Improve Student Retention in Online Courses

August 28th, 2015

by Janice Florent

stick figures shown with a pencil drawing red smiles on their faces

Studies show that students withdraw from online courses at a higher rate than in face-to-face courses. There are many reasons for students withdrawing from an online course. Some reasons are beyond the instructor’s control. Educators do not like to see students withdraw from courses for the wrong reasons. There are some things instructors can do to improve retention and reduce attrition in online courses.

In a recent blog post, Dr. Peter van Leusen, Instructional Designer for EdPlus at Arizona State University, provided a list of proven strategies that can be implemented on a course level and are based on good principles for teaching (Chickering & Gamson, 1987), adult-learning strategies, and technology solutions. Those strategies are:

  1. Be present – Instructor presence is key. Make early contact at the start of the class and stay active throughout the course.
  2. Encourage active learning – Incorporate activities that require students to move from passive consumers to active users of information.
  3. Set clear expectations – Expectations help students gauge requirements for the course and individual assignments.
  4. Provide constructive, meaningful and timely feedback – Feedback gives students an indication about their performance. Effective feedback is frequent, prompt, specific, and written in a supportive tone.
  5. Make course content relevant – Invite guest speakers to provide career specific examples or include “real world” examples to illustrate course content. Design assignments to be flexible and allow students to pursue interests.
  6. Include collaboration and peer-to-peer communication – A common criticism of online courses is the lack of interaction with peers. Offer opportunities for students to share perspectives, experiences, and learning.
  7. Guide students to be autonomous – Self-directed learning describes students who take initiative and responsibility for their own learning. This is critical in an online class.
  8. Collect formative feedback on lesson effectiveness and student comprehension – The decision to review a certain concept or continue often depends on whether students “get it” or not.
  9. Identify and reach out to struggling students – Utilize an early alert system and reach out to students when necessary to offer support and share available resources to help students get back on track.

If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in Dr. Leusen’s “9 Proven Ways for Instructors to Address Online Student Retention” blog post.

Conversation #31: Inverted Learning

August 25th, 2015

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 #31

Aaron Sams

A conversation with Aaron Sams on inverted teaching and learning.

Most of what we’re seeing in terms of the spread of this concept is really kind of a grassroots teacher-to-teacher thing.

Aaron Sams has been an educator since 2000 and is currently the Managing Director of FlippedClass.com, co-founder of The Flipped Learning Network, and is an Adjunct Professor at Saint Vincent College. He was awarded the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and was a Chemistry teacher in Woodland Park, CO and in Hacienda Heights, CA.

Links for this episode:

Bb Accessibility Tip: Alt Text

August 25th, 2015

by Janice Florent

blind male student listening to screen reader describe information on his computer screen

The fourth tip in my series of accessibility related blog posts will focus on alternative text (alt text). Computers can read text on a screen but images, graphs, and charts are meaningless to visually impaired users. Alt text is an alternate method for supplying information about images to users who are visually impaired.

Alt text is important for screen reader users because a screen reader cannot describe an image. Since screen reader software cannot interpret images, it relies on alt text to communicate image information to the user. When an image does not have alt text the only information the screen reader can relay is that there is an image on the page and provide the file name for the image.

Alt text should describe an image so it makes sense in context. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a short alt text description may be a poor substitute. While a concise alt text description is important, the alt text should be less than 125 characters. You want to think about what is the most important information you are trying to get across with the image and stay within the 124 or less characters. If the image requires a lengthy description, you should describe the image in the content of the page.

There are several ways to handle complex images (e.g. charts, data, statistics, etc.) where a short description is not possible. The best solution is to include a thorough description of the complex image in the content of the page, immediately before or after the image. If you don’t want to add more content to your page, another preferred alternative would be to create another web page with just a description of the complex image and link to it near the image. Additionally, text descriptions of graphs and charts can help all students understand difficult concepts.

How alt text is written will vary depending on the type of image. Most screen reader software announces the presence of an image by appending a word such as “graphic” to the alt text, so using words such as “image” “graphic” and “photo” are unnecessary in the alt text, unless it helps to convey further meaning important for a user to know.

Consider this example which uses “Guide Dog and Man” as the alt text:

example of incorrect use of alt text

The alt text “Guide Dog and Man” is not effective if the intent is to show the dynamic action of guiding in the picture. In this situation a better alt text description is “A guide dog leads the way with her handler holding the guide harness in his left hand” as shown in the following example:

example of correct use of alt text

There is no need to include “image of,” “picture of,” or “photo of” in the alt text in this example because the screen reader will announce the presence of the image.

Additionally, images that contain text (as in a logo) should generally be coded to just include that text as the alt text.

Many images are used only for visual interest, they aren’t meant to convey any meaning or important information. In this case, it is best to use what is called NULL alt text or empty alt text. This is done by entering two quotes (”") with no spaces in between in the alt text box.

So, how can you add alt text to images? Listed below are instructions on adding alt text in MS Word and PowerPoint documents as well as in Blackboard.

Add Alt Text to image in MS Word and PowerPoint 2010:

  1. PC users: right-click on an image
    Mac users: press control key and click on the image
  2. Select Format Picture
  3. Select the option for Alt Text
  4. Type your alt text in the description field
  5. PC users: Click Close
    Mac users: click OK
example of alt text in MS Word and PowerPoint

Add Alt Text to image in Blackboard:

You will find the Alt Text box in various places in Blackboard depending on what and where you are adding the image. Here are some examples:

1. Create Image in Bulid Content:

example of alt text in Content Editor

2. Insert image in the Content Editor:

example of alt text in Content Editor

You will remove significant barriers for the visually impaired if you take these suggestions for adding alt text into consideration when creating course content. An added bonus is that if you take the extra step to include alt text when creating your course content you will be ahead of the game in the event you do have a visually impaired student.

