Blackboard plays a useful role in helping new and returning students orientate themselves with the module and your expectations for engagement.
Create a 'welcome' folder in Blackboard
A 'welcome' folder provides students with a clear area to start engaging with the Blackboard module. You should include information to support both Social Transitions and Academic Transitions, for example;
- Expectations for study/engagement, for example, the role of Module Roadmaps/Weekly plans.
- Learning technologies you will be using (remind students to check the Student DTS Hub to get started with the basics, such as downloading O365 for assignment writing).
It may be useful to signpost the following resources, to help orientate students into learning:
|University Learning Technologies||Social Transitions and Academic Transitions||Library and Study Support resources|
|DTS Hub||UoR Back to Uni||Online reading lists: a guide for students|
|Blackboard and Ultra Base Navigation||UoR Life Tools||Taking notes from videos|
|YuJa||Looking after yourself||Studying at home|
|Blackboard Collaborate and Team meetings||LinkedIn Learning (login with UoR email)||Organising studies for blended learning|
Post a 'welcome' screencast
Students are interested in you and the persona you convey, so consider recording a 'talking head' screencast to welcome them and discuss useful 'start of term' information:
- Give students a short description of the module content, including the kinds of online activities the students can expect and how this will contribute to their wider learning.
- Briefly mention significant areas of your Blackboard module they should visit at the start of term.
Not only is this screencast a useful reminder for students, it provides an orientation for those unable to join a live welcome meeting.
Share your approach to Blackboard communications
There are a variety of Blackboard communication channels that can provide information to your student cohort. Discuss your approach to using these; to ensure students know when and where to check for module updates and key messaging. This information could be included in a 'welcome' folder or screencast, for students to refer to.
- It is advisable to highlight that students are required to check university email, RISIS, Blackboard modules and organisations for important notifications and communications,
- Students can edit their Blackboard notification preferences but it is not possible for students to disable notifications arising from Blackboard Announcements.
- Blackboard Activity Stream notifications simply provide quick access to recently active Blackboard areas, they do not replace existing university email or Blackboard module and organisation notifications (for example, students must check Blackboard modules for assessment deadline information).
Prepare students for their first live online session
Students will have varying experiences of interacting online and may not be familiar with the technologies or etiquette you are using for live online sessions.
- Post a link to information about the platform (Blackboard Collaborate or Team meetings) so that students can orientate themselves.
- Upload joining instructions to Blackboard and circulate via an Announcement to remind students to make simple technical checks, such as updating their browser.
- Create a holding slide to display when meeting student groups online, to communicate your preferred virtual etiquette. Templates are available for Collaborate intro slides and Teams meeting intro slides (these contain ideas for quick ice-breaker activities and labelled interface screenshots). You might include information about how you want students to use the webinar room; for example, mics off unless speaking (to avoid mic interference), questions posted in the chat panel or raise hands? Note, Be aware if issuing a preference for 'cameras on'; not all students can learn when their device camera is switched on, for example, there may be accessibility reasons for keeping a camera switched off, students may have better connectivity when switching to audio only, and some may just find their own camera image too distracting to focus on learning! See more guidance on camera use with students.
Establish your module 'office hours'
Set student expectations for email replies at the start of term by sharing your virtual 'office hours'. This will communicate boundaries for your own time, and preferences for interaction, so that students know when and how to contact you.
Tips for managing your communications load at the start of term:
- Ask students to post topic questions in a module discussion board, to avoid multiple email 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 Blackboard Announcement.
- 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.
- Your 'office hours' could include an open webinar room for informal 'drop-ins' and FAQs, to help reduce email traffic. You could use the open room in Collaborate to facilitate this.
Send a welcome email via a Blackboard Announcement
Use the Blackboard Announcement tool to email a short welcome greeting and perhaps link students directly to a 'welcome' folder in your Blackboard module. A record of the Announcement can be posted within the Blackboard module for future reference.
For more information about supporting students at the start of term, see the Student Academic Transitions Toolkit for good practice guidance.