Look at all these Writing Tools in Blackboard

Hey y’all!

One of Blackboard’s strengths is the variety of tools it has that allow students to express themselves in writing. I’ve divided these tools into two camps, Individual and Social. Tools in the Individual camp are designed for writing projects that only the student and the teacher see; tools in the Social camp are designed to engage the class as a whole or students in groups.



A Blackboard Assignment stores all the information from when the student submits his or her project through the assignment portal. The assignment portal links that information directly to a column in the grade center. Each submission is called an attempt, and any assignment can be programmed to allow multiple attempts or only one, but only one of the attempts is meant to be graded for any one assignment. The emphasis of the assignment tool is on product, by which I mean that, generally, students are graded on the quality and polish of the finished product they submit. By design, this differentiates Assignments from Journals. Journals are primarily used for student work that may be less polished and more personal/exploratory.


A Blackboard Journal is a space for an individual student to write down his or her thoughts in a lower-stakes environment, with the understanding that the thoughts are accessible (and sometimes assessed) by the teacher. A single journal can have any number of entries, and those entries won’t each be tied to their own columns in the grade center. The journal as a whole can be linked to a column in the grade center, but all the entries within it are intended to be assessed cumulatively. Considering the tool’s name, this makes intuitive sense. A journal is made up of journal entries; some may be shorter than others, some more or less thoughtful, but as a whole the entries may amount to something truly interesting (or truly otherwise). This is the primary difference between a Journal and an Assignment. In an Assignment the student’s entire project is contained within a single, polished submission.


discussion_onDiscussion Boards

Discussion Boards give students informal spaces in which to explore their ideas about the subject as a group. Unlike Assignments, where the object is to submit polished work, Discussion Boards are designed to allow lower-stakes sharing. Concern about formalisms such as correctly formatted citations, spelling and even correctness are less important in discussion boards, where students may be given an opportunity to wander with some or all the constraints of assessment removed. Discussion boards are where happy accidents happen. This makes them a bit like Journals, but unlike the journal tool the process is collaborative/competitive.


Fundamentally, wikis are designed to allow users to work and rework shared content to bring it ever closer to an agreed-upon sense of completion. This necessitates two spaces within each wiki: One for back-channel communication about what is happening to the shared content, a sort of planning space, and the space containing the shared content itself. Unlike Discussion Boards, Wikis are designed to produce finished work (however the back-channel collaboration is also very useful for assessment). Unlike Assignments, that work is produced collaboratively.

The blackboard Wiki space allows teachers to monitor the communication between students who are refining that wiki’s content and track the changes to the content itself. As with all wikis, Blackboard stores all changes made as well as the author(s) of those changes. Wikis are a great tool for group work that is meant to culminate into a final product.


Blogs inside Blackboard behave just like blogs outside of Blackboard—by allowing users to publish “posts” to an audience of subscribers. In Blackboard’s case, though, the list of potential subscribers is limited to the users within the course itself. So Blackboard blogs are functional, but their functionality is ironic. Blogs in the “real world” allow anyone to publish their thoughts to a global medium, the web, from which they can speak, potentially, to the world. Blogs within Blackboard do not provide this functionality.

Still, the Blog tool in Blackboard is useful for how it functions as a kind of open journal, even if that openness extends only to the periphery of the course. Like the Journal, a blog is generally assessed as an accumulation of all the posts that make it up, with the added functionality of social engagement. Perhaps there are assignments where you want your students reading what each other is writing without the emphasis on discussion engendered within the Discussion Board.


Customizing your preferences for course notifications settings

With the recent developments, it looks like we are now able to set up email alerts for the events in your course that you want to keep track of. The switch happened to be turned on on Tuesday without a warning and your inbox may have been affected: all of a sudden, instructors and teaching assistants started receiving alerts from “admin@null.com” about journals needing grading, assignment submissions and discussion posts.

The indiscriminate switch may be too much – and honestly, quite unnecessary and annoying for those of us enrolled in a dozen or more courses. Now, however, the settings can be customized, so you can turn on notifications for things you care about in the courses that make most sense to your teaching or supervising load.

Here is how:

Step 1.

Use this link Edit Notification Settings to access the settings (you need to be logged in Blackboard at UNE).

Step 2.

Select either individual courses or all courses that you are teaching (this includes all courses where you are either an instructor or a teaching assistant).

edit notification settings

Either way, you will end up looking a screen like this. (Click on the image to view the larger one). Select what you would like to be notified about.Change_Settings_–_Blackboard_Learn

Step 3. Submit and enjoy!

Remember, you can always change these settings. I hope that this feature is here to stay!

Your students are also able to set up their own preferences.


In addition from above, you can access your settings from Global Navigation:


From Updates, click on the gear icon:


From there, access your settings:


Please let us know how this works for you!

Monosnap and Skitch – Screenshot Palimpsests

You know the word palimpsest? It is one of my favorites. It refers to a document on which more recent writing appears over older writing. The intent of such writing isn’t defined by the term itself–sometimes the newer writing is meant to deface the older writing (as with graffiti), sometimes to supplement it (as with JJ Abrams’ new book) but many times it is meant to explain or explicate what it is written over.

The practice is old and useful. We all know it from our own experience as students for when we took notes, or received them, in the margins of our books or on the papers we submitted for evaluation. Those notes, or added visual direction of arrows and underlines written overtop the original copy of a then-scanned and re-copied section of a textbook, could be so helpful. Digital media has turned our margins into dynamic wrappers on which our ballpoint pens no longer work, but with applications like Monosnap and Skitch we can still write in the margins, or directly overtop, of whatever we can pull up on our computer screens.

monosnap window

That’s the Monosnap icon. It lives, unobtrusively, up in your taskbar,

Since I use Monosnap, that is the application I’ll show here. However, I believe Skitch has a similar, if not the same, toolset (with the added benefit, potentially, of being integrated into Evernote).

Above is a bit of an Escher trick: I monosnapped the monosnap window that appears after I monosnap. Effectively, the app gives the user two options for capturing whatever is onscreen–a fullscreen screenshot, or a region specified screenshot that you draw with crosshairs. These function much like the integrated screenshot tools that you find on any Mac, with the difference that, after the screenshot is taken, the above window pops up. Within the window you’re given a myriad of options for how you may annotate the image you’ve just taken. It’s fast and easy to make notes for your students, for yourself, or for the heck of it.

Both applications are free for their core functionality (which is all I ever use), with, I believe, some additional tools available if you wish to purchase them.