Lynda Learning Now Available on Blackboard

As of this morning you can now add Lynda Learning video tutorials to your Blackboard course sites in addition to video tutorials from Atomic Learning. Using the new building block you can select specific courses for your students to watch as part of your course.

To add video content with this new tool navigate to a content area in Blackboard and select the “Build Content” menu. On the bottom right, under Mashups, you’ll see the new tool:

Blackboard Build Content menu with Mashup highlighted

Blackboard Build Content menu showing New tool.

When selected, the first time you will be redirected to our custom login page. Next you will be prompted to search for the course you want students to watch. Once you select a course to add to your site, the link will be inserted into the Blackboard page.

For a list of and Atomic Learning videos related to software on Wentworth laptops see the list at:


Blackboard Emergency Maintenance Tonight – December 16th 1-5 AM

Blackboard Managed Hosting Support has determined that they need to do emergency system maintenance to address the problems encountered earlier today.

To accommodate this work Blackboard will be unavailable from 1-5 AM Tuesday, December 16th.

VoiceThread Training in January

Just a short post…

You can connect to VoiceThreads in Blackboard with a building block. The link to the tool is under the the Build Content menu – Mashups – Wentworth VoiceThread.

If you’re interested in learning more about the tool, VoiceThread is offering several workshops in January:


Grade Center – Part II

The end of term is upon us – YIKES! Time to calculate grades.

If you use Blackboard’s testing or assignments tools to have your students submit work you probably are familiar with the Grade Center and may even have figured out how to calculate grades. If so, you can skip this next bit, if not, continue reading. Blackboard CAN calculate grades however all the options available can be intimidating. Due to the wide variation in how different instructors calculate grades I can’t cover all the possible scenarios. However, next week, December 15th – 19th, Ron and I will be available to assist you with setting up grade calculations so you can have Blackboard calculate your grades. We are being very flexible – no appointments necessary.

Once you have your grades calculated in Blackboard you may want to download a copy for your records. That’s a relatively easy task. To do that you’ll use the “Work Offline” button that’s located on the far right side of the Full Grade Center.

Grade Center menus highlighting the Work Offline button location

Grade Center Action Bar with Work Offline button highlighted







Click on the Work Offline button and select Download:

Work Offline Menu showing upload and download options

Work Offline menu options







When the Download Grades page appears, select the Full Grade Center option to package all the student information and Grade Center columns:

Download Grades page with download Full Grade Center selected

Download Grades page, data section

In the Options section select the delimiter type either comma or tab. Selecting Tab-delimited results in a file that can be directly opened in Excel. A comma delimited file will import into Excel. For the Save location, select “My Computer”.

Download Grades Options section showing delimiter type and download location

Download Grades page, options section

Click the Submit button to generate the download file.

Click on the Download button on the next screen to save the file to your local computer.


Spring is on the way…

I know, I know it’s still fall semester courses and you aren’t thinking about spring yet. However, if you haven’t noticed, spring courses are now appearing in Blackboard. Since some instructors will want to get a jump on planning and populating course sites before January, I wanted to remind everyone of a  couple options available to them.

First, we have a template that you can add to your site. The template is based on the Sloan Consortium’s best practices for online courses and provides appropriate structure and support for your students. The template not only provides structure but makes suggestions for materials that will help your students succeed. Read more about this template and what it can do for you and your students. If you’d like us to add the template to your site please e-mail us at letting us know which courses you want the template applied to and we’ll queue up your request.

Second, if you are planning on having multiple course sites merged into one, we need to know early, before you begin to add content. Movement of students between sections during add/drop can cause enrollments to be disabled even when a student has an active enrollment in one of the sections. To avoid this problem we’ve learned it is best practice to create a new site and merge the section enrollments into that site. The parent site has no enrollments of its own so changes in the child sites can be propagated back to the parent site without causing problems. To request that your courses be merged please submit this form.

If you plan on using technology in your course and you know you or your students will need support, please let us know ASAP so we can schedule time to discuss your plans and identify needed resources before the semester starts.

