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Distance Learning’s new deal: Online courses roll out revamp

By: Daniel Montano, Staff Reporter

Starting in the fall 2014 semester, students taking online classes can expect to see some changes to the familiar distance learning website, Blackboard, said Audrey Gramstad, Administrative Director of distance learning.

The new Blackboard will include two new software packages and a standardized distance learning classroom intended to allow students to focus on learning course material rather than on how to navigate through it, she said.

“A lot of students have called me about distance learning, having an issue with the fact that every course looks different. If you take five online courses, all five of them look and navigate differently, so my staff and I came up with something called the distance learning classroom,” she said.

The new DL classroom, which is being tested this semester in two online courses that are part of a pilot program, will look very similar to the current Blackboard site but will be designed to be more user friendly, she said.

The DL classroom will have a taskbar on the left hand side that will include direct links to assignments, discussions, technical help and a ‘start here’ portion that will include syllabus, course and instructor information, said Gramstad.

“That helps simplify the navigation so that instead of hunting for ‘How do I contact my instructor?’ or ‘Where do I get tech support?’ It’s always in the same place for every course,” she said.

The new software packages will expand on the current Blackboard login page by including different channels and modules, much like myCNM, which is a profile-based platform that is personalized to the individual user, she said.

Blackboard will also include new file sharing capabilities which, in conjunction with Blackboard’s current instant messaging system, students can use for study and discussion groups, or accessing library, counseling and other student services, she said.

“We’re trying to get all services online so that distance learning students have same access as face-to-face students. If a student asked for a button where they could access health services or veteran’s services, we would add it,” Gramstad said.

The new software will allow instructors to share information common from one course to another, she said.

“So instead of each faculty person creating their own little discussion board or their own little tutorial, they can put it in a repository from which they can share it with any other faculty members that would use that same kind of material,” Gramstad said.

Brahm Woody, Liberal Arts major and instructional technician for SAGE, is currently taking an online class and said he hopes the new Blackboard will be more stable.

“We had someone taking finals last fall and Blackboard crapped out. I contacted the Blackboard supervisor at the SRC and I was told it was a vendor issue. So there was nothing we could do on our end,” Woody said.

Gramstad said that most of the problems associated with Blackboard’s stability have to do with issues unrelated to Blackboard errors, but that the new content sharing ability will help to clear clutter from Blackboard, which should contribute to a more smoothly running site.

Margaret Segura, Business Administration major, has taken three classes online and said that she hopes CNM makes communication with online instructors easier and that she is happy more resources will be available through Blackboard.

“I work with disability resources and I have had a lot of issues, so if everything is put into one place there will be less confusion and more success.” Segura said.

Alyssa Monet- Winters, Diagnostic Medical Stenography major, has taken six courses online and said she hopes that the new Blackboard will be more reliable and she hopes contacting instructors will be easier.

“Being able to contact your instructors better would be nice, because email doesn’t get through to the teachers and you end up being unable to talk to them,” Monet- Winters said.

Although the basic changes have already been chosen, the new Blackboard is only in its beginning stages and things might be added or changed depending on the feedback the distance learning staff receives from students and faculty, Gramstad said.

Upcoming changes: Blackboard courses

  • All online classes will have the same format.
  • The toolbar on left hand side will have direct links to all important course information.
  • All courses will now have a quick and easy “Start here” module.
  • The blackboard calendar will have all assignments and due dates for all online classes being in assignments.
  • Student support will be located in the bottom left-hand side of courses.
  • Allows faculty to focus on content of courses instead of building from scratch

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