Blackboard is a proprietary virtual learning environment (VLE), it has recently (Feb 2006) taken over WebCT, which it will subsume. Moodle is an open source competitor to Blackboard.

Blackboard Survey and Assessment Tools

The Blackboard assessment tools consists of Assessment and Survey Manager, Assignment, Gradebook, Performance Dashboard and Reporting tools.

Survey and Assessment Manager

When creating a new assessment or survey in Blackboard the instructor has a variety of paths to take. They can either start from scratch by making a new assessment (naming it, adding instructions, description etc.) then authoring and adding questions laboriously. Or they can use pre-existing questions from a previous assessment or pool. Either of the latter allows the instructor to modify the previous set of questions to suit their new purpose.

It is generally accepted that the Blackboard assessment tool lacks certain advantages when compared to its’ contemporaries. The authoring of individual questions is laborious and the sharing (re-use and re-purposing) of pre-existing questions is also not as easy as one would expect. For this reason other software tools or 'bridges' are available to simplify the process of authoring or importing questions.

Test Manager

This is the first stage of creating an assessment in Blackboard. The test manger allows you to:

Test Canvass

This is where you can view and review your test prior to making it available to students.

Survey Manager

Survey manager is very similar to the test manager but with a few subtle and significant differences. There is the same amount of question types available and authoring and deploying them is identical, however:

Survey Canvass

One stumbling block with creating questions directly in the survey canvass is they are not visible in the Pool Manager. For this reason it’s best to avoid the Survey Canvass to create questions if you want to use that Survey or the same questions on more than one course.

To get around this you can create your survey questions in the Test Manager (assign each question zero marks and no feedback). Then create a Pool from these questions and subsequently a survey from this Pool. This process eliminates any grading or feedback associated with the original ‘test’ questions and produces a survey that can be deployed in the usual way.

Question Types

Blackboard version 6.3 and onwards has the following question types:

As well as these you can also insert questions from a Pool or upload questions as long as they comply with the Blackboard format.

Question Categories, Keywords and Difficulty

These features are useful when searching for relevant questions in a Pool. For instance a Pool of questions on electrical and electronic engineering is subdivided into the categories datacoms, control, circuit theory, signal processing etc.

Questions can also be assigned keywords and difficulty to improve the accuracy of your search.

Question Pools

Pools are also known as question banks. They assist with the sharing of pre-existing questions across courses via an import/ export (upload/ download) command. Using Pools also allow questions to be randomly selected and inserted in to assessments via a question type called Random Block.

It’s preferential to have all questions in Pools to increase their re-use because question authoring is time consuming and re-use is one of the major advantages / efficiency gains associated with e-learning.

For this last reason it’s best to avoid the Survey Canvass to create questions if you want to use that Survey on a different course.

Interoperable Learning Objects

Learning objects are quality assured learning materials that can also be imported in to Blackboard. There are three standards that Blackboard supports these are:

Learning objects are imported or uploaded using the Action Bar drop down list in the Content Area during instructor view. This feature is NOT available in the Basic version.

Assignments

Assignments can be added to any content area in Blackboard. They differ to standard content as marks/ grades (called points) can be allocated to them. Typically the marks are out of 100 as this enables the award to be expressed as a percentage. An assignment is prepared for student use with the standard Blackboard content area tools.

An assignment can also be a test or survey. The advantage of using assignments over and above a standard piece of content in Blackboard is that it is automatically added to the gradebook feature in preparation for marking and feedback.

Gradebook

This allows lecturers to access and manage many aspects of students work including any tests or assignments created in Blackboard. Along with other uses like attendance monitoring and marking practical work that may have been conducted outside of the VLE.

Scores from assessments and assignments are automatically recorded in the gradebook.

Items, Categories and Weightings

Gradebook items like attendance, tests and laboratory work are organised in to categories which is useful for analysing student and course performance. Weighting is used to calculate the overall course mark per item. For instance a course may consist of two tests, an assignment and a laboratory task each of which is worth equal amount of marks (25%) of the course total.

Data, Statistics and Views

Gradebook data can be exported and imported from Blackboard in the form of a tab delimitated or comma separated file for further analysis. The gradebook can also produce simple statistics for an item, individual or entire class depending on the selected view.

Data exported from the gradebook does not include answers to Essay questions and there maybe other ‘unsupported question types’.

Performance Dashboard and Reporting

The performance dashboard gives instructors an overview of students’ activity on the course without going into the detail of the gradebook feature. Clever use of Review and Adaptive Release means that the a tutor can check a students progress prior to submitting an assignment or piece of work.

Review

Review refers to whether or not an item has been acknowledged by the user. It is up to the instructor to enable review which in-turn places a button by the side of the item that a student/ user has to click once they have downloaded, read or understood the item or the document in question. The purpose of the review command is to enable adaptive release.