Grade Center Tips – Part I

Blackboard’s Grade Center can be a very useful tool that can save time. However, the Grade Center is also a complex tool that can cause frustration and confusion. The first couple of tips relate to the interface and how you can use some hidden features to make life easier or avoid problems.

Hidden from whom? Blackboard has two options in the column header menu (1 in image below) to hide the column. One option hides the column from students (more common intent) and the other hides the column from the instructor.

Hide Options

Column header context menu showing the menu button (1), Show/Hide to users option (2) and the Hide Column (3) option.

Show/Hide to Users (2 in the image above) should read Show/Hide to Students. This option leaves the column available in the Grade Center for the instructor but hides the column from students. The visual change is shown in the image below.

Hide From Students

Change in Column header when hiding a column from students using the Show/Hide to users menu option.

Hide Column  hides the column in the Grade Center but not from the students. The column disappears from the Grade Center but students will an entry for the column in My Grades. The image below shows the changes when selecting Hide Column.

Hide Column From Instructor

Grade Center changes when selecting the Hide Column option from the column heading context menu.

The only way to hide a hidden (from instructor) column from your students is to first make in visible in the Grade Center. To do this, use the Manage Menu. Click on the entry for Column Organization:

Manage Menu with Column Organization selected

Column Organization option selected in the Grade Center Manage Menu

Once in the Column organization page, find the hidden column and use the Show/Hide button on the bottom of the page to change the visibility of the column using the Show Selected Columns option. Next, click the submit button to make the column visible in the Grade Center. Finally, using the column header menu, hide the item from the students.

Show/Hide Column

Select the hidden column and then click on the Show/Hide Button and select Show Selected Column to make the column reappear in the Grade Center

Smart Views - Smart views are a way to show defined subsets of the Grade Center. Instead of scrolling back and forth through the Grade Center to add grades for components of a project, you can create a smart view for the project and include only the relevant columns. If you have students work in groups, you can create smart views for each group so you can easily grade all the members of the group at once without scrolling through the rows of students. Visit the Blackboard Help Center to learn how to create your own Smart Views.

Color Coding Grades - Need a visual cue about who’s doing poorly on exams and other work? Color coding allows you to create color codes that correspond to different levels of achievement to allow you to quickly see whose doing well and who needs help. Watch the video to see step-by-step how to add color codes to your Grade Center.

Text Grades – Do you want to use the Assignments feature to have students submit preliminary work for comment but not grade? The Assignment workflow is convenient but requires a point value when you create the assignment. Further, when you provide feedback your students can’t see the feedback unless you enter a grade. Since the work is not graded entering a grade of 0 doesn’t make sense and sends the wrong message to the students. However, editing the column information and changing the primary display to text allows you to make a text entry that can encourage students and allow you to use the Assignment workflow to provide detailed comments to your students.

Choosing text as primary display for coulmn

Grade Center Edit Column screenshot showing Primary Display selection

When you set the Primary Display of a column to Text the option to include the Grade in Grade Center Calculations will automatically be set to “No” because there is not numeric equivalent that can be used in a calculation.

NEXT, in Part 2, calculating grades with Blackboard…

New Tool: Bb Link Checker

Do you copy content from one semester’s Blackboard site to another? Do you include web links to content on external websites? If so, the newly installed Blackboard link checker will be a useful tool for you. The link checker scans content of the weblink type and returns a list of all links in a course and whether they are still active or not. In your courses, you should see a link for “Link Checker” under Course Tools in the control panel. LinkCheckerMenu2 Click on the link and Link Checker will list all the weblinks you have created in your course along with the location and status. LinkChecker   A green check means the item is a valid URL and a red “X” is a dead link. You can then choose to hide all dead links from your students by clicking on the check boxes to the right of each dead link. Links can be made visible from this page as well. Note: This tool only checks links created by selecting the Web Link option from the Build Content Menu in Blackboard. it will not detect broken links entered in the body of a content item using the visual text box editor.WebLinkContent

Pool Size and Sampling in the Blackboard Testing system – Testing Best Practices Part II

In my last post, I mentioned that using random blocks of questions can result in repeated questions on an attempt. The reason behind this is that Blackboard does not track which questions have already been selected from the pool for any given test attempt. Questions are always selected from the full pool. The testing system is using sampling with replacement. This means there is a chance of the same question being chosen more than once for the same attempt (student). The likelihood of a student seeing duplicate questions depends on the size of the sample relative to the pool.

