Help Blackboard Design the Next Generation Learning Management System

Blackboard Community Programs
Blackboard is conducting a series of user research studies to aid the design of the next generation of Blackboard Learn, the flagship LMS. Please pass along this invitation to participate to any students or faculty who might be interested in these opportunities.

Who: Blackboard is being assisted by TecEd (, an independent research firm.

What: You’ll try some features of the redesigned Learn and tell us your thoughts.

Where: At your own computer, speaking on the phone with a researcher during the one-to-one research session. Sessions will last 30 or 60 minutes for students, and 45 or 90 minutes for faculty.

When: Sessions will take place July 11 – August 29.

What else: Participants who complete a session will receive an Amazon gift card to thank them for their time and input. The card value will range from $50 to $150, depending on the session length.

To apply to participate, please click this link, or copy this link into your browser:

If you meet the study criteria, TecEd will contact you to schedule a research session.

Open discussion at BbWorld14 on Enterprise Surveys and Course Evaluations feature gaps

BbWorld 2014With the recent conversations that I’ve had with other institutions regarding piloting the Blackboard Enterprise Surveys and Course Evaluations (ESCE) tool, I’ve reserved a meeting room and time slot at BbWorld in the Blackboard User Group (BUG) Lounge for an open conversation on the feature gaps and workarounds that institutions are employing in attempting to implement the functionality.

If you will be attending BbWorld and are currently exploring the ESCE tool, feel free to join the conversation on Wednesday, July 16, 4:00-5:00pm, Veronese 2401A.

The meeting room will have bean bags and several round tables, allowing for several groups to meet at the same time. This is a low tech room. Projectors, speakers, microphones will be NOT available.

I plan to take notes of the conversations and will plan to share here on LinkedIn for those who can’t attend.

See you in Vegas!

Jason Rhode, Ph.D.
Director, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center
Northern Illinois University

Instructional Media and Technology: 2014 Award-Winning Blackboard Exemplary Course Tour

ETT 510: Instructional Media & Technology
As I’ve previously shared, I was excited to learn that my online course, ETT 510: Instructional Media and Technology, has received the distinction as a Blackboard Catalyst Exemplary Course for 2013. Here’s a brief course tour I’ve prepared to be included with other Blackboard Exemplary Course Award-winning courses that showcases a few of the highlights of this course.

For those interested, below I’ve included more details about this course and the elements that the reviewers of my course agreed were exemplary. I have also made the entire course available to self-enroll and/or download as OER package, available at

Jason Rhode receiving Blackboard Catalyst Exemplary Course Award Jason Rhode receiving Blackboard Catalyst Exemplary Course Award at BbWorld14

About the Course Design

This course, ETT 510: Instructional Media & Technology, happens to be a required first-semester course for in-service teachers pursuing a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology with a K-12 tech specialist endorsement. While I had taught this subject matter previously, this happened to be the first opportunity for me to teach this course at NIU and I would be the first instructor to teach this course in the online, accelerated format in Blackboard at NIU.

While students in this course attended a face-to-face orientation at the beginning of this course, the remainder of the course was fully-online. As such, the course was designed as a fully-online course with interaction and collaboration, assessment, and learner support elements designed for a fully-online learning experience for students. Course objectives were written in measurable outcomes, easily located throughout the course, and made available in a variety of areas in the course (within the syllabus and each individual learning unit). Notable areas of the course demonstrating exemplary course design elements included:

Welcome – Start Here

The course entry point was a content area with an item that provides students with easy access to course description, objectives, orientation, getting started tips, online synchronous meeting dates/times, as well as contact information for course instructor and online support specialist who would serve as primary student support contact throughout the cohort program.

Welcome - Start Here

Your Classmates

In an effort to promote the building of an online learning community, photos of each student were taken at initial face-to-face orientation and made available as a cohort photo directory students can view within the “Your Classmates” area of the course or download as 1-page PDF, also available within “Your Classmates”. These instructor-posted student photos turned out to be extremely helpful in developing social presence, especially given the fact that NIU has not yet enabled the cloud profiles feature in Blackboard.
Your Classmates


The course was organized into Units, with objectives for each unit included in the description of each unit folder as well as within the folder. Each unit contained an introduction and welcome to the unit from the instructor, overview, objectives, readings and resources, activities and assignments, and tips for success. In short, everything students needed for the unit could be accessed from within the unit folder. Units were made available to students in sequence on the day the unit began. Units were listed in reverse chronological order so that the current unit is available at the top of the page (this reduced the need for excessive scrolling). This same reverse-chronological ordering of items was carried through the Discussions area as well for consistency sake.



