Learning Centered Technology

Technology for the Educator

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Full Grade Center

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Accessing the Grade Center

The Grade Center is accessed from the Control Panel in any Blackboard course.

Control Panel> Grade Center> Full Grade Center

Full Grade Center

Full Grade Center

  1. Action Bar
  2. Course Roster
  3. Column Menu
  4. Icon Legend
  5. Edit Rows Displayed
  6. Sort
  7. Filter
  8. Work Offline

The Grade Center will be set up with the default columns of Last Name, First Name, User Name, Student ID, Last Access, Availability, Total, and Weighted Total. As you add assignment in the course content, the various tools such as Quizzes, Assignments, and Discussions will automatically create additional columns in the Grade Center.

Depending on the options you choose as you use the various tools determines how they work in the Grade Center. For instance, if you create an assignment using the Assignment Tool and choose to include the column in the Grade Center Calculations, the column will be added to the Total Column. If you select No to not include it in the assignment in the Total Column, the grade for that assignment will not be totaled in the overall grade points. We will get more into that when we reach creating columns.

Action Bar

Action Bar

Action Bar

The action bar is used to manage your grade center. From the action bar you can create columns, manage the available columns, and create reports. These features will be covered in greater detail in future post.

Course Roster



The course roster is made of user information. It contains names of your students and other relevant information such as last access and usernames. The square box to the left of the first column is the select box. Clicking this box will select all users in the roster. The round circle with a downward pointing arrow to the right of each column header is called the action button. When click the action button will reveal a contextual menu.

Column Menu

Column Menu

Column Menu




The column menu is a horizontal list all the available grade columns in your grade book. The name (header) of each column is displayed. By default, the names of the columns are displayed by creation date, but as we will learn in future posting the order of these columns can be modified. Often there will be to many columns to display on one page so the horizontal scroll bar at the bottom of the columns can be used to navigate the columns. Some or all of the default user columns may be locked to help you keep the users and grades associated. This feature can be modified.

The round circle with a downward pointing arrow to the right of each column header is called the action button. This button reveal the contextual menu. The contextual menu displays various information about each individual column and allows you to perform various functions to each column. Those function can include viewing column stats, grading student attempts, editing column information and many more.






Icon Legend


Icon LegendThe grade book contains a number of icons to represent various task, such as needs grading and in progress. The Icon Legend displays a list of symbols used in the grade center to keep you up to date on student performance and instructor task.





Edit Rows Displayed

Edit Row

The Edit Rows Displayed button allows you to see the number of students displayed on each page of the gradebook. Rows displayed can range from 5 to 50.


The grade center columns can be sorted on any column by simply clicking on any column header. In this case the Grade Center is sorted by Last name from A to Z.  Clicking on the header a second time reverses the sort to Z through A.

Name Sort

Additional sorting options are available at the top right of the grade center. The sort feature allows you to sort and layout the column information in various ways.


Columns can also be sorted by Layout Position, Categories, Due Date, Date Created, Points Possible, and Display name in both Ascending and Descending order.




The filter allows you to filter or show only certain columns without deleting the unwanted columns.

Work Offline

Work Offline

The work offline button permits you to download the grade center into an excel spreadsheet. We will go more into this feature later.

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

May 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series

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Grade Book

Grade Center

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring the Blackboard Grading Center. The Grade Center is more than just a way to record students’ grades. It is a dynamic interactive tool allowing you to record data, calculate grades, monitor student progress, and much more.  In the Grade Center, three types of columns appear; user, grade and calculated.

User Columns

User columns automatically appear in your gradebook and you cannot delete or edit default user columns. You can hide all but the first user column in the grid. If you need to hide the first column, you can rearrange the user columns on the Column Organization page, but at least one user column must show. You can also freeze user columns so they remain in place as you scroll in the grid.

