Tag Archives: Blackboard

It Takes Audacity

By  Matt McKinnon

Ok, so not just Audacity; any recording and editing software will do.  But Audacity is free, works with all of the major operating systems, and, at least in its basic form, is not hard to use.  (Though in order to export the files, they have to be converted to mp3 format using the LAME encoder.)

A few of my students have had trouble doing this, but most are able to create their own audio files to attach in Blackboard for me and their colleagues to listen to.

And that simple addition to my American Dreams course has added a dimension to online education that, after five years of teaching in the BLS program, I did not expect.

The voices are full of character. Rich in diversity.  Different in their tone and cadence.  Some are smooth and polished, others hesitant.  Some are quite moving, even poetic.  Some are transcendent in their plainness.

But all of them are honest.  Real.

They are like voices out of a Ken Burns documentary: serious, focused, reading (not speaking off the cuff) a personal account of the American Dream.

They add a profundity to the most banal of writing assignments.  They add depth.  They add life.

The assignment is simple: write a five minute reflection on what you think about the American Dream.  And then record it and post it on Blackboard.  Students do this twice—once in the beginning of the course and then again at the end, almost like a personal assessment of how their views have changed.  For the final assignment, they submit the written version as well.  And it is here that I have learned to appreciate the depth, the character that is conveyed with hearing someone speak their own words—as opposed to simply reading their words myself.

Of course there are limits:  I wouldn’t want to hear someone read aloud their five-page paper on politics and religion in America, or worse yet, their twelve-page book review in the Senior Seminar.  But for something short, something as personal and as powerful as a dream, as the American Dream, as their American Dream, it has an amazing effect.

I realized it when I listened to the audio files the first time I taught the course last year.  In a way that the written word cannot achieve, these voices of my students grabbed me—grab me still—and, for lack of a better way of saying it: made it personal.

After all, if we’re honest, we must admit that with all the benefits of distance education (and there are many), one of the things that’s missing is personal contact.  And what’s more personal than a voice?

Ok, a face.

Here’s me and my wife (I’m on the right).

Here's Vicente Fernandez.

And those rare times I have seen a picture of a student in one of the assignments they submit in their Senior Portfolio—usually as part of a photography assignment or a blog—it has had a similar effect: giving an added dimension to someone whose existence to me is represented entirely by the written word.

But there’s something about the human voice.  The old adage is that a picture is worth a thousand words, but if you’ve ever lost someone dear, you’ve probably had the thought: “What I would give just hear their voice again.”

Now here’s Fernández’s voice (and his hat):

But let’s not get carried away.

I have to admit that I hate Facebook, only reluctantly joined LinkedIn (but never use it), don’t care what folks are doing this weekend (or did last weekend), don’t want to see pictures of people from high school whom I didn’t really like in high school (or my second-cousin’s newest baby), and generally believe that our culture has gone overboard with social-networking, the effect being that communication (and society?) has been thinned out and dumbed down.

But when we take what’s useful from these platforms and make judicious use of them in our BLS courses, well, the effect can be startling, enriching, enlightening.

And in the case of Audacity, it can literally be the opposite of dumbing down:

It gives students their voice.

Thank You, Al. You Will Be Missed.

Al Briscoe, vacationing in Italy last summer.

We are very sad to announce that Al Briscoe, Jr. passed away late Sunday night, after a long illness. Al’s name may not be familiar to students in the BLS Program, but as an instructional technology consultant for the College of Arts and Sciences, he has given vital assistance to our faculty and staff since our program’s beginning. Al came to UNCG in 2002, after completing his M.Ed. in instructional technology at Wayne State University in Detroit. His many involvements with BLS Program courses include course website design, online multimedia and video hosting, course Blackboard design and maintenance, routine updates to online courses between one session and the next, and the management of end-of-session student course ratings. He also helped faculty in the College employ technology in the classroom by providing software support, training and resources.

Al spent his youth as the oldest child of a large, poor family in Baltimore, and overcame many hardships and obstacles to successfully complete a graduate-school education and become a vital member of the academic community. He was 58 years old. He is survived in the UNCG community by his partner of 20 years, Dr. John Tomkiel, Associate Professor of Biology.

Mobile Learn

By Marc Williams

On Monday, I wrote about the Blackboard upgrade at UNCG and some of the differences I’ve noticed so far.  Perhaps my favorite new feature of UNCG’s version of Blackboard is its compatibility with Blackboard Mobile Learn.

We use our wireless devices for virtually every aspect of life nowadays so the developers at Blackboard wisely designed an app that gives students and instructors mobile access to Blackboard for a variety of devices (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, iTouch, Palm).  The app is free–I certainly recommend downloading and trying it out.

I’ve already found the tool useful for managing my courses on the go.  I’ve been able to use the iPhone app to respond to student questions posted in threaded message boards found on Blackboard.  And it is easy–the discussion boards look and feels like my iPhone’s text interface.  In fact, message board discussions on the mobile app feel cleaner and more efficient than the discussion boards in the standard version of Blackboard.  Blackboard apparently designed a mobile app for each individual device, working to embrace that particular device’s personality and functionality.  In this regard, the Blackberry version of Mobile Learn doesn’t look or feel like the iPhone version–it is customized for Blackberry users.  Here’s a video about the iPhone version,  here’s a video about the Blackberry version, and finally an Android demo.

The app is apparently still in development and some of the tools and features of the standard version of Blackboard are not yet completely functional in the mobile version.  For example, the “Grade Center” that instructors use to view grades and find assignments that need grading is not yet available on the mobile app.  Some Blackboard content may need to be converted into different file types in order to work on the mobile app.  For example, audio and video content need to be offered in universal formats like MP3 (audio) and MPEG-4 (video).  As the mobile app develops and as instructors learn to make their content “mobile friendly,” our BLS classes may become not only virtual classrooms but also mobile classrooms!

Blackboard Upgrade

By Marc Williams

UNCG has upgraded to Blackboard Learn (version 9.1), which replaces Blackboard Academic Suite (version 8).  Most features from the previous version of Blackboard are still available to students and faculty but there are a number of noticeable changes.  For example, while setting up my Fall classes, I realized that my Blackboard menu structure could be updated to increase efficiency–this makes my courses a little simpler to navigate. In this regard, the new version of Blackboard might not change the way courses are taught but it may change how they look.  If you haven’t taken time to explore your Fall classes in Blackboard, you may want to navigate through Blackboard so you can see what is there and how the instructor has set up the course.  You might also look at Blackboard’s help page, video tutorials for students, or contact the help desk.

One change I noticed immediately is that blog and wiki tools are now native to Blackboard.  UNCG had previously purchased add-on blog and wiki utilities but now that these tools are standard Blackboard features, the old blog and wiki tools are not needed.  Students and faculty who have previously used blogs and wikis will certainly find that the look and feel of these tools is very different from the old tools.  Getting acquainted with the new tools won’t take long but the difference is notable.  I’m sure there are other new or revised tools that will also require some adjustment.  You can read about some of the changes here.  I’ve only taken advantage of a few new features in my courses–some instructors may have adopted even more features.

What changes have you noticed?  Does the new Blackboard feel any different to you?