Tag Archives: Best Practices

Educause Quarterly issue on Online Student Retention includes UIS strategies

Sustaining Students: Retention Strategies in an Online Program

by Emily Boles, Barbara Cass, Carrie Levin, Raymond E. Schroeder, and Sharon McCurdy Smith

Published on Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Key Takeaways

  • With students spread across 47 states and a dozen countries, the University of Illinois at Springfield faces a significant challenge in promoting student persistence.
  • Program coordinators who know each student majoring in their online degree program keep in close touch with those students to assure that their learning and academic planning needs are met.
  • Online student peer mentors who model best student practices and serve as a liaison between students and faculty members provide effective support in selected classes.
  • These and other approaches have resulted in an online course completion rate that hovers just two to three percent below the on-campus completion rate, and the degree-completion rate among online students is equally strong.

Read the complete article at: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/sustaining-students-retention-strategies-online-program

Two Examples of Blackboard Rubrics

3 Point Blackboard Discussion Rubric (click on thumbnail to enlarge)

3_point_grading_rubric

20 Point  Blackboard Rubric (click on thumbnail to enlarge)

20_point_rubric

Copy and Pasting from Word Processors into Blackboard

When copying from Microsoft Word and other word processing programs into Blackboard, several problems may arise:

  • Your text is not visible to other users
  • Replies to threads copy/pasted from Word may not be visible.
  • Formatting may be inconsistent.

To resolve this problem, when you copy and paste from Word and other word processors, please use the “remove formatting” button in the Blackboard Text Editor.

Removing Text Formatting in a Discussion Board Thread:

  1. Go to Word (or other Word Processor).
  2. Select the text you wish to appear in Blackboard (CTRL + A to select all text in Windows; ⌘A to select all text on Mac).
  3. Copy your selection (CTRL + C or ⌘C)
  4. Go to a Discussion Board Forum in Blackboard.
  5. Click on “Create Thread.”
  6. Click inside the “Message” area of the text box.
  7. Paste your text (CTRL + V or ⌘V).
  8. Select the text (CTRL+A or ⌘A).
  9. Click on the “Remove Formatting” button in the Text Editor. If you do not see three rows of buttons on your Text Editor, click on the “Show More” icon in the upper right corner.
  10. Click “Submit” to post the thread.

DBremoveformatting1

Strategies for Increasing Course Evaluation Response Rates

The TimingA barrier for course evaluation completion is timing the evaluation close to finals (Cottreau & Hatfield 2001).  At UIS, course evaluations become available three weeks prior to the end of the semester.  Thus, begin asking for feedback earlier in the semester!

You might be concerned that that timing may be too early to get accurate feedback from students, as not all activities and assignments have yet been completed.  Research has shown, however, that the results of course evaluations completed earlier in a course are highly correlated with results of course evaluations completed finals week or after (McNulty et al. 2010).  Not only do you increase the likelihood of having a higher response rate, students completing evaluations earlier provided more qualitative feedback than students completing evaluations later (McNulty et al. 2010).  At UIS, these additional (write-in) comments are provided only to the instructor and are not added to the instructor’s faculty file.

The Frequency – For online course evaluations, post announcements as many times and in as many places as you can:

  • Post the link in your syllabus.
  • Create a specific announcement about the evaluation.

Sample Announcement - Today, course evaluations are open online. These are very important in improving the quality of classes at UIS. They also are an important instrument used in the promotion and tenure process for faculty members. Please take a few moments to fill out the evaluations for this class and any others you may be taking that have online evaluations: https://uisapp-s.uis.edu/evaluation/ . These evaluations are available only through Saturday, May 4. (Thanks!)

  • Include the link to the evaluation in emails and announcements until the end date (And remember the course evaluation is available at x until x date).
  • Add as an item to the course calendar

Tell Students Why It’s Important - Remind students why course evalutions are important at UIS and remind them that you cannot see the feedback until after final grades are due and that it will not impact their grade in any way.  Students are more likely to respond if they knew how their evaluations will be used and what decisions their responses will influence (Kidd & Latif 2003, Anderson et al. 2005; Cottreau & Hatfield 2001; Hatfield & Coyle 2013).  The largest factor for not completing evaluations is that students believe the evaluations will not result in change or would not benefit them (Hatfield & Coyle 2013).

The Method – For on-campus classes at UIS, faculty have the choice of having online or in-class evaluations.  Research is mixed on whether online or paper evaluations result in higher response rate, as shown below:  

  • Compared with paper surveys, online evaluations have been associated with increased response rates (Barnett & Matthews 2009; Anderson et al. 2005; Thorpe 2002; Hatfield & Coyle 2013).  
  • Online ratings produce a lower response rate than in-class ratings (Avery, Bryant, Mathios, Kang, & Bell, 2006; Benton, Webster, Gross, & Pallett, 2010 ; IDEA, 2011; Nulti, 2008).

