If you are snowbound and need to move some of your instruction out of class, the Center for Teaching & Learning Instructional Technologists are here to help you strategize and get started. There is a plethora of activities you and your students can engage in outside of class to help fill in the gaps left by the missed face-to-face periods. These activities break down into two distinct categories: synchronous (you and the students working together at the same time), and asynchronous (working together — or individually — on your own time). Below are some tool categories and examples to help you start developing such catch-up activities:
Discussion boards: Ask your students to discuss a topic in an online forum. Blackboard has robust discussion board functionality. (Tutorials are here, “Communication and Collaboration” section) If your class doesn’t use Blackboard, consider an externally hosted discussion board, like ProBoards. Discussion boards work best for groups of students that aren’t too large, and with open-ended questions.
Wikis: Have your students write up group-based notes about a reading assignment or something discussed in class using a wiki. You could try the wiki tool in Blackboard, but externally hosted wikis like Wikispaces have richer features and better functionality.
Blogs: Blogs are another online space where you and your students can have asynchronous discussions or share writing. To engage students in a discussion, all you need is a single blog page (created by you), with comments enabled. Blackboard has a no-frills blogging tool, but we recommend you try QWriting blogs, powered by WordPress and supported by the Center for Teaching & Learning; contact Rob Garfield if you want to try QWriting.
Tests administered and assignments collected online: Blackboard has excellent tools for administering tests and for collecting work from your students, all tied in to its gradebook, which facilitates getting feedback to your students quickly. You can read about this in our tech tip, A Blackboard Roadmap — scroll down to Tests and Assignments. A tutorial on Blackboard tests is here. More information about Blackboard assessments is here under Tests, Surveys, and Pools.
Lecture capture: You can capture the lecture you planned to give in person and share it with your students online, for them to view at their convenience. You can then use that lecture as the starting point for an online (or in-class) discussion. For more information about this way to teach, check out a Tech Talk from March 2011, on Ways of Podcasting. Here are some tools you could use to capture your lecture for later re-broadcast:
Record yourself directly in YouTube. A big advantage (compared to other tools like Adobe Connect and Collaborate — see below, Web conferencing section) is the quick set up and small learning curve. There’s no need to download or install any software. This page provides a brief intro.
Save a PowerPoint file with narration as a movie and upload it to YouTube. Animated transitions like pop-up bullet points will not be retained, but if you are a regular user of PowerPoint, you might find this process not too difficult. Here is a tutorial on this topic.
VoiceThread is a tool that allows students to upload slides for others to comment on with audio or mark up tools. Cool feature: you can access the New York Public Library digital collection for images!
WavePad audio can be used to record and share audio asynchronously. You can record your voice and upload the audio file to Blackboard or to iTunes U in Blackboard. iTunes U set up is as easy as clicking on the tool in Course Tools and then clicking the Enable button. For setting up a course page in iTunes U, you can consult iTunes U documentation.
Synchronous collaboration spaces: It’s generally complicated to convene students outside of class at a predetermined time, but if you can get everyone to agree on the time, you can try a space that allows same-time collaboration, like Google Docs and Chrome Remote Desktop. Web conferencing tools like Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate (see below) also offer screen sharing and virtual Whiteboards to focus your class’ attention on a shared space.
“Real time” texting: Virtual Chat (text) programs give you a simple, lightweight way to interact with students in “real” time. Blackboard has “Virtual Office Hours” (in the “Collaboration” Tool). Instant Messenger programs (like iChat, AIM and Google Talk) can also be good solutions. If your classes and/or students are using Epsilen for ePortfolio, the chat function is very easy to use via course or group shell. Contact Rachel Stern if you need assistance on the Epsilen chat function.
Web conferencing: If you will be holding a class at an unanticipated time, consider webcasting your class live and recording it. (We know of faculty who tried this during Hurricane Sandy, with excellent results.) Students unable to come in person can tune in virtually, and students unable to tune in virtually can watch the recording later. Here are some tools you can use to do this:
If your class is already on Blackboard, we highly recommend you try Blackboard Collaborate. This is a new tool in Blackboard that allows you to capture and broadcast your screen, plus video and audio, as well as record for later viewing. Learn how to create a session in your Blackboard course here. Click here for more on Collaborate’s web conferencing features and here for downloadable step by step instructions.
Blackboard Collaborate Quick Start Guide: http://ctl.qc.cuny.edu/files/2014/02/Bb_Collaborate_quick_start.pdf
Instructions for students: http://www.brainshark.com/blackboardinc/vu?pi=zGLzYw5XBz35Sgz0
General Blackboard help
Ready to give one of these a try?
Some of the tools listed above are hosted by CUNY or Queens College, but others are not. Some of these outside tools will require students to create new accounts. To our knowledge, none of these involve fees for their basic functionality, but some may require payment for advanced functionalities. Check into these things before you ask your students to use them. Also remember to keep things simple, for both your students and yourself.
You are NOT Alone
The Center for Teaching & Learning is here to help you figure out the best approach for you. Please don’t hesitate to email us with any questions you have about the aforementioned tools. (When you contact us, tell us: your name, your course, and the technology/platform/approach you are interested in — if you know.)
Rob Garfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) Qwriting, Blackboard, Wikis, Discussion Boards
Jean Kelly (email@example.com) Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate, YouTube
Rachel Stern-Lockerman (firstname.lastname@example.org) Epsilen, Chalk and Wire and ePortfolios.
Share with your Colleagues
If you have any questions you want to ask about any of this or practices/experiments you want to share with your colleagues, please post your suggestions in the comments. And don’t hesitate to respond to anyone who does comment.