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May the Course Be With You

Posted by mtalalay Sep 30, 2019

Making Blackboard Training Fun for Teaching Assistants


Each year at Johns Hopkins, we have a training day for graduate teaching assistants.  In 30 minutes, always right before lunch, my presentation is meant to capture all things Blackboard for this group of more than 300 students.  They have disparate backgrounds, experience, and interest in using Blackboard; the instructors determine how much interaction each one will have with the online course content.  Some will be grading and only grading.  Others create and deliver content.  Just for fun, the timing is just days before the courses start, making it challenging to manage at a very hectic time.


I have always been a proponent of 'use it or lose it' when it comes to all skills, so I decided to set up two Blackboard organization sites to provide a pre-training experience for the TAs as well as a place where they can try out their skills in a safe space where there are no undergraduates populated into the Blackboard site.


I wanted to make the sight engaging and fun, and also modular so the TAs and their instructors could determine which parts they would need.  We have a natural fit with some pop culture because our IDs at Johns Hopkins are called JHED IDs (JH Enterprise Directory).  Hello, Star Wars!  All things are directed to the JHEDIs in training with the goal to become JHEDI masters.  Some students really embraced the theme and others had some pretty clear disdain.  The students who completed the training were overwhelmingly positive.




I added other social media (twitter feeds, a Star Wars Spotify playlist, and other social media feeds) to keep it interesting.  The students made their way through the appropriate modules for their course role and completed quizzes to demonstrate acumen.  In the next evolution of this training, I plan to make a more rigorous certificate to demonstrate higher-level skills; this cert would be portable but likely within JHU only.


Just to mention, the grad students were enrolled in the main training site as participants but I created a second training site (called the JHEDI Dojo) where they were all enrolled as leaders so they could practice their skills. 


I'd love to see how you tackle tricky training challenges!


Content Management Systems

Posted by ss0053756 Apr 25, 2019

We've been implementing Adobe AEM as our content management system, with the help of Adobe and Blackboard. It's been a long process, but we have finally managed to fully test the integration and are in the process of migrating the content from 1500 course masters into Adobe.


As a result of this process, we've accomplished a few key objectives that headed us down this long and windy road a couple years ago. Most importantly, we are now able to quickly update our html layers of content, which we have used for many years to improve the look and feel of our classrooms...but came with the disadvantage of being complicated to update, particularly with our large enrollment numbers that come with many sections of each course per term. We are also seeing decreased course development time, greater content re-use across courses, and increased transparency for stakeholders as we develop new courses.


So far our work has been limited to a somewhat standard design, but we are now looking at how we can leverage the AEM capabilities to quickly adapt the look and feel of our courses across the board, implement templates to support varying learning models, and continue to become more efficient in our processes, leaving more development time for the fun, creative parts.


If anyone is interested in learning more about this project, I am happy to share some of what we've learned along the way. As we are setting our next set of objectives, I would also be interested in hearing from others who may have success stories and lessons learned from CMS implementation projects.

About a year ago, I posted a question to the Community about whether or not anyone uses Collaborate Ultra to live-stream campus events. The thread got some good conversation going about live-stream platforms, limitations, best practices, hardware, and links to helpful resources. One such link was to Russ Lichterman 2016 discussion post on utilizing Collaborate Ultra for interactive live streaming!


Russ used Collaborate Ultra to stream keynotes and workshops for his University’s Faculty Development Days. This type of event was in the vein of what I was hoping to accomplish at our college, and while the technical setup that Russ used was more advanced than what I aimed to do, I was inspired by his discussion post.


At our college, we have a student/faculty book club called Pageturners. Pageturners is partially supported by Distance Learning, and the club sponsors several on-campus events including panel discussions and guest speakers. As a member of Pageturners, the faculty leader of the club reached out to me with an inquiry on whether there was a way to not just record these on-campus events for students, staff, and faculty, but offer them synchronously. Of course, I immediately thought of Collaborate, so I contacted our system administrator to create a Blackboard Organization for Pageturners, and we were off! Over the past year, we have been able to stream several panel discussions to virtual audiences on such titles as Franz Kafka’s The Trial and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, as well the occasional guest speaker.



Suddenly, word got out about the popularity of this little college book club’s ability to transmit to an off campus audience live. I was soon approached by a faculty member who had invited an important community leader to campus to speak to some students and answer questions. She asked if I’d be able to work with her to broadcast his speech in a similar fashion as I had with Pageturners. This event involved several faculty members, deans, students, and an introduction by the President of the college, and once again, we were able to stream the event live to all interested faculty and students.


Now that we had the attention of some of the heavy hitters on campus, as time rolled around for the professional development committee to plan its faculty development activities for Winter, I was tapped to attend and live stream these as well. This time, the professional development sessions were actually planned with the idea that distance learning would be involved and would be streaming the sessions. Announcements were made in advance, and a three-part professional development series entitled Teaching Today’s Students was planned with our involvement in the forefront. The series involved a student panel, followed by a faculty panel, and culminated in a workshop (which I also had a hand in presenting!), all of which were highly attended and well-received.


Due to the popularity of the Teaching Today’s Students series, I was then approached by the Vice President of Instruction to see if I would be interested in streaming a listening session on campus safety that was going to be delivered by our campus chief of police, and this ended up being one of our most highly attended virtual sessions to date!


The listening session was so popular, in fact that these “listening sessions” have become a somewhat regular thing used to communicate out a variety of campus issues of interest, and our live streaming via Collaborate Ultra has become integral in getting these communications out. The President of the college has now run nearly 10 separate listening sessions on many different topics, all of which have been highly attended  and in person. My thanks to our media department, Adam Authier and Kaylynn Mortensen for helping stay on top of all of these sessions at various days and time!



I am amazed and proud of how we were able to utilize this outstanding Blackboard tool generally aimed at students and re-purpose it for our institution as a whole. Since we started using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra as a means for synchronous communication of live events on campus to faculty, staff, and students, we have noticed a growth in interest in the product. More faculty are interested in using Collaborate in their courses because they have seen it work from the “student” perspective, and now understand that it is nothing to fear. Our use of Collaborate as an institutional tool has brought heightened awareness and comfort with the tool that no tutorial or workshop could ever do. Furthermore, we in Distance Learning have had opportunities to work with many different groups, faculty members, and organizations on campus whom we generally don't have much contact with on a regular basis. Now Collaborate Ultra is one of our key resources for improving interaction across the board!

From time to time, I’ve shared links to a web series that my colleagues (Jason Kane and Kaylynn Mortensen) and I created called What’s Your Problem? - a compilation of short episodes that we share with faculty at our small community college outside of Detroit, Michigan in the hopes that each one would provide helpful solutions to a common “problem” (whether real or perceived) that exists in the day-to-day of teaching online courses.


The full title of the series is actually, What’s Your Problem? A Fundamentally Kind of Useful Production. It was so named to reflect our original, tongue-in-cheek hope for the show - that, from time to time, when they needed it, our faculty would glean something that would make their lives a little easier.


It took us a little while to figure out how to actually create and film a web series. Ultimately, we leaned on an outstanding Media department to help us (complete with teleprompter and green screen) and, in August 2016 we released our first episode. The problem? Cheating in Distance Learning Courses.



That first episode (and the series in general) was extremely well-received by our faculty, and - as we were encouraged by the initial reaction - I decided to share a recap of our first season with the Community. And that’s when things started to get interesting.


Debbora Woods, now the Senior Manager of Global Client Programs for Blackboard, saw my post and asked if Jason, Kaylynn, and I would be willing to present our solutions for preventing cheating in online courses as part of the Higher Education BITS series that she coordinates. We were happy to do so, and our session, Effective Strategies to Prevent Cheating in Distance Learning Courses, was well-attended and produced overwhelmingly positive feedback.


So, we decided that we’d try to present on our process and the benefits of the series at BbWorld17 in New Orleans. This was, for us, a nerve-wracking endeavor. After all, we were just instructional designers from a small community college who were foolish enough to try something that (in all honesty) started as a joke. Ultimately, and in large part due to having worked with Debbora and the exposure that the BITS session got us, our proposal was accepted and we had the honor of presenting What’s Your Problem?: How a Professional Development Web Series Encouraged a Stronger Blackboard Culture at Our College to a gracious and bigger-than-expected audience (they actually had to switch us to a bigger room the night before we were scheduled to present!). The highlight of the trip, though, was hearing someone break into the What’s Your Problem? theme song while walking past us on Bourbon St.




And, since that first episode, we’ve written, filmed, and released 15 more episodes dealing with a range of “problems” from Accessibility to Lackluster Discussions, and a few special episodes, including a Student Edition and an infomercial that attempts to sell the Bb Instructor App to faculty. We’ve won a “Gold” Collegiate Advertising Award for best Online Education Series, and both myself and (more recently) Jason Kane have been named Blackboard MVPs - an honor that we both agree is due, at least in part, to the opportunities that What’s Your Problem? created for us to get involved with the global Blackboard community.


So, why am I sharing this story? Two reasons. The first is to remind everyone of the power that a place like Blackboard Community has for a group of people who are engaged in and passionate about what they do. The fact that this “thing” that we put together for a small group of community college faculty in suburban Detroit made it to the global stage and afforded Jason, Kaylynn, and I the countless opportunities it has, is remarkable. It’s a testament to the community - those who come here to find new ideas (like What’s Your Problem?) and those who share their own (which you should definitely be doing).


