Blackboard Battles: Multiple Modules, Similar Content

One of the biggest challenges we have is a handful of modules (typically 15 credit units) that have two versions running simultaneously. This might be because the modules have different course codes for different cohorts and so have two module spaces on Blackboard, but identical content. It might be because two modules overlap in some content but not all. It might be because we wish to align some modules for a specific activity.

In the first case, and if appropriate, creating a NATs (Non-Assessed Teaching Module) for the combined module is a nice way to save staff having to upload the same content to two (or more) different modules. That makes life easier for staff as they don’t need to remember to copy files into the second module or double check they’ve created assignment dropboxes on both modules.

In the 2nd case, and where we desire to have the students only access the content most relevant to them, we have to have two separate module spaces and copy material across. In the 3rd case using a tool such as a discussion board across two modules would be desirable.

In all cases the goal is to produce the simplest possible student experience. There is no point in creating unnecessary complexity for the end user. I also don’t think it is particularly acceptable to have students accessing additional VLE spaces for specific tasks (for example a NAT for access to a discussion board), nor having students create additional accounts with external providers.

What I’d most like to see is a more fluid interface for users of VLE. One in which information and access can be rearranged into different configurations depending on the module/date/other. I could imagine a very effective system where a student logs on and all of their teaching material for the week appears linked into their timetable, assignment dropboxes are linked into deadlines on the timetable. For revision purposes, I’d expect the same system to be able to generate a modular view where each module’s content is displayed in a sensible order (e.g. chronological, or by lecturer and chronological). It is challenging to have 4 module spaces (and assorted NATs) for each semester where stuff is uploaded into subfolders of subfolders and you have to correlate your timetable with what’s been uploaded manually. It could be more elegantly streamlined.

I’d also like to see a more modular approach to modules. If I want to put two otherwise unrelated cohorts together on a discussion forum to complete a task, this should be as easy as providing access rights to both cohorts and an appropriate link into their respective module areas. As far as I am aware, this is not currently possible. This probably seems like an obscure request but I’ve currently got two cohorts studying a module, one by distance learning (lecture notes/screencasts/discussion board tasks), and one in-person (lecture notes, face-to-face lectures). I want the two groups of students to interact to complete an assignment.

I would extend the more modular approach to modules to include creating blocks of content that are more readily deployed into modules. For example, if I create a series of screencasts and online quizzes through Blackboard to support a laboratory class and I’m content with the content, I think it should simply be a question of linking to the space that contains that content each year. Currently I must pull the content into the new module’s page.  I should also be able to review the online quiz in a ‘one stop shop’ that allows me to view a single cohort’s performance and automatically compare that performance to previous year’s cohorts. Going into each year’s version of the module to pull out the analytics is doable but takes longer than this type of thing should.  I suppose I’m saying that the act of linking to content from an existing module should grant users of that module access to the content, and bring all the other facilities of the module in on it (such as accessing grades through Gradebook for one cohort).

Well I suppose I can dream! And keep spending quite a bit of time managing courses on BlackBoard.

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