Additional information about alt text can be found at:

Who Assesses the Assessment?

August 21st, 2015
More Questions Than Answers

Are we using assessment to find minor shortcomings in our teaching and curriculum, changing what we do in the hopes of remedying those shortcomings, and in the long run having no real positive effect on the quality of our graduates and institutions? Are we, in effect, finding and treating harmless academic microcarcinomas rather than real problems? And, if so, what might be the consequences of all this?

Has anyone looked into whether assessing student-learning outcomes over many years has made American colleges, or students, better in some way? Has anyone tried to compare institutions with different approaches to assessment? … As best I can tell from a literature search and from asking people in the field the answer is “no.”

Read: Does Assessment Make Colleges Better? Who Knows? by Erik Gilbert

Photo credit: More Questions Than Answers by Tom Waterhouse | CC BY-NC 2.0

Bb Tip #144: Web Browsers

August 21st, 2015

world wide web icon

Blackboard has a list of web browsers that are certified or compatible with the version of Blackboard we use here at XU. To avoid problems with Blackboard you should use one of the supported web browsers.

You can run the browser checker to see whether Blackboard supports your web browser and operating system.

Note: If using a supported web browser does not resolve your problem, you may require additional software to be installed. Information about the additional software can be found at the supported web browsers link.

Java Update Warning

warning sign

Windows PC users: DO NOT update Java on Windows PCs if you use Banner Client. Updating Java on Windows PCs may cause Banner Client to stop working. Blackboard should work with older versions of Java. Contact ITC if you have questions about Java updates and Banner Client.

Mac users: Updating Java on Macintosh computers will not affect the use of Banner Client.

Want more information?

Blackboard Learn SP 13 supported web browsers.
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 #143: Change Course List Order

August 20th, 2015

two arrows pointing in opposite directions

When you login to Blackboard you will see your course list. You can change the order your courses are listed as well as hide courses from view. To change the order of your course list follow the steps below. Refer to Bb tip #141 to hide courses from view.

Follow these steps to do it.

To change the course list order:

  1. Click on the small Manage My Course Module Settings gear icon located on top right corner of the [My Courses] section.
  2. Using the arrows on the left of the course name, click and drag the course to the new position.
  3. Click [Submit] to save the changes.

Want more information?

Step-by-step instructions are available [PDF].
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.

Respondus Test Bank Network–Upcoming Webinar

August 20th, 2015

by Karen Nichols

Welcome back to our fall semester Everyone! I hope you had a great summer. I wanted to make you aware of this service from Respondus since Xavier has a subscription. They are offering a webinar soon on how to use Microsoft Publisher and Respondus Test Bank Network to quickly create tests. Here is some additional information Respondus has provided:

Capture

  • Over 7,000 ready-to-use test banks are available for the leading textbooks in higher education.
  • Whether you use Blackboard Learn, Brightspace, Canvas, or Moodle, you’ll quickly see how the Respondus Test Bank Network can save you countless hours each term. Best of all, it’s FREE with your Respondus 4.0 license.

I plan to attend the webinar so if you’re also interested and would like to attend from my office, please let me know (knichola@xula.edu).  You may wish to search the test bank first to see if there are any tests you can use for your discipline.

Wishing you all a wonderful new school year!

Bb Tip #142: Change the Name of your Course

August 19th, 2015

signpost with old name and new name signs printed on them

The names of courses in Blackboard are identical to the names that appear in the Banner system. Instructors have the ability to change the names of the courses to suit their needs. For example, if you teach two sections of English 1010, you can personalize the names to become ENGL1010 – 9 MWF and ENGL1010 – 1:15 TR.

Follow these steps to do it.

To change the name of your Blackboard course, you should:

  1. Go to the [Control Panel] of the course you want to change the name of. Click on the [Customization] link to expand it.
  2. Click on [Properties].
  3. Enter the new name for your course and click [Submit].

Note: Care should be taken to make sure the new name of the course can be easily recognized by the students enrolled.

Want more information?

Step-by-step instructions are available [PDF].
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 #141: Hide Old Courses from View

August 18th, 2015

image of keyboard with hide on one of the keys

When you login to Blackboard you will see your courses for the previous two semesters listed along with the courses you are currently teaching on the Xavier University and Courses tabs. If you do not want to see older courses in this list, you can hide them from view.

Follow these steps to do it.

To hide courses from view:

  1. Click on the small Manage My Course Module Settings gear icon located on top right corner of the [My Courses] section.
  2. For the courses to be hidden from view, make sure the check marks in the [Course Name] and [Announcements] columns are removed.
  3. Click [Submit] to save the changes. This will hide the courses from view on the course list but not remove them from the system.

Want more information?

Step-by-step instructions are available [PDF].
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 #140: Beginning of Semester Tasks

August 17th, 2015

checklist

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.

Follow these steps to do it.

Listed below are links with instructions for

  • Merging courses [Web page]
  • Hiding old courses from view [Web page]
  • Getting started with the course environment [PDF] [Video]
  • Course structures and course themes [Web page] [Video]
  • Changing the display name for your course [Web page]
  • Adding a course banner [Web page]
  • Adding items to the course menu [PDF]
  • Adding a test student to your course [Web page]
  • Posting announcements [Web page]
  • Copying content into another course [Web page]
  • Using date management to update dates after course copy [Web page]

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.