Engaging students with your digital practice builds their perception of your online presence, even where you are offline. Outside of Scheduled Teaching and Learning Activities, your teaching presence can be strengthened if positioning your Blackboard module as a dynamic platform (beyond a file repository) that evolves as the module unfolds and grows as students interact.
For example, the Blackboard module is the main connection students have to the university, their programme and other students, so update it weekly and seek opportunities for student led interaction, collaboration and authoring. The aim is to make learners feel like part of an active learning community centered around a main hub; the Blackboard module pages.
The following tips will help maintain your presence in Blackboard and engage students throughout the term.
What practical steps can I take?
IMPORTANT: Ensure communication is provided asynchronously, where possible, in addition to Scheduled Teaching and Learning Activities. This supports students to remain engaged in the event of issues with technology access, changing work commitments or caring responsibilities.
Students are more likely to engage when the module pages are regularly updated and learning activities/learner contributions are acknowledged and/or responded to.
- Where possible select a single day in which updates will occur so that students can structure their study time and know when to check their Blackboard module.
- It may be tempting to respond to everything posted in your Blackboard module, however, where possible round up queries and deliver responses via screencasts and posts on discussion boards.
Manage your communications load and set student expectations for email replies by communicating boundaries for your own time.
Some tips for managing 'virtual office hours':
- Your virtual office hours could include an open webinar room for informal 'drop-ins' and FAQs. You could use the open room in Collaborate to facilitate this.
- Set up a filter in outlook to gather module queries, set aside a regular time slot to deal with them. Ask students to indicate urgent queries in the subject line.
- You might ask students to post topic questions in a module discussion board, to avoid multiple replies to the same query.
- If receiving lots of email queries about a particular topic, consider recording a short informal screencast and including a link to it in a weekly bulletin (announcement).
Set up weekly folders to release material in a structured manner (e.g. weekly), you can continue adding content behind the scenes up until and beyond the release date of the folder (just ensure students are notified of additions beyond the release date). This feature is called 'adaptive release'.
Timed release of material builds anticipation. It positions the Blackboard module as a live, evolving platform and helps students pace their engagement with material.
- a module full of pre-loaded content can seem overwhelming and impersonal,
- continuous content updates throughout the week can cause student anxiety that something has been 'missed' or demotivate students who can never 'keep up' with additions.
*Screencasts cannot be 'scheduled' in advance (when hosted in the university video sharing platform Microsoft Stream). However, you can indicate suggested viewing times by embedding recordings in weekly Blackboard folders. You can also 'hide' the Blackboard module menu link to 'Microsoft Stream' (please note this does not prevent students logging into Stream directly). You could 'unhide' the menu link when requiring students to view all recordings in preparation for assessments later in the module.