Blackboard is a useful tool for both online and face-to-face courses. If you adopt Blackboard (Bb) you will soon find ways to use its components to save some time. However, the substantial gains in time come about by restructuring the procedures of your course to take full advantage of these components. That requires rethinking the ways you choose to communicate with your students and how you will build the expectation or behavior in your students such that they are in sync with your communication process. Now, with Blackboard use more common than ever before among CMU faculty, many students will come to class prepared for and expecting revised course structures and methods that incorporate the use of Blackboard components. What follows is a series of things to consider as you do that.
Say it once; never answer the same questions twice.
Even if you don't teach online, it is easy to accrue a large number of emails from students asking for clarification of content, schedule, procedure, due dates, etc., many of which are repetitive. An easy way to reduce time spent emailing multiple students is to have an understanding with students that questions will be answered in a public discussion board posting or on the course announcement page. Let students know to check there first to see if their question has already been addressed. It is also a good idea to post class cancellations or changes to the course syllabus, policies, due dates, etc., to the announcements page of the course. Both you and the student will have a record to refer to if questions arise later.
Let students answer one another's questions.
A popular use of discussion forums in Bb is to set up a Q & A forum where students are encouraged to answer each other's questions. The instructor then monitors the discussion and steps in if something needs clarification or if students are unable to answer the question. Having a forum like this in place can help you prepare for classes, as you will be aware of areas where students are having trouble.
Another use of discussion forums is to have students discuss topics that were brought up in class. This allows students to be active in their learning as they continue conversations and ask questions of each other.
So far as possible, become a paperless course.
There is both an expense and a time drain associated with paper copies. Often there are students who were not present when hardcopy handouts are distributed or who lose them--necessitating additional trips to the copier, etc. If handouts are posted (e.g. content areas) then they are available anywhere/anytime and cannot be lost.
When posting documents to Bb, be sure that they are in a universal format, if possible. For instance, instead of posting a Word document, post files as RTF or PDF.
Expand classroom time.
Providing quizzes and tests online allows you more time for discussion and activities in the classroom. You can present problems/questions that require an understanding of the material in an online quiz or test. Objective quiz or test questions can be loaded into a question pool that allows each student to get a different quiz or test.
If you have group assignments, use Bb to provide group space. Groups can be set up with their own discussion boards, chat rooms, and file exchange areas. This allows students a place to share ideas as they work on their projects and eliminates some time/place meeting constraints.
Reduce your homework load.
You can save some time on every homework assignment that you grade. Bb's assignment function allows you to download all assignments at once for later reading on a home or other computer, without needing to access the Internet. You are also able to post the grade and feedback (including files) for the student. Students can get their grade and feedback through the Bb grade book. This saves only a few seconds per student per assignment, but the sum total of time saved in a course over a semester can be substantial.
Bb allows you to easily roll assignments over into future classes or to copy assignments created in one section to other sections you are teaching. You may, with some minor adjustments, be able to use the same assignments multiple semesters, saving set-up time in the long run.
Automate grade calculations and feedback.
You can make a student's grade available to her or him as soon as it is posted. That tends to eliminate some email requests for grades. You can also let Bb's grade book add and weight individual test and assignment scores for you. You are also able to provide feedback on assignments through the grade book.
Recreate only what is necessary from semester to semester.
Considerable time can go into creation of quizzes, assignments, discussion forums, reading materials, handouts, and grade book structure. Once created, however, these can be rolled over, by a simple course copy procedure, from semester to semester. Naturally, your course will change and evolve over time but if much stays the same then you can copy the whole, and change only the parts that need to change.
You can share anything you create in Bb with other CMU instructors. Consider, for instance, the situation wherein three instructors are teaching different sections of the same course. Suppose they all want to have a practice quiz or an on-line test for each chapter. Each instructor could create the material for one third of the chapters and adopt material from the other instructors for the rest of the chapters.
Use publisher's materials.
A growing number of textbook publishers are making materials and test item pools available for use in Bb. If these fit your course objectives then you can adopt these rather easily into your course through the use of course cartridges.