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9 Posts authored by: smachaje

The full blog post by Eric Kunnen is available here.


Based on a project request from faculty involved in the Pew FTLC Strong Start Initiative, a class photo roster feature has been implemented in Blackboard to enhance personal connections between faculty and students.


The Strong Start Initiative, led by Pew FTLC Faculty Fellow Tom Pentecost, focuses faculty attention on best practices for engaging students in first-year undergraduate courses and important aspects of the college experience vital to student success.

The Strong Start Initiative highlighted the importance of making it a priority to learn students’ names and calling them by name as a recommendation for improving student success, along with being more approachable as a faculty member.

Read the blog post about the Blackboard Class Photo Roster ...

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In Amazon’s latest push into education, the tech giant is encouraging colleges to experiment with its Echo smart speakers and add the devices to their curricula.


The company is working with Arizona State University, for instance, where it gave 1,600 Echo Dots to engineering students living in a new dorm called Tooker House.


“ASU’s main motivation was to develop an opportunity for its engineering students to gain skills in voice technology, an emerging field,” says John German, an ASU spokesperson. The engineering school at ASU has added "a little bit" of voice technology to the curriculum of three existing courses this semester, German said. However, the students who received the Echo Dots will "not at all" be required to take these courses. The dots are "literally a gift," German says.


The Amazon Alexa team “met frequently” with the university, and “offered advice,” says John Rome, ASU’s deputy chief information officer.


The company also recently set up the Amazon Alexa Fund Fellowship, which so far includes four colleges—Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Southern California, and Johns Hopkins University. The year-long program will give selected students “funding, access to Alexa devices, and mentoring from an Alexa Science team member to develop an undergraduate or graduate curriculum around one or more of these disciplines,” according to a company blog post.


And the company is also running a research competition for universities called the Alexa Prize, in which it will dole out $2.5-million in prizes to teams developing new ideas in conversational artificial intelligence.


Amazon officials imagine a world where their devices are woven into student life, used for things like “ordering transportation and setting homework reminders,” says an Amazon spokesperson, who asked not to be named.


Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger for eLiterate, says he believes Amazon is “playing the long game” with its Echo strategy, just as many big tech companies do in education.


read more ...

So you got a free Echo Dot at the BbWorld DevCon, now what?



Well, you can say "Alexa, tell me a joke", or "Alexa, tell me a cat joke", or "Alexa, tell me a Star Wars joke" ... but eventually you'll run out of the funnies.  You can buy accessories on Amazon like a pink skin or a wall mount.  If your flight got re-routed to Orleans, France, instead of New Orleans, and you didn't get the Dot, here is a way to run an emulator with just your existing Amazon account: Alexa Skill Testing Tool -

You could try the game: "Alexa, enable Blackboard Game; Alexa, open Blackboard Game"


Or you can Google "things to do with Alexa", and come up with all kinds of gems like: 10 things you should do now that you've welcomed Alexa into your life

Eventually you'll be like "ok, Google".


So why not integrate your Dot with the Blackboard Community site to hear only the unanswered yet questions or latest discussions?


Steps to enable Bb Community in Flash Briefing.


You can say: "Alexa, enable Bb Community News Feeds".


or follow these steps:


1. Login to the Alexa app on a mobile device or

2. Go to skills and find "Bb Community News Feeds"

3. Go to Settings -> Flash Briefing

4. Select the section of the site you want to hear about: Unanswered Questions, Discussions, Announcements.

5. Say: "Alexa, give me the news"


You may need to configure your Dot for English (U.S.) to listen to this skill.  The custom flash briefing skill doesn't have the U.K. option yet.  Plus, in U.K. English things are misspelled and pronounced funny.  Probably a bug, ex: centre, theatre, defence, organise, etc.


By the way, this skill uses Bb instead of Blackboard to avoid students being confused in adoption of the My Blackboard skill.  The search in the app store should skip the community site skill when keyword "Blackboard" is used.


What does your Dot look like?


If you can, post a picture of your Dot in the comments.  Does it look pretty? Is the ring orange, red, blue, white, or green?  Let us know!



More about Alexa:

Digital audio assistants in teaching and learning - Blackboard Blog

From Automatons to Amazon Alexa – the History of Digital Assistants .

Amazon Alexa for Blackboard Learn - BbWorld17 Teaser for Innovation Corner

Amazon Alexa game for BbWorld New Orleans

Free Amazon Echo at BbWorld.  Get yours and start sweet talking the AI.

Source code: GitHub - OSCELOT/alexaFlashcardsBlackboardGame: Alexa Flashcards Blackboard Game: working version of the unavailable pro…

Gamification in Blackboard Learn session at BbWorld17IMG_9163.PNG

Wed 11:30am room 276


Download the “MyGame” mobile app (App Store, Google Play, or Amazon Underground).  Play the game before, during, and after the session to understand how to gamify course activities and Blackboard Learn course.  Complete the missions, including Amazon Alexa fun, and win a free Amazon Tap.


