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.


Turnitin faces new questions about efficacy of plagiarism detection software | InsideHigherEd

I have long been having controversial feelings and thoughts about plagiarism detection and its place in higher education. Our contention has always been that it’s a tool at best, and a highly imperfect one at that, to help faculty find things in students’ writing. What sort of things exactly? This article brings up what this software (both TurnItIn and SafeAssign, and Google as a separate item altogether!) may do, and what effect using this software has on teaching practice. Some important ethical questions are raised here. This article invites an open discussion, and there are a few comments there already, worth noting, so please comment below here or on the original page as well!

Turnitin faces new questions about efficacy of plagiarism detection software | InsideHigherEd.

Video Everywhere Working Again! With one extra step…

Hey all! We’re excited to announce that Video Everywhere is working again. However, for the time being there is one extra step necessary for using it to embed videos directly, easily, into Blackboard. The default dimensions for the embedded video are, for the time being, set to 120×90. Before you click to complete the submission of your video, on the step illustrated below, make sure you type in “420” over the 120 default value. The Height value should automatically adjust to read “315”; if it doesn’t, type that into the Height value. See screenshot below:

Video Everywhere Working Again

Self and Peer Assessment

checklist on a clipboardIn many instances, it is beneficial to students to do peer evaluations – that makes them look at submissions more critically and learn in the process, plus using a predetermined rubric helps identify the high points and the important performance criteria for an assignment. The Self and Peer Assessment feature in Blackboard allows students to submit an assignment to a dropbox, then to be randomly assigned several of them for review (anonymous option available) and offer feedback, and even include a self-evaluation, if desired.

In the current courses, we often have a discussion forum set up for similar purposes, where one has to submit an assignment – usually as attachment (and sometimes viewing of the discussion forum is restricted so that students can only access the other threads after creating their own). Then one will pick which papers they will read and provide feedback based on either suggested criteria or their own perception of a quality paper. Both papers and feedback are available to all students (or only those who have submitted in the case of “post first” forums). Submissions can be reviewed as soon as they become available, and an unequal number of feedback posts may result. Forum submissions are not restricted by date (a due date may be set up though).

With the more formal and structured Self and Peer Assessment, there is a submissions due date – no one can start reviewing other students’ papers until that date. All submissions become available at once. After the first due date passes, students gain access to 2-3 papers – or however many papers you specify – of the other students. Criteria have also been set up so students may choose to provide a grade for each criteria based on their judgment but using your guidelines. A model answer may be included in certain cases. Students can also provide a self-assessment which we currently don’t require in the forum setup.

An Overview:

Being anonymous allows for a more objective feedback. It’s easier to track students’ contributions, and in general this tool is more structured, and this structure may be preferred to the forum one. Please watch the videos below to learn more and make a better informed decision.

Note: Bb treats any student’s submission slot as a submission, so if a student doesn’t submit anything, the slot gets distributed as if there were a submission (see what that looks like in the From the Student Perspective Video).

From the Instructor Perspective:
Part I
Part II
From the Student Perspective:

Blackboard Directions for setting up a self and peer assessment

How to Work with Google Drive Folder Shared with You

We have been trying to streamline the process of storing and sharing files, especially in document-intense courses like Field Seminars and Practica. While there are a number of advantages to setting up our system this way, there has been some difficulty navigating around the shared folders as they don’t always feel intuitive for a particular task. All of the course documents are shared to allow anyone who has the link to view the contents of the folder. You can also download certain types of files without as much as logging into Google.

1. In the Course Navigation Menu on your left, click on Course DocumentsIn your course click on Course Documents in the navigation menu2. You will be able to view documents all at once either as a grid or a list. You can click on any of the documents and get an instant preview.


3. Close the file preview, and add documents to your Drive. If you are not signed in already, click on the blue [SIGN IN] button on the right, then after you have signed it, click on [ADD TO DRIVE], and then [OPEN IN DRIVE] for full features. You will only need to “ADD TO DRIVE” once. After that, [OPEN IN DRIVE] will be available to you any time you access these documents from the course link – as long as you are signed in Google Drive.

