Blended Learning with Blackboard

My last post was a reflection on the philosophical and pedagogical takeaways from #BBworld14. In this post I discuss the more practical things I learned at this conference. Here are some new features (and old features we now have access to!) that I’m keen to try out this year. In order of excitement:

1. Adaptive Release 

bbworldThis feature allows you to set conditions on course features that direct students on a path of learning that suits their individual needs. YES! Finally! A step in the right direction towards personalized learning. While this feature has been around for a while, we have not used it at our school before. Adaptive release lets you as the teacher design a set of rules for how students will progress through your course. For example, you might require students to get 8/10 on a quiz before starting the next lesson. Or if students get 10/10 they can skip the review activity and move forward. This feature allows you to create learning paths for your students that are NON LINEAR, which is amazing because Blackboard itself as an LMS is so vertical. Scroll, scroll, scroll.

From what I’ve explored so far with the advanced feature, you can set rules based on grades, dates and “reviewed” items. This means students have to view an item and indicate that they have reviewed it before they are allowed to see the next item. You can create more than one rule per item OR create one rule with multiple criteria.

Issues with this that I foresee having used it before albeit with MOODLE:

  • You must be extremely organized. Essentially you MUST have your entire unit planned with all possible pathways mapped out before you start and activities ready to go.
  • Creating the rules can be time consuming and confusing.
  • There are exceptions. Sometimes you will have to “break a rule” for certain students at certain times. It can get hard to manage.
  • Students will protest occasionally. They just want to skip to the quiz. “Please Miss!!! I just want to see if I can do it!!!!! I get it I swear!” Yeah right.
  • You can’t put rules on content outside of Blackboard. If I want students to watch a video on EduCanon before they do the quiz, I have no way (through BB) to see if they did. I have to go check on EduCanon.
  • Students can cheat. All they have to do is click on the “Mark as Reviewed” button and BB will assume they’ve seen the material. It’s a bit of honour system here as well as extra monitoring for me.

Despite these issues I’m still going to give it a go and I know it will improve the learning for my students and help tailor the course to individuals. I think it will also force the students to engage more with BB and hopefully enjoy using it more as a learning tool. I will use it in grade 10 and 12 this year. I might also try it in the grade 9 chemistry unit.

Blackboard Help:

2. Achievements and Badges

badgeWhile it may be bit controversial to some (learning for extrinisic vs. intrinsic rewards), badges are a great way to motivate students to complete tasks in your course. Even as an adult I still love getting badges (just a few more reviews away from my Top Contributor badge on Trip Advisor woohoo!!) It’s a small way beyond grades that you can recognize a student’s achievement and effort in your class. It’s also a way to “game-ify” it if that’s what you’re interested in. In Blackboard you can create badges and certificates that serve a variety of purposes. You can create certificates once students complete the course or unit. You can create badges for smaller achievements like passing a quiz or achieving a certain score on an assignment. You can choose whether or not these achievements are visible to students when they start the course or unit or you can make them hidden. I plan on using them for unit completion as well as embedding hidden badges for students who do some extra exploring within the Blackboard course. Students can see the badges in the course content areas as well as in the “My Achievements” section. You can customize the badges to be released by date, grade, reviewed status (see adaptive release above) or even attempts on certain course tools. Sorry Alfie Kohn. I’m going to be using this one for sure! I’m still working out the glitches, but here are some useful resources:

Blackboard Help:
A video tutorial on how to set up a custom achievement:

3. Tasks

This is a tool you can use along with adaptive release. Once you’ve created the learning pathway for the students, you can create a checklist for them for each checklistunit so they can see what tasks need to be completed and by what date. The students can then go in to the task list and check off whether the activity is in progress or completed. You can then gather statistics on student progress through the course. The downside is that this is universal to the course and not tailored to each student’s unique learning pathway.