The readings and other instructional content items were organized by unit and available for the entire course in the “Readings” area of the course. All readings and instructional videos were made available to students at the beginning of the course for students who wished to work ahead on their readings. A CourseSmart e-textbook was used along with numerous visual and auditory elements.



A link to the Calendar tool was included in the course menu, as it contains due dates and links to all course activities and assignments. Due dates were assigned to all assignments in Blackboard so they were automatically listed in the Calendar.


Interaction and Collaboration

Both interaction and collaboration were important components purposely designed and developed throughout this course. Utilizing a constructivist approach, plentiful opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous interaction were designed that promote critical reflection and other higher order thinking skills. Synchronous online class meetings conducted via Adobe Connect included activities that benefited from real-time interactions and facilitated “rapid response” communication.

Sample synchronous meeting

Communication activities throughout the course were designed to help build a sense of community among learners. Student-to-student interactions were required as part of the course, with quality expectations and rubric explaining evaluation criteria provided and students are encouraged to initiate communication with the instructor. The instructor actively participated in communication, including providing timely and detailed feedback to students. Notable areas of the course demonstrating exemplary interaction and collaboration elements include:


I used communication tools, including Announcements, to provide course updates, reminders, special announcements, etc. I recorded a weekly introduction to the unit and embedded in an Announcement posted at the beginning of the unit as well as included within the unit folder. In addition to using Blackboard’s Announcement, Email, and Discussion tools for interacting with students, I also used a Remind101 texting list that all students joined for sending reminders and news items.

Sample AnnouncementClick image above to enlarge


Participation in asynchronous discussion was required during units 1-8. During each graded unit discussion forum, students chose from among several discussion questions to post an initial response to. Forums were “post-first” so that students were not able to see the posts of their classmates until after them posted their initial response, promoting original thinking. Students were then required to respond to a minimum of two other classmates during the forum who didn’t already have two other responses.

Sample Discussion

My Journal

At the conclusion of each unit, students reflected on their learning journey during the unit and posted a reflection to their online journal in Blackboard. This journal was where students documented in their reflections any “aha” moments they had as well as poignant comments from the discussion, readings and resources, or any other takeaways. The journal was especially helpful to students when they wrote their Self-Assessment Paper near the end of the course. Students had the option to journal using either text or video.

Sample Journal


Collaboration was a key to this course, with groups of 3-4 students each formed during unit 1. Students then worked with their group throughout the remainder of the course to research and give a presentation introducing an assigned instructional design model as well as to prepare a three-phased instructional design document. Groups had access to all group collaboration tools in Blackboard as well as an Adobe Connect room for their group.

Sample Group


A wide variety of assessments were incorporated into this course, including discussions, blogs, journals, group research project and presentation, and group instructional design document assignments, providing students with a diverse assortment of online assessment experiences to demonstrate their competence in meted stated outcomes. Assessments included were designed to mimic authentic instructional design environments, requiring higher order thinking including synthesis of concepts, analysis, and problem solving. Many self-assessment opportunities were provided through weekly self-assessment journals and Self-Assessment Reflection Paper where students reflected on their own learning progress and received constructive, meaningful feedback from the instructor.

Within the “Assignments” content area, all assignment instructions were provided for students to view at any time during the course. In addition to interactive rubrics used for grading all discussions, journals, blogs, and assignments, rubrics were included in the description of each assignment. Assignments were deployed within the “Activities and Assignments” folder within the corresponding unit folder in which it is due, resulting not only in all required information for a given activity easily accessibly to students at the point and time needed, but assignments only available for students to complete when the corresponding unit folder is available to students in Blackboard.

Adaptive release rules were used to control the availability of all Blackboard tools used (discussions, blogs, assignments, etc.) reducing cognitive overload as students could not submit assignments until the week in which the assignment was due. Students did however have access to the rubrics and all instructions and expectations from the beginning of the course within the “Assignments” menu item.

Learner Support

Students in this course, as members of a cohort program, were fortunate to have an Online Support Specialist assigned to them who was their primary personal support conduct for the duration of their program. Despite the fact that this highly available support staff member was available, a variety of other learner support elements were incorporated into the course design, including:

Your Instructor

The “Your Instructor” menu item included contact information for the instructor, in multiple forms of communication, including phone, text, email, and Twitter. Also included were details including expected response time for email replies, instructor’s role explained, etc.

