Conversation #46: Regan Gurung on Teachers as Superheroes

August 23rd, 2016

Download Conversation #46

Regan Gurung

A conversation with Dr. Regan Gurung of UW-Green Bay on teachers as superheroes.

Dr. Regan Gurung is a Professor of Human Development and Psychology. He was born and raised in Bombay (India), got a B.S. at Carleton College (MN) in Human Development, then spent 5 years in Seattle at the University of Washington. After getting his Ph. D. (Social/Personality), he did postdoctoral work at UCLA (Health Psychology). Then landed in Wisconsin, Green Bay. He has served in a number of roles at UW-Green Bay including as Chair of Human Development and Chair of Psychology, as Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and as co-director of the UW-Green Bay Teaching Scholars Program. He is Past-President of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) and Past-President of the Bay Area Community Council (BACC).

Links for this episode:

Bb Tip #162: Announcements

August 20th, 2016

town crier making announcement

Announcements provide timely information for your students about class activities. Announcements are the ideal way to post time-sensitive material. The announcement area can be used to remind students of assignment and/or test dates, post changes to the course, announce upcoming events (such as a guest speaker), etc. You may direct students to a particular section of your course from an announcement. You also have the option to broadcast announcements to your students’ email. That means the announcement appears on Blackboard, and also is sent to students’ email.

You may post multiple announcements when setting up your course and time them to be released separately by choosing staggered future display dates. For example, you know now that you want to post an announcement about the midterm exam and another about the final. Write both announcements now, but set the midterm announcement to display the week before the midterm and the final exam announcement to display a week before the final. Students will not be able to view either announcement until their assigned display dates.

Follow these steps to do it.

  1. On the Control Panel, go to [Course Tools] and select [Announcements].
  2. Select [Create Announcement].
  3. Type a subject and message for your announcement.
  4. Choose to restrict the announcement by date or not.
  5. Select the Email Announcement check box to send students an email containing the announcement.
  6. Select [Submit].

Want more information?

Creating Announcements [video]
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Visit our Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Tips to Help You Manage Student Emails

August 18th, 2016

by Janice Florent

pile of letters with two feet sticking out and you've got mail on computer monitor in the background

Unlike face-to-face instructors, online instructors are generally inundated with questions from students by way of email messages. It doesn’t take long for an online instructor to feel like they are drowning in student emails.

In a recent eLearning Industry article, Dr. Liz Hardy provided five tips to help you manage student email to avoid a flood of student email. Those tips are:

1. Make communication time frames clear.

Tell your students what to expect when communicating with you. When your students understand your communication rules, they are more likely to work within those rules.

2. Prevent unnecessary student emails in the first place.

Set up your Blackboard course to be as learner-friendly as possible. If your students can find the information they need without extensive searching, they’re less likely to email you for help with simple questions. By encouraging self-directed learning, you find that student email more often relates to valid questions – rather than multiple queries about when the next assignment is due.

Consider using the “three before me” rule, which pushes the responsibility of locating an answer to frequently asked questions to the student. The student must prove to the professor that he/she has attempted to obtain the answer from three different sources prior to contacting the professor.

Additionally, you can minimize emails by utilizing Blackboard for assignment collection. The Blackboard assignment tool is an efficient way to manage and collect your student’s individual and group assignments digitally and can help to unclutter your inbox.

3. Scan your inbox before you answer even one student email.

Scan your inbox first. Are there messages from colleagues or administrators you need to answer first? Is there a reply from a student you’ve been waiting to hear from on an urgent issue? Deal with those messages first. Then you can look for patterns – are there any students who have sent you several emails since you last checked? Try reading email in reverse date order. You may find the student has answered their own question. In this case you can send one email back to the student with a single-line response.

4. Don’t multi-task.

It’s actually more efficient to deal with each student query in full, completely, and then move onto the next. What seems like saved time through multi-tasking can actually lead to a lot of backtracking and cross-checking, as you try to make sure you’re matching the right answer to the right student.

5. Answer student email in blocks.

Check your email messages two or three times a day, in blocks. Avoid checking at other times. Mute your speakers so you won’t hear that demanding bleep every time email arrives in your inbox.

These practical approaches will help you take control of your inbox, and get on with your teaching day. If you would like more information, read Dr. Hardy’s article “5 Ways To Survive A Student Email Avalanche.”

Bb Tip #161: Are You Ready?

August 15th, 2016

image showing various disasters

Course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies.

Here are a few things you can do in Blackboard to help you prepare should the need arise.