Blackboard Help:

4. Inline Grading for Assignments

This feature allows you to grade student assignments “inline” or right within the web browser. You no longer have to download student assignments and then grade them. You can use this tool with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDFs. As a teacher you can comment, draw, highlight, add text boxes or even cross out text directly on the assignment. This is a huge time saver! You can also access any rubrics you’ve created and add comments to that as well. If you want to meet with a student later to discuss the assignment, you can download and print your annotated version. Some other great features of the tool:

  • You can grade anonymously (i.e. without seeing the student’s name) and you can also delegate graders if you share your course with other teachers.
  • You can also select a setting to automatically have the assignment checked through Safe Assign and decide whether or not students should see their plagiarism report.
  • You can select how many attempts students can have to submit and how they will be scored. You can then see all the attempts at once and you don’t have to click back and forth to different screens.
  • Students can submit assignments as an individual or as a group
  • You have the option to include scores in the grade centre or not. This is good for our school because we don’t use the Blackboard grade centre to calculate student marks.
  • Using the rubric is SO EASY!! You can view it all at once and click the boxes, adding comments to each box as well as overall feedback for the student.
  • Student’s can’t lose assignments or feedback. It’s always available on Blackboard.
  • You can clear/ignore/override attempts for students on an individual basis
  • You can copy rubrics from one course to another which saves a lot of time


  • Not ideal for criterion-based grading. I don’t want to assign my MYP students “points” but rather a level for each criterion. You can set the points to “0”, but then that’s the first thing students see when they check their grades. It would really be better if this was optional
  • There’s not option for self/peer assessment which would be really useful for students to practice using the rubrics.
  • You have to choose one of your rubrics to be the “graded” rubric even if you have set them not to be worth any points. Just doesn’t make sense again.

I plan to try this out on a larger scale with my grade 9 and 10 science courses for assessment of lab reports. I’m excited that my inbox will no longer be full of emails with attachments that I have to find and download!

Blackboard Help: Rubrics
Blackboard Help: Inline grading
Inline grading video tutorial:
Blackboard Help: Creating and editing assignments

5. Student Preview

This tool allows you to play around in your course as a “fake” student. So far I have used it to practice with adaptive release, achievements and inline grading. It’s helped me solve so many problems so far. It is also much more useful than just turning off “edit” mode because you can actually save the data you create if you want! My current problem is that as a preview user I cannot see badges in the My Achievements area. If anyone knows how to fix this, please do let me know. 

Student preview overview:

5. Peer and Self Assessment

This feature allows you to design a set of questions and model answers and have students respond and grade themselves and each other using criteria you have created. I can see this being useful for past paper questions, exam and test preparation as well as formative assessment. You can have students self assess as well as peer assess as many students as you like. The submissions and assessments can be made anonymous. It’s easy to see who has submitted, their evaluations and their final scores. It all automatically gets updated in the grade centre as well.

Some drawbacks to this feature:

  • The main problem with this tool is that the evaluation date can only begin after the submissions are closed. This makes no sense for students who are working at a different pace. If this was a step along a learning pathway, I would have to make sure it is not enabled through Adaptive Release. It would have to be something students do at the end of a unit which is not that useful as a means for me to monitor student progress and understanding.
  • This tool is not ideal for criterion-based grading which is what we use in the MYP. Students aren’t used to seeing points and percentages. They are awarded levels based on the quality of their responses. This tool would be more appropriate for DP students who are used to receiving points per answer on tests and exams.
  • You cannot assign students to each other. The evaluations are randomly assigned.
  • You can upload files with your responses, but cannot directly grade on the file like you can in inline grading. That is only a teacher privilege. Therefore, this is not useful for self/peer assessments lab reports and essays.

It’s a good tool in theory, but I really don’t know if it will work for me.

Blackboard Help:

A few other features I will use this year:

What’s coming in the NEW Blackboard? Watch the video below to see the “improved” user experience. You’ll notice that there is a lukewarm response to what is meant to be an exciting reveal. The key catch phrase here is that it is more “learner centric.” It seems that the developers have taken a lot of feedback from students directly to create a better course set up. It also looks like there are more aspects of a social media site. My favourite thing about it so far is the new collaborate feature although I will say that it looks a lot like “Google Hangouts” to me.



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