Sending email messages to students from a Blackboard course

We all have our workflow preferences and places that we check to stay connected. Some prefer using Course Messages (which in our configuration won’t send the message to a student’s email, unfortunately), and others prefer using actual email service.

There may be a practice compromise to accommodate both the need for convenience such as emailing a student (or a number of students) without leaving the course, and using email as a system, so that both students and instructors will get alerts when they receive messages.

Blackboard has emailing capabilities. While it email as a tool has been also disabled in our configuration, the workaround exists and instructors can choose to send an email directly from the course when using the Grade Center.

Here is how.

STEP 1: Visit Grade Center

In both Edit On and Edit Off views you have access to the “Email” button. Select a student you want to address, or several at once, and use the email options to send your message.

grade center view

STEP 2: Select your recipients.

You can add more if you wish on the next screen.

email from Grade Center

STEP 3: Edit your message, add recipients (optional), add attachments (optional)

edit and send your message

Remember that this email will be sent to you as well (the sender). The student then can reply directly back to you using email only. Consider this as an option.

ACTEM Conference Sneak Peek:

We’re off tomorrow to Bangor, ME, to present at the annual ACTEM Conference. I am presenting with the lovely Susan Barrett Hyde on the subject of web tools for scaffolded assignments. I hope to subdivide the general scope of the presentation into several blog posts to tide me over into 2016, and I thought I’d start things off with one of the tools I found myself using quite a bit, two or so years ago. topic

The tool is, and its angle is that it provides users with an attractive, full-featured-yet-easy, magazine-style (mouthful!) curation space. Much like Pinterest, users subscribe to one another and good curators are rewarded with likes and new subscribers. The difference between Pinterest and is that the “pins” of the former emphasize the visual elements of what is pinned and de-emphasize any textual observations made by the curator, whereas the “scoops” in deemphasize the visual elements of the scooped article in order to draw attention to any observations, rebuttals, admissions or additions made by the curator. Additionally, attribution chains of scooped and re-scooped articles are clearer to follow, rendering in a more scholarly environment than what I’ve found in any of the other curation tools I’ve tried over the years.

The topic that I curated for about a year grew pretty significantly in readership over that period–I had about 3,800 viewers, before my interest ran dry and I left the topic for another. At the height of “Narrative Tech,” I was subscribed to all the other transmedia and narrative technology buffs in, and each of us was pulling from our own customized RSS and Google Alert feeds for the pool of possibly interesting (likely not) articles on our subject of interest. We held conversations in the comments fields below each others’ scoops and began conversations with our own insights rendered upon our own scoops. I learned a ton about narrative technology and transmedia storytelling from the experience, and developed a resource network that far exceeded that which I’d started with. 2

Topics appear as magazines, and many users run their topics like standalone blogs. Note above the extent of my thoughts on that one scoop, especially in comparison to the relative brevity of the article’s excerpt.

The reason I will be showing teachers at ACTEM tomorrow is twofold. One, it is a brilliant research tool that can quickly explode the number of sources you enter with. Two, it adroitly displays the give-take nature of research, which is far too often taught entirely as a state of absorbed spectatorship. is like a bookmarking tool that immediately requires the researcher to share his/her thoughts on the scooped resource, sometimes and sometimes not stirring a response from someone else interested in the topic. can be an excellent tool to introduce early in a writing class where students are encouraged to research the same subject for the entire semester. Early on in the process of learning, the experience is teaching students about what it means to make and share observations in the midst of researching and building a network of relevant resources. By the end of the course, their pool of resources is established, complete with (hopefully) connections to other researchers in the field. 3

Foundational to and its integration into the classroom is its ease of use. With the bookmarklet, it is simple to find an online resource and then…well, scoop it. The pop up dialogue window immediately allows the user to pen his or her observations, and it’s as easy as checking and unchecking boxes to control where else in the social network sphere where the scoop will be immediately shared. It is easy enough, I’ve found, for faculty and students to pick up rather quickly.

