Blackboard Basics - Biola Faculty

This document tells Biola faculty how to use Blackboard as a support for on-campus classes. Instructors teaching classes entirely online may find this useful, but would want to go beyond the basics described here.

This web page is available as 12-page printer-friendly PDF Document here: Blackboard_Basics_Handout_v5.pdf

Topics

  • Creating the Look & Feel of Your Course
  • Managing Users / TA's
  • Announcements
  • Gradebook
  • Course Documents (Content Areas)

Introduction - Logging In, Passwords

An account has already been created for you. The username is your ID number, and you can find the password on the Biola Portal site, https://portal.biola.edu/Portal. Log in and then click on the Password icon at the top, then on the Blackboard tab. These icons look like this:

Portal Password Icons

Once you know your username and password go to http://biola.blackboard.com/ and click the User Login button, then fill in your account information and click Login:

User Login

If you are having trouble figuring out your password, click “Forgot password?”. Remember: your “Username” is your Biola ID number. To avoid having to click "User Login" each time, I recommend saving a bookmark to http://biola.blackboard.com/webapps/login/.

Classes and Control Panel

When you first log in, you will see the “My Biola” screen, which should show a list of all the classes you are teaching or taking (including classes from past semesters – you can use those for practice). Click on one of those links to take you to the main page for that class. Along the left hand side of the screen, you will see a list of links (See figure at right). This is the same view of the class that your students will see, except for one link: the link to the Control Panel. Click on that link.

This takes you to the Control Panel. This is your base of operations for making changes and updates to the course. Only you have access to this page (And the T.A.’s and Graders, if you have designated any).

My Biola Initial Menu

The Control Panel will look something like this:

Control Panel

The remainder of this document describes how to use some of the different parts of this Control Panel to set up your class. This Control Panel is just for one class. If you want to go to another class, click on the “My Biola” tab at the top of the screen to go back to your main page and select another course.

Creating the Look & Feel of Your Course

Blackboard has a lot of options and features. By default, most of them are turned on. It’s a good idea to turn off the tools you will not use for the class, to avoid confusing students, and so there aren’t empty sections of your course. Also, it’s helpful to add a little customization to the design of your course so students will easily recognize that they’re on the right page. These settings are under the Course Options section. These are the three areas you will most likely use to set up your course:

Manage Course Menu

Course Design

Start with the Course Design > Course Menu Design. You can choose the style and color of the buttons that will appear in the menu. Once you make the changes, click Submit, then go back to the class’ main web page to see what it looks like. Notice that you can use the navigation guide along the top to easily go back:

Top Navigation

Next, go to Course Design > Manage Menu Display Options. There’s only one option here, and I recommend setting it to look like this:

Course Menu Display

You can add a customized banner image under Course Design > Course Banner. This allows you to make a title page for your class web site, and helps students recognize that they are in the right place. You can upload any image in JPEG format. For example, I used this banner for one of my classes:

Sample Math 120 Banner

It’s fairly easy to make images like this if you know how to use Excel or Word. Just put together some words and pictures in either program, then use the screenshot feature of a photo editor program to copy the image and crop then save it as a JPEG picture.

You can use the Manage Tools > Tool Availability menu to turn off all of the tools you do no plan to use in your class, so that the only things left on a student’s menu will be useful things. You can always change your mind later, if you decide you want to use a tool. There’s a confusing array of choices. Here is a summary of some of the common tools.

Tool Summary Should I use it?
Announcements For posting announcements that appear on the main page Yes.
Collaboration An area where students can share documents for group projects, etc. Maybe, if you have group projects.
Content Area Where you can post documents Maybe.
Dropbox Where students can “drop” homework assignments Maybe, if you want to be able to accept electronic submissions
Email An email system within Blackboard. Maybe. But BUBBS works well, too.

Gradebook

Keep track of students’ grades. Instructor view. Yes! This is the main reason I use Blackboard.

Manual

An online manual for using Blackboard Yes. But I haven’t used it much.
My Grades Allow students to see their part of your grade book. Yes. Again, the main reason I use Blackboard.

Roster

List of students. Maybe. It’s available on Biola Portal, too.
Performance Dashboard Allows you to see which students have logged in Yes. It’s handy to gauge participation
Staff Information Area for info about yourself. Maybe.

When in doubt, I recommend just leaving it checked (available). This list is just whether the tool can be used later. The Course Menu determines if it’s visible to students or not.

Managing the Course Menu

Next, go to the Control Panel > Manage Course Menu screen. This is where you can choose which buttons will show up on this course. I would suggest at a minimum, keeping the Announcements button, and the Tools button.

If there are items you are not going to use in your class, remove them from the Course Menu by clicking the Remove button. You can easily add them back later if you change your mind.

You can also use this menu to change the order of the buttons and the names on the buttons in the menu.

Modifying the Tools Area

From this Manage Course Menu screen, click on the Modify button next to the Tools menu item (by default, it’s the last one on the list). I recommend making the following changes (see figure).

The Address Book feature allows students to keep track of address & contact information, but in my experience, most students already do that elsewhere. Same thing for the Calendar feature. The Digital Dropbox is for accepting electronic submissions. Students can create their own homepages on BUBBS, facebook.com, or MySpace.com, so they don’t need the Homepage feature here.

