator.

Want more information?

Grade Center – About Needs Grading
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
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.

Bb Tip #110: Grade Center

October 21st, 2014

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. 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.

image showing Grade Center

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.
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.

Conversation #26: Sustainability

October 14th, 2014

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download Conversation #26

Daniel Greenberg

A conversation with Daniel Greenberg of Earth Deeds on teaching, learning and sustainability.

We can’t just rely on our government leaders or our corporations or scientists to fix this. We’re going to have to think about our relationships in different ways and we’re going to have to understand things in a different way so together we can actually live more sustainably.

Links for this episode:

Infographics are created for your courses

October 9th, 2014

by Karen Nichols

What are infographs? Despite their shortcomings, I do like the first line of wikipedia’s definition of infographic: Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly.  I found a particularly appropriate infograph, given CAT’s 20th anniversary theme of sustainability on the website which I will present momentarily.

Why would we use infographs? Well, according to an article last fall in the New Yorker, infographics are “trending” right now and are found everywhere–newspapers, websites, blogs, etc. With the onslaught of data from all angles, readers can use a little help deciphering the information bombarding us.

Infographics in the classroom have myriad uses and you probably already use them. But have you ever used an infograph to introduce yourself? Think about it. The infographic format would add a visual dimension to your biographical sketch that you probably include in your syllabus or in Blackboard. If you haven’t experimented very much with infographics, here is an easy website to try:

There are other sites where you can create infographs, but I like this one because it’s easy and pre-loaded with a variety of templates.
Here’s a quick “how-to” video from the site:

I hope you enjoy experimenting. Please share any infographs you use or create!

Bb Tip #109: Course Links

October 2nd, 2014

Course Links allow you to cross-link sections of your Blackboard course. You can create a Course Link to an item, course tool, or content area in your course.

image showing create Course Link

Course Links provide quick access points to relevant materials and course tools. Course Links are useful for referring students to other areas of your course. For example, next to a PowerPoint presentation in a folder within Course Documents you could create a Course Link to a discussion forum that asks students to discuss points raised in the lecture notes.

Follow these steps to do it.

To create a Course Link you should:

  1. Turn Edit Mode ON.
  2. Get into a content area, learning module, lesson plan, or folder.
  3. Roll your mouse over [Build Content] and click on [Course Link].
  4. Click [Browse]. A popup window containing all of the items in your course will appear.
  5. Select the item, page, or course tool you want to link to.
  6. Enter a name for the course link and any descriptive information you want to include with the link.
  7. Set your availability options.
  8. Click [Submit].

Want more information?

How to Create a Course Link
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
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.

Simple Answers to Complex Problems?

September 30th, 2014

In discussing what social problems my Freshman Seminar class might like to address for their service learning project, the class leaned heavily toward wanting to do something about crime in New Orleans, particularly the amount of violent crime, which struck them on an emotional level that left some of them unable to articulate much beyond anger. “It’s just terrible,” they said, “and it gets worse and worse all the time and nobody can seem to do anything about it.” These reactions struck me in a number of ways, at once similar to the shocked, grief-stricken reactions of victim’s families that we’ve grown too accustomed to seeing in the news, and at the same time far removed from academic literature on the subject by economists, psychologists, and criminologists, that often frame our discussions and study of violent crime and its effects. What’s most apparent is that these students feel compelled to address this problem, not from a distance of helping out the communities of the less fortunate, but from the perspective of wanting to help their own communities, because the pain of communities ripped apart by violent crime is in fact their own pain.

The discussion then must turn to what causes young people to turn to lives of crime and violence and what can be done to stem these causes. Lack of viable economic opportunity and lack of education are commonly cited by students and experts alike as causes, and of course the two are related. Economists tell us that even a 5% increase in high school graduation rates can save the country billions of dollars in costs of crime, considering the costs of incarceration, policing, and adjudicating, along with the costs of property lost. Figures like these seem cold, and don’t seem to sufficiently target the problem in a way that might issue a stronger call to action. Yet in the face of raw emotions such as those expressed by my students, figures like these sometimes offer the only level of clear thought available. If it seems like absolutely nothing can be done to stop this problem, then perhaps through education, tied to economic opportunity, is the only clear path.

Ed Tech Week Oct 6-10

September 29th, 2014

by Karen Nichols
In celebration of Ed Tech Week next week, a number of companies are offering free webinars, ostensibly to showcase their products, but I read in our POD (Professional and Organizational Development) Network newsletter about Macmillan’s webinars. A few are featuring their products, but some are for the general public and may be of interest to ed tech enthusiasts and online instructors.  Go to Macmillan’s Ed Tech Week webpage to register for any of these and to see all of their offerings.  Let me know if you’re interested in getting a group together to participate in the webinar.  I can see if CAT’s conference room is available.  I’ll also be attending a few sessions myself so please let me know if you’d like to come over and join me.

