Welcome to the LearnAU Blog!

As you know, technology and teaching are always evolving, and this blog will be our spot to talk about the tools, tech, and pedagogy that make up great online learning. Each week we will post about all sorts of topics, from top apps for education, instructional design, tips and tricks about our learning management system (Blackboard), best practices for utilizing online resources for your teaching,, and other instructional technologies.

If you have comments, questions, topic requests, or just want to sound off about what we write about, you can always reach us through Twitter at #learnau. Or you can email us at learn-au@ashland.edu.

Christopher Stormer Posted by Christopher Stormer on February 5, 2016

Active discussions are a core element of any course, and research has shown that online course discussions do help students understand concepts more deeply. (For an interesting literature review and study of online course discussions, see Cranney et. al., Instructor’s Discussion Forum Effort: Is It Worth It? at http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no3/cranney_0911.pdf ).  Discussions are great for student learning -- but when you have an active discussion, there are LOTS of posts to wade through. 

In the default discussion board, you'll see a list like this-- you must click on each thread in order to read and reply to those entries.

Default Discussion Board View

Wouldn't it be nice if you could collect these all on one page?  You can! To do this, check the box next to each thread that you want to read. Or you can check the box at the top of the column in order to check every thread. Then click the "Collect" button.

Place a check next to the threads you want to view, then click Collect

All of the threads you've checked, including any replies, will be displayed on one page. You can scroll to read all of the posts, and click on "Reply" to any one directly from this page. 

Collected Discussion Posts

The collection page also give you options to sort by date or author, and the "Print Preview" button will let you create a PDF copy of the page-- which can be useful for your records, or for easy offline reading.

Instructors and students have access to the "Collect" tool-- try it out.  If you think others would be interested in knowing about it, share a link to this post in your course's discussion board!

Christopher Stormer Posted by Christopher Stormer on January 8, 2016

Keeping records of student attendance in class, or for synchronous sessions in an online course, is an important way to help you find and address problems that students may be having. If you can see a pattern of missed classes, or late attendance, that can be a part of an intervention strategy early enough to help that student turn their performance around. Besides the diagnostic benefit, financial aid requirements for many students hinge upon attendance, and so you may be asked by the registrar to provide this information for reporting purposes.

Old Fashioned Gradebook

While there are several different takes on how attendance should be counted (or not) towards a student grade, taking a few moments each class session to collect it can only help you make classroom decisions. [For an excellent summary of recent research in this area, see Macie Hall's blog post from Johns Hopkins University: Should You Require Classroom Attendance?]

To make keeping and collecting attendance information easier, LearnAU has just rolled out an Online Attendance tool in Blackboard that provides an online interface for you. An added benefit of using this tool online in Blackboard is that is gives students the ability to see their own attendance records, so that they can be made aware of their own patterns of class attendance.

It's easy to get started-- with a few simple clicks you can enable the tool in your Blackboard course and give it a try. Grab a copy of the documentation and setup guide here!

As always, if you have any questions, please contact the LearnAU team at learn-au@ashland.edu.

Christopher Stormer Posted by Christopher Stormer on November 20, 2015

Dashboard of Car with Fuzzy Dice

Your car's dashboard has some helpful information to keep you driving smoothly-- how fast you're going and how much gas you've got left to get there!  Blackboard also has a dashboard to help you keep you monitor your courses, and this short post will help you get started.

As we near the end of the semester, your courses in Blackboard have become full of student submissions, discussion board posts, and, of course, your feedback and grading. There is a lot in there to keep track of! One thing about Blackboard is that there are often multiple ways to access the same information-- and in this post I'd like to introduce you to a tool called the "Performance Dashboard".  This tool lets you get a quick view of student activity in your course.  

Performance Dashboard

To access the dashboard, in your Course Management Menu, go to "Evaluation --> Performance Dashboard". 

You'll be presented with a list of your students, with information about their last course access time, the number of discussion board posts they've posted,  and some customizable alerts related to course deadlines or grades.

This information is a great window into student activity-- but you can click on some of the columns in order to get more detailed information about each student's work in the course. 

Performance Dashboard

  • Clicking on the number of discussion posts brings up a list of posts that includes information like the average number of words per post. You can even click on through to view the full-text of each post.  This is a great way to look in detail at one student's work-- and is a great tool when doing end of course assessments or feedback on participation, or when you are working with a struggling student to help identify areas in which they should focus their attention.
  • Clicking on the grades link takes you directly to that student's row in your Grade Center, so you can move from a birds-eye view of course participation into the details of a student's work.
  • Clicking in the "Retention Center" column takes you to a customizable page where you can configure alerts to notify you if a student has missed deadlines, isn't logging in to the online course site regularly, or has a poor cumulative grade.

The Retention Center is a subject worthy of its own post, but the cross-linking here between the tools that Blackboard offers is an example of how you can take advantage of features you are already using in Blackboard in order to give you insight into your students' study and work habits. Identifying students who are falling behind early in the course is the first step to getting them the resources they need to suceed.

