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Blackboard Vista/Principles of Good Practice

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The article Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education by Arthur Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson (AAHE Bulletin, March 1987) was based on years of research, and has been a strong influence on teaching in colleges and universities since first appearing. Arthur Chickering and Stephen Ehrmann consider the implications for e-learning in Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever (AAHE Bulletin, October 1996, pp. 3-6). These suggestions follow their inspiration, applying the principles directly to uses for Blackboard Vista:

1. Good Practice Encourages Contacts Between Students and Faculty

Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of class is a most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students' intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and plans.

Electronic discussion options can improve both the amount of and standards for participation:

  • Some obvious benefits general to this kind of technology include encouraging shy or slower students to interact more (can be preparation rather than substitute for stronger classroom engagement), and allowing for the continuation of classroom conversations.
  • The discussion tool gives more focus to discussions, in terms of both quality and content: they can be organized by topic, and criteria for evaluation can be more clearly explained and applied because typed contributions are more concise and benefit from time delay (constant attention to these criteria can also improve in-class discussion). Suggestions for possible criteria:  faithfulness to and grasp of the topic/material at hand, sensitive and effective use of/response to prior contributions, originality of input and leadership in shaping collective thinking.
  • There are some limitations to the discussion tool (e.g. contributions only listed chronologically); more sophisticated discussion programs such as QuickTopic can be linked to Blackboard Vista site as alternative.

2. Good Practice Develops Reciprocity & Cooperation Among Students

Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one's ideas and responding to others' improves thinking and deepens understanding.

Blackboard Vista offers a number of arenas in which students can learn to merge their individual gifts and goals into a team effort, and maintain a rigorous but affirming dialogue:

  • The "student presentations" tool of linked html pages can be used as collaborative space, or for students to display their work individually.
  • Programs such as word processors which allow one to comment on the work of another can easily be used in conjunction with Blackboard Vista (for example, the "review" tool in Word inserts comments into the original document much like footnotes - perhaps an option in its own right).  A paper might be sent out and edited into a final version before submission along with the comments, so the editorial process itself could be evaluated.
  • As with the discussion tool, the slower pace and semi-permanent nature of the results allows one to be more specific about what makes a good critique, such as recognition of strong points, clarification of meaning, and improvement of conversational flow, etc.

3. Good Practice Uses Active Learning Techniques

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes, listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

On its Academic Communities page, Blackboard has collected various resources which help students better to understand their subject as a discipline, and use it more responsibly and creatively:

  • Multi-media resources (either uploaded into "my-files" and posted or linked from external web site) can enhance perspectives on content, e.g. use of art and music to demonstrate themes in history, literature or theology.  The assignment tool provides a mechanism for students to view something on their screen, and comment directly.
  • Simulated experiments, "virtual language labs" and access to data sources used by professionals (e.g. sociological statistics such as census figures) extend the "hands-on" experience a class can offer.
  • Web sites and on-line journals of professional guilds can increase students' awareness and consideration of the "hot issues" in the field - especially useful for upper level courses.

4. Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback

Knowing what you know and don't know focuses your learning. In getting started, students need help in assessing their existing knowledge and competence. Then, in classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive feedback on their performance. At various points during college, and at its end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how they might assess themselves.

Blackboard Vista can improve both the timing of feedback, and student initiative in seeking it and responding:

  • The assignment tool allows for work to be returned at any time the instructor chooses.
  • Blackboard Vista includes a mechanism for making comments, and the "review" mechanism mentioned under the second point is even more pertinent here. This could lend itself well to a number of exchanges, allowing students to become more intelligently self-critical and to build on their previous efforts by correcting them rather than just moving on to the next thing.
  • The instructor can create folders in which student work is stored, so papers from different stages in the semester can be compared and different approaches tried.
  • The quiz tool is laborious to set up and not cheat-proof, but it makes grading a breeze and encourages the creative use of a number of testing methods. Since questions can be stored in a "bank" they can be easily accessed again later (this feature might be useful whether or not one administers quizzes on line). "Self-tests" are only multiple choice and are not graded, but can provide instant feed-back and a sense of what you are looking for.

5. Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task

Time plus energy equals learning. Learning to use one's time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty.

In addition to the obvious benefits of transferring information online, Blackboard Vista allows instructors to intervene and teach good time management more directly:

  • The assignment tool allows for teachers to set and students to work on and submit tasks electronically.
  • Online readings can be linked directly to Blackboard Vista, as can online databases and catalogues (including reserves for a particular course).
  • Content modules (which might include an assignment) can record each student's visit and the amount of time spent, and material can be released and hidden at certain times.
  • Progressive assignments and the linked pages of a student presentation might be used to track the development of a larger project (e.g. from idea with bibliography to outline to drafts to larger projects).

6. Good Practice Communicates High Expectations

Expect more and you will get it. High expectations are important for everyone - for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Blackboard Vista facilitates the vivid illustration of standards, so they can be more easily internalized:

  • Examples of good, average and poor work can be posted and then examined side by side, modified, and regularly updated (especially effective if student work is being stored and progress tracked).
  • Source material can be similarly examined and compared, and students are encouraged to discover and evaluate sources for themselves.

7. Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Many roads lead to learning. Different students bring different talents and styles to college. Brilliant students in a seminar might be all thumbs in a lab or studio; students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need opportunities to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily.

Hopefully this is implied in each of the other six points! In general, student presentations and electronic transfer of information from student to instructor make it easier for students to contribute to the class as a whole. A link or file on the Blackboard Vista site credited to a student is one of the best ways to convey respect for the perspective he or she brings.