User Columns include the following:

  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Username
  • Student ID
  • Last Access
  • Availability

Grade Columns

When you create gradable items in your course, grade columns are created automatically in the Grade Center. A new Grade Column can be added to the Grade Center in several ways:

  • External Grades
  • Tool Created Grade Column
  • Instructor Created Grade Column

Calculated Columns

The Blackboard Grade Center allows you to create columns that will display a total based on the numeric content of other columns. Calculated columns contains the following type of columns:

  • Average Columns
  • Minimum/Maximum Columns
  • Total Column
  • Weighted Column

This series will cover everything from the contextual menu to extra credit and dropping the lowest score. The following is a list of topics planned in this series, although new ones may be added as needed:

  • Full Grade Center
  • Contextual Menu
  • Sort a column
  • Edit Grade Center Columns
  • Deleting Grade Center Columns
  • Create Columns
  • The External Grade Column
  • Total Column
  • Weight Column
  • Drop Lowest Score
  • Send Email
  • Download Grade Center
  • Calculated Columns
  • Grading Periods
  • Grading Schemas
  • Color Codes
  • Categories
  • Extra Credit
  • Smart Views
  • Needs Grading

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

May 16, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 End of the Semester Checklist

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Export/Archive Course

Export/Archive Course

As the end of the semester grows near it is time to start thinking about closing down your course. The system will automatically deny students access to the course based on a pre-determined date, but that is just part of the shutdown process. In order to save storage space, many institutions will remove inactive course from the server to make room for the next semester courses. They will keep an archive of your course along will all the other courses offered by the institution in a backup file off site. The timeframe for this will vary with each institution, but usually takes in consideration things like grade appeal, incompletes, and other factors that may require a course to remain on the server for an extended timeframe.

As instructor, you will want to have information such as the gradebook available at all times. You will also need access to course content and student work for accreditation reports. There are ways to accomplish this and it needs to be done at the end of each semester for each course.

Extending Course Life

One issue you may encounter it the need to extend the amount of time a course is available to students. As much as you discourage it, you may occasionally have a student that has an incomplete. It is your responsibility to inform the Blackboard Administrator of any course that needs to remain open past the standard close date. You will need to tell the Administrator the course CRN, year, and term, plus the new closing date of the class.

If you want to deny other students access to the course you will need to deny them access. To do this go to Control Panel> Users and Groups> Users > Select the action button beside each user and select Change User’s Availability in Course> Available (This course only) No> Submit

Download Grade Center

In order to have a copy of your gradebook on hand, complete the following steps for each course.

  • Go to Control Panel> Grade Center> Full Grade Center
  • Click Work Offline> Download
  • On the Download Grades page select date to download Full Grade Center, Delimiter Type Comma, Download Location My Computer. Click Submit.
  • Click Download Grades
  • The file should download to the Downloads folder (or wherever you have downloads directed). Copy the file to a safe location so you can have access to the information as needed.

Archived Course

Although the Administrator will save copies of your course, it can be costly and time consuming to retrieve it from hundreds of other courses. To assure speedy recovery of previous archived courses complete the following steps.

  • Go into the course and go to Control Panel> Packages and Utilities> Export/Archive Course
  • At the top right of the screen you will see two buttons, export package and archive course
    • Export package – this function saves only course content
    • Archive Course – this function saves all content and student information
  • Click Archive Course> leave system default setting> Click Submit
  • After a few minutes you can refresh you screen and see the archived file
  • Click on the archive file name and download to your computer. Copy the file to a safe location so you can have access to the file.

This type of file cannot be opened outside the blackboard environment. If you ever need to access the information, give the file to your system administrator to restore to the system.

Export Package

The export package feature allows you to keep a copy of the course content without student data. This package is used to move material from on server to another, sharing content with colleagues, or any number of other reasons.

  • Go into the course and go to Control Panel> Packages and Utilities> Export/Archive Course
  • Click Export Package> under file attachments leave system default setting> under Select Course Materials click Select All> Click Submit
  • After a few minutes you can refresh you screen and see the export file
  • Click on the export file name and download to your computer. Copy the file to a safe location so you can have access to the file.

