Posted by: Ellie Kutz | January 15, 2013

Newsletter Moved to New Site

Starting today, January 15, 2013, this newsletter can be found at, the UMass Boston campus blog platform hosted by Edublogs (on a WordPress platform).   There will be  no new posts to the site.

Posted by: Ellie Kutz | January 15, 2013


2013_2Instead of closing off 2012 with a December issue, we’re starting off 2013 with a January issue of the newsletter.  In it, you’ll find greetings and updates on current edtech directions from our director of Educational Technology and Client Services, Apurva Mehta , on current  IT infrastructure projects on our campus from our CIO and Vice Provost Anne Agee, and on current activities of the Academic Technology Committee from its chair, Varghese George.    We also report on two ongoing projects:  the transition to Blackboard Learn, with a report on the experiences of the first cohort of BbLearn users in Fall 2012 and some getting started information for new users in Spring 2013, and the iPads in the Classroom project, with a closer look at the use of iPads by two freshman writing instructors.  Finally, we are adding what we hope will be a recurrent feature—a report on an example of faculty scholarship related to technology, focusing this time on a forthcoming article by Pam Nadash about the online master’s program in Gerontology.

We hope you find the issue to be helpful and interesting.  Please send any suggestions for topics you’d like us to cover in future issues or for topics you might like to write about to me, Ellie Kutz at

Posted by: Apurva Mehta | January 15, 2013

Educational Technology Update Spring 2013

ApurvaThe wide array of educational technologies available today has evolved substantially in the past few years.  Tools which had been released just a few years back, are now more feature rich, easier to use, are able to integrate into campus portals. More importantly the systems have become more affordable – in that most are now hosted in the cloud, not needing developers and technical staff to maintain; thereby allowing instructional designers, media and content specialists to concentrate their work on assisting faculty in using these technologies.

As Director of Educational Technology and Client Services at UMass/Boston, I am pleased that, over the past four years, we have been able to take advantage of these developments and to offer the community a wide variety of options for engaging students:  Blackboard Learning Management Systems, wikis, blogs, classroom capture systems, iTunes U, personal response systems and other services. Offering wide choices allows our faculty to teach with tools that suit their teaching styles and responds to dramatic changes in the ways that students are learning today.

So what’s in store for 2013 and beyond?  Clearly the industry is changing – today we see the proliferation of mobile devices, major changes in the publishing industry, and the consolidation of various segments of the industry.  As members of the Educational Technology Department, we are committed to moving the university forward in new directions for supporting learning.  We have several initiatives that are well under way – the upgrade to Blackboard Learn, scheduled to be completed by Fall 2014; the roll out of the iPad in the Classroom project as a way of introducing mobile devices as a learning tool; making iTunes U more accessible for courses, allowing faculty to distribute content via this medium; investigating the next generation of personal response systems;  and working with the library, publishers and the bookstore to see how best we can offer ebooks to our students as way of reducing the cost they incur in purchasing the printed material.

Other projects include the upgrade to the computers in the Red Lab and in the library 4th floor; the replacement of all the iMacs in Mac Lab A which will allow the Art department to teach courses in various Adobe products are scheduled to be completed this winter break.

On behalf of all of us in IT – Educational Technology we look forward to working with you closely in the new year.

Posted by: anneagee | January 15, 2013

Improving the Campus Infrastructure

Anne_AgeeThe IT needs of the UMass Boston campus and its faculty and students are constantly changing, and the IT Services Division takes a proactive role in preparing to meet those needs.  As your Vice Provost  for Information Technology, I’d like to update you on some current campus developments in several areas of general interest to faculty.

