New Blackboard Course Template

We (the North Institute team) are excited to announce a new Blackboard course template that will be applied to all courses created after October 31, 2014. In a few days you should see your 2015SP courses listed, and they will look markedly different from previous courses.

The main goal of this change is to make it easier on the end users (students) to access the information they need quickly and efficiently. To this end we encourage all instructors to try to maintain the basic theme and structure of the template to support a more unified learning community and so that students will feel a sense of familiarity as they navigate their course. We also hope it will help instructors improve the design of their courses both pedagogically and structurally.

In addition to navigational structure the new course template has some pre-loaded content and links. A non-exhaustive list of changes includes: (links point to different points in the video below)

We hope you will find the changes useful.

Assessment that is truly formative

In a recent post on our site, Dr. Rhonda Morris helped us define formative and summative assessment. About formative assessment she wrote,

Formative assessment informs the teacher how the students are performing on an on-going basis.

This definition emphasizes formative assessment from the vantage point of the teacher. While I completely agree with her definition, I want to provide in this post an important point of view on formative assessment that makes learners and learning the focus of attention.

This may seem like stating the obvious, but the key to making formative assessment truly formative for learners lies in providing feedback that is, itself, formative. Formative feedback doesn’t merely tell the learner that she or he answered a question incorrectly, nor does it simply give learners the correct answers to the questions they have missed on an exam. Rather, formative feedback gives learners a map that motivates and guides them on the quest to discover for themselves the knowledge or skill the teacher wants them to gain. Or, to use a different but equally appropriate analogy, formative feedback provides learners with lenses that help them to see or to bring into focus what it is they are asked to understand. Goodwin and Miller (“Good Feedback is Targeted, Specific, Timely“) rightly point out that formative feedback can—and, in my opinion, should

help students develop a learning orientation, in which they view improving their own competence as the goal of learning, as opposed to a performance orientation, in which they view being evaluated well by others (or getting a good grade) as the goal of learning.

Developing life-long, self-directed learners is an outcome that nearly every faculty member I know hopes for and that many educational institutions have printed somewhere in their academic catalogs. Yet, it seems that students continue to be more interested in getting a good grade than they are about actually learning what we’re trying to teach them. As I began to prepare for this academic term, I wondered if, perhaps, I as a teacher have been at least partly responsible for perpetuating such a performance orientation—about which I have often complained (!)—by overemphasizing summative assessment and neglecting formative assessment. So, I took a good hard look at my course syllabi and made some changes.

One major change I’ve made is to convert a number of assignments that were essentially summative assessments into a series of formative “learning activities.” These “activities” differ from “assignments/homework” in a few key ways: (1) they are intentionally formative; (2) they are “safe” in that a learner might try them and fail miserably but not destroy her or his final grade in the course (these activities amount to only 5% of a person’s final grade); (3) I give my very best effort in providing timely, targeted, and specific feedback for each question in which a learner misses something—i.e., formative feedback to each student for each question she or he answers incorrectly. It’s also important to note that the questions I ask in these activities are of the same type and are just as challenging as the ones I ask for “assignments/homework.” These activities provide a way for me to know if the learners are “getting it” and, perhaps more importantly from a learning perspective, a way for the learners to know if they’re “getting it.”

Recently, I asked a series of questions in which the learners were to “parse” the underscored word(s) in a clause I gave them from the Greek New Testament. In addition, I asked them to explain why they chose to parse certain words the way they did. Here’s an example:

Parse the underscored word in the following clause: αὐτὸς γὰρ Ἰησοῦς ἐμαρτύρησεν ὅτι προφήτης ἐν τῇ ἰδίᾳ πατρίδι τιμὴν οὐκ ἔχει.

Suppose a student (we’ll call her “Sally”) responded to my two questions (i.e., What is it? Why do you think that?) as follows:

(1) VRB-ImAInd3S [i.e., Imperfect Active Indicative 3rd Person Singular] from μαρτυρέω “he was testifying.” (2) It’s Imperfect because it has an augment; it’s Active because it uses the secondary active ending; it’s Indicative because the connecting vowel is not lengthened and there’s no contextual indicator like ἵνα that it’s anything else; it’s 3rd person and singular because it uses the 3rd person singular ending.

Everything looks good here except that it’s not Imperfect tense-form; it’s 1st Aorist. My feedback would be something like the following:

Sally, you’ve correctly identified the word’s class (verb), its voice (Active), mood (Indicative), person (3rd), number (singular), lexical form, and inflected meaning. Good job! However, the tense-form you thought it was (Imperfect) isn’t correct. You’ve correctly identified that the word has an augment on the front of it and that Imperfect is one of two possible augmented tense-forms. But it appears that you’ve missed a second clue towards the end of the word that might tell you something else. Do you see it? Here’s a hint: the contract vowel of the verb stem lengthened in front of it… If you need a refresher, check out p. 36 in the grammar.

