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What’s up with Blackboard?

Posted on Oct 23, 2012

I’m old enough to remember the goose bumps and scratches of a chalkboard, young enough to have witnessed the squeaking transition to whiteboards, and I was still around to have seen how integral projectors would become in the classroom. I’ve also witnessed some serious changes happening in the online side of things. The program that has stuck around for the longest, at least in my experience, and endured the most change, is Blackboard Inc. I first came in contact with it in middle school, where we mainly used it as a place to check our grades at home. By the time I started college, Blackboard had exploded – in all grades.

There are a lot of new Blackboard programs and services to choose from, but my favorites are all combined in a group specifically tailored to high school education – Blackboard K-12. These four online learning tools were designed to plug-in to a traditional learning format and to help promote the most well connected, most collaborative, and most personalized online learning environment possible. When reading this, think of these tools like chalkboards, whiteboards, and projectors. This is the next step.

Here’s a glance at what Blackboard Learn aims to do:

•  Engage every student by creating powerful learning experiences, designing customized learning paths, and influencing performance in real-time. With the ability to add multimedia content, you can breathe life into courses and reach more students.

•  Create collaborative classrooms by using advanced collaboration tools, such as wikis and blogs, help teachers structure personalized learning experiences for their students that help build problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It also encourages peer-to-peer participation through social learning.

•  Increase teacher productivity and effectiveness with automated grading, integrated lesson plans, standards alignment and reporting. Teachers can focus more time on influencing student performance.

•   Make the most of your investments with a central online hub and streamlined systems that help you efficiently manage student achievement, technologies and instructional tools. Make it easy for your teachers to bring technology into their classrooms and fully utilize all of the district resources such as video and content through single-sign on access.

Blackboard Mobile Learn is pretty self-explanatory – it’s the mobile version of Blackboard Learn and works on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and webOS. You can submit that last minute paper to Dropbox you finished typing on the bus, push notifications to get teacher announcements directly to your pocket or purse, check your grades, your syllabus, your tasks; you’re mobile enough to do everything you could do on a computer or in the classroom – even take a Blackboard test.

Blackboard Collaborate provides a classroom with virtual classes, webinars, professional development, and blended learning. Here, teachers remove the squeaks from the old days, and draw on a virtual whiteboard. Its mobile ready, so maybe you’re sick and have to stay home for a day – you can still listen to the lecture, follow the slides the teacher is posting, participate in group polls and projects, and even chat with the teacher or other students in real time. Teachers can voice-author their feedback to students and students can record their questions for the teacher. I think this is a great shift forward in having a more personal online environment – and not one that gives the same exact lesson every time. The teacher could reference current events or something that happened in class or school. It keeps both the teachers and the students better connected and more involved.

Blackboard Engage/Edline gives teachers the ability to create a “class page.” Instead of just having a district or a school website, individual teachers can create their own page. To keep parents and students updated with what’s going on in the classroom, teachers can create blogs, post daily pictures, and update syllabi and schedules right on the page. I would have hated this, but for parents, they can access their child’s calendars, grades and homework assignments all from the class page. Students, their website provides, “can quickly go online to join discussions, complete assignments or hand-in homework from the same dynamic classroom website where they check their grades. Personalized calendars keep students informed of extracurricular activities and upcoming events and group pages let them interact with peers in a secure online environment.”

I can’t imagine what could possibly replace these tools, but we continue to say that about everything – the steamboat, the iPhone, the muzzle loader, the VHS, the chalkboard. See you soon, nostalgia.

Click here to check out the rest of Blackboard’s platforms.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

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