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Posts Tagged ‘Blackboard’

The Less Than Definitive Guide to Grading Student Blogs

August 21, 2011 56 comments

Using Blogs in the Classroom

At the behest of my fiancee (who happens to be a superb part-time professor at Grand Valley State University), I’m writing this post about using blogging as an important part of the educational process.

It should also be noted that this post is directly relevant to those outside education as well: every organization should be encouraging employees to blog about work-related content.  Not personal gripes or gossip – but about their day-to-day struggles and triumphs, or about their trade/craft/field.  Social media engagement is the modern equivalent to networking in trade groups or local business associations.

Why Would I Want to Engage in This Sisyphean Undertaking? Read more…

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Five Tips for Faculty on Interacting With Students via Social Media

February 28, 2011 2 comments

Social Media in the Classroom

Several people have asked me questions (following the social media policy webinar I did with PaperClip Communications last week) about how faculty should interact with students using social media.  It’s a pressing issue first, because there have been several high-profile cases of inappropriate conduct, and second, because social media provides an opportunity to share relevant information to an entire class (or multiple classes) if it’s handled well.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Stay “On Campus: If they’re available on your campus, course management software like Blackboard, Banner or WebCT can do nearly everything Facebook can do and there’s a “check” in place in that the school is able to oversee the interaction. In addition, it allows other students to view, participate in and learn from the interaction.  We at GRCC use Blackboard and we also use a set of tools from Wimba (like Wimba Pronto which is a client that builds in collaboration, video chat, instant messaging, chat, etc. into one tool).  Most of these systems are also able to publish content to Facebook through an application like CourseFeed (so that students can still remain in Facebook – but participate in the class and get notifications and announcements).
  2. Don’t Friend – Be Friended: Faculty(and supervisors)should never initiate friend requests – they need to respect the fact that the power inherent in their position might make students fearful to refuse the request. If a professor wants to invite students to connect with them – it should be done in the form of a general invitation to the entire class(no different than providing their email in the syllabus).
  3. Stay Public: Conduct discussions in the open (ie through wall posts as opposed to personal messages) to help ensure that they stay focused on the course and don’t deviate into personal areas that might be inappropriate.  It’s the same as the principle behind conducting an after-class meeting with a student in a hallway as opposed to a classroom so that event he appearance of impropriety is avoided.
  4. Use the Buddy System:  It would be ideal if faculty would let their department head, dean or another colleague know that they’re using social media to interact with students AND to “friend” them to give themselves a system of checks and balances.  If you’ve got another pair of eyes helping you keep tabs on what you’re doing, they may be able to help you watch out for interactions that may be problematic.
  5. Be Transparent: Behaving as though others can see your conduct is always a good policy.  Anyone trying to maintain a public face that is markedly different from their private behavior is bound for epic failure in an age where online content is easily shared, and students (and consumers) have audio/video recording equipment with them at all times (on their mobile phones).  An “abstinence-only” approach to social media is bound for failure just as much as the “abstinence-only” approach to reproductive health education.  Content about you will go online whether or not you want it to – ultimately it’s best to have a say in the conversation.

In the end, as more of our communication moves to social media – eventually this will become the dominant paradigm for faculty as well as professionals in the private sector.  Better to get a head-start on familiarizing yourself with its nuances now than wait until it’s mandated as part of your contract.  Not only that -but I think you’ll find (as I have) that your teaching experience is richer for the relationships you’re able to maintain with students after the class has ended.  I’ve been amazed and humbled by the pursuit of scholarship that some of my students maintain outside the classroom – and I often learn just as much from them as they hopefully do from me.

A Case Study in the Importance of Data Integrity

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Data integrity is really, really important.  No, I mean *really* important.  It’s tedious, boring, and unsexy – but how we tag, label, sort and publish information is critical.

Eye of Sauron

It’s more important than before because the good news is that it’s being used more than ever (instead of wasting away in moldering file cabinets).  The open architecture of so much of the Web 2.0 platforms means that we can mash data in new ways for new ends.  The bad news, though, is if the data isn’t sound – it can lead to problems.

Case in Point: my friend and colleague Donna Kragt in Grand Rapids Community College’s Institutional Research & Planning Department just informed me that I helped uncover a state-wide problem in how colleges in Michigan report data to the Federal Government.

If the Internet is Middle Earth, I try to be the equivalent of the Eye of Sauron for GRCC [ask your geek friends].

I discovered that “Braintrack College & University Directory” (a 3rd party student-oriented website) was incorrectly informing students that GRCC offers degrees in Public Relations Management.  I found out that they had scraped the data for GRCC’s profile from a federal database.  They also scraped a variety of other data from other locations, like our Student Life offerings and enrollment numbers.

One’s first instinct might be to get upset with Braintrack for repurposing this data – but that’s  misguided.  It’s actually good that other entities like Braintrack are doing so; it ultimately helps put GRCC in touch with more students (they’re a third party so their reporting on GRCC has more credibility than our advertising efforts, plus they may format the data in a more user-friendly way for prospective students, and they may even do their own promotional campaigns – all of which benefit us).

Related to data integrity is a story that was just published in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Marc Perry (“College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities”) about a study showing that most college web content can’t be viewed by people with visual impairments.  This is important not only for ADA compliance, but because computers (like those that power search engines) are very similar to people with visual impairments: they rely on text to be able to experience the world – and making a site more ADA-complaint also allows search engines and social networking platforms to more easily index the site.  On a positive note – Blackboard (the course management tool used by GRCC) was just lauded for its handicap-accessibility.