Yes. It’s more work for me as a teacher, but the payoff of deeper learning makes it worth it! In upcoming posts, the North Institute team will highlight a number of different tools that help provide efficiency for this process (e.g., ThinkApp). Stay tuned.

Formative & Summative Assessment Defined

I asked Dr. Rhonda Morris from OC’s School of Education to write a brief comparison and contrast of formative and summative assessment. What she’s provided is very useful! Here is what she wrote:

According to Banks, formative assessments “provide a guide and a direction for both teacher and student during an instructional program or course” (2012, p. 37). Formative assessment informs the teacher how the students are performing on an on-going basis. Assessment begins the first day of class and continues throughout the semester. Formative assessment can come in many forms – a quick write, a pop quiz, creating a graphic representation, an assignment, etc. – and should occur each time class meets. Formative assessment can also come in the form of an exam given over a selected amount of material that has been presented. Doing so allows the teacher to see how much information the students are grasping and whether any further instruction should be considered. Most educators agree that formative assessment be done frequently in order for students to fully understand material. In my classes, depending upon the difficulty of the concepts covered, I give a formal test every two to three chapters. However, every time we meet, the students write a reflection over the content or participate in a group activity. They also must respond to questions posted on Blackboard.

In contrast, a summative assessment informs the teacher of the mastery of content of a particular unit of study or the entire semester. This occurs through a formal assessment written by the teacher or from a test bank that covers the material the students have read and the teacher has covered. Standardized tests and minimum competency tests are forms of summative assessments as well as a final exam in a course.

Rhonda Morris, Ph. D.


Banks, S. R. (2012). Classroom assessment: Issues and practices. (2nd edition). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Great Rubrics are blue-green

Great Rubrics can accomplish many pedagogical steps all at once. I’d like to give a top 3 with some explanations.

A great rubric:

  1. Communicates expectations clearly and concisely
    From lab reports to online discussions, rubrics should communicate to the learner what is expected from a learning activity, and can also designate levels of importance. For example, I used to require a formal lab report each week in physics labs. The labs were worth 20 points, but comprised of 7 sections (note: 20 doesn’t divide evenly by 7!). Needless to say, some parts were worth more than others. The procedure and theory part (2 points) was important to include, but not nearly as important as the data analysis and calculations part (6 points).

  2. Improves teacher to student feedback
    It is no secret that feedback is vital to learning. At the most basic level, learning doesn’t happen without feedback! Another non-secret is that from elementary to post-secondary, education is a business, and the more students a teacher can teach, the more efficient the business model. (This reminds me of an article I came across a while back about feedback: ( The problem is now obvious: learning requires feedback, but teachers are not always set up to provide it. So, here is where rubrics come into play. Whereas it is next to impossible to deliver unique feedback about numerous objectives to every student, a great rubric can be an efficient mechanism for delivering helpful (vital) feedback that completes the learning process. The key here is in the descriptors (as mentioned in John Mueller’s article. If a teacher will invest up front time to write good descriptors, then when grading time comes the descriptors function as individual feedback (that stuff that there isn’t time for!).

  3. Connects learning activities and assessments with learning objectives
    An excellent resource for teachers is the Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center, and a short article on their site really resonated with me concerning learning objectives ( In it there is a visual model that is about as simple and elegant as a model can be – a triangle that connects learning objectives, instructional activities, and assessments. triangle
    I’d like to take the model a step further, and suggest that a great rubric fills the inner area of the triangle. Learning Objectives are great (except that students care more about grades). Instructional Activities are valuable, but only if as tools to meet learning objectives. Assessments are necessary, but are useless without objectives to measure. However, from the student perspective, a great rubric fills the blue-green space. It enlivens the learning objectives and holds the student to them. It validates the instructional activities by providing reasons for the effort required. And it provides clarity and reliability for an assessment tool.

Great rubrics are blue-green!

Why you should use Chrome or Firefox

Which browser should you use?

When I came to OC in 2005 I was given a DELL 610 running Windows operating system, and I set about searching the web using IE (Internet Explorer). It was what I knew, and it was comfortable! Also in my comfort zone were Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, Outlook, and Powerpoint.

Now my comfort zone is in a different place altogether. I can’t stand IE. I get annoyed when I have to open Word to view a document, and I don’t even have an email program on my computer (gmail’s web interface meets my needs). When I flip open my laptop, the first place I go is my internet browser. In my browser I check my email, manage my calendar, access and edit most of my files, and even send text messages. In fact, most of the work I do is in my browser, and it has basically become its own operating system.

So, which browser do I use? Well, the answer is complicated. I use Chrome for Google Apps like gmail, drive, calendar, and voice. Then I use Firefox for Blackboard and for accessing a few other educational sites (e.g. my eTextbook and homework system). And then sometimes I use Safari, but mainly just to check and see how my students might be seeing things if they are using it. What about IE? Well, speaking frankly, I don’t recommend IE to anyone, and I mainly use IE to diagnose problems that faculty are having with Blackboard and other sites.