Your class’s typical attendance rate should be considered when deciding whether the in-class or online evaluation will be more effective. 

UIS Course Evaluations

Prior to the end of the semester you should receive and email prompting you to direct students to the online course evaluation. You may just want to copy the link into an Announcement. The evaluation is located at https://onlineevals.uis.edu/evaluation/

Detailed information about the UIS course evaluation process is below.

Schedule for UIS Course Evaluations

5 Weeks prior to last day of class — The Faculty Files Office emails instructors teaching onground and blended courses requesting they notify office if they prefer to have their course(s) for that term evaluated through the online process.

3 Weeks prior to last day of class — The Faculty Files Office emails instructors who intent to have their course evaluations completed in the classroom to pick up their packets.

3 Weeks prior to the last day of class — Faculty of online classes receive an e-mail from the Faculty Files Office notifying them that the online evaluation system is available for students.  It is the faculty member’s responsibility to provide their students with the instructions regarding access to and completion of the evaluations.

Due Date — The due date for course evaluations will be included in the announcements sent from the Faculty Files Office.  Presently, course evaluations are due by the last day of class (before finals week begins).

Administration of UIS Course Evaluations

On-Campus - Instructions for administering course evaluations in the classroom are included with each evaluation packet.  Identify a student to be responsible for administering, collecting and depositing the completed evaluation packet in one of the course evaluation drop boxes, which are located throughout classroom buildings and identified on the instruction sheet.  Faculty are required to leave the classroom while students complete their evaluations.

Online Faculty teaching online courses are required to use the online course evaluation system (https://uisapp-s.uis.edu/evaluation/). 

Processing of Evaluations

The Faculty Files Office collects the completed evaluation packets from the drop boxes and enters the data into the course evaluation database (for on-campus evaluations).  The Faculty Files Office generates a summary report for each faculty member’s permanent personnel file for each course taught during a given semester.  An email notification is sent to the faculty notifying them that their evaluation summaries are available online and the course evaluation forms, which include handwritten student comments, are then returned to the faculty member.

Accessing Results

Current and historical evaluation summaries can be accessed through the following url: https://uisapp-s.uis.edu/evaluation/.  Through this site faculty are able to access their individual, department and college summaries and can also access campus-wide summaries.  Student handwritten comments are included in the database, but can only be seen in the individual faculty view (secure access) and are not included in the summary entered into the personnel file.

Special Situations

Team Taught Courses – Each instructor is evaluated individually, with the process being identical to the standard course evaluation.

Alternative Evaluations – The process is expected to be identical to the standard course evaluation.

Supplemental Evaluations – Faculty may choose how supplemental course evaluations are administered and documented.
If faculty elect to develop and use a supplemental evaluation form they may use the standard course evaluation distribution and/or collection process.

Library Faculty – See Faculty Personnel Policy, Appendix 11 for guidelines & process.

Why are Course Evaluations Important at UIS?

Goal #1 of the UIS Strategic Plan states that “UIS will achieve academic excellence through excellence in teaching and learning and excellence in scholarship.”  Action Step #4 of the UIS Strategic Plan states that UIS will “Improve the assessment of learning outcomes and of teaching; use aggregated information from course evaluations to inform faculty development programming:  a) Establish and fund a program to support improvements in the assessment of learning outcomes and program review.  b) Adopt a new course evaluation instrument.  c) Implement a multidimensional approach to teaching evaluation.  d) Use the data from the improved teaching evaluation approach as the basis for issues addressed in faculty development programs.”

Presently, course evaluations are used for retention and promotion decisions and for course improvement.  Completion of student course evaluations is imperative in evaluating curricular trends and teaching effectiveness, particularly if no other assessment methods are performed (Hatfield & Coyle 2013).

Research suggestions that student ratings of courses and faculty are a reliable and useful method of evaluating teaching and course effectiveness (Kidd & Latif 2003).  In fact, student evaluations are as reliable as peer evaluations, provided that response rates are good (Paulsen 2002).  However, course evaluations should be used in conjunction with other evaluation tools, such as the peer evaluation and a teaching portfolio, when evaluating the effectiveness of an instructor.  Research has found that faculty members receiving the best evaluations are not always the most effective teachers according to students (Surratt & Desselle 2007).  The Dr. Fox Effect, as seen in the following video, suggests that a highly expressive presenter can earn high evaluations even when the content presented is nonsensical.

Best Practices for Synchronous Sessions

Carefully Organize Your Synchronous Session

  • Make sure to create an outline for your session.
  • What topics do you want to cover?
  • What materials will you need to share?
  • What questions will you ask?

Connecting to Your Synchronous Session

  • Make sure you are using a high speed Internet connection. Audio and video sharing requires a stable, higher-bandwidth connection that some wireless networks aren’t capable of supplying.
  • Join the live session before the scheduled start time.
  • Conduct an audio check.