For more information and a video about using the Perfomance Dashboard, take a look at the Blackboard Help Site for Instructors. And, as always, if you have any questions, you can always contact us at learn-au@ashland.edu.

Photo: Angela K. Titherage, M. Ed. Posted by Angela Titherage on November 14, 2015

Open Personal Planner  

Have you looked at your calendar lately? Can you believe that Christmas is only a little over 5 weeks from now? Some radio stations are already playing Christmas music around the clock.  It seems like the Christmas season is starting earlier every year and the countdown has begun!

Well, the countdown to Christmas isn’t the only thing we have our eye on in the LearnAU team though. Did you know that there are roughly 8 weeks until the Spring 2016 classes begin?  Yes, ‘tis the season to dive in and begin getting your courses organized and prepared for the spring semester.

Don’t worry…I will try to refrain from spoofing the 12 days of Christmas, and writing a version titled “8 week till Spring Semester.” (But it practically writes itself: ”eight course copies, seven course menus, six reviewing content, FIVE DISCUSSIONS FORUMS, four assignments, three exams, two the myCourse Section and then finally a full course review!) Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

All joking aside, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the work required to start closing out the fall semester course and begin preparing your course shells for the spring semester.  If you are looking for help in managing the workload to prepare your courses for next semester, take a look at the 8-week Course Prep Countdown Tool.  

 This tool can help you target what to work on each week leading up to the start of the spring semester. Additionally, this tools will provide you with links to access training video or print guides to assist you along the way.

If you find yourself in need of further help throughout the coming weeks, don’t hesitate to contact our team at learn-au@ashland.edu .

Spencer Stadnik profile picture Posted by Spencer Stadnik on November 6, 2015

The year is nearing it's end. With that comes the beginning of new seasons. As the leaves change, the temperature drops. You may even find yourself wearing more socks. You open your door to enter the world and the weather prevents you from making your trek. You retun back indoors and reluctantly write, "sorry class, we can't meet tonight".  This may happen often, or this may be nil. I'll tell you good person, no need to cancel unless you're ill! 

Just approach your laptop with the usual delight. Don't forget to tell your class that everything will be alright. Now in the comfort of your home with your pet in lap. Go to your keyboard and give it a tap! Within your course under communicate, you'll find a button for Collaborate! Give it a click and join the room and tell your students that today's class will resume. 

Once you are in turn on your webcam and mic. Today, regardless of weather, everything will be alright!

Brandy Schaad profile picture Posted by Brandy Schaad on October 30, 2015

As we close out another workweek here at Ashland University, I’d like to reflect with you on some of the wonderful things from our week here on the LearnAU Team.

First, we would like to welcome Dr. Todd Marshall to our team and to Ashland University. Dr. Marshall is the new Associate Provost and his first day was Monday. I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Marshall everyday this week. I am truly excited to have him here and look forward to the days, weeks, months, semesters, and years ahead! I believe this is just the beginning of...Read more

Christopher Stormer Posted by Christopher Stormer on October 23, 2015

One of the most common concerns about online course materials is that they are very text heavy. Course readings, articles, and books are, of course, based on the written word—but when all a student sees in a course is what looks to them like a wall of text, they can easily lose their place, feel overwhelmed, or check-out before they’ve even finished checking-in!

When you post reminders and instructions in your course, you can help students orient themselves by including images that help students find their way around a page. A well-chosen image can provide a visual clue to the content you’re presenting, and give students another way not only to remember what they’re reading, but also to be able to easily find it again in the course.

Take a look at these two examples—when you’re taking a look at the page, which one catches your eye? Which one gives you a clue as to the content? Which one could you more easily find if you were to return to the course looking for this specific information?

Sample Image displaying course content with and without an embedded image

The key to an effective image is one that is relevant to the content—if you’re talking about due dates, an interesting calendar image can help students connect with that information. If you are describing an assignment with the topic of 1950’s era US transportation, a nice picture of that ’57 Chevy might be the right choice. But don’t go overboard; one or two well-chosen images on a page can help divide a longer text into easier to understand chunks, but too many images can become a distraction.

Image Permissions and Licenses

Wanting to add images to your course is one thing—but where do you find images to use? A common tendency is to go to Google and do a quick search for images relevant to a topic. You’ll certainly find a lot of images, but do you have permission to reuse those images in your course? Of course you wouldn’t even consider copying the text from someone’s site into your own course without attribution! The same holds true for images—most images you’ll find doing a regular Google search are copyrighted and need to be licensed or purchased in order to legally reuse them. Remember there are photographers and artists out there working hard on creating those images—they may not want you to use them without payment.

Luckily, there are several sites that are designed to help you find images that are licensed specifically for you to use in your courses and presentations for free. These sites provide images that are either in the Public Domain, and therefore free to use for everyone without attribution at all, or by using a Creative Commons license, which means the creator has specifically given permission for you to repost their image, as long as you include a credit line.

Here’s a nice list of sites for finding images that you can reuse:

    • http://www.morguefile.com -- user uploaded and categorized photographs that are free to use
    • http://pixabay.com – user uploaded photographs and artist created graