When Life Gives You Lemons...

Blog Post created by kd36413 on Feb 5, 2018

How to Use Blackboard Learn Assessments
to Create Interactive Lectures


A few months ago, we had a discussion about the loss of Office Mix, which will no longer be supported by Microsoft as of May 2018.  Office Mix was a PowerPoint add-in that allowed you to create a narrated PowerPoint with questions embedded for students to answer.  Since it was an LTI, you could then include your Office Mix in your Blackboard Learn course as a gradable item.  Using Mix allowed you to take a passive learning task, watching a lecture video, and turn it into an interactive learning exercise. You could also include several other types of items in your Mix, such as Khan Academy content, PhET sims, and other science and math simulations.


I was a big Mix advocate with my faculty. Because Mix was PowerPoint based, it had a shallow learning curve; anyone who used PowerPoint could easily create these interactive lectures simply by inserting questions and other interactive content. Mix was also cloud-based, which meant you could upload and download content across devices.  Students could get immediate feedback on their answers, allowing them additional attempts before moving on if you chose. As the instructor, you could get some good analytics about time on task and how many students answered questions correctly. Students found the activities created with Mix engaging, personal, and interesting, and many thought they learned and would retain more of what they learned in my course than in others.


And...it was free.


However, it did have some technical issues, with students reporting occasional problems in getting the Mix to start or proceed. It also required students to learn a new technology, rather than use something they already know.  That might not seem like much, but about 10% of my students a semester had trouble finding the orange submit button in the upper right. It was limited in the types of questions you could ask, primarily multiple choice and multiple answer for objective questions.  Finally, and most significantly, it had no easy way of including closed captions.


There are other tools that will do something similar to Office Mix, like Adobe Capitvate or Camtasia, but they have steep learning curves and significant costs. Mix itself was being replaced by Microsoft Stream, but it lacks the interactivity. I decided to take the loss of Office Mix as an opportunity to improve my learning activities and make use of tools provide in Blackboard already.  I decided on assessments using objective questions to give students immediate feedback and unlimited attempts.


In my online descriptive astronomy course, I have 42 learning activities using Office Mix, three per week for 14 weeks.  They average about 20-25 minutes each; some are shorter, some longer. They are designed to be done in one sitting ideally, but students could go in and out of them as needed.  Here is a sample Mix.


To convert these to assessments in Learn, I started by going back to the original narrated PowerPoint and split it into micro-lectures. These micro-lectures were anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes long, with a handful as long as 8 minutes.  Based on various research, this seems to be the ideal length for videos, although you can go longer for engaging, informative videos.  This gave me 3-5 micro-lecture mer narrated PowerPoint. I saved each of these micro-lectures and uploaded them to an unlisted playlist on YouTube.


I could have included the video directly in the Learn course, but that bloats the size of the course, and since we are on managed hosting, course size is a concern.  I could have streamed them from Microsoft Stream, but having been burnt by Microsoft once already, I was loathe to trust them again.  I chose YouTube because Blackboard Learn allows you to embed YouTube videos easily into your content, and YouTube provides automatic closed captions, which you can edit to improve them (although I find that the automatic ones are pretty good, except for some weird science words).


Once I had the videos on YouTube, I created an assessment in Learn for that learning activity. On the first question, I embedded the first micro-lecture using the YouTube embed code and HTML view in Learn, and included a link to open the video in a new browser window, in case the student could not play it from within the Blackboard Learn question.  I followed that question by creating additional questions on the same video, which I already had from my Office Mix. I did, however, change the format of some questions to take advantage of different question types in Learn, like Hotspot and Jumbled Sentence. Once I finished with those questions, I would repeast the process for each micro-lecture. I deployed the assessments with no time limit and unlimited attempts, recording the highest attempt score.


Here is a quick video showing how this learning activity work in Learn.



Again, using both video and questions together encourages active learning. Keeping the video clips short increases the likelihood that students which watch the entire clip. I do provide transcripts for students to print if they want something written to which to refer later, as well as a standard PowerPoint handout.  I also provide an optional worksheet for those students who need help in focusing their note taking skills.  All of these are simple ways to try to get students to engage with course content.


I do lose the ability to allow students immediate feedback on a per question (as opposed to per assessment) basis.  If there was one thing I could get Blackboard to implement, it would be the option to allow students to repeat a question, not just the entire assessment.  There are reasons to do that, such as allowing students who are having difficulty discriminating between two choices to try their second choice right away before they forget what it was.  There are also reason NOT to do that; students who are convinced their answer is correct are less likely to believe they got the question wrong if they get immediate feedback.  But I would at least like that option...


I admit, this is a lot of work. No doubt about it.  Converting 42 learning activities from Office Mix to Learn assessments took most of my three-week "break" between the Fall and Spring semesters.  But if the payoff is students who are more engaged, more interested, and more likely to succeed, it's worth it.