Additionally, you should consider developing an instructional continuity plan to help you to be ready to continue teaching with minimal interruption. More information about instructional continuity plans can be found on our Instructional Continuity web page. There you will find planning guides, resources, and a link to our September 2015 Instructional Continuity workshop presentation.

Want more information?

Get more information about instructional continuity plans.
Sign up for Blackboard workshops or request one-on-one help.
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Visit our Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Does Your Syllabus Need a Makeover?

August 14th, 2016

by Janice Florent

it's in the syllabus comic strip

In a recent Inside Higher Ed blog post, Travis Grandy, PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, writes,

Do you ever feel like you want to get more out of your syllabus? Sure, it plays center-stage during the first day of class, but does it really have to end there? Perhaps it’s a matter of presentation.

He goes on to express his frustration of writing a carefully detailed syllabus only to see his students tuck it away never to be seen again; assuming they read the syllabus in the first place.

After seeing an article on creative approaches to the syllabus, Travis felt his syllabus had a design problem as his syllabus had over the years ballooned to over two thousand words, single-spaced, with a few bullet points.

Travis redesigned his syllabus to not only make the content more useful for his style of teaching, but also easier to use and visually engaging. His revised syllabus ended up being full-color, using illustrations and visual metaphors to convey content, and was intentionally designed help students more easily find the information and get excited about the core purposes of the class. It is important to note that to make his syllabus accessible, Travis made his syllabus available in other formats as well.

Travis’ strategies for a syllabus redesign and ways to better integrate the syllabus into teaching and learning are:

Have Your Syllabus Reflect What You Value Most

Design elements to draw attention to the things about your course that you most want to stick with students. This should not come at the expense of being detailed about your classroom policies or meeting institutional requirements for what should be listed on a syllabus.

Tips for the Design Process

  1. Start from a Template: Templates can include great options like two-column newsletter style or a table of contents to make your syllabus easier to reference. MS Word and Google Docs are easy to intermediate skill level tools you can use to create your redesigned syllabus. A few intermediate to advanced skill level tools you can try are Smore,, and Tackk.
  2. Get Visual: A visual doesn’t have to be elaborate, but strategically using images, shapes, or flow-charts can be an equally effective way of drawing attention to the most important parts of your syllabus.
  3. Design with Accessibility in Mind: You want to make sure your syllabus is accessible for all students. This should include providing your syllabus in multiple formats and also using easy to read fonts and high contrast colors.
  4. Build Your Design Knowledge: Educate yourself on effective design practices and visual rhetoric.

Beyond the First Day of Class

Use the syllabus at key moments: A great time to ask students to look at the syllabus is when you transition between major units or assignments of the course. You can turn this into a class activity such as having students write a short reflection about how their work in the previous unit helped them develop competencies or achieve course outcomes.

Reinforce concepts from your syllabus in assignments and grading: Use concepts from your syllabus consistently in other course documents including assignment prompts and grading rubrics.

If you do decide to redesign your syllabus keep in mind that accessibility is very important. Don’t assume that a full-color syllabus is accessible to all students. For accessibility, provide multiple options for students to access the content so they can choose what works best for them. This can include printing in color or black and white, sharing the syllabus as a PDF (with character recognition), and using alt-text and captions for images and diagrams.

For more information read the Inside Higher Ed blog post, Give Your Syllabus an Extreme Redesign for the New Year. Another great article on syllbus redesign is Writing Syllabi Worth Reading.

Additional resources you may find helpful:

Interactive syllabus examples:

Bb Tip #160: Beginning of Semester Tasks

August 12th, 2016


As you prepare for the start of the semester, it is a good time to get started setting up your Blackboard courses. Blackboard courses are automatically created using the course information in Banner a few weeks before the start of the semester. You can post your syllabus, course documents, and announcements to your Blackboard courses. You can also customize your course menu and/or add a course banner.

If you teach a course that is cross listed you will have a Blackboard course for each cross listing. You can combine the cross listed courses into one Blackboard course so that you can post course materials and grades to one combined Blackboard course. Combining courses may also work for you if you are teaching different sections of the same course and would like to have the different sections combined into one Blackboard course so that you can post course documents and grades in the one combined course. The beginning of the semester is the best time to combine your Blackboard courses before you add course material or grades to the courses.

NOTE: Currently, the section merge tool is NOT working. A system administrator will have to merge your courses. Send an email to Yamlak Tsega ( if you want to merge courses. You should include the course ID (including CRN) for all the courses you want merged together. Also indicate which of the courses to be merged together that you want to be the parent/primary course.