And second, this story should serve as a reminder that the role that each of us plays within our own institution is vitally important, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. We’re currently working on Season 5 of What’s Your Problem? It’s a struggle to keep it fresh and entertaining; to keep our faculty engaged. We sometimes kick around the idea of shutting it down. Two of the episodes from Season 4 only have 40-50 unique views. However, 40-50 represents most of the faculty who were teaching online for us last semester and, assuming the trend continues, when Season 5 comes out those numbers will go up as new or returning faculty discover the show. At it’s core, What’s Your Problem? remains exactly what we wanted it to be - a fundamentally kind of useful production. A resource that faculty still engage with and benefit from. It is representative of the countless things all of us do everyday to positively impact our respective institutions, whether we are recognized for those efforts or not. In our case, we are humbled and thankful for the support of the Blackboard Community.


Keep up the good work.


Thanks for reading (and watching).


What's Your Problem? YouTube Channel


Happy to be here!

Posted by mtalalay May 7, 2018

It was such great news to be chosen as a Blackboard MVP.  I mean, I spend a great deal of time with this LMS, so why not MVP with some BBFFs?


I'm curious what other MVPs and BBs want to know and what we can share.  Can you fill out this 2-question survey that takes < 2 minutes?


Can't wait to meet you and hear all of your comments, questions, and ideas!



By Jason Kane


As a frequent visitor to the Community site as well as a member of the recent group of new MVPs, I felt compelled to write something for the blog. That coupled with Tim Atkin’s recent post, “Is There a Book That Inspired You?” sent me down the literary path.


I expect the recent novel, Ready Player One is not foreign to many of you, given the field we’re all in. Personally, this was one of the coolest books I’ve read in years. It hits the sweet spot between geek-chic and epic adventure. For those of you not familiar, Ready Player One is author Ernest Cline’s story of Wade Watts, a high school student living in Oklahoma City, OK in the year 2044. Energy and environmental crises have rendered the world mostly back to the Stone Age with petroleum-fuel a thing of the past and poverty running rampant. One advancement has managed to proliferate through the classes however, and that’s the online virtual world known as the Oasis. The Oasis is a place where everyone can escape their reality by entering a virtual space where they can be anyone and do nearly anything. All you have to do is log on to the Oasis, invent your avatar, and you’re in.


The Oasis is mostly an entertainment device, but it does serve many practical purposes as well. With the infrastructure of the real world crumbling, the Oasis has become a place of commerce, communication, and most interestingly of education. Cline’s concept of Oasis Public School is singularly brilliant. All schools are monumental cathedrals of learning. No constraints of money or even physics stand in the way of learning in its purest form, and there’s an emphasis on the “safety” of this as opposed to the normal school experience.


So, get to the point. That’s what you’re all thinking right now if you’re still reading this post. You’re also thinking, what’s with the question mark (?) in the title? I’ll start with the latter. A title ending with …and the Future of Online Education, is awfully lofty, and while I have educated opinions on the matter, the slight modicum of modesty I still possess will not permit me to position myself on the mountain top proclaiming, “I, Jason Kane will tell you about the future of online education!” I do enjoy reading, writing, technology, and pop culture, but I can’t say I know the future; I can say, however, “I know the future?” So there’s that, now what’s the point of all of this?


I’m a former English teacher, and here I am burying the thesis. The point is, online education offers real solutions to many problems in education. I found Cline’s philosophy and perspective on online education to be laudable. I think if we all think hard enough, maybe we can scrape together an occurrence or two where online education was unfairly classified as subpar, limited, or inferior to traditional education in some way. I’m not positing to combat the supposed stigma of online learning, but rather shine a spotlight on a very real and prevalent piece of popular fiction that imagines online education as the idyllic, paramount of what education truly can be. In Cline’s own words, “the sort of school every… kid would love to attend. A bully-free learning environment where only your brain goes to class, while your body stays at home. A school where every classroom is a holodeck, and no one ever nails you with a spitball in the back of the head.” In Ready Player One, the main character cherishes his experiences in his virtual class, and in fact takes great strides to ensure his performance in his virtual classes remains in good standing or he will lose the privilege of online education and be placed back in traditional public school. Field trips to the Louvre, the solar system, and even inside the human body are described with vigor in the book, and with the way AR/VR is developing, these experiences will be a reality soon.