This type of file cannot be opened outside the blackboard environment. The file can be opened by going into a new course shell and doing an import of the file.

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

May 9, 2016 at 9:00 am

Final Exams

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Final Exams

Final Exams

It is that time of year again for finals. Students are reaching their anxiety peak. Tempers are short and time is even shorter. Those all-important final grades will be coming out soon and students will learn if all their hard work has morphed into a passing grade. In the mean time they are doing everything within their power to assure it does. Some will burn the late night oil; others will steal moments at every opportunity to cram, while others will be looking for short cuts. Short cuts are the topic of this posting.

In the world of online testing how do you protect against cheating and how do you verify the person taking the exam is the real student? These are certainly huge questions with ever-changing answers. The simple answer is there is no 100 percent way to stop cheating, not in an online or traditional classroom, but there are some steps to take to reduce the risk in the online environment.

Lockdown Browser

  • A secure browser that shuts down everything on your computer except the exam delivery system. If anyone tries to open another program, or keep a program running in the background, the test is shut down.
  • It has the additional security feature on locking the ability to print, copy, paste, switch tasks, access other applications, or take a screen shot.

Plagiarism Detection Software

  • One of the most well-known tools, Turnitin, scans vast amounts of Web content to determine whether a student’s work matches existing material.
  • Another popular package known as SafeAssign, comes with the Blackboard LMS and works similarly to Turnitin.

Proctored Exams

Proctored exams are used by the institution to assure the integrity of the online program and can be administered three ways: Online, Institution proctored, and Private proctored. Since online students cannot be required to come to campus, they can choose which way they prefer to take online exams.

  • Online – Online proctoring is a method of proctoring involving a third party vendor using remote online monitoring. Students are responsible for the cost of the proctoring. They must also have a working camera with sound, which allows the proctor to listen to and monitor their activities during the exam.
  • Institution Proctored – The Student Success Center (SSC) has set aside proctoring space on campus for online students to take exams. Students, who choose this method, must work out the arrangements ahead of time. They must let the instructor know they will be coming to campus, and must word with the SSC to set up a time for the exam. The instructor provides the SSC with the access code for the exam, list of expectations (such as open-book, time limits, etc), and a list of students who are eligible to take the exam. When students appear for the exam, they must provide a valid ID to the Proctor.
  • Private Proctor – This method is similar to the Institution Proctored in rules, but in this scenario, the student is responsible for finding a private proctor. The proctor cannot be a friend or relative, they must be a professional of some sort. Faculty checks out the proctor and has final approval rights. The rest is according to the same rules as the Institutional Proctor.

Although these processes are in place to ensure the program/institution integrity, nothing is fool proof. A simple google search reveals several methods of beating the system. Everything from simple crib notes to elaborate dual monitor setups are out there waiting for students to discover. In the end the game continues, instructors continue to look for foolproof methods and students look for ways to fool the system. In the end, it is up to the integrity of the student to walk the right path.

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

May 2, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Creating Quality Online Courses: Accessibility & Usability

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Accessibility & Usability

Accessibility and Usability means ensuring a quality learning experience for all learners. When talking accessibility it mean those with disabilities can view the content. When we talk about Usability, it means all individuals regardless of their abilities or disabilities, has the ability to navigate the course.


One function used to help with images is the alternative text functions. It serves to:

  • allows screen readers to read alternate text, on things like images
  • it displays text in place of the image in browsers where the user has chosen not to view images because of visual problems or bandwidth issues
  • finally it provides a meaning and description to images which can be read by search engines

Other important accessibility functions to include in your online course is:

  • Transcripts or Caption for all Audio and video files
  • PDFs that have been saved as searchable text and not images
  • Descriptive text, or alt text in when using tables in a document