Follow these steps to do it.

Listed below are links with instructions for

Want more information?

Attend a drop-in session to get one-on-one help.
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.

Self-Directed Learning

August 7th, 2016

by Janice Florent

silhouette of a head with numerous educational images within it

Research on self-directed learning has shown that people who take the initiative in learning, learn more things and learn better than people who sit at the feet of teachers passively waiting to be taught.

Self-directed learning is especially important for student success in online classes.

Educators have an important role to play in assisting students to acquire the skills for self-directed learning. So how can educators help students develop their ability to direct their own learning, while ensuring that they develop the skills and integrate the knowledge they need to be successful?

In a YardStick blog post, Dr. Tai Munro provided a few suggestions that educators can do to help students to become self-directed learners. Those suggestions are:

  • Give learners control
  • Make the course relevant
  • Focus on actual problems and scenarios
  • Recognize what they already know
  • Help learners reflect

If you are interested in getting more information you should read Dr. Munro’s blog post, But how do I help learners be self-directed?

Music in Teaching and Learning

August 4th, 2016

by Janice Florent

music notes

Do you use music in your teaching and learning? If not, maybe you should consider using music.

Research has shown that music can:

  • Set a positive mood
  • Raise energy levels
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Calm your students
  • Motivate and inspire your students
  • Keep students focused and attentive

Whether you need to calm your students down, or get them up and moving, music is just the thing to try out.

Additional information can be found in the article by Chris Brewer on Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom.

royalty free music

It may not be a simple task to find suitable free music to use in your classroom or for your videos and presentations. This one minute video created by #1minuteCPD provides you with four different sites which have a good variety of music, much of it licenced under Creative Commons Universal (CC0).

Using free music (CC) in your video and presentations [00:55]

Photo Credit: Duet for Violin and Piano by Dennis Wilkinson | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bb Tip #159: Changes to Blackboard Learn are Coming

July 29th, 2016

there's more to learn

During the break between summer and fall semesters Blackboard will be upgraded to version 9.1 Q4 2015. This upgrade will also include several service pack upgrades to take us from our current Blackboard Learn 9.1 SP 13 version. Upgrading to the Blackboard Learn 9.1 Q4 2015 release gives us a number of exciting new features as well as a few bug fixes. New features include:

1) Student Preview: With the new Student Preview, instructors can navigate their courses just as their students would. The Student Preview feature provides a new button that appears in the breadcrumb bar next to the course Themes and Edit Mode buttons and is shaped like an eye.

View short video: Student Preview [2:23]
View more information about Student Preview

Note: With the new Student Preview feature available, test students are no longer needed. The “Add Test Student” course tool will be removed and all test student accounts will be removed from Blackboard after the upgrade.

2) Date Management: Once a course has been copied, professors can update the dates of items in the course from one location.

View short video: Date Management [3:12]
View more information about Date Management

3) Groups Management: Now, you can easily see which students are in a group, which groups have been active, modify group membership and export group memberships among classes.

View short video: Groups Management [2:44]
View more information about Groups Management

4) Grade Center Improvements: There are a few new improvements to the Grade Center:

  • Grade Schemas allow an A+ to be more than 100%.
  • The “Options” page allows you to set the “Score Attempts Using” option. This is a workflow improvement that ensures you can easily find this setting for all tools that support multiple attempts.
  • Test total points adjustment: This enhancement address several related needs, all revolving around the total points possible for tests, and needing to adjust the total points possible.
View more information about Grade Center Improvements

5) My Grades: My Grades has an ordering and design update. The My Grades page provides students with a new default option for the order their grades are displayed in.

View more information about My Grades

6) Inline Grading: Inline Grading has been updated to include discussion boards, journals, wikis, and blogs.

View short video: Improved Inline Grading [2:02]
View more information about Inline Grading

7) Anonymous Grading: You can add another layer of fairness and impartiality to your grading by using the anonymous grading feature. The anonymous grading feature allows you to hide student’s names while grading.

View more information about Anonymous Grading

8) Delegated Grading: When there are multiple instructors assigned to a course, you can delegate who grades which assignments, or delegate a specific person to grade everything for a specific set of students.

View more information about Delegated Grading

9) Significant Figures in Calculated Formula Test Questions: You can now select the number of decimal places or significant figures for generated correct answers.

View more information about Significant Figures in Calculated Formula Test Questions

10) SafeAssign Integration: SafeAssign is now integrated with the Assignment tool. SafeAssign originality reports are viewed in the Grade Center where you also have access to the Inline Grading feature.