On the other side of the coin, Cline also discusses the joy the instructor-experience teaching in the virtual classroom. He says in an interview with Education Week:


“The best teachers, the ones who obviously loved to teach, always seemed to be fighting an uphill battle in their classrooms, because of constant interruptions by a few dim-witted, hormonally imbalanced Neanderthals who had no interest in learning. I could see how much it frustrated the teachers and wore them down. It was also frustrating for the kids who were there to learn.”


I share Cline’s vision of online education as a rare place where the pressures of fitting in are somewhat diminished in favor of the educational experience. However, when it comes to education, whether traditional or online, the emphasis is on education, and the conversation therefore, should never be based on how the merits of one mode outweigh those of the other. Instead, the conversation should be about how each and every educational delivery system can be better than it is now, and it is worth noting circumstances, fictional or otherwise that envision those instances. I offer the novel Ready Player One as one such example.



Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Crown Publishers, 2011. Print.

“Q And A: Imagining a Virtual Education Oasis.” Education Week, 28 Feb. 2018, Web.


2018 MVP Nominations Open!


There is nothing like the Blackboard Community of users. People ask, answer, share and learn from one another. As a company, we want to help our community to identify and commend those clients who are willing to spend that extra time to support and share with others in the community. The Blackboard MVP program recognizes individuals who have expertise in Blackboard products and the overall educational technology landscape.


MVP's are Blackboard Champions from around the world who are engaged and dedicated Blackboard clients who are active and helpful in the community. If you are interested in becoming a Blackboard MVP, or have a colleague in mind who exemplifies the qualities of an MVP, please submit a nomination form today.


We are accepting applications through March 9th, and will announce our new class of MVP's in early April. We encourage clients across all industries and from around the world to consider this opportunity.

This year has gone by so fast!! Our last 2017 Higher Ed Blackboard Innovative Teaching Series (BITS) webinar will be next week on November 9 with one of our amazing Exemplary Course Winners, Lisa Panagopolous, Assistant Director of Faculty Development with the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Thank you to our MVPs who have participated as speakers this year! Shout out to Corrie Bergeron  Stephanie Richter  Kimberly Gibson  The specified item was not found.  Szymon Machajewski  Adam Authier   Torria Davis  Dorothy Jones  Brian Morgan  I couldn't have done this without your participation and support of the program!


I’ve already started planning our 2018 schedule, which will start up toward the end of January. And, I'd love for your feedback on the following:

  • Topics - what is important, timely, and relevant for our key Higher Ed BITS audience of faculty, instructional designers, and faculty trainers?
  • Timing - currently, BITS sessions  run on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month at 1pm or 3pm Eastern - Is this still a good schedule?
  • Potential speakers (Bb clients) - have a peer who's a great speaker, then let me know about them. And, feel free to volunteer yourself!
  • Promotion - how do we get the word out about these free professional development webinars? what channels are most effective?
  • Going global - what are your ideas on how to roll Higher Ed BITS webinars out globally?


I’d love to have some feedback by the end of this week or early next week.

C’mon, share your ideas…I know you want to!


Thanks so much for your support  


Debbora Woods, MBA

Manager, Higher Ed Customer Programs & Communications

T: 814.272.4612

C: 602.228.1470

Let’s connect on Twitter and LinkedIn

Join our online communities for EducatorsHigher Ed BITS and Exemplary Course Program

MVPs ~

Thanks for being willing to be the information bridge to your faculty and instructional designers!


Our Blackboard Innovative Teaching Series (BITS) webinars have started back up for the 2nd half of 2017. The first session was on August 17 with MVPs Corrie Bergeron, Kimberly Gibson, and Stephanie Richter (Woot! Woot!) presenting on “10 Tips to use Blackboard Learn tools and features to engage students.” They hit it out of the park and we had over 810 registrations! The recording and slide deck can be accessed on the BITS Community>>


Our next BITS session will be presented by Marcus Christian, Instructional Designer at Liberty University (VA) on:


“How to effectively communicate with students using social media”


Do you know how to effectively use social media in your online classroom?

Join us to learn some great tips and best practices!

Today's students are always connected to their technologies and social media accounts. Although social media is widely used, there are few instances where students can actively participate from their phones and tablets. There are many uses for social media in the classroom from engaging the reluctant participant to interacting with students on a less-formal level. Social media can be used for research, collaboration, and in-class participation. Social media is here to stay and there is no reason why it should not be embraced in the classroom.


This is a quick 30 minute session over lunch.

So please invite your faculty and instructional designers to grab their lunches and REGISTER HERE>>


Thanks so much for your support!


Debbora Woods, MBA

Manager, Customer Programs & Communications

North America Higher Education

Blackboard Inc.

T: 814.272.4612

C: 602.228.1470

Let’s connect on Twitter and LinkedIn

Join our online communities for EducatorsHigher Ed BITS and Exemplary Course Program