Your InstructorClick image above to enlarge

Learner Support

The “Learner Support” area of the course included clearly labeled tutorial materials explaining how to navigate the LMS and the specific course. Video tutorials by the instructor were captioned and fully accessible. Links to additional tutorial materials, such as Blackboard Help Manual for Students as well as Blackboard Tutorials for Students, and included to support multiple learning modalities: audio, visual, and text based. Links were included to mobile apps that students would use during the course. Contact information for NIU’s 24/7 Helpdesk were included. Technical accessibility issues were addressed with course materials using standard formats to ensure accessibility and videos all streamed directly from YouTube.


The “Overview” area of the course, while containing the syllabus and other general course overview information items, included numerous additional learner support items as well as links to institutional policies, materials, and forms of relevant learner success. Included were links to institutional services, such as the library and writing center, clearly labeled and easy to find.


Overview > Feedback

Student feedback was important in guiding future iterations of this course. Students had the opportunity to give feedback to the instructor regarding course design and course content both during course delivery and after course completion. Through the Mid-Course Feedback Survey (Unit 5) and End-of-Course Feedback Survey (Unit 10) students participated anonymously in course evaluation. There was also a “Glitches” discussion forum where you can report any typos, broken link, or other error in the course.

Discussion Board

Exemplary Practices

The top three “stand-out practices” self-identified in this course include:

Weekly Unit Introduction YouTube Videos

To promote increased sense of instructor presence in this course, I recorded and posted unit introduction videos each week that introduced key concepts and activities for the upcoming unit as well as wrapped-up the previous unit discussions and activities. These videos recorded on YouTube were embedded as the first items within the Units content folders as well as within Announcements, automatically emailed to students when posted in Blackboard. Videos were also made available via an instructor-created YouTube playlist that students could access via their mobile device outside of Blackboard.

YouTube videos

These YouTube videos from me were all recorded using using YouTube’s built-in webcam recording capabilities as well as captioned with YouTube’s built-in captioning feature. A tutorial demonstrating how the instructor recorded and captioned videos is available here.

In addition to the YouTube videos all being captioned with caption viewable by clicking the “CC” button in the embedded player, a downloadable PDF version of the transcript was attached to the videos posted in the Unit folders.

Video with transcript

Video Participation Option for Discussions and Reflection Journal Activities

In the graded asynchronous discussions for Units 6-8 as well as weekly self-assessment reflection journals, students were given the option of participating using the Video Everywhere feature in Blackboard instead of the traditional text format. For an example, see the Unit 6 Discussion Forum. The instructor recorded and posted a screencast tutorial demonstrating how to post a video discussion response in Blackboard and denoted forums with video response options by including a video icon and instructions within the description of the selected forums. Several students did opt for participating in video and shared very positive feedback concerning the experience.

video discussion option

Media Exploration Activities Posted to Assignment Blog

To introduce students to emerging instructional media tools as well as provide them an opportunity to produce simple materials following principles of good visual design and production, Media Exploration Activities were assigned throughout the course where students explored a variety of web-based media tools which have direct instructional media application, creating a sample of each of the following instructional media: survey, edited image, multimedia poster, word cloud, flow chart, digital pinboard, and screencast.

For each media tool explored, students created a sample instructional media item, following principles of good visual design and production, using the tool as well as shared a summary of their experience exploring the tool (such as what features they tried, what they liked best about the tool, what surprised them, etc.). For each activity, an assignment blog was setup where students posted their sample media item created and summary of their experience. Like the rest of the assignments in the course, Media Exploration blog posts were graded using a rubric and feedback provided to students.

Sample Media Exploration Blog

For examples of other award-winning online courses, see the 2013 course tour videos.

At Blackboard’s request, I’ve prepared a poster presentation for BbWorld 2014, included below. I’ll be available with the poster in the Exhibit Hall at BbWorld on Wednesday, July 15, 2014 from 5:00pm-7:00pm for anyone who would like to stop by and chat further about the course.

2014 Exemplary Course PosterTo enlarge, click poster image above

Excited to be Receiving Blackboard Exemplary Course Catalyst Award at BbWorld 2014

Blackboard Catalyst Award WinnerI was excited to learn that my Blackboard course, ETT 510: Instructional Media and Technology, which I designed and taught online during Fall 2013, has been reviewed by the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program and received the distinction of being named an Exemplary Course. Below is the email notice I received from Lauren Krznaric at Blackboard:

On behalf of Blackboard and the Exemplary Course Program Directors, I am pleased to inform you that your course, Instructional Media and Technology, has been recognized as a 2014 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Exemplary Course. Congratulations on this achievement! You join a select group of educators and course designers from around the world whose courses have earned the Exemplary Course designation.

