Traversing the Course Control Panel in Blackboard

In your Blackboard course, you have access to the Control Panel — and your learners don't. You therefore have the power to add, modify, copy, and remove content; turn course tools on or off; and decide how to display the Course Menu and in what language (or locale). With the power to manage the Control Panel comes great responsibility: to provide your learners with a well-designed learning environment.

Note that your first look at your Blackboard course is determined by what the powers that be at your institution decided to include on the Course Menu. With Control Panel access, however, you can customize your learners' first look at your Blackboard course. So, plan before you implement.

To help you plan, think of the course Control Panel as being composed of these areas:

  • Course administration
  • Course materials
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Assessment

Course administration

Your course administration options reside mostly in the Course Options pane. You can use these options to customize the Course Menu, enable or disable course tools, change the course availability and entry page, and import, copy, export, and archive your course. In addition to all these instructor administration options in your course, we have good news for language instructors and international readers: You can now customize your Blackboard course interface so that it's displayed in one of eight languages.

If your institution or organization has the Blackboard Academic Suite or the Blackboard Learning System (but not the Basic Edition), you as an instructor can set the language of the course independently from the language setting of the overall system. Blackboard supports English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, and simplified Chinese.

Depending on how your institution handles user accounts and course creation and modification, you may or may not be able to create and modify user accounts, create courses, and enroll or remove users from a course. These options are available in the User Management pane.

Course materials

Course Materials — such as your syllabus, readings, assignments, and tests — can be added to the Content Areas of your course.

In any Content Area, in fact, you can use these options to perform a task:

  • Item: Create content and upload files.
  • Folder: Layer or organize content.
  • Course Link: Create links to other areas within the same course.
  • External Link: Create links to an external Web site.
  • Test: Add a test.
  • Learning Unit: Develop a sequential set of items or a tutorial.
  • Survey: Survey your learners or take a poll.
  • Assignment: Add an assignment for paperless feedback and grading.
  • Offline Content: Access offline content on a CD-ROM, for example.
  • Syllabus: Create a new syllabus and lessons.

You can also perform these tasks in any Content Area:

  • Import SCORM, IMS, NLN e-learning content by using the desired content-packaging option.
  • Select a tool option to link to individual tools, such as Discussion Board, Chat, Virtual Classroom, Group, and more.

If your institution uses the Blackboard Learning System, Basic Edition, you cannot include SCORM objects.

Note that when you use these options to add content to your course, you can also manage the content item by enabling Adaptive Release of Content, accessing tracking, and reviewing status tracking.

Additional options may be available to you as part of the Content Area interface, depending on whether your institution has added third-party products or building blocks within the Blackboard course environment.

Communication and collaboration tools

Communication tools are available in your course Control Panel and can be included as links within Content Areas or as course links on the course menu. Some of the tools available to you include the following (but again, depending on your institution's Blackboard setup, you may have access to more or fewer tools):

  • Announcements: Allows you to remind learners of assignment deadlines or upcoming events, for example. Don't use it when you want to communicate with immediacy, because learners must be logged in to Blackboard to view your announcements.
  • Staff Information: This is where you write information about you, your teaching assistants, section leaders, and guest lecturers in the course. Direct students to use the Student Homepage to post their own, personal profiles.
  • Course Calendar: Use the Course Calendar in conjunction with announcements to reinforce deadlines and help learners stay on track. Don't use the Course Calendar if you're going to keep it hidden in the Tools area of the course: Be sure to unbury it by creating course links from your menu or Content Areas, or both.
  • Tasks: Use the Tasks tool to provide learners with a list of activities with set due dates while allowing them to monitor the list of activities and prioritize those tasks. Don't use Tasks if you're not planning to integrate it into your course design and track learners' progress status regularly.
  • Send Email: Use this when you need to let learners know of a change in class location or a cancellation or change in an exam or assignment due date, in conjunction with the Announcements tool to reinforce your message. Don't use Send Email in Blackboard to generate class discussions because it doesn't act like a distribution list: To the people receiving the mail, it looks as though they're the only ones receiving it.
  • Discussion Board: This is where you have learners post discussion questions, respond to each other, lead discussions, engage in peer review, and more. With a bit of creativity, you will find that the discussion board has a myriad of uses.
  • Collaboration: Use the Chat or Virtual Classroom options in the Collaboration tool to hold virtual office hours and to replace or supplement face-to-face class time. Just remember that having more than a handful of folks in a Collaboration room can get chaotic, if you don't manage it well.

Assessment tools

The Assessment options available to you in Blackboard are extensive and flexible, with more than 15 different question types for creating tests, surveys, and question pools. In addition, you can upload your own questions all at one time and select questions from existing assessments or pools in your course.

The Gradebook allows you to use weights for your assessment items; display grades in score, letter, percentage, or text entry; or create your own customized display of the grade. You can modify the range of scores within the Gradebook settings so that it conforms to your own course-grading criteria for displaying letter grades. You can download the Gradebook, modify it in a spreadsheet program, such as Excel, and upload it back into Blackboard. Your learners can then view their individual grades by using their My Grades tool.

The Performance Dashboard enables you to view an individual user's access of content utilizing adaptive release and/or review. The Course Statistics screen offers you a summary of access data for overall or specific tools and pages in the course. Pretty spiffy, eh?

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