Consistency + Predictability = Improved Student Engagement

February 17, 2012 in Discovery Fridays, Distance Learning, Faculty

Each semester, I conduct Blackboard orientation sessions with hundreds of new students. These students are often new to WCC, new to distance learning, maybe even new to computers and anxious about EVERYTHING! Then, here I come to tell them that Blackboard is a web application and has nothing to do with chalk or banging erasers. It’s often amazing to me how these students brave so much of the unknown and perservere to the first day of classes.

One of the most popular questions during Bb orientation is “What will my distance learning course look like?” or “How do I get started in my distance learning course?” These are tough questions to answer because our distance learning courses all look different and each instructor approaches their Bb course shell design based on different pedagogy and personal preferences. I typically provide students some general advice about finding the course syllabus, searching for directions and contacting the instructor. I also give examples of how different courses may be set up.

The solution to this problem, is to create some consistency and predictability in our distance learning courses. At the same time… we want to preserve the academic freedom and individuality that makes our courses and faculty stand out.

There are three things we can do in Bb to easily create consistency and predictability… while helping students engage in our distance learning courses more easily:

An image of buttons in Blackboard

  1. Create a “Start Here” section
    The “Start Here” section would provide a course introduction from the instructor, course tour and step-by-step instructions for starting the class and completing the first assignment.
  2. Create a “Syllabus” section
    The syllabus section would hold the syllabus and possibly an assignment schedule with all the course due dates.
  3. Create a “Faculty Information” section
    The “Faculty Information” section would provide all of the faculty member’s contact information, office hours, bio and maybe even a photo.

Many of you are providing this information already throughout different areas of your Bb course. However, the key is for all of us to set these sections up as the first three links/buttons in our Bb course, following the “Announcement” link.

Using this standard format, students would quickly and intuitively learn how to proceed as easy as 1-2-3.

Plans are now in place, to require this format in all distance learning courses, beginning with the Summer Semester 2012.

Here are a couple of tutorials to help you get started:

If you have any questions about how to create an effective Start Here, Syllabus, or Faculty Information section in your Bb courses… contact us in the distance learning department.

We are are here to help.


Ken Fairbanks
Director of Distance & Distributed Learning
Wytheville Community College

Seeing Blackboard through the Eyes of a Student

February 16, 2012 in BB Tutorials, Discovery Fridays, Faculty

image of student using laptop

Sometimes you don’t know what you DON’T know… and this is probably one of those things.

Did you know that every faculty member has TWO active Blackboard usernames? Well you do!

All of us have our username that we use each day to log into the MyVCCS/MyWCC portal like jdoe123. This username can also be used to log into Bb directly, by going to This should not be news to anyone.

All of us also have a second username that we can use to log into Bb directly as a student. This second username is the same as your normal username with an underscore student added to the end, such as jdoe123_student. (Note: The password for both is the same)

Why do we have a second username? This username allows us to enroll ourselves in our Bb courses using the student role and view our courses as a student would see them.

This can be very useful for checking:

  • Content Areas
  • Assessments
  • My Grades Tool (Adding yourself as a student is the only way to view this tool in Bb)

I add my student username to all my courses to check my gradecenter and the student’s My Grades tool to assure that graded items are displaying and calculating correctly.

How do you add your username_student to your courses? You use the same process you would for adding any student to Bb, just enter your username_student. If you have never added a student to a Bb course see this short tutorial: How to add a user to your Bb course.

How do I access my course as a student? You go to and log directly into Bb using your username_student and your normal username’s password.

Please remember that you must make your course “available” to students and while logged in as a student, you cannot edit or change any content. You are a STUDENT.

Also you cannot be logged in as a student and as faculty simultaneously in the same browser. You can get around this by using different browsers, such as Firefox and Explorer.

This can be a very useful tool for inspecting and fine tuning your Bb courses. If you have any question about setting this up, please contact Distance Learning and we will assist you.


Ken Fairbanks
Director of Distance & Distributed Learning
Wytheville Community College


Get Jing-y with It!

February 15, 2012 in Discovery Fridays, Distance Learning, Faculty, Inspire

One of my favorite free tools on the web is a screen capture tool called Jing. Jing allows you to create images and video tutorials from your computer screen. If you have every received a video tutorial from me via email… it was created with Jing.

Jing was developed by TechSmith, who also makes Camtasia and Snag It.

Below is a video overview/demo of Jing:

NOTE: Video capture is now included in the free version of Jing.

  • Use Jing to snap images of your computer screen to use in student directions.
  • Annotate screen captures with text, arrows, and highlights
  • Use Jing to create videos from your screen for course lectures or web tours. (5 minute limit)
  • Share Jing videos easily using Bb or YouTube.

Here is a great tutorial for getting started with Jing: Jing Tutorial

The possibilities are endless. I use Jing almost everyday for something. So, download Jing and let me know what you think: Free Download


Ken Fairbanks
Director of Distance & Distributed Learning
Wytheville Community College

Go Direct!

February 14, 2012 in BB Tutorials, BB Tutorials, Distance Learning, Faculty, Student

Did you know that you can sign into Blackboard directly without going to the MyVCCS or MyWCC portal? Occasionally, we will experience temporary network or power outages that shutdown the WCC website or portal pages.

Access Bb directly by going to (I recommend bookmarking this address) and use your established username and password.

Image of Blackboard direct log-in page

Blackboard direct log-in page

Don’t let a little outage keep you from getting your work done!


Ken Fairbanks
Director of Distance & Distributed Learning
Wytheville Community College