So, how large a pool do you need to decrease the likelihood of repeated questions with random blocks? To get a sense of the size of the pool needed I calculated the probability of no replication of questions for a random block of 5 questions drawn from question pools of various sizes.

Probabilities of no repeated questions in a random block of 5 questions drawn from question pools of various sizes
Question Pool Size Probability of No Repeats
10 questions 30 %
25 questions 65 %
50 questions 81 %
100 questions 90 %
200 questions 95 %

OK, these results aren’t especially surprising. As you increase the pool size the you decrease the chances of having questions duplicated. But if you are pulling questions from a single pool you are going to need a lot of questions to reduce the likelihood of duplicate questions.

Is there another way?

The point of random blocks of questions is to present each student with a different set of questions on the test. If you select a single question from any given pool you won’t repeat questions on any given test. Break a larger pool of questions into a number of small pools equal to the number of questions to be drawn and draw a single question from each pool. The pools don’t need to be large, but all the question across pools must be unique. Using this method only a few questions will be needed in each to provide variation across tests.

Using many smaller pools will require a bit more work in creating the test, however there is an additional benefit. You can better control coverage of the test. If you create the questions in each pool on the same topic, selecting a random question from each pool ensures each student receives a question in each topic area. Using a random block of multiple questions from a large pool may result in uneven topical coverage in addition to the problem of question duplication.


Best Practices for Tests in Blackboard

Giving a test or quiz in Blackboard? There are a few things to keep in mind to make the experience of giving and taking tests and quizzes in Blackboard easier.

Preview your test to make sure it appears the way you think it will appear. Are the correct number of questions in a random block displayed? If you chose to have the questions presented in random order, are they randomized? Clicking the link to the test in instructor view allows you to see the general characteristics of the test. You can use StudentView to take the test as a student would and you can see how the students will see it and how it will be scored. Put a password on the test to prevent students from seeing the test while you are testing in StudentView.

When setting the test options do not use forced completion or auto-submit. Both options will cause headaches for you and your students! The forced completion option gives students a single attempt that they must complete in a single session. They can’t stop and come back to the test later. If anything happens to interrupt a test session, the student can’t complete the test. If their web browser freezes, if their computer reboots for some unknown reason, if their laptop disconnects from the Internet, then the student will not be able to complete his/her test. The only option is for the instructor to clear the attempt, deleting any saved answers and having the student start again.

Instead of using forced completion, set a time limit. Then, if there is an interruption to the test, the student is able to re-enter and resume where they left off. If you require students to notify you of any problems, you can take that into account if they go over the time limit.

Auto-Submit submits the student’s test when they reach a specified time. If students have computer problems that prevent them completing the test in the time allowed, they will be penalized, by having the system submit their test before they can complete it. Blackboard records the time the student starts the test and runs until the test is submitted. Using the recorded time taken, allows you to make a judgement – was the extra time taken reasonable or not – and take action as needed.

Don’t get tripped up by the time of day. Blackboard considers midnight as the start of the day. When setting the start and end times for a test and you want the time to be midnight – select either 11:59 PM or 12:01 AM to be sure the exam starts or ends when you think it should. Using times on either side of midnight means you don’t have to remember how Blackboard defines it.

Finally, and to be continued in the next post, if you use pools to generate random blocks of questions, how can you reduces the chance that questions are not repeated on a student’s test. How many questions is enough? That’s the topic of my next post.

Turnitin Training Video Link

On Thursday, September 25th Turnitin provided training to faculty and staff on using the new Turnitin LTI that has been installed on our Blackboard system. For those who were not able to attend the training we have a link to the session.

Session Recording:

Here are the slides – saved to pdf in Notes view: Part 1 (slides 1-25) and Part 2 (Slides 25-55)

Please contact LIT with any questions.