What can you expect at the session?


1. Introduction to Gamification.

Gamification can be defined as “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals” (Burke, 2014).  The session will elaborate on gamification frameworks by You-Kai Chou and Andrzej Marczewski.

More at the session and in Course Gamification Tools for Blackboard Learn.


2. Identify the Engagement Problem

Engagement suffers in classrooms leading to problems in many academic fields.  For example, in STEM 48% for bachelor’s candidates and 69% for associate degree candidates left field of study or left college all together (Chen & Soldner, 2013).  Disengagement of knowledge workers at the office is also a problem.  Customer loyalty programs need polishing.  Harvard Business Review warns that 50% of women currently in STEM jobs will leave the industry.


3. Why Gamification and Why Now?

The idea of gamification is not new,  however specific conditions in the environment that promote gameful thinking growth are now present:


  1. Theory. Positive psychology is "the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”.  1998.

    Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 9.28.02 AM.png

  2. Business popular science. ”Good to Great” James Collins. 2001. “Reality Is Broken“ Jane McGonigal. 2008. The Drive” Daniel Pink. 2009. “Where Good Ideas Come From” Steven Johnson. 2010
  3. Tools. ClassDojo. 2011.  Mozilla Open Badges. 2011.  ClassCraft. 2013. GradeCraft. 2013.
  4. People. Atari. 1972. “The Well-Played Game”. Bernard De Koven. 1978


4. How to use Gamification Principles in Blackboard Learn

  1. Quiz Tournaments
  2. Course Reports Games
  3. Adaptive Release
  4. Achievements/Badges
  5. XP Ledger
  6. ECP Program as a Requirements for Gamification Projects


5. A case study of a course that applied gamification in Blackboard Learn

In depth review of peer-reviewed literature, motivational theories, gamification methods, quantitative content analysis of student feedback.

A second case study in Germanic Studies Dept of University of Illinois at Chicago: The “UIC German” Game App for the Enhancement of Foreign Language Learning Case Study | International Journal of E…


  1. 1002 course review comments
  2. 182 entries
  3. activity data collected from the custom gamification system
  4. Cengage (SAM) system,, and


Qualitative Content Analysis:

331 extracts grouped based on emerging themes and patterns.  The categories were adjusted in a cycle of revisions following the patterns found in the data.








Csikszentmihalyi, M., (1991). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper

Cunningham, C., Zichermann, G., (2011). Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps. O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol, CA.

Deterding, S., (2012). Gamification: designing for motivation. Interactions 19, 14–17.

Entertainment Software Association. (2016). 2016 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. Retrieved from 2016.pdf

Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. E. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66–78. doi:10.1037/a0034857

Machajewski, S. (2017).  Application of Gamification in College STEM Introductory Course: A Case Study (Doctoral dissertation).  Retrieved from

McGonigal, J., (2011). Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Ryder, R., & Machajewski, S. (2017). The “UIC German” Game App for the Enhancement of Foreign Language Learning Case Study. International Journal Of Educational Technology (ISSN 2476-0730), 4(1), 1-10. Retrieved from

Learning analytics looks at proxies for learning, and it can be tempting to mistake correlations for causation.

robotics-research-review.jpgPredicting the future is an enticing idea to academic leaders. Programmers have their "Design Patterns", which are methods to solve problems in the code, before such problems become evident. However, we have seen some unfortunate stories connected with analytics and Big Data in education. Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland “drown the bunnies” is a good example. Even students are calling out to have permission to fail. I think we should welcome failure and use it as a tool for teaching.


Quantitative research in education dealing with student success is often not objective. Studies funded by textbook publishers find that students who read the textbook often get better grades. LMS companies report that students who check their grades often are more successful. May there be a causation versus correlation issue here?


Recently Blackboard posted an interesting article about analytics. There was a paragraph on "downsides". I appreciated this thread of concerns being voiced in a published report.


"Learning analytics looks at proxies for learning, and it can be tempting to mistake correlations for causation. Learning analytics requires close cooperation between campus departments that traditionally have worked independently (e.g., IT, academic affairs, student affairs, and faculty). Data required for learning analytics can be distributed across campus and difficult to integrate, particularly if technology vendors format data in proprietary ways. Available data may not be suitable for analytics models. Using student data for analytics raises ethical issues surrounding data privacy and institutional obligations to act on analytics findings, including by providing resources to assist those learners. Analytics algorithms may include biases and may mislead the very students they are intended to help, perhaps prioritizing efficiency toward a credential over a learner’s passions. Misapprehensions about analytics among university administrators can result in unrealistic expectations for results, and some faculty resist analytics, arguing that it focuses on behavior rather than on learning." Read the article by J. Allen, T. Cavanagh, M. Gunkel, and John Whitmer : 7 Things You Should Know About Developments in Learning Analytics


The software project Course Gamification Tools represents a form of protest against the misuse of Big Data in Education.