  • Equipment upgrades for faculty and in classrooms and student labs.  These upgrades include the replacement of 300 older faculty computers,  the replacement of 55 computers in the Red Lab and 18 iMacs in Mac Lab A, and the replacement of old classroom projectors. Additionally, ITSD will be adding an Accordent Classroom Capture System in the Small Science Auditorium over the winter break. This will bring the total number of Accordent classrooms to five.
  • Infrastructure initiatives.   These initiatives include email improvement, with the just completed migration of email to Office 365, increasing wireless access on campus, improving network speeds, and building a new utility corridor with fiber optic cable to serve both new and existing campus buildings. A new director of infrastructure and a new network engineer will support these efforts.
  • Support for research computing .  As more faculty take on research projects that involve working with massive amounts of data, the campus is building up support for research computing.  This support will be added in several ways.  Dedicated staff will be hired, beginning last year with Jeff Dusenberry, the Manager of Research Support, and soon an additional person with expertise in Linux support, as well as a graduate research assistant.  In addition, more high performance computing power and data storage will be offered to faculty both locally and through participation in the Mass Green High Performance Computing Center, a collaboration of universities, government, and private industry to provide state-of-the-art computational infrastructure.
  • Another new development is the creation of a Virtual Computer Lab, allowing a number of students to sign on and use limited license tools, such as SPSS.  Currently the VCL is being used by Laurel Wainwright , Daniel Shimshak, Xu Ping, Gordon Corzine, and Jonathan Frankel.
  • New application initiatives include the creation of a campus portal as an individual entry point for students, and eventually faculty and staff, with centralized access via traditional or mobile technologies to a interactive web portal (students will log in at, the implementation of 25 Live/X25 calendar and scheduling system, and the creation of a new service management system.
Posted by: Ellie Kutz | January 15, 2013

The Academic Technology Committee

VargheseFrom Varghese George:

The Academic Technology Committee is a standing committee of the Faculty Council.  Its role is to serve as an intermediary between the faculty and those who are responsible for the technology infrastructure on campus as it relates to teaching and research.  It makes recommendations on hardware and software acquisitions intended for Campus-wide academic use, contributes to the formulation of plans for expansion and improvement of academic computing facilities, recommends policies, based on curricular considerations, for determining distribution of, and access to, Campus-wide academic computing resources, and advises and consults with other relevant committees.

I’m now in my second year as chair of the committee.  Other members for 2012-2013 are Betzi L. Bateman (Instructional Design); Laura Bozeman (Curriculum and Instruction); Jeffrey A. Dusenberry (IT); Eugene Gallagher (EEOS);William Hagar (CSM); EllieKutz (EdTech/English); Catherine Mazza (Art); Apurva Mehta (IT); Michael Milburn (Psychology); Anita Miller (Provost’s Office); Pamela Nadash (Gerontology); Ann Torke  (Art) ; Catalin Zara (Math) .

In recent years, the committee has, at the request of Faculty Council, set up a task force to examine quality concerns related to online learning (link to report), conducted surveys of faculty users to help determine software needs and priorities for site licenses for particular software, and reviewed the help system for Blackboard, for example.  Monthly meetings address a slate of topics such as technology for students with disabilities, library information portals, and resources for working with big data.

This year’s meetings and exchanges have focused on a report on online learning in gerontology ( Pam Nadash) discussed elsewhere in this issue, a lively discussion on student accountability and ways to address the potential for cheating in online courses, and a beginning exploration of the appearance of MOOCs (the massive open online courses being created at  MIT, Stanford, and other institutions, including UMass Boston in Spring 2013) and their implications for our work. At our November meeting, CIO and Vice Provost Anne Agee reported on current IT infrastructure initiatives.  (See previous article.)

Faculty members who have concerns that they’d like to bring to the attention of the committee should email me at .

Posted by: Ellie Kutz | January 15, 2013

Learning from the Blackboard Learn Pilot Fall 2012


Fall 2012 marked the beginning of UMass Boston’s  transition from the  Blackboard Vista to the Blackboard Learn learning management system (a process that will continue through Fall 2013, with support for Vista ending in January 2014).  The pilot semester included 170 courses, either fully online or web-enhanced courses.  Faculty who had been using Blackboard Vista could choose whether to become part of this pilot effort.  New faculty for Fall 2013 started right in with Blackboard Learn.  The transition was made difficult for Fall 2012 Pilot faculty (and for their edtech support partners) by the campus’s late access to the new platform, and there were a number of complaints on the survey about not having enough time with new system before start of classes.  But others, including a number of brand-new faculty, said they had little difficulty setting up their classes.

What did pilot faculty think of the new platform, and the support they received for using it?  And what advice would they give to other faculty who will begin using Bb Learn over the next two semesters?  Here’s what we learned from their responses to a survey we asked them to complete and from follow-up focus group meetings.

Faculty experience of the new platform and support

In general, it seemed that faculty who were more comfortable with using online platforms, and perhaps those who focused first on using a few basic features, had the most successful start-ups with the new system.   Most pilot faculty meeting said that they learned to use Bb Learn through online tutorials (from Blackboard or Atomic Learning), and one-on-one consultations with  staff (in person or through emails).  Fewer attended face-to-face workshops.  Most were very positive about the help they received from instructional support staff.