Usability Means the Ability to Navigate

  • Course navigation must be intuitive and simple
  • The course provides alternative means of access to course materials in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners
  • the course should be free of irrelevant graphics, borders, etc.,
  • files should be saved in accessible formats
  • font choices and colors should be consistent
  • aclean look without excessive decoration is easier to download and use
  • avoid flashy colors, ornamental clip art, and video for its own sake
  • keep your structureparallel so students can get in a routine
  • grouprelated items together and present them in a chronological sequence
  • do not send students to three different areas to get their lectures, assignments, quizzes and web links, just keep it simple
  • make sure the content is readability
  • all multimedia must be easy to use and information provided about the accessibility of all technologies required in the course



Creating Quality Online Courses: Learner Support

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Learner Support

Learner support in the online environment is a little different from the things we discussed up to this point. Learner support not only involves the instructor, but the whole institutions. Students in the online environment require a high level of both academic and technical support.

Institutions need to provide easy access to things such as the learning management system, library resources, bookstores, tutoring, academic counseling, early alert/intervention systems, financial aid, and career services.

In addition they will need 24/7 access to the technical help services. These services include live help desk services, training on the use of the various technologies, and various orientations opportunities. Students will also need help with connectivity issues such as institutional Wi-Fi connections and in some cases, access to institutional labs with any additional hardware or software required in their online class.

As you can tell, it takes an institutional effort to support the online student. That being said, instructors also play a large role in supporting the online student.

Classroom Support of Online Students

  • Provide timely feedback
  • Send a weekly message in to show you are engaged in the classroom
  • Comment strategically within discussion boards
  • Create an environment conducive to creative thinking
  • Clearly identify the objectives to be achieved
  • Provide a link to the technical support offered
  • Supply a link to the institution’s accessibility policies and services
  • Provide an explanation of how the institution’s student services and resources can help learners succeed and how learners can obtain that help

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

April 18, 2016 at 9:00 am

Creating Quality Online Courses: Course Technology

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Course Technology

It may sound funny to discuss technology integration in an online course, because in and of itself the online class is technology. When we talk about technology in the online class, we are discussing technology outside of the realm of the Learning Management System Technology and that takes a little skill.  Technology integration is more than just throwing up a variety of tools and expect students to be engaged by the flashiness. Technology must be used to support the course learning objectives. Technology integration is successful when the use of technology is:

  • Routine and transparent
  • Accessible and readily available for the task at hand
  • Used in support the learning objectives
  • Promote learner engagement and active learning
  • The technologies are current
  • Links are provided to privacy policies for all external tools

Many different types of technology exist for the online classroom, but again you must use it in a way that promotes the learning objectives of your course. Following is a partial list of tools you may find helpful in your online classroom:

  • Game-Based Learning and Assessment
  • Interactive Whiteboards
  • Student Response Systems
  • Web-Based Projects, Explorations, and Research
  • Podcasts, Videos, or Slideshows
  • Collaborative Online Tools like Wikis
  • Social Media
  • Discussion boards
  • Webinars

You can use a variety of these tools, but keep them relevant. For example, video in your classroom is perfectly acceptable, but asking a student to watch an hour-long video that you recorded during your last lecture may not be so wise. Usually an hour-long lecture is filled with a lot of dead space and illegible content. Videos should be edited and all irrelevant information removed to create manageable chunks. These chunks allow the viewer to absorb the important bits of information relevant to the course objectives while not wasting time watching things of no value. In addition to chunking the information, you will need to make sure all content is accessible to all students, as in ADA compliant.

Creating Quality Online Courses: Learner Interaction

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In the online classroom environment, learner interaction is key to keeping students engaged. Instructors must strive for three distinct areas of interaction:

  1. Learner to instructor interaction
  2. Learner to learner interaction
  3. Learner to content interaction

Learner to Instructor Interactions

Learner to Instructor interactions establish an environment that encourages learners to understand the content. Some Instructional Activities you can include in your course follows:

  • Virtual office hours
  • Feedback on assignments
  • Summary of class key points/concepts
  • Asking or responding to instructor questions
  • Instructor participation in class discussions

Instructor to learner interaction is a key part of the online course. Many of the above recommendations can be achieved through email, discussions, announcements, and other tools within your Learning Management System.

