Friday, November 26, 2010

Content In, Garbage out

That might be BB. One minute I am happily adding tests in some BB courses; the next minute that option disappears from the menus. I have no control over the users in my courses (can't delete, can't add) - I can't even get a list of them. You would think that for the amount of the contract that our state system has with BB that you could at least get some things that work.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blackboard and the Veil of Darkness

I quote from one of my recent posts elsewhere;
'Finally, while I am no big proponent of Blackboard for various reasons, one of the big problems that I have with it is the veil of secrecy that drops over everyone's courses. It is almost as if we are back to the secrecy that surrounds me teaching in a campus environment. If there are great innovative assignments or technology being used, who can find out about it. It is also hard to share information across courses. One of the great advantages of the web is its universal access and availability, and we can see what is being done in other courses. The MIT open courses, while not a great example, are a kind of good example of what can be done out there.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Online Course Design

I am re-posting here some comments that I recently made re the growing emasculation of instructors with the course design process at NVCC. This is a big step backward, and it seems that we are now encroaching on the way that hgih schools use Blackboard. I am also unclear whether our admin and staff, supposedly concerned with student success, really wants to engage in a discussion of this topic.

Here is my original note:
In a recent post to the ELI discussion about student success, Thomas Mora raised a very important point, a point that several other faculty commented upon throughout the discussion:

“Being one of those faculty who do not fully follow these course design principles, I would work with the faculty member to learn what their learning philosophy is and how it is evident in the design of the course. There is an assumption that there is ONE "correct" way to design a course. I do not subscribe to this philosophy. I believe we need to respect the expertise of the individual faculty member and find ways to work with them. I have felt that I am expected to follow these design principles without question. I do not remember being asked what assistance I need, but been told I need to participate in this process even though my courses have high completion rates. I do not feel respected for the expertise I have developed over the years of developing my course and working with
students. This creates (for me at least) a level of defensiveness for I feel I need to " protect" my territory. I feel ever increasing pressure to submit to course design principles (and changes to my
blackboard site) without consulting with me.’

I have the distinct impression from my conversations with my colleagues at ELI over the past year or so, that faculty teaching at ELI have lost control of the course design process, and that course design is being forced upon them without recognition of faculty’s specific expertise, course goals and intentions. (What Tom wrote is an excellent expression of this.) And it is pretty clear that the instructional designers, many of whom have far less actual course design and teaching experience than the faculty with whom they are working, are telling faculty what they must do in their courses instead of presenting faculty with what they could be doing, i.e., some options of what might work in their courses.

I like the way that Tom Mora wrote about the issue, and I believe that this issue of faculty course control is an important issue re the design and development of ELI courses, and while I recognize that
there may (and I only say “may) be some considerations re specific “good” distance learning practices, it is also clear that there are few, if any, “rules.” It remains pretty clear to me that a faculty instructor is the one who should have the final say about instructional content and process, not a course design, or redesign, team.

I think that the nature of the faculty/designer relationship at ELI merits some discussion to clarify the issues and processes involved. That relationship used to be pretty clear, but it is not so anymore. I do not think that this is a discussion that can take place on the discussion board or via Centra.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Books and Student Success

I wonder how much the simple requirement to buy books affects students in a course. What I mean is that students need to buy their books online. If a student delays signing up for a course until the day before a class begins. Then the student has to go online and buy books (often opting for mess that priority postage), it seems that they will usually not get their books until week 2 of the course. That gives them a hurdle that they are already behind.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More on Student Success

One of my colleagues reminded me about the fleetingness of numbers.
Many of the students enrolled in our history courses are students enrolled at other colleges and universities; they are not here to graduate from our community college. And so they are going to bring down our numbers in terms of students successfully graduating from here. I also have a lot of teachers, or future teachers, who just need to take a specific course for their credentials or licensing. They are not here to graduate also. And some students, often adult learners, enroll in the classes just for the fun of learning about history. The have no intention to graduate either.

What is Student Success?

Well, there is that mysterious term again, “Student success.” Been hearing that in all kinds of formulations from college administration these days, and I’ve become increasingly suspicious that no one really knows what it means. Everyone just assumes there is a commonly-accepted definition. Making it more problematic is that supposedly those using the term can cite statistics. Yes, data, but what does that data conceal or not reveal about student success.

Student A enrolls in my course, but student A is working two jobs, just changed jobs, and is signed up for fifteen credits. If student A withdraws from the course because of those demands (instead of failing the course), does that mean student success in the course is diminished according to the data.

Student B has also enrolled in my course, but student B is still working his way up the ESL and developmental reading ladder. Despite all the possible support in the course, student B fails the course. Now that obviously means that the student success rate in the course goes down.
But, what if Student B finishes the course and passes. How does the data reward that effort on the part of both instructor and student.

Student C, just decides he doesn’t like “history.” I guess that means that is not student success.

