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Best Practices for Blackboard

Blackboard can add substantial value to your course, especially when used well. The following are considered best practices by Penn's courseware support team. Additionally, many of these tips are greater usability items that apply beyond Blackboard to the courseware system of your choice.

Organization

  • Choose a consistent, predictable structure for your site. Instructors have a great deal of control over how they choose to set up their sites. Consider giving students a tour of the site on the first day of class so they understand where course materials are located.
  • Let students know your expectations for use of the site, such as how often they should check for updates.
  • Create links to any heavily used tools, such as discussion boards and student grades.

Content

  • Be sure to update any content that was copied from previous semesters and includes dates!
  • Compress PDFs and Power Point presentations (or convert to a compressed PDF) to make them more easily downloadable.
  • Use only alphanumeric characters, the hyphen, and underscore (instead of blank spaces) when saving file attachments for Blackboard. Characters to avoid include commas, ?, @, #, $, %, &, *, !, (, ), ', and ".
  • Avoid copying and pasting into Blackboard from Microsoft Word, email or web browsers. Code from these programs has been known to cause many display problems in Blackboard. Instead, type directly into Blackboard or copy and paste from Notepad (PC) or Text Edit (Mac).

Video and Audio Files

  • Use the YouTube Mashup tool or links to external media servers (such as media.sas) to provide students with access to media content. We do not recommend using Blackboard for audio and video files. Blackboard does not support streaming media, so students have to download entire media files in order to view them. Depending on the size of the file and the strength of the Internet connection, these files may be difficult to upload and download, causing additional problems. Contact your school's IT department or your LSP to determine what other options are available for streaming media.

Tests and Surveys

  • Blackboard has the ability to create graded assessments (tests) and ungraded anonymous assessments (surveys). Tests can be useful for pop quizzes or as exam review materials. Surveys can be a great way to get anonymous informal feedback about guest speakers or group projects. We do not recommend giving large scale simultaneous exams in Blackboard. While our environment works well for small scale distributed exams, large groups actively participating in tests at the same time causes a strain on our system and can lead to problems with test submission for students. If you plan to give an exam in Blackboard, please contact us for assistance in setting up your assessment at bb-support@pobox.upenn.edu
  • Blackboard also does not have any native tools to prevent students from collaborating via outside chat programs or searching the web so there are some academic integrity concerns with giving unproctored assessments. 

Administration

  • Our enrollment process can only pull students into available courses. Please make your site available more than 24 hours before students need it to ensure they are added to the site. You can still control the availability of individual items and content areas.

Course Cartridges

  • Many textbook publishers provide course cartridges, companion content (readings, quizzes, activities ,etc.) that can be integrated into a Blackboard course site. To view textbooks for which cartridges are available, please see http://cartridges.blackboard.com/catalog/
  • If you would like assistance installing a course cartridge into your Blackboard site, please contact bb-support@pobox.upenn.edu and provide the following:
    • Your contact information
    • Course ID (Ex: HIST001-001-2012C) and name of the site where the cartridge should be installed
    • Name of the textbook the cartridge is associated with
    • Contact information for the textbook vendor or Penn's representative if possible
    • Course cartridge download key or .zip file
  • It is recommended that course cartridges be installed in Blackboard sites prior to the start of a semester when a site is empty of any content or users. If you plan to use a cartridge, please contact us as soon as possible so we can ensure the content is installed and working properly when your class begins.
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