Most users found Bb Learn more flexible, with more user control, but thus potentially more confusing.  Comments ranged from finding Bb Learn totally overdesigned. Lots of bells and whistles, but not easy to do very simple things,” to  “I prefer Bb Learn to the old Bb and think many of the new features (ability to design online quizzes, etc.) will be really useful.”

The focus group echoed a concern about there being too many different ways to do the same thing and some participants suggested starting with a streamlined site and streamlined information about how to use it (understanding that the system offers different ways to do the same thing). Heather Zaykowski from Sociology shared a the simpler interface she had created for her site and others felt that it would offer an easier starting point for web-enhanced courses.  (A new template to be used for web-enhanced courses has been created in response.  See the next article for more information.)

Other things faculty wanted to tell others about the new platform.

  • Unlike Bb Vista, the new system offers many different ways to do the same thing.
  • Template elements can be renamed, deleted, added to.
  • Faculty need to be given a demo student account for each of their courses in order to see what students see, since there is no longer a student view.    “When one of my students sent me a screenshot of her ‘My Grades’  screen, it was a revelation!”
  • Hyperlinks are hard to see and find, and students need to be warned about this.
  • Course icons aren’t clickable, just the text.
  • Discussion threads are harder to follow.

Some people have also run into problems of compatibility with different browsers, particularly with Macs (something to trouble-shoot with your edtech liaison).   

A more general concern was providing support for students.  Pilot faculty felt that the Atomic Learning links in Bb Learn were not targeted enough to address students’ specific needs.  (More targeted links have now been included in course sites), and that students didn’t have a vocabulary for looking up what they needed. Faculty used different strategies to support students, such as walking through a demonstration, using handouts, assigning items to retrieve and upload, and having practice assignment submissions.

Faculty advice to new users

Representative comments included the following:  “Start early.”  “Use workshops, tutorials, staff support.” “Be patient.”    Also “think more about altering class design to make the best use of new Bb Learn functionality.”

But much advice focused on helping students learn the new system.

“Begin class by walking students through where to find the new system – I used a hand out and still had students fumbling through the old Bb interface trying to find my class.  To ensure that the entire class was familiar with the new Learn module, I assigned a number of class items for them to retrieve and upload to the new site to force them to interact early on in the semester.  By roughly 4 weeks in the class was navigating most elements fairly easily.

“Students who have not used Bb Learn will be very confused as where to find it no matter what you do, say or write. Have a practice assignment submission before a high stakes grade – many students have errors or get confused where to find things (again, no matter how many times you show them, tell them etc).”

Focus group participants also suggested that the staff create further opportunities for faculty to share their experiences and to demonstrate what they were doing with their course sites.   Other suggestions included “’tune up’” workshops where faculty could come in with their pretty complete courses  and share ideas for improving them in a collaborative environment, and other opportunities to learn and share the “creative aspects” of working with Bb Learn, and having an online space  where faculty could ask questions and share strategies: “It would be great to have a page where other faculty questions can be viewed and reviewed to see what they have encountered along the way with the new system.  Sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t know. “

In response to this latter suggestion, we’ve created Bb Learn Faculty Exchange Blog and we encourage users to post to it.

Posted by: Ellie Kutz | January 15, 2013

Starting out with Blackboard Learn in Spring 2013?

Here’s what to expect.

1.  Getting your Blackboard Learn Course Site.  Requests were solicited last semester and new course sites have been created (at this point, no new Bb Learn sites can be created for Spring 2013, but you can still request a Bb Vista site).   For courses being moved over from Bb Vista, your edtech liaison has cleaned up the migrated content to make sure it is available on the Bb Learn site.  Once you’ve been notified that your course site is ready, you can log in at using your UMass email username and password.  If you are given a development section to work in prior to the semester start, it will be changed over to a “live” course section sometime between now and the start of the semester.  You will still be able to edit content and add to the live section after that changeover, as it will not be made available to students until a day or so prior to the first day of classes.

2. Working within a template.  Based on feedback from the Fall 2012 pilot users of Bb Learn, the edtech staff created a new, somewhat simplified, template for web-enhanced courses (the template for fully online courses will remain basically the same as in the fall).  The template is meant as a guide for structuring your course site; however, any of it can be deleted and/or a different structure added, depending on your teaching style.  The new web-enhanced template should make it easier for you to update and create course content, but you can easily activate more course options as you choose.