Student D plagiarizes in the course and, as a result fails. I guess that also is not student success.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Enrollments Again

Well, more urgings from the college to increase enrollment, even though the semester is already underway. Wonder, where we are going to find the rooms, the adjuncts, etc. And what about insuring quality of instruction? Just add more and more students so that we have more and more money.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Semester; Same Death Wish for Blackboard

It is unbelievable how much stupid, time-consuming work BB brings with it as a result of poor design.
Thousands of people around the country have to spend their days fixing things, and entering data, poof. Look I followed all the nice directions about setting up new courses for the fall, copy, delete, import; but, wait, some things, likes tests, for some reason don't get copied. Now it is damage control and another ten hours in front of the computer trying to figure out things. It is nice for administrators to laud Blackboard, how it allows faculty to set up "online" "learning" environments to facilitate 24-7 education. It would be nice if some admins actually sat and tried to use BB for some time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Enrollment Continues to spike upward

We are still continuing to enroll students for the fall semester which starts next week, but enrollment continues its upward trend. I also lost a bunch of adjuncts in the last two weeks, which lent for some pretty remarkable (and lucky) scrambling to get classes filled. It is amazing how little help most of the local grad programs are!

New Blackboard Not Much Better Than the Old Blacboard

The more that they seem to do with Blackboard, the less it seems that technology is saving us any time.
The course copy process is a nightmare; a simple thing such as entering grades could take forever when you get the "saving" prompt; there is no way that I can sort my courses on my "personalized" BB home page, but you can do blogs now!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Yes, the "r" word in higher education. Someone always seems to be expressing concern about it; whether students will succeed; whether students will come back and keep enrolling for more courses (and paying more tuition). Sometimes, we talk in the lingo of ATD, Achieving the Dream.
Well, to address retention, you've got to think of some of the factors involved:
a) proportion of courses taught by full-time versus adjunct instructors. Sure there are some great adjunct instructors and some poor full-time faculty, but the odds are not good for a lot of active-learning techniques being used by adjunct faculty
b) skill sets of the students (in terms of, for example, reading ability, writing skills, study skills, time management ability, etc). Some of that can be addressed, but only by a careful outlay of resources.
c) institutional facilities. When libraries and testing centers are not available to students on some evenings or on weekends, then that will put further barriers to students coming back for more classes.
d) course availabilities
e) institutional psychology. Look have you ever tried to brave your way through the Novaconnect/MyNova student information system. It is so un-user friendly, that it has got to frustrate students. We can't even give students a student ID; we have got to give them an EMPLID.
There were two more points, but I can't remember them now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blackboard and the Compartmentalization of Knowledge

Well, here is another thought that occurred to me about why Blackboard is a step-backwards on the web. I was working on some background notes for an assignment, and I asked one of my colleagues if she had any relevant information on the topic in her literature course. Turns out that she had great informative notes, but the problem was that the information is buried within her Blackboard course, and there is no easy way for me to link to that material from my course or send my students to view it in her BB course. So, the interdisciplinary sharing of knowledge and the breaking down of classroom walls, which was so lauded with the onset of the internet, is no longer there. We are now back inside walls, this time Blackboard's walls. Almost all of our course development now focuses on putting course content within the secure framework of BB instead of on the open web.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hey, We're Getting a New Blackboard

Joy, of joys. We have been told that we are updating from Blackboard 8 to Blackboard 9. This, of course, means that the whole system must go down, and when it comes back up, everything will be new and different. Just can't wait to see what tricks the BB folks will play on us this time, and what new features will be available!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Is Teaching with Blackboard Teaching?

Been wondering about that. I have a lot of colleagues who spend considerable amount of time in the classroom, working with students, developing new assignments and activities, personalizing their instruction. But then they teach online with Blackboard. They create reading assignments from a textbook, set up some multiple-choice exams that are automatically graded by Blackboard, maybe have students look through some textbook-publisher-provided Powerpoints, and, oh, yes, have students post to one another on an online forum. Is that college-level instruction?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Digital Humanities Project

Well, we have gotten off the ground something called the Loudoun Digital Humanities Project. Right now it is largely just a single website, but we hope to use this as an organizing focus for a series of workshops and also digital projects for the faculty at the Loudoun campus. The "problem" is going to be trying to interest/involve faculty in collaborating. I am not sure that too many faculty are ever really involved in collaborative projects, even though they pay lip service to that idea.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Enrollments Continue to go Up, Up, Up

Since fall 2007, enrollments on campus in HIS 101 have gone from 312 to 440. At the same time, enrollments in the online section of HIS 101 have gone from 134 to 344. Guess what, no new full-time instructors were hired to help cover that increase. If we are funded at, say, 27 students per class in history, and a full-time instructor teaches 5 classes, then that works out to 135 students per full-time instructor.