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Faculty of Humanities Teaching & Learning Office

Blackboard organisations to support students at programme, discipline and academic community level

Case study: [Discipline level] Music Community

School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Academic lead: Rebecca Herissone

Key features: Announcements of events and items of interest (regularly posted); staff-student liaison & PDP; programme changes as a result of student feedback; PASS mentoring; staff blog; PDF resources of music scores.

What were the key motivations for setting up the Blackboard organisation?

I had two main reasons to be keen on developing a Music Community Blackboard site:

  1. to facilitate easier communication with our whole UG body (and now whole student body, since we have added PGs), avoiding cumbersome email lists that were often inaccurate;

  2. to help foster the sense of community within the department through being able to communicate with everyone together.

What content or features are used? How often is content added? Is this done by staff? students?

We use our Music Community site for two main purposes:

  1. To make announcements, particularly of opportunities for students (jobs, work placements, requests from charities, careers events), and to tell them things that they need to know relating to the department, including SSLC minutes and the like;

  2. As a place students can go to to access important documents like their programme handbooks, grade descriptors, and so on. I am in the process of setting up a specific careers area within the site, with the help of Louise Sethi of the Careers Service.

Content is added several times a week (announcements); other documents are updated less frequently. 

Roles and responsibilities: How many staff are involved in setting up and updating the Blackboard space? Academics/admin staff/GTAs? Are roles determined? Is the space updated regularly?

I was the staff member who set up the space, but now it is up and running, any relevant staff can do the updating. In practice it is mainly me as Head of Department and Laura Tunbridge as Programme Director who make most changes. There are no restrictions about who can make changes.

How successful do you find it?

We have found the Music Community site to be extremely successful, especially as a communication tool and a community-enhancing tool. It has increased efficiency for staff wishing to communicate with students also.

Have you had any feedback from individual students or student reps?

Student reps on our SSLC have reported that it is successful; we don't have any formal figures, however.

What challenges have you found?

There are three things that we wanted to see improved:

  1. We have problems attaching documents to our announcements, which can be frustrating when opportunities come to us in the form of PDF files which we (I) then have to rewrite. It is, obviously, possible to upload them onto the Blackboard site separately, but this is cumbersome.  

    eLearning reply: There is a feature within the Content Editor to insert files: click on the 'Insert file' icon 'Insert File' icon (paperclip icon) and then browse your computer or the Blackboard Content Collection to add the attachment.

  2. There are problems of formatting when messages are cut and pasted (to do with line breaks): sometimes they appear in the email version of the message with lengthy gaps between line breaks that are difficult to remedy unless you retype altogether.

    eLearning reply: Copying and pasting from e.g. email or Word can bring in hidden formatting which can be difficult to detect. The Content Editor's 'Remove formatting' feature can help: select all the pasted text and click the 'Remove formatting' icon 'Remove formatting' icon (it looks a bit like an eraser icon). This strips out superfluous formatting, and any extra line breaks that did not get removed should at least be easier to spot.

  3. We think that the messages don't get to the entire body of students, possibly because the list is too long (probably more than 200 names) and the system cuts off at some point. It would be helpful to know who is and isn't getting the messages.

    Blackboard UPDATE: This was an issue that Blackboard recognised and addressed in their recent upgrade; we have been assured that there should now be no restriction on the number of students to whom you can send messages.