The project: Course Gamification Tools for Blackboard Learn


The story: Course Gamification Tools for Blackboard Learn – The Rest of the Story | Gamification and Play :: Experience Design for …


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History of Digital Assistants

Computers with audio interfaces are not new.  They even entertained us for some time.  Sci-Fi stories about a voice in the room, like Hal 9000, or about a voice in a suit, like Jarvis from Iron Man, seemed plausible and very useful.  However, in practice, earlier implementation of such technologies seemed to say: “I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.”



The history of robotic helpers takes us back to automatons and Al-Jazari, who designed a prototype that would play music or serve drinks.  At the start of the 13th century this was an amazing undertaking. The book “Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World”, by Steven Johnson, covers the modern era of automatons, as well as other major inventions.  It demonstrates the role of playful thinking in innovation and technology.


IBM-Shoebox-front.jpgIn 1952 Bell Laboratories introduced Audrey as a speech-recognition system.  Later it was followed by a chatbot Eliza from MIT, and in 1997 by Jeeves a natural language search engine.  Siri was introduced in 2011.  It was founded by a DARPA project for military artificial intelligence (AI). Since then, we see Amazon Alexa service with Echo devices, Microsoft Kortana, Google Assistant, and many others.



From CLI, through GUI, to AI


The command line interface (CLI) was a very productive way to type in commands in the day of Unix and it is still used by many technologists.  However, the graphical user interface (GUI) took over the end-user world with Apple and Microsoft operating systems.  The GUI was of course developed by Xerox.  Just as GUI never completely replaced CLI the audio interfaces likely will not replace the command line or the GUI, but they fit a niche area, which likely promises a long and successful future






Audio interfaces are very useful in connection with tasks traditionally fulfilled by radio devices. Playing music, listening to news, and other basic audio services can be accomplished on a PC, but the quality of speakers and availability of a PC in various locations is unreliable. Therefore, a market opened up for specialized, low power device like the Amazon Echo.  The Echo uses WIFI and can play music, deliver news, and perform many other functions.


The emergence of powerful devices with audio interfaces require AI, because there is no time during a conversation to explain what can be said and how.  The user can ask Alexa to “turn off the light”, or “turn the light off”. The AI is able to figure out what you meant, even though you didn’t use exact, expected statements.  The AI market is very competitive with IBM Watson and other major AI systems in play.  Likely as digital assistant systems compete, the quality of AI will determine their success.


Want to learn how to develop an Amazon Alexa skill? Or would you like to see how you can check Blackboard Learn grades with Alexa? Visit the Innovation Center in the Exhibit Hall on Wed at 4pm.



More about Alexa:

Free Amazon Echo at BbWorld.  Get yours and start sweet talking the AI.

From Automatons to Amazon Alexa – the History of Digital Assistants .

Amazon Alexa game for BbWorld New Orleans

Amazon Alexa for Blackboard Learn - BbWorld17 Teaser for Innovation Corner

Digital audio assistants in teaching and learning - Blackboard Blog

“Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. The average person is more interested in their own name than in all the other names in the world put together. People love their names so much that they will often donate large amounts of money just to have a building named after themselves. We can make people feel extremely valued and important by remembering their name.”

Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”


Now, for a modern way of making the same point, please view this video.



The Open Source Photo Roster is released through the OSCELOT community to benefit K12 and Higher Education institutions that adopted Blackboard Learn as their Learning Management System.  The software addresses the need in Blackboard Learn to provide identification photos. While Blackboard Learn provides avatars, which can be uploaded by users or created by the organization, such avatars are available to other students in discussion forums and other areas of Blackboard Learn.  This means that the photos cannot be relied on for identification, as users choose what to upload, and it means that some students may have religious or FERPA protected reasons for not displaying such pictures to other Blackboard Learn users. Instead, pictures provided by the organizational campus id system are FERPA protected data and available only to instructors, which fulfills the requirements of FERPA data stewardship. The pictures can then be used for identification in proctored exams or in recalling student names while considering email requests from students in classroom courses.  Such pictures are also useful in learning the names of students for purposes of facilitating classroom discussions.