Monday, October 6th at 3pm EST
Use What Your Students Do Already: Optimizing Students’ Tech Skills for Communicating
Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Clarkson University

Most college students feel comfortable working with information in a variety of technologies (sometimes too comfortable). They spend their lives, it seems, with their hands on keyboards or thumbs on smartphones. But often they (and we) do not think critically about how best to use these technologies to improve our communication practices. In this webinar, we’ll discuss ways of teaching students to more productively use technology in their writing practices across a spectrum of genres and media types.

Tuesday, October 7th at 12pm EST

The Economics of Online Education and the Future of Teaching

Alex Tabarrok, George Mason University

Online education has cost and flexibility advantages over in-class teaching. Online education also has a different cost structure than in-class teaching, namely lower marginal cost but higher and endogenous fixed costs. I discuss how these advantages and differences in cost structure will disrupt and shape the future of higher education.

Thursday, October 9th at 2pm EST

Assessment and Utilization of Non-Cognitives to Support Student Success and Retention

Paul Gore, University of Utah, and Wade Leuwerke, Drake University

This presentation will describe the role of noncognitive factors in student success. Evidence of the role of noncognitives in both academic success and retention will be explored. Methods and assessment tools will be described. Strategies that encourage students to build plans to bolster their noncognitive skills will be described, including online platforms to track and support students’ success plans.

Friday, October 10th at 3pm EST

Innovations in Assignment Design Using Technology

Rob Lue, Harvard University

Technology has transformed the ways we deliver content to our students, both in the classroom and online. Similarly it now provides new ways for us to engage students through assignments that are more collaborative, self-paced and focused on the synthesis of ideas. When these possibilities are coupled with real-time analytics on student performance and behavior, we can develop assignments that are remarkably formative for students while also allowing us to evaluate their performance. I will discuss several approaches to assignment design that take advantage of software environments such as LaunchPad.


Bb Tip #108: Videos

September 24th, 2014

Video is one of the most powerful, motivating, and visual ways to learn. You can use videos to promote critical thinking and active learning.

There’s a big difference between watching a video and learning something from it.

Emily A. Moore, M.Ed., instructional designer in the online learning office at Texas State Technical College – Harlingen Campus, gives suggestions to help increase the educational effectiveness of an online course video. Read more in her article, “From Passive Viewing to Online Learning: Simple Techniques for Applying Active Learning Strategies to Online Course Videos.”

Video can easily and effectively be incorporated inside your Blackboard courses. There are several ways to add videos to your Blackboard courses.

To provide just-in-time feedback or to build in spontaneous interaction, faculty and students can use the Video Everywhere tool to record video directly via their webcam or reuse an already recorded video from their playlist. The Video Everywhere tool allows faculty and students to place video wherever the Content Editor is available, from discussion board posts, to assessment feedback, to blog posts, journals, wikis, and of course in announcements and content areas. Furthermore, by leveraging the power and ease of use of YouTube, the Video Everywhere tool allows you to add rich media into courses quickly and efficiently.

image showing Video Everywhere recording

Blackboard supports embedding and/or linking to video from many other systems and solutions. Sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, or other video repositories can be embedded easily by switching to html mode in the Content Editor and then pasting in the embed code.

image showing Embed Video using HTML code

The benefit of embedding video into a course is that it enables the students to stay within the context of the course and within the sequence of instruction, rather than linking out away from course content.

Another way to add video to your course is to upload the video file (i.e., MPEG/AVI, QuickTime, Flash/Shockwave, Microsoft .asf and .wmv formats).

Video files are generally large files. Your course size is total of your uploaded video files sizes along with the size of all other course content. Each Blackboard course has a 1.25 GB maximum course size limit. It is a good idea to embed or link to videos rather than uploading video files to your course to help you to stay within the maximum course size limit. You can upload your videos to YouTube, Vimeo, or other media server and then embed or link to the video within the course as explained above.

image showing Build Content

When adding video files, it is a good idea to include links to any browser plug-ins or media player files that users will need to view the videos.

Want more information?

Simple Techniques for Applying Active Learning Strategies to Videos
Video Everywhere
Best Practices for Posting Video Announcements
Creating Mashups
Embed Videos into Your Course
How to Create Audio, Image, and Video Links
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
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.