Friday, January 21, 2011

Onboarding Students to Blackboard

Onboarding is a term companies use to discuss the process of orienting new employees.  This post uses the term to compare that process to orienting students to your Blackboard site.  This post will also accompany today's Blackboard workshop at the Community College of the District of Columbia.  The top ten:

1. Prepare a Week 0 -- Week 0 is like a prequel to the real thing. Have students submit a faux assignment, take a mock quiz, use the journals or participate in a discussion board.  Personally, I like to give a grade (pass/fail) for the assignment, typically with the quiz score being the way I 'grade' the assignment.  The quiz will usually just have a couple of multiple choice questions.  The goal is for students to feel good about Blackboard before the grades REALLY count.
2. Scaffold Usage of Tools: Scaffolding is an educational term that refers to the purposeful sequencing  of content and instruction.  Therefore, before using wiki's in the classroom, you might want to first discuss how to write for the Internet (individual writing). Then perhaps move to discussion boards to practice how to comment and critique the ideas and words of others.  Finally, introduce the wiki, which employs the aforementioned skills and adds another level of collaboration.
3. Use Screencasts to model Blackboard functionality: Screencasts are short videos which record you computer screen, mouse movements and voice.  Screencasts are an effective way to model Blackboard functionality to students.  You may also use them to review q quiz or explain an assignment.
4. Discuss the Pedagogy Too: If the students don't know WHY they are doing something on Blackboard, it's likely they won't do it well/correctly.
5. Write concise instructions and descriptions and use consist terminology: Never post an item without a description.  Cite due dates, cite connections to the course, share what they should try to extract from the reading/movie/PPT.  Oftentimes, students JUMP right into Blackboard, the couple of sentences they spend reading your description before they open a file may be the only academic orientation they experience.  Make it a good one!
6. Employ Tools in the Class:  Use Blackboard tools in the class.  Use podcasts or blogs to share information with the class.  The more you use it and experience, the greater your personal comfort level.  This will surely translate to the classroom as students will begin to use the tools and feel more confident when they have to create content.
7. Share you experiences with technology: Converse about Blackboard before complaining starts.  Be open and honest with the students.  The shared experience will build community.  Also consider creating a discussion board that acts as a townhall or digital cafe.  Allow students to post their comments, concerns, ideas and be sure to participate as well.  The students will appreciate your presence.
8. Discuss Academic Integrity:  It's so easy for students to plagiarize.  Have an honest discussion about your expectations with the class.  Also introduce SafeAssignment, the submission tool that checks for plagiarism.
9. Set groundrules for academic versus non-academic writing:  Students should not treat Blackboard like it is Facebook.  Be sure to set groundrules for what type of writing is acceptable for your class.  It may also be a good time to talk about 'process oriented' writing ... the concept is often unfamiliar to students.
10. Mention all sources of Blackboard help: 
Did you know that all University of the District of Columbia students have access to FREE Online Tutoring through SMARTHINKING?

There are Math, Business, Nursing, and Writing subjects and over 1500 tutors to help you!

To access FREE tutoring:
1. Log into your Blackboard account
2. Select a course
3. Select "tools" on the left
4. Scroll down to click “Smarthinking login

If you have difficulties accessing your account, please call 202-274-5665 or email
Once you are logged in, check out their Student Handbook here  and feel free to contact SMARTHINKING’s Customer Support Team at 888.430.7429 ext 1 or 


If you have issues, a service desk is available 24 hours a day. You may also be able to have a LIVE CHAT. You can access this site directly at


Visit the Center for Academic Technology webpage [] for other Blackboard related help.

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