Update Area Tools

The Tasks feature lets students keep a list of things to do, and you can add assignments to their task list.

The My Grades and Personal Information sections are the two most-used tools in my experience, so be sure to leave those available, at a minimum.

Don’t be afraid to try things out, you can make changes later. In general, I recommend starting with fewer options at the beginning of the semester then if you decide to add a feature to your class page, add it later. Ideally, everything that students see in your Blackboard class should have some purpose or usefulness, and not be empty.

Managing Users

During registration and during the first few weeks of the semester, students automatically get enrolled in your Blackboard class as they add the class. This happens at least once per day. So normally, you will not have to change the list of “users” of your class. Usually, there are two categories of users for your class: the instructor and the students.

If someone adds your class, they will automatically be added to this student list in Blackboard, but if someone drops, they will not be removed. You can remove them through the Control Panel > Remove Users from Course link. However, I recommend just leaving them in there until the end, or at least through the last day to drop a class then remove them all at once, so you will have a consistent class list.

If you are teaching a Summer Session or Interterm class, students will not be automatically added to your Blackboard class, and you will need to contact the Blackboard Administrator, so they can be added.

Adding a Teaching Assistant

If you use TA’s, you will need to add them to the course. To do this, choose Control Panel > Enroll User. You can then search for your TA’s name by last name or Username (their ID number):

Enroll User step 1

Click Search, then check the checkbox next to the name of your TA, then click Submit. If everything worked right, it should look like this:

Enroll User Step 2

Click OK. Notice that by default, this person was enrolled as a Student. To make them a TA, go back to Control Panel > List / Modify Users, and search for that person again. When you find them, it looks like this:

Enroll User Step 3

Click on Properties to change that person’s role to Grader or TA:

Enroll User Step 4

A Grader can only change grades. A Teaching Assistant can also add assignment columns in the grade book.

Announcements

Students forget things. I try to remind them in several ways. I usually make one or two announcements in class. I send out emails reminding them of tests & assignments. And I post announcement on my class Blackboard page using the Announcements feature.

This feature is fairly self-explanatory. To add an announcement, go to Control Panel > Announcements, then click the Add Announcement button. Your announcement will show up on students’ main pages for seven days, or you can choose a specific time period.

You will usually leave Section 3, the Course Link section blank. With it, you can add a link to somewhere else in the course (like instructions for a specific assignment).

Gradebook

This feature is my main reason for using Blackboard. It allows my TA’s and me to enter grades online, and it allows students to immediately see their grades as soon as they’re entered. This helps students see missing assignments sooner, and helps me fix grading mistakes throughout the semester, rather than all just at the very end.

To access the gradebook functions, go to Control Panel > Gradebook. This will bring up the main spreadsheet which looks like this:

Gradebook View

The first thing you will need to do is add some items. Do this by clicking Add Item if you’re just adding one item or Manage Items if you’re going to add several at once. Don’t change the Gradebook Settings. Also, I recommend that you don’t use Weight Grades (until the end of the semester, maybe). The Download Grades and Upload Grades buttons let you transfer grades between Blackboard and Excel.

When you add and item, name it, add a description, and choose the due date as the date. Also, you will usually want to say Yes to both options:

Gradebook Item

There are several categories available (see figure above). These are just descriptive, and don’t make any difference unless you want Blackboard to weight grades for you by category.

When you’re ready to enter grades for an item, click on the item’s column from the Gradebook View Spreadsheet. This allows you to make changes to that gradebook item. The Item Information will let you change the item using the same screen shown above.

Use the Item Grade List to enter grades:

Item Options

This will show you a list of everyone in the class and let you enter their grades for that one item.

Recommendation: Paper System Plus Blackboard

I recommend using a combination of paper records plus the Blackboard system. You can use the Download Grades link to create a version that Excel can read.

Download Gradebook

Use this Excel file to print some empty grade sheets, and then fill those in by hand as you’re grading assignments. Once you’re done, type those grades in to Blackboard. That way, you will have a written record, and when entering grades in Blackboard, all the scores will already be in order in the same order as they are in Blackboard

Course Documents

Adding content into the content areas of Blackboard is fairly straightforward. Go to Control Panel > Course Documents, and you will see this:

Course Documents

Use the add Item link to add any kind of document (Word, PDF, Excel files, etc.). You may also decide to organize the Course Documents by making folders and subfolders. You can use the add Folder link to do this. The External Link button is for adding links to web pages. The Course Link button lets you add a link to some other location within this Blackboard class. The add Test button lets you create an online test.

By default, your course will have several Content Areas set up already. These just have different names, but they work the same as described above. You can get to any of these content areas from the Control Panel.

Content Areas

In addition, you can add a Content Area with any name you want, under Control Panel > Manage Course Menu.

Manage Course Menu

Questions? Need Help?

You can find this and other help documents on the CLEAR Blackboard Resources web site.

Feel free to contact the Blackboard Administrator.

Link: T he University of Maryland School of Law has a good set of instructions for faculty using Blackboard: U. Maryland's Guide to Using Blackboard