Posted by: Ellie Kutz | October 15, 2012

New Teaching Contexts: Transitioning to Blackboard Learn

As the campus migrates from Blackboard Vista to Blackboard Learn 9.1 as its learning management system, there is much that we can from those who are participating in the pilot this fall.

Lisa Buenaventura (Asian American Studies, Leadership in Higher Education), who participated with Dennis DeBay in the October 3 CIT/EdTech forum on “Creative Teaching with Blackboard,”  shared with us her experience in moving from Blackboard Vista to Blackboard Learn 9.1 for her undergraduate Introduction to Asian American Studies and her graduate course on The Impact of College on Students for the doctoral program in Higher Education.

Lisa, an experienced user of learning management systems (with prior experience teaching with Angel as well as Blackboard Vista) shared  what she discovered about structuring the new site to meet her different pedagogical purposes in different courses, offering a progress report on her own transition to teaching in this new online environment.

Lisa offered several key elements of her own process:

  • Thinking  first about the affordances of a learning management system in general—the things she wanted to use it for pedagogically and the common components that she could draw on—before focusing on the “how-to” for the new system
  • Building content online within the new Bb Learn course shell, structuring its available components to suit her desired course structure and teaching style and considering how it could help her evaluate student learning and support outcomes assessment (particularly with rubrics).
  • Only then working with materials transferred from her courses in Bb Vista, integrating them into her new Bb structure rather than trying to make the new version a replica of the old.
  • Building in ways to assist students in using the new site and to ease the confusion for those who are simultaneously enrolled in courses using Bb Vista and Bb Learn.

While the transition has demanded extra effort on her part, Lisa has found a number of things to like about Bb Learn.

  • She can now design her own content menu.  The side navigation bar allows her to select the course components and tools that are most appropriate to her teaching, to order them in any way she wants (more flexible than the Vista toolbar), and to select some but make them invisible to students until she is ready to use them.
  • The site offers a wiki as well as the blog feature that she has been using for weekly reflective journals, while continuing to offer threaded discussion.
  • The rubric feature, which helps her evaluate student learning, is more flexible.  Rubrics can now be seen outside of the assignment dropbox, and it is possible to add comments within each cell of a rubric as well as at the bottom.
  • Students can more easily share work, and a space for group work allows students to share work that doesn’t have to be available to other students.

Lisa is finding that, unlike Bb Vista, Bb Learn functions less as just a repository for course materials but offers a more flexible and dynamic teaching site.  While our instructional designers have created a suggested template for UMass Boston courses, there are other choices that can be made depending on one’s teaching style—for a more activity-based vs. lecture-based course, for example. Having ambitiously opted for maximum choice, she has found that she is sometimes faced with five different ways to accomplish the same thing and has to figure out what ways will work best for her own teaching.  She doesn’t recommend this for everyone, but she does find that she is giving more thought to teaching, evaluation, and student engagement as a result.

We appreciated the opportunity to learn from Lisa’s experience and were encouraged by her sense that Bb Learn offers the campus a more flexible teaching platform.

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