3.  Getting support.   All faculty users are enrolled in the Blackboard Learn 9.1 Online Training course.  Bb Learn Support for using Bb Learn will also be provided through face-to-face workshops  or through Atomic Learning tutorials. Your course site also includes links to supporting materials for you and your students through help on the left hand navigation bar of your new Bb Learn course.  If you need further support, please contact your edtech liaison for email help or to set up a one-on-one consultation.  The edtech staff will answer questions quickly as they arise.

4. Setting up your course.When you log in to Bb Learn, you’ll find a list of courses you’re enrolled in.  At least one will be a course you’re teaching, with a course shell that most likely looks something like the image above.  Another will be a Blackboard Learn Online Training course, which will guide you through key elements of Bb Learn.  However, this training is based on the online course template.  For web-enhanced courses:

  • Your course entry page may be a content page with icons (as in the image above), rather than the What’s New page of the online course template.  The What’s New page can still be accessed from the left-hand navigation bar, and you can change the point of entry to What’s New or to another page such as Announcements if you wish. One of the videos will show you how to do so.
  • For web-enhanced courses, prior content from Vista has been moved into the Course Materials folder.  Atomic Learning tutorials will show you how to create new content folders and add or move materials.

5.  Adding Atomic Learning Modules to support students’ learning.  A new building blocks feature in Bb Learn allows you to add content directly from Atomic Learning (or Flicker, Youtube, Slideshare, or Wimba Voice Authoring) to any content area of your course.   In any content area, under Build Content, choose Atomic Learning (under mashups).  A search pane will open, allowing you to search for tutorials and workshops.  If you choose Blackboard Learn 9.1 workshops, you’ll find a series of videos for students about being an effective online student, for example.  You can preview these videos, then select the individual ones you want to include in your course.


Once you hit the select button, Bb will create a folder on your content page that includes those videos.  [ If you check several videos under one topic, they’ll all appear with the same topic name if your template is set in icon mode.  To change to text mode (offering individual subtitles for each video), go to the page heading action arrow and select  text. ]

6. Sharing your questions and ideas.  A Bb Learn Faculty Exchange blog  has been created as a space where faculty can participate in an online exchange about teaching with Blackboard Learn.  Please share your questions, solutions, and strategies with others.  (Log at on with your UMass email username and password.)


Posted by: Ellie Kutz | January 15, 2013

Teaching with iPads: The Case of Freshman Writing

The Fall 2012 iPads in the Classroom project put iPads in the hands of 10 faculty, across departments, who have been using them as a teaching tool in various ways. At the same time, a cart of 14 computers was made available for student use in the classroom.  (You can learn more about the project by visiting the iPads in the Classroom blog, which includes discussion by faculty users and a video of students using classroom iPads in David Patterson’s music theory class.)

ipads in the classroom banner

Since the teaching of composition is one of my own areas of expertise, I was particularly interested to see how iPads were being used in the freshman writing classroom.  Two of our long-term freshman writing instructors, Victoria Kingsley and Rebecca Romanow, made use of both their individual iPads and the iPad cart for students in their classrooms, and I talked to them and visited their classes to learn more about their experience.  I had two larger questions.

1. How did the use of iPads facilitate core practices and contribute to meeting the larger goals of freshman writing?  

The role of freshman writing in the US higher education curriculum is to help students become proficient in the academic literacies that will underlie all of their work as college learners.  As described to students on the English department website, freshman writing“teaches you to make academic arguments that use source materials, to write thoughtful analyses of complex readings, and to understand or articulate your experience in relation to the sources with which you are learning to work.”  It includes not only critical reading and the drafting of essays but the revision of those essays based on feedback from peers and instructors.  At the same time, because writing in the 21st century increasingly takes place in a digital environment, instructors have been encouraged to introduce students to such an environment through the use of Wikispaces or Blackboard.  Working with iPads potentially complements such work.

Victoria and Rebecca have been engaging students in critical reading, writing, and research and supporting that work with the use of wikis, and the iPads project allowed them to bring new resources into the classroom more easily and  to engage students in new ways.  Their own iPads allow them to bring in external resources, demonstrate research processes, and connect to other web-accessible materials and project them to the class.  They can conduct a quick classroom survey; look at and mark up a passage of text with the class, identifying possible main arguments; bring their introduction to how to use library databases right into the classroom, or go to clips from Youtube or to Twitter feeds, and much more.