Inclusive teaching means consideration of race, ethnicity, and gender of students.  Barbara Gross Davis’ in her book Tools for Teaching (1993) mentions that “there are no universal solutions or specific rules for responding to ethnic, gender, and cultural diversity in the classroom…. Perhaps the overriding principle is to be thoughtful and sensitive….”  Using student names in personal conversations is an expression of such sensitivity and intention to create an inclusive learning environment. The book mentions specifically “Addressing students by name (and with the correct pronunciation)”. 


While learning names can be challenging, especially in larger classes, it is possible even for large audiences (Chambliss, 2014).  Teaching international students is even more challenging due to cultural differences and pronunciation obstacles (Huelsbeck, 2016).  However, using student names is linked to academic performance in some studies (Kenney, 1994).  Faculty have been using various techniques of acquiring student photos (Middendorf & Osborn, 2012). When such photos are submitted by students they may not be useful for identifying students due to quality and content within the picture. 


Functionality in Beta

The upcoming releases of the software will include additional functionality.  One feature in beta testing is the user name pronunciation and preferred pronoun. While campus information systems often include a preferred name, which can be set by the end user, the Open Photo Roster will include the pronunciation and preferred pronoun. These options will be set by the end user and displayed to the course instructor.  This means that a preferred name will have a phonetic description and a preferred pronoun will be communicated in the printout or electronic version of the course roster.


Open Photo Roster




Chambliss, D. (2014) “Learn Your Students’ Names.” Inside Higher Ed, Retrieved from

Davis, B. (1993) Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Huelsbeck, P. (2016) “Awareness Points for Educators with International Students in the Classroom.” University of Wisconsin. June 12, 2016

Kenney, T. (1994). Does remembering a student’s name effect performance? Nanzan’s LT Briefs, 1:2, p. 3.

Middendorf, J., Osborn E. (2012) “Learning Student Names.” Bloomington: Indiana University, 2012. Retrieved from

I returned home with an A- grade earned in an important exam.  I shared the news with my father, and he then asked, “You got an A, good.  What was the minus for?”.  I suspect this scenario is familiar to many students today.  A concept of perfectionism, which is an addiction to process and an unhealthy way to distract from other problems (Brown, 2010), affects the educational system in an important way.


When students focus on grades, not just grades, but excellent grades, the idea of learning is somewhat lost.  Students develop the skills of memorization, and reverse engineering of exam questions, and hacking the assessment process to attain the goal of excellent marks.  However, the learning and the love of the subject matter tend to be lost in the wind.


Grades are high stake rewards in today’s educational system.  Scholarships depend on grades. The ability to join an academic program, parent expectations, admission to a school, they are all dependent on grades.  This is partly why college courses are poorly designed games.  What needs to be re-introduced to college courses is the idea of safe-failure and support of multiple attempts for mastery.  Instead of having a single assignment and a graded critique, courses should support re-submission of the same assignment and tracking experience of the student in the process.  Of course, computer automation helps in providing timely feedback and scaling this approach.  Collaboration with some of the contemporary solutions from textbook publishers is helpful.


Success is just a byproduct or side-effect of failure.  Design thinking teaches us that failing as a team on purpose and redeveloping the solution helps to solve “wicked problems” (Churchman, 1967).  In games we pursue failure and perhaps even enjoy it.  However, in life failure is villainized and often punished.  While many innovative leaders encourage others to try, fail, and innovate, failure can be very expensive in terms of tangible consequences, emotional damage, and time.



The School of Life presentation on the history of common vies on failure is very helpful in noticing how the perception of failure impacts learning and culture.


People have failed throughout history but the way the failure has been interpreted has changed throughout the ages in fascinating ways.

Brought to you by




Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Hazelden. Retrieved from


Churchman, W. (1967). Management Science, 14(4), B–141–B–146.


Fiero in the Classroom

Posted by smachaje Oct 25, 2016

Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity. You know it when you feel it – and when you see it. That’s because we almost all express fiero in exactly the same way: we throw our arms over our head and yell.

– Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal

Classrooms are learning environments that require structure and discipline.  Sometimes classrooms turn into passive knowledge transfer spaces.  In contrast, it is possible to involve emotions in the learning process by designing as part of the instruction Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s feeling of flow and the gaming concept of fiero.


Flow is a feeling of progress, like being on train rails, in some exciting process.  This process can be learning, but it could be a physical activity or another pursuit.  Programmers sometimes lose the track of time when developing software, because they are so consumed with mind and emotion in the creative work.  This feeling of flow can be generated in the classroom as students collaborate together on an activity, which provides them immediate feedback.


Fiero is the feeling of accomplishment, the Soccer moment when the announcer screams “Go0000al” for a number of long seconds.  The physical response in students causes arms to be raised, they get up from chairs, and they scream out.  Fiero is associated with the release of dopamine in the brain.

Peer-instruction tools can be used to develop a gameful learning process, which produces flow and fiero.


More on Flow and Fiero