The North Institute recently fielded several support tickets where instructors were not seeing all of their courses on Blackboard. Some course links were there, but not all, and it was baffling. For kicks and giggles, we suggested they try using Chrome or Firefox, and suddenly their courses appeared! Why is this the case? It turns out IE is no longer fully supported, and depending on your version of IE, it might not jive with Bb. Click here to see a list of supported browsers for our current version of Blackboard

The North Institute’s recommended browsers for accessing Blackboard are Firefox or Chrome. Both are fully supported, and freely available for Mac or Windows users. We recommend going so far as to include this as a requirement in your course policies, so that students are expected to access your course content using Firefox or Chrome. Click here for a sample browser requirement policy statement

If you want to go a step further, you can add the code below as an Announcement in Blackboard so that students are alerted if using an unsupported browser.

<div><iframe src="" width="100%" height="100" frameborder="0"></iframe></div>

Here is how it appears to students:

More food for thought:

Global Web Browser and Operating System statistics:

Monthly Web Browser trends 2007 to present:

Browse wisely, friends!

Working with Groups

Did you know that you can create group spaces in Blackboard so that students can email each other, share files, have discussions using their group pages?  Here is how to set it up:

  • Scroll down to the “Control Panel”;
  • Click on “Users and Groups” and select “Groups”;
  • If you want to just make one group, click “Create Single Group”, if you want to create multiple groups of the same kind, for instance several different groups all working on a the same group assignment, click “Create Group Set”
  • Select the method in which you would like to enroll students in each group. “Self-Enroll” allows students to choose which group they join. “Manual Enroll” allows you to choose who goes in which group. “Random Enroll” (only available under “Create Group Set”) allows you to choose the number of groups and the number students in each group and then Blackboard will radomly assign students from the class to the groups.
  • Fill in the information as needed. Under “Group Tool Availability”, make sure you check “Discussion Board” , “File Exchange”, and “Email”. Also check “Yes” for “Make Group Available”. If you are creating a group set, make sure you fill in how many of these groups you want.

Group Functions

  • For Manual Enroll groups:
    • Scroll down past the tool availability section (pictured above) to “Membership”
    • There should be two boxes displayed. The left boxed, “Items to Select” will list all the students that have not yet been placed in a group. To select a student, click on his or her name. To select multiple students at one time, hold down the CTRL key on the Windows side, or the Command key on the Mac side, while you click on the students’ names.
    • Click the arrow button pointing right to add the selected students to the group.
    • To remove a student from the group, select the student’s name and click the arrow button pointing left.
    • Click “submit” to finish.
    • Repeat the steps above to create and manage all students.
  • For Self enroll groups:
    • Scroll down past the tool availability section (pictured above) to “Sign Up Options”
    • Fill in the name of the sign up sheet. You can also add a description or instructions to the sign up sheet, designate a maximum number of members for the group and allow or prevent students from seeing the current group members before they sign up.
    • Make sure “Allow Students to sign-up from the Groups listing page” is checked.
    • Click “Submit”
    • Now when the students go to their “Groups” page they will see the sign up sheet for this group.

While working with these groups, you will also notice that you can add students to or remove students from groups by simply clicking on the “modify” button beside the group name, and then add or remove members as you needed.

Here is how you can access these group pages:

  • Go to “communications”
  • Go to “group pages”
  • Click on the name of the group you want to communicate with
  • Use “group discussion board” to post your initial message, use “file exchange” to send file if needed and “send emails”to send emails to students in the group.
Group Pages

Group Pages

Similarly, here is how students access their group page.

  • Ask them to go to “communications”
  • Then go to “Group pages”
  • Click on the name of the group you have assigned them to (usually only one group there);
  • Then they will see “group discussion board”, “file exchange”, “send emails” as well as a list of other members in the group.  Here is where they can have group discussions, file exchanges and group email exchanges.

As the instructor, you will be able to see all group discussions, and exchanged files. However, you will not see the emails students send to each other in the group.  You can, however, send emails to everybody in the group

From Word DOC to Blackboard test (Correct Format)

To go from our traditional paper test (a Word DOC) to and Blackboard online test the first step is to get our Word DOC in the proper format. And that is what we are going to go over here in this video. Enjoy because by the time we conclude this series of videos you will be able to give your tests online have them graded for you and placed in your Blackboard Grade Center automatically.

By the use of Respondus we can convert a Word DOC scantron test into a Blackboard Online Test, but to do this we must have our Word DOC in the proper format. As most scantron tests are T/F or Multiple Choice the following video will concentrate on these types of questions. As a side note we can also format Essay, Fill in the Blank and Short Answer question types.

Let’s take a look at the video. (if the video is not showing up please Reload the page.)