Collaboration in Online Courses: Group Work

putting together a jigsaw

We often use group work in our online courses, and success varies among courses, projects, and students.

Overall, our ultimate goal is organic learning, fostering an online community of learners and stimulating active participation in it. This, however, is not always achieved with a stellar consistency.

Reflecting on our use of groups in courses, a few issues become apparent. Recognizing and addressing these issues is an important part of the course design process.

This article examines some of the things you commonly find in a course with groups and group project, and some factors that can either make or break or improve the user experience, and offers suggestions on what to include in order to ensure collaboration opportunities and go beyond basic cooperation. 

While a facilitator plays an enormous role in student overall experience, the key is to design tasks that are truly collaborative, meaning the students will benefit more from doing the activity as a group than doing it alone. A complex task that requires everyone to contribute to a group project is often the way to ensure success.

Shadow Curriculum

All tasks assume that we have a certain prerequisites or skills, without necessarily explicitly stating these. Sometimes, the skills are easy to pick up, other times, a barrier to entry is too much for an individual to engage in an assignment, thus causing enormous frustration. Some frustration is good and healthy, and encourages learning (at least, constructivists believe so!).

In the same breath, we assume that our students have skills necessary for successful group work. In some instances, it is true and they do. In other instances, they have skills to compensate the lack of asynchronous group work skills. Since our students come mostly from a brick and mortar post-secondary degree background, it’s also likely they don’t have these skills (to collaborate in the asynchronous online environment) and as a result, additional communication and scaffolding need to take place.

In a course, students should have guidance concerning how to work in an asynchronous team to help them build those skills. In addition, there should already exist numerous opportunities in a course for community building. One gets to exercise ever more creativity when a course is only 8 weeks long. It will also help our cause to indicate that a course which has group projects will require more frequent communication from the get-go – and such an expectation upfront will help inform a student’s schedule for the term.

Frequent communication with groupmates may happen in a number of ways. It may be a shared Google Document, with comments and a chat built in. It may also be synchronous Skype or Google Hangouts sessions (or any other tool that provides similar services). It may be scheduled or ad hoc – where it helps to see who is currently online and available. It also may be weekly “office hours” with the instructor during which students can address their questions – for example, if the instructor has a “room” (or whatever the nomenclature is in a particular environment/LMS) and makes it available to students for use as “a study room” – very similar to study rooms in brick and mortar buildings.

At all times, this implies that students both have sufficient knowledge and skills to use such tools, and that the tools are readily available to them.

This sort of “shadow curriculum” has to be addressed during the course, in order to facilitate more productive group work.

Identifying Problems and Realistic Solutions

This paper identifies the most common problems and possible solutions to those when it comes to group work, and is a quick read.

As always, building in a contingency plan – in case, a groupmate is MIA or drops out or is somewhat apathetic about the group assignment; or skill level is not as expected; or the project needs revising on the spot to accommodate whatever may come up, – has to be part of the design process as well, and is essential when the term timeline is already intense.

Video Annotations and Discussions

faces with a play button as in video

In our courses, we sometimes use videos as a prompt to start a discussion. The video is most likely to be included in the viewing section (aka Multimedia or Watch this), and possibly a link would be included in the prompt itself. It’s also possible to streamline the discussion flow by removing the permission to create a new thread on the student part. As creative as we can get when we push against Blackboard limitations, the result is not often optimal. I am going to show a couple of options where the interface is way friendlier.


This is a good social tool for annotating videos. You may use it with your own video from YouTube or use other people’s videos. It’s clean, may create a conversation among viewers (signing in with an existing account, such as Google user, required for responses and adding notes, but not for viewing). Create as many as you want. (Optional viewing)


Another similar service is provided by Vialogues. Here, too you can have a discussion (text discussion) of whatever is happening on the screen, plus the discussion can be guided by preset comments/annotations for others to react to in the context of the video.