Synchronous Session Best Practices

  • Offer Students Options - Consider making the synchronous sessions optional or offering several sessions from which your students may choose.  Requiring synchronous sessions reduces the flexibility that appeals to, and is often necessary for the schedules of, many online students. They will appreciate your extra efforts in schedule accommodations.
  • Inform Your Students - Send an email or post information in Blackboard for your students explaining the technology and how they will use it.
  • Schedule a Trial Run - Test your web conferencing tool first, if possible, with someone who can log in from a different location as a “test audience.”  Then you can run through your materials early, checking that everything loads properly.
  • Use the Moderator Override Functions - Learn how to use moderator override functions, such as turning students’ mics down.
  • Mention Student Names - Use students’ names as frequently as possible. It grabs their attention and makes the online environment feel more personal.
  • Use Emoticons - Learn to use emoticons to substitute for facial expressions, and learn to interpret your students’ virtual facial expressions.
  • Get Comfortable with Instant Messaging - Learn to monitor the instant messaging feature while you, a guest speaker, or other students are using microphones. This ensures participants without microphones can fully participate.
  • Record Sessions - Recording your sessions allows students who could not attend to listen to the recorded session presentation.
  • Solicit Feedback - Ask for feedback from your students to help you improve content and delivery for your next course by using the polling feature

Blackboard Best Practices: Grade Center

Private Comments in Gradebook
You are able to enter Private Comments to students via the Gradebook by doing the following;

  1. Control Panel Evaluation > Grade Center .
  2. After the grade is entered, click on the chevron next to the grade > select Quick Comment.
  3. Enter your comments. (The student can see Feedback to User and only you will be able to view the Grading Notes)
  4. Use Spell Check if needed.
  5. Click the Submit.
    Students can access comments through My Grades.

Renaming Errors
Renaming or deleting automatically generated Gradebook items causes errors when grading, viewing or downloading content. When you turn on the Discussion Grader, Blackboard automatically creates a Gradebook item for the graded forum. The Gradebook item name matches the name of the Discussion Forum.

Deleting a Discussion Forum Grade Name
Renaming or deleting Discussion Forum grades results in losing access to the grades associated with that Discussion Board.

Blackboard Best Practices: Discussion Boards

Slow Discussion Board Loading in Tree View
In the upper right corner of an open DiscussionThe Tree View and List View buttons.Board is a button called Tree View. Reviewing posted messages in Tree View allows you to see the more messages than List View, but it slows down the page loading. Switch to List View to avoid the slow page loading issue.

‘Select All’ Button Bug
Select All listing.If you are working in Tree View the Select All option doesn’t appear, as it should, at the bottom of the screen. To solve this click List Viewand then Tree View again and the button should appear.

Attachment File Names
File attachments to a Thread should not contain any special characters.
Word file that contains special characters.

Copying and Pasting to Blackboard
ONLY Copy/Paste from Notepad (PC) or Text Edit (Mac) into Blackboard and do NOT Copy/Paste text from MS Word, email, or web browsers. Underlying code from these programs is transferred into Blackboard and causes many problems.

Only use the two programs specified above to Copy/Paste when naming folders, Discussion Board forums, entering text in postings, creating test questions, etc.

To avoid this issue for during test creation, consider using Respondus.

Clear Formatting
Text formatted in other applications may copy into Blackboard with strange formatting such as characters where text had been. A quick way to solve this ‘mess’ would be to select the text and then click theClear Formatting button on the Visual Textbox Editor (only available in Internet Explorer and Firefox).
Visual Editor Box in Blackboard.

Blackboard Best Practices: File Naming

  • Use only letters, numbers and underscores (_) in file names.
  • Don’t use spaces, commas, pound signs (#), question marks, equal signs, dashes or other special characters.  Example: assignment#1.doc
  • File names should be 60 characters or fewer in length.

File Attachment Names
If you use a special character to name a file attachment, you will get an error when you try to open the file. This is NOT the name of Blackboard item or folder, but the name of the actual file uploaded (, for example).

When you try to open the improperly named item, you will receive an “HTTP, Error 404, Files not found” error. The problem applies to files uploaded or attached by both instructors and students.

Instructors, there are two ways to address this problem. The student could rename the file without the special character(s) or space(s) and resubmit it. Another option is to contact OTEL, who will contact Blackboard administrators to have them rename the item in the database. Once the item is renamed in the database, instructors will be able to access the file originally submitted by the student.

Assignment Tool Assignments
If you use special characters to name your assignment created with Assignment Tool (Assignment #1, for example), you won’t be able to download all the student files at once.

The error will prevent you from downloading student assignments in a .zip file, though you’ll still be able to grade the assignments one at a time. Modifying the name of the assignment does not fix the issue.

Turnitin.com Assignments
Using special characters and spaces in Turnitin.com assignment names and files submitted to Turnitin.com causes errors in Blackboard database logs. The only way to avoid this error is to not use special characters or spaces in file names.