Adaptive Release

Adaptive Release is the ability to delay the visibility of a particular item within Blackboard. Adaptive release is made possible by either the gradebook (using points) or the review feature. Adaptive release is particularly useful when work needs to progress in stages. Students will not be able to complete or in some cases even see the next stage until they have completed a set task before hand.

Reporting

Reporting refers to the detailed course statistics available to instructors and teaching assistants via the control panel. These reports though flexible are not very well formatted or easily ‘readable’. Fortunately there is an export feature that creates data in a tab delimitated or comma separated format for analysis outside of Blackboard. System administrators have access to further reporting options that are outside the scope of this document.

Blackboard Training

Blackboard Self Study Materials

The first place to start with Blackboard online training is the ‘quick tutorials’ as these give a very brief overview of the various components including assessment. Followed by the 'tip sheets' on assessment and assignments in the Behind Blackboard website:

Tip Sheets

Assessment

Assignments

Gradebook

Blackboard Online Courses

Teaching and Learning online in Higher Education 6 week (3-6 hours per week)

This is an asynchronous course that expects no prerequisite knowledge other than basic web navigation and file management. It is and facilitated by a Blackboard instructor but only week 5 of 6 is relevant to assessment.

Week Five: Assessing Performance in an Online Course

Teaching and Learning online part 3 Assessing Learners

This is a fourteen day course and the third and final part of Blackboards certification scheme; the other two parts to this course are:

People who have completed all three asynchronous courses are entitled to call themselves ‘Certified Blackboard Instructors”.

The objectives for the assessing learners course are:

Use the Assignment tool to develop an assignment for student completion. Build and administer Tests and Surveys using a variety of question types. Provide feedback on assessment items as needed. Create and maintain an online grade book.

Assessing learners takes place in two online course areas. One course area is where students receive the necessary guidance and support the other area is a ‘development’ course where students try-out their skills.

Blackboard onsite

Blackboard Learning System Essentials

Introduces users to all of the course-building features, communications tools, and assessment managers in the Blackboard Learning System. It introduces participants to the pedagogy of online learning and presents best practices for teaching and learning in both Web-enhanced and distance education environments. There is no guide to the cost or length of time this course takes.

Blackboard Effective Course Design (advanced)

A follow-up to the Learning System essentials course that introduces instructional design theory and provides practical exercises to help instructors plan the overall architecture of their Web-enhanced and distance education courses. Activities include:

The training obviously includes assessment as the trainee is asked to bring..

One or more course-related assessments (preferably in .doc or .rtf format). Possible question types include; multiple choice, multiple answer, short answer, essay, matching, ordering, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, calculating, hot spot, Likert scale, and file upload.

Netskills Blackboard Assessment Tools

The Netskills material is available under license to Bournemouth University and we are free to use or re-purpose it to suit our needs. Meaning that the material can be used blended, online or in a face to face situation depending on requirements.

The Netskills material covers the creation and management of assessments in Blackboard including the following topics:

In a self directed manner this material ‘Blackboard: Assessment Tools’ takes approximately 1 – 2 hours to complete depending on your level of experience using Blackboard. The material consists of an overview in Powerpoint, zip and gif files for downloading (and subsequent uploading) and a tutorial in word format.

Behind Blackboard Support Pages

The Behind Blackboard website provides support for Blackboard clients and links to their own support pages. Uk Higher institutions freely available on behind Blackboard are Southampton and Paisley.

Case Studies

Continuous Assessment using Blackboard at University of Paisley

This example is taken from the LEAP (Learning Environments and Pedagogy) case study 16. Published by the Higher Education Academy (April 2005).

180 equally weighted questions (multiple choice and fill in the blank) were devised and created using Blackboard over a 2 month period. The questions were arranged into 12 pools of 15 questions and the assessment consisted of 30 questions which were randomly generated from 6 pools, 5 questions from each. Developing sets of questions and pools in Blackboard is a time consuming process. Question and test authoring (but not pools) can be significantly reduced by using a 3rd party piece of software such as Respondus.

Initially the plan was to have an weekly, incremental, test for the students over a 12 week period but problems with enrolment at the start of term meant that this was idea was scrapped and replaced with 2 assessments (2 ½ hour, 30 questions) during the middle and end of term. Students that did not want to take the online test were allowed to do a paper version of the same test.

Formative tests (revision aids) of similar material were made available one week prior to the assessed piece of work. The assessed tests were taken in groups of 30 students and supervised to prevent printing or sharing of the materials amongst co-horts.

During a pilot study it was identified that bandwidth of 100 Mbps was necessary to handle 30 simultaneous assessments to the Blackboard server. Subsequent network ‘outages’ also meant that answers entered in a partially completed randomly generated test were lost. This problem has been overcome with static tests in Blackboard v6 however we do not know if this is still the case with randomly generated tests.

References

BLACKBOARD quick tutorials http://www.blackboard.com/products/quicktutorials/

BLACKBOARD Educational Benefits of Online Learning http://resources.blackboard.com/scholar/general/pages/ictraining/Online_Learning_Benefits.pdf

ComputerAssistedAssessment

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