Learner to learner Interactions

Learner to learner interactions take place between one learner and other learners, alone or in group settings, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor.

Some of the instructional activities that promote learner-to-learner interactions are as follows:

  • Team-based learning activities
  • Online discussions as part of assessment
  • Small team discussions
  • Wikis
  • Blogs
  • Instructor participation in team discussions
  • Peer evaluation
  • Student introduction forum

You will notice a lot of learner to learner action takes place within the discussion area. Following are a few ideas when you work with discussions:

  1. Prepare Discussion Posts that Invite Questions, Discussions, Reflections and Responses
  2. Create open-ended questions that learners can explore and apply the concepts that they are learning
  3. Encourage critical or creative thinking
  4. Supporting students in their own reflections and inquiries
  5. Do not post questions soliciting basic facts, or questions for which there is an obvious yes/no response.
  6. Provide guidelines and instruction on responding to other students.

Learner to content Interaction

Learner to content interaction is the process of intellectually interacting with content that results in changes in the learner’s understanding or perspective. The interaction can be as simple as reading a text to creating something creating something because of that knowledge.

  • Textbooks
  • Videos
  • Interactive Learning Games
  • Links to various resources

No matter what type of interaction you include in the course the learning activities should promote the achievement of the stated learning objectives. The instructor should include feedback on all assignments and detailed instruction of the activity requirements.

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

April 4, 2016 at 9:00 am

Creating Quality Online Courses: Instructional Material

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Creating Quality Online Courses: Instructional Material

There are many types of instructional material available for you to use in your online course, everything from self-developed, to publisher ready content. The following is a partial list of resources available to you:

  • Self-Created materials
  • Publisher Ready Content
  • YouTube Videos
  • Website Links
  • Textbook Materials
  • Open Source Content

It is your responsibility to choose the materials presented to your students. The instructional materials contribute to the achievement of the course learning objectives. As we learned in in the Course Overview section of this series, it is also important that you keep everyone informed of how the materials are to be used and when.

Be an example to your students and make sure all instructional materials used in the course are appropriately cited and current. Use a variety of instructional materials to reach a mixture of learning styles, and because you are using variety of materials make sure you clearly distinguish between required and optional materials.

Creating Quality Online Courses: Assessments

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Creating Quality Online Courses: Assessments

In the previous post, we talked about learning outcomes or objectives, this session concerns assessments. As we are all aware, assessments are measurements of learning. Your job as the instructor is to assure your assessments align with your learning objectives. You are responsible to decide what evidence is acceptable as proof of knowledge, that your students have accomplished the learning outcomes. This proof reflects as much on you, the instructor, as it does on the students. Yes you will have unprepared students, but you should also view this as an opportunity to judge your course materials for effectiveness. How well your students perform on the assessments can reflect great course materials or the need to enhance or further develop your materials.

Assessments begin well before the first student takes an exam. Assessments are a part of the backbone of the course and based on your learning outcomes. A lot of consideration needs to happen in the design of the course. Assessments are not just about quizzes and essays it is about making sure learning outcomes are achieved. Make sure the assessments measure the stated learning objectives or competencies.

In addition to setting up the assessments in an online course, the course grading policy must be clearly stated, preferably in the syllabus, as well as on each activity. Make sure that criteria for completion of each assessment is available prior to the start of the assessment and make sure the assessment instruments are varied, and suited to the learner work being assessed.

Students must also be given multiple opportunities to track their learning progress. If they do not know their weakness how can they address the problems.

The online environment is very different from the traditional classroom. Much too often we want to focus on the amount of time a student sits in a seat, but if that is the case, we are focusing on the wrong end of the student. Time on task is important, but it is not everything. Our true objective is the learning. Assessments should accurately measure the learning of students as well as the materials provided in the classroom to teach the various concepts. Kept this concept in mind when designing the online classroom.

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

March 21, 2016 at 9:00 am


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