Victoria says:

“I use the iPad to project class activities including writing prompts, outline of class schedule for the day, write/record ideas from class discussion to be posted to the class wiki, accessing course readings which have been linked to the wiki, look up things connected to class discussion, show images, etc. I also use the iPad in and outside of class to grade all papers and to manage roster and gradebook.” [iPads blog]

On iPad days (one class a week, because the 15 iPads are used across a number of different courses), students typically use their iPads to access course readings, take notes, work in teams on research for papers in progress or class presentations or for peer review and revision of papers that have already been drafted.

A peer review session in one Rebecca’s classes, for example, began with a collaborative review of some main points that could be helpfully addressed in peer review:  whether a piece of writing has a clear main point and appropriate support, whether a writer has used quotations effectively and cited correctly, and more generally—what works and what doesn’t from a reader’s perspective.  Students, who had already uploaded their drafts to iCloud, next downloaded them onto the iPads, passed the iPad along to a peer reviewer, and used the app Notability to comment on the draft being read. (The app allows for easy mark-up and Notability appannotation either by hand, which students seem to prefer as more personal, or with typed text. A more detailed discussion about using this app to respond to student writing appears on the iPad blog.) The process was repeated until students’ texts had received comments from several readers or pairs of readers, with later readers responding not only to the original draft but also to the comments of earlier readers. The last reader uploaded the marked up draft back to Dropbox.

The students I talked to, for the most part, felt that the use of iPads contributed to their own engagement and learning in their classes.

2. What can we learn from this pilot effort?

First, I’d say that the use of the iPad, while not necessary to most of these activities, eases them significantly.  Accessing resources for classroom teaching simplifies what might have been done with a laptop and projector. The peer review process in Rebecca’s classroom is very similar to the earlier “bunny hop”  peer review for which she would have to schedule a computer lab and move her class there to have students hop from computer to computer to comment on each others’ drafts, a process that can now be easily integrated into regular classroom activities.

Second, what our own faculty are discovering about the possibilities of this mobile tool echoes what has been found in pilot projects at other universities:  that the iPad facilitates their current practices, while generating further ideas for its pedagogical uses.

A pilot project at Reed College suggested that the iPad offered “an ideal tool for students to access lab materials, view videos, run simulations, and perform calculations” while making it “extremely easy for instructors to project images and documents, mark them up in real time, and play music.”  At Reed, it seemed that the more active the classroom environment, the more useful iPads proved to be, and that iPads provided less of a physical barrier for classroom collaboration than did computers or even open laptops.

In a Penn State pilot, students found iPads especially useful for annotation and collaboration, for getting responses from peer review, preferring markups on the text to comments at bottom of page (perhaps because such annotation allowed them to interact more informally with the text).

After using  iPads for one semester, UPenn pilot faculty and students saw more possible uses of their multimedia capabilities and suggested using the sound recording feature for oral exams for language classes, recording lectures, taking notes and recording journal entries;  and using the video camera for recording discussions, filming, video blogs, making videos and video-conferencing.

Putting iPads in the hands of faculty and students seems to generate a range of new ideas for their use.

Third, however, there are some limitations on how fully iPads can be integrated into the teaching and learning for our classes when we lack the resources to provide individual iPads for all of the students.  Those students who do own iPads are bringing  them to class and using them for more of their work outside of the classroom.  Universities like UPenn that have been able to make iPads available to all students in a course for a full semester have found that the use of e-textbooks and the ease of annotating books and pdf’s with iPad apps has proved particularly valuable.  (Some iPads are available to students in our pilot courses for use in Healey library, but that is still very limited.) The distribution and collection of iPads in the classroom also uses up class time.

But even with these limitations, the pilot faculty seem committed to continuing their teaching with iPads. In a blog post in mid-November, Victoria wrote:

“Thumbs up on my use of the iPad in class. I use it everyday and will not go back to lugging around my laptop. The iPad enables faster and easier sharing and I really like the shortcuts it offers that a laptop does not.”

And by the end of the semester, what Victoria was most excited about was not only her own ease of use but “the iPad’s potential to open up the classroom. . .to offer new experiences and possibilities to students, such as multimodal composing.”

It will be exciting to see how those new possibilities might be realized in the coming semester.

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