Working with Blackboard

The notes below are intended to serve as an overview of important points about using forums, blogs, and wikis in Blackboard. For general notes about these tools, not specific to any one platform, please see Developing Fluency and Reflection Online.

The Importance of Audience and Ownership

My greatest struggle in working with closed systems like Blackboard is that they limit two of the most powerful aspects these technologies provide: audience and ownership. The presence of an audience (other than the teacher and classmates) tends to drive students to produce more and better work, and students learn more from their own efforts (including their mistakes) if they care about the opinions of those who read their writings. Likewise, a sense of ownership of the space in which the writing occurs fosters similar outcomes. By ownership, I mean both the ability to influence how the space looks and functions and the ability to decide what writing will and will not happen in that space. The more you can do to increase both of these aspects, the more effective the use of these tools will become.

A few suggestions for increasing audience and ownership in Blackboard:
  • Consider creating a "fake" course and enrolling all the sections of a particular course, which opens the blog up to more than the immediate class members. Better: work with other teachers so that all students taking a particular course, regardless of section or teacher, are discussing, blogging, and building wikis together.
  • Within obvious limitations, allow students to format their entries (collaboratively in a wiki) using color, sizing, and other features. Also allow them to include images, videos, etc. when relevant to the entry. (This also opens up opportunities to discuss attribution, copyright, plagiarism, etc.)
  • Allow students to have some input into what kinds of assignments will run on the boards, blogs, and wikis, either by allowing some room for choice within a specific assignment or by allowing students to propose their own assignments (see the list of suggested uses for each tool for more).
  • Allow students to have some input into the creation of the rubric used to assess their work in these spaces. I would suggest asking students to think about their own experiences online and to review a number of examples to determine what makes an "effective" discussion entry, blog entry, or wiki page.
  • Avoid the "teacher gives prompt / students give reply" format for all of these tools. It can be helpful in the beginning to offer a few prompts, or to make prompts optional, for students who aren't sure where to begin. However, the ideal is for students to eventually provide their own prompts, propose their own topics, and ask their own questions.

Configuring the Tools

Setting up the Discussion Board

The configuration of the Discussion Board occurs on the front-end in Blackboard.
  • Assuming you've created a menu link to the Discussion Board, go to the board by clicking the menu link
  • From there, you can add new forums using the "+Forum" at the top of the section
  • Name the forum and provide a description
  • Choose the options that best fit your objectives

Setting up the Course Blog or Wiki

The configuration of the Blog and Wiki occurs on the back-end in Blackboard.
  • In the "Control Panel," select "Configure Blog Tool" or "Configure Wiki Tool"
  • Choose the options that best fit your objectives
  • Provide a link to the blog or wiki from the course menu

Setting up a Content Area Blog or Wiki

Blackboard also allows you to set any content area as a blog or wiki. For example, under "Syllabus/Exam," you can create a new entry and set it as a wiki to allow for easy edits and updates. You can also create wikis or blogs for other course materials, for specific assignments, or to help students build their own textbook.
  • In the "Control Panel," under "Content Areas," make your selection (probably Course Materials, Assignments/Agendas, or Textbook)
  • In the menu of options, click the drop-down list beside "Select" and choose blog or wiki
  • Then, configure as with the main blog or wiki

Using & Evaluating the Discussion Board

Discussion forums tend to be closed communities in general, so Blackboard creates no real limitation here. Still, I would strongly recommend opening the forum to as many class sections as possible to avoid merely repeating online the discussions that could happen in class.
  • See my Forum page for more about discussion boards, ideas for use, and approaches to evaluation

Using & Evaluating the Blog

One disadvantage to Blackboard's system is that it is a closed community (which may also be a requirement of your school district). Many of the suggestions on the page below will still work withing a closed system. The key ingredients for making blogs successful are the presence of a legitimate audience and the student's sense of ownership over the space. Do everything you can, given the constraints of the tool and your district's guidelines, to support both.
  • See my Blog page for more about blogs, ideas for use, and approaches to evaluation
  • Also see the Support Blogging wiki for more ideas and resources

Using & Evaluating the Wiki

Again, the closed system of Blackboard lessens the potential of the wiki, but benefits still exist. Wikis tend to focus on the content, and so are less about community (as with a forum) or personal communication (as with a blog). Student investment in the project is still key, however, and the ability to "show off" their work is one of the motivating elements (for most uses of the wiki, though this isn't always true). In general, the more you can do to increase the potential audience for the wiki, the better.
  • See my Wiki page for more about wikis, ideas for use, and approaches to evaluation