One of my reviewers, Leah Chuchran, shared these kind comments on Twitter:

Below is a sampling of some of the great feedback I received from reviewers of my course, including:

This is a really well-designed course. I kept trying to find a ‘weak link’ in the course navigation but just couldn’t do it! This is good, right? It’s not an easy feat to design a course that is clear to navigate, robust in content and not feeling like I am lost somewhere trying to find something. The units make sense and the links within keep everything organized. The downloadable syllabus and the schedule were also easily accessed – so important! Exemplary work.

It is evident that Dr. Rhode has a passion for higher ed/online education AND design/development skills. It’s also evident that he enjoys the facilitation side and teaching both theory and practice and engaging with learners. The audience for this course really is awesome and ripe for a well-developed course – what more could one ask for? The embedded YouTube videos and especially the channel are an excellent addition to the course. Aggregated content in this fashion is so valuable for the learners. I really enjoy the fact that the synchronous sessions are scheduled and the students are expected to attend in this online class. I think that really is important and should be integrated as much as possible in the online environment.

The learning activities truly embody the student-content, student-student and student-instructor theory and practice. The learners were offered an opportunity to gain many new skills, even if there was a “stretch” involved. I love how the learners were surveyed about their technical skills so you could gauge your audience. The journal activity seems to be a key component and allow you to “take the temperature”. In addition, I really enjoyed both the ID model presentation as well as the tech-integrated ID plan assignments. Especially the models/templates that were provided – I can imagine how much time this saved both parties in the process.

I think that learner support was one of the main foci for this course, from the course design to the variety of content to support learning to the learning activities in which students were given opportunities to perform and shine.

The course design is exemplary. It’s easy to navigate and it just makes sense. It provides the learners with all of the necessary information to be successful and to jump right in and feel like they can begin learning the subject at hand, not how to get to the content and activities.

The learning activities are awesome. Assessment of each of the activities is thorough and clear with the rubrics. Each of the activities is appropriate for the audience.

Student engagement is obvious throughout, including in the discussions and the group projects. The feedback on the various assignments were also important in creating engagement.

I truly hope it is nominated as one of the Bb Exemplary Courses for 2013. It truly is one of the most well-designed courses I’ve seen.

The Blackboard Catalyst Awards will formally be presented at the Blackboard Catalyst Awards Luncheon on Thursday, July 17th at Blackboard’s annual worldwide user conference, BbWorld. As an exemplary course winner, I’ll be preparing a poster presentation for BbWorld, a screencast course tour, and also may be giving another information session at BbWorld (if proposal is accepted) with tips for exemplary course design in Blackboard.

Thank you to all my NIU ETRA Technology Specialist cohort students in the course this past fall and for your valuable feedback that guided the course design and delivery. I’ve previously shared my tips learned through the experience with other faculty and am currently in the process of designing a new course, ETT 511: Advanced Instructional Media and Design following the same principles of quality course design.

I was also thrilled to hear that the NIU MOOC that my colleagues Stephanie Richter and Tracy Miller helped develop has also received the Exemplary Course Award, also to be recognized at BbWorld!

For faculty who have never considered participating in the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program, I encourage you to do so! More details are available at

Preview of New Features in Blackboard Learn 9.1 SP 12/14

The 2014 Blackboard update at NIU to Blackboard Learn 9.1 Service Pack 14 delivers helpful enhancements to existing tools and a few exciting new tools. For example, the new test exception feature makes it easier to adjust test settings for individual students, group management is quicker, and the inline grading side-bar is added to additional tools like blogs and discussions. The new Quick Links button makes it easier to navigate Blackboard with a screen reader, the new Achievements tool adds the ability to recognize students with badges and certificates, and the new Date Management feature helps update availability and due dates after performing a course copy. To prepare for the anticipated update, watch this preview offered 4/18/14 to learn more about these (and more!) enhancements and features.

For complete details about NIU’s planned upgrade to Blackboard 9.1 Service Pack 12/14 during Summer 2014, visit

For archives of other online workshops offered by NIU Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, visit our YouTube channel. Follow Jason Rhode on Twitter @jrhode