Sign in Google Drive

580_Course_Documents 2

4. Click on desired files to open.

Google_Drive5. Once you are in the file, you may either copy it to your own drive and then make all sorts of edits, or download it to your computer and then make all sorts of edits.

make a copy or download a Google file

Note: You can also print any printable file, and when it comes to PDF and Word Files, even download them without logging in.

View Any File and Download PDF

Video Everywhere Workaround – YouTube

Video Everywhere Workaround – YouTube.

Just in time tips from your most responsive team of instructional designers!

In case you are not aware yet, YouTube has been updating and upgrading its system. As a result, certain devices and applications are no longer compatible with its interface. It appears as though Blackboard’s feature, Video Everywhere, has been impacted by this upgrade and it doesn’t function as it has been. Please watch the video for a temporary workaround for Video Everywhere.

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 “” 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!

Instruments, and the Craft, of Feedback

Feedback is a craft, and like any craft it is simultaneously distinct from and defined by the tools we use to practice it. Quality feedback can go through any communicative medium—text message; youtube comments section; a waxed string strung tautly between two paper cups—because the properties of good feedback are universal…

  • Good feedback is honest
  • Good feedback is encouraging
  • Good feedback is mindful of its own context relative to the course’s Learning Objectives, and also
  • Good feedback is mindful of the unique context created between the course, the student, and yourself (perhaps by connecting the specific assignment to which it responds to other examples of the student’s work, that student’s personal life, or even your own personal life)

…though it never hurts to use the right tools for the job.

That’s not a great list. The properties of good feedback are so subjective…maybe it would be better to ask y’all to list some of the properties you consider most important to quality feedback in the comments field below? I like that idea. Please do so.

The subjective qualities of good feedback are why real, imperfect, quirky human teachers—I’m talking about you—are so essential. Yes, feedback may be considered satisfactory if it at least provides the correct answers, but that is not the sole function of feedback. Feedback is an opportunity for the student to, through a tiny window, see her work from the outside and then assimilate it into her larger understanding of the subject. Feedback is also, sometimes, an opportunity for you, the teacher, to express yourself.

Which is why it is great that there are so many options for us to provide feedback for our students. There are countless tools out there outside of Blackboard, but I’ll get to those later (celebrate the constraints in life! Like word count…and time). Let’s look at some of the feedback mechanisms that are available within Blackboard.

Quick Comment

basic comment

Concise feedback is easy to leave without exiting the full grade center. So long as a grade is already entered into the column for that particular student, the dropdown chevron will show an option for a “Quick Comment.” The field that appears has a strict character limit and no formatting options, but it is useful for situations when you feel you need to call attention to an assignment that you’ve already graded and left feedback on. Maybe a recent assignment has given you a new idea regarding an earlier assignment, which you would like to impart upon your student(s) without having to dive into and out of their attempts all over again.

In-Line Grading

in-line feedback

Blackboard has recently made it possible for in-line grading, which is the far more robust option for feedback of the two listed here. When you enter an attempt to grade it, the document (if the student has submitted the attempt as an attached Word document) will appear with the ability for you to leave comments on specific objects and text. That’s really helpful for students, and makes it much easier for you to point out exactly what you want them to pay attention to. And it isn’t just spatially relevant commenting—there is also a field for general comments to the right, often automatically hidden when you enter the attempt to grade it, which you can pull down by clicking the down arrow as shown above.

These are powerful tools for feedback, but in the end they are only tools. Remember: Good feedback comes from you. Find the tool that you’re comfortable with, and then put the time into learning how best you can use it for your students. It’s cheesy, but it’s true: A good instrument does not, by itself, make good music.

Oh, one more thing: We do not recommend text messaging, the Youtube comments section, or paper-cup-and-string phones as mediums for providing student feedback. That would probably be frustrating for everyone involved.