View short video: Deeper SafeAssign Integration [3:44]
View more information about Deeper SafeAssign Integration

11) SafeAssign Originality Reports: SafeAssign reports have a redesigned format.

View more information about SafeAssign Originality Reports

12) Course Message Notifications: You can now be notified of new messages in the My Blackboard Updates area, the What’s New Module, and in your email.

View more information about Course Message Notifications

13) Thread-to-Thread Navigation in Discussion Boards: Users are able to navigate to the next or previous thread in a discussion from the Thread Detail page without having to navigate back up to the Discussion Forum page.

14) Special Characters in Assignment Titles: When a user uploads a file and the filename contains special characters (such as / \ : ? * ” < > |), the system will replace the special character with an underscore (_).

15) Microsoft Edge Browser Support: The Microsoft Edge (Windows 10) browser is now supported.

Want more information?

Get more information about the new features of Blackboard Learn 9.1 Service Pack 14 and April 2014 Release.
Sign up for a Blackboard workshop or stop by one of the drop-in sessions for one-on-one help.
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.

Why Use Gamification in your Courses?

July 22nd, 2016

by Janice Florent

Sorry game board

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Gamification is not the same as playing a game. Educators have been using gamification even before there was an official term for it.

Yu-kai Chou (2015) defines gamification as:

The craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities.

Why Use Gamification?

Clearly gamification is a motivation tool. So why would you take the time to set-up a gamification component to your courses? In an LearnDash blog post Justin Ferriman lists some benefits of gamification to consider. Those benefits are:

  • Provides Instant Feedback – learners instantly receive feedback on their understanding of the course content which in turn highlights what they need to spend more time reviewing.
  • Prompts Change in Behavior – Certain behaviors are reinforced by granting learners the ability to earn points and badges. This is even more true if these points and badges can be “cashed in” for something tangible or real.
  • Better Learning Experience – Gamification offers the opportunity for learners to engage with the content in various ways.
  • Safe To Fail – Gamification isn’t always about rewards but can also incorporate the “loss” of a reward. This makes it safe for people to fail and to learn from those mistakes.

What is considered as fun in games?

Winning or beating an opponent is an obvious answer. However, pleasure is also derived from activities such as:

  • problem-solving
  • exploring
  • creating
  • imagining
  • collecting
  • role-playing
  • collaborating
  • simply chilling out

What gaming elements can be used in the learning process?

Gamification strategies include elements such as gamifying grading, incentivizing students with rewards and adding competitive elements such as leaderboards. From the non-exhaustive list of gaming components and mechanics, here are a few from a Bright Classroom Ideas blog post by Savas Savides, which can be particularly useful to educators:

  • Narrative – Nothing can beat a well-told captivating story, whether you are a child or an adult. Text, audio, video, cartoon, they all have the same denominator: a storyline.
  • Progression – Learners need to know they are acquiring skills and getting better. Student portfolios and ‘can-do’ statements help them reflect on their own learning.
  • Challenges – Tasks should be easy enough to tackle, but hard enough to challenge and motivate. And, following the previous point on progression, they should have a gradually rising level of difficulty.
  • Competition – Motivates students to perform better. Through competition, students not only do what is required to accomplish the required goals, but also do the best they can do. Competition allows the students to come forward with better ideas and clearly highlight their skills in front of their teacher and classmates. Competition is closely linked to rewards.
  • Cooperation – Apart from competing against each other, students also like working together. Never miss an opportunity to form pairs or groups to work on a project. It is more fun than working alone.
  • Rewards – With tangible rewards there is always the danger that they may substitute for the intrinsic motivation. It is better to use intangible rewards (e.g. points). Remember that the game is ultimately its own reward.
  • Win States – When the outcome is a winner.
  • Achievements – Create tangible things that serve as proof of student achievement. They can be certificates, posters, photos, videos etc.
  • Badges – Another tangible proof of individual achievement. They can be stickers, stamps, even your own drawings on the board.
  • Leaderboards – A classification of all learners-participants according to their performance. A really powerful motivational tool.
  • Points – Instant intangible rewards that help create leaderboards.
  • Teams – Either working with each other in a team or cooperating to beat another team, students can overcome shyness and benefit immensely.

A well-designed gamified course can grab and keep students’ attention, improve students’ knowledge retention, and improve students’ overall success in the course. Gamification may not suit everyone. But for those who use it, the benefits of gamification can be substantial.