When students log onto the Blackboard course site, they find themselves on the announcements page for the course. The announcements page is updated weekly with a detailed outline of the requirements for each week. The first week of the class students must complete a course orientation. It is similar in structure to the weekly learning modules they will see each week in that it is essentially a folder with files inside. The course orientation requires students to read the syllabus, post a self-introduction on the discussion board, navigate through the week 1 learning module on the first chapter, familiarize themselves with testing requirements and the site navigation. I also outline my expectations for discussion board participation. The student self introductions exist to help students create an identity in the course. They are also encouraged to respond to two other students in an effort to get some dialogue going and create community. The self introductions are structured as they are asked to respond to specific questions and are also asked to share something personal such as their favorite quote or non-academic book. During week one, I respond to every student’s introduction welcoming them to the course. I also complete a detailed introduction of myself, including a photo, to try to give them some sense of who their instructor is.
Each week, including week 1, we cover one chapter. On Blackboard, each week is setup in a learning module. When they click on the learning module (which is essentially a folder) they see two things. The first thing is the learning objectives for the chapter explaining what they should be able to do once the week is complete. The second is an outline of what needs to be completed that week with an estimate of time each task is expected to take. This is based on the Student Engagement Inventory template provided by the UO Registrar. This helps set student expectations as they can otherwise be confused about how much time goes into an online course.
The student then enters the folder and sees several items the order of which stays consistent each week. The first item is information about the chapter we are covering that week. I provide a brief description of the topic and how it relates to where we have been and where we are going. The next item in the learning module is the instructor notes folder that expands on the text material and provides further examples. Students enter that folder to see the instructor notes that are broken down by chapter topics. This allows students to quickly reference specific notes when trying to solve a problem on a specific topic. I also provide practice problems at the end of the instructor notes which show final numerical answers but not how to solve. The remaining learning module items are a link to a narrated PowerPoint presentation on the chapter provided by the text publisher, a list of specific textbook practice problems I believe they should complete (all answers are available on Blackboard), a link to the chapter’s discussion board where they can ask questions, and a link to the weekly quiz. This variety of materials allows students of different learning styles to absorb the material. By providing numerous examples, as well as numerous practice problems, students can practice and master the skills of the course. Each week the learning module contents are consistent so that students know what to expect.
The discussion boards in the class are organized by week. Students are expected to post their question on content on the discussion board rather than sending them via email. This allows all students to benefit from questions their peers ask just like in the traditional classroom setting. I also have a separate discussion board titled “Hey, Deb?” for general course questions that do not fit within a chapter. If I find students are engaging in off topic discussions, I will create a “social lounge” board as well to encourage that while not distracting from content. Discussion board participation is not required or graded. This is due to the difficulty in monitoring a 60-student class, which may increase in size in the future.
Testing and Grades
Each week students must complete an online quiz to test their mastery of the material. The weekly quizzes function more like homework assignments. They are not timed. Students can access them multiple times but only submit them for a grade once. This prevents some technological problems that exist with timed quizzes in Blackboard. To account for technological problems that can still occur, as well as illness, etc., I drop each student’s lowest weekly quiz score.
The midterm and final exams are multiple-choice tests that are closed book, closed notes, and proctored at a testing center. I chose this method of testing to create consistency between the online and face-to-face course. I believe it is important in both classes to get an accurate assessment of a student’s individual knowledge without the use of external resources. The UO testing center, SSIL, handles all of the logistics for exam scheduling and proctoring as well as approving proctors for students who are out of the area. They charge a fee per student as most testing centers do. For UO courses this fee must be charged to the department rather than directly to students. This is something to consider as you ponder your testing options.
A practice midterm, final, formulas, and concept lists are all provided for exam preparation. There are also discussion boards that are exam specific for students to post questions on as they prepare.
Communication is of vital importance in the online class. It serves as the cue of responsibility that is lost due to no class attendance. At the beginning of each week I send an email with all of the weekly requirements listed. This email is typically identical to the weekly announcement on the main page, but may have a more personal or light note included, like “Go Ducks!” during a competitive sport season. Two days before the weekly quiz due date, I send a reminder email to all students who have not completed the quiz. After the due date, I send an email to all students who received less than a passing grade on the quiz offering help and advice about how to be successful. It is easy to sort students by a passing grade using the “early warning system” feature in Blackboard. After the midterm I also send an email congratulating students who earned grades in the “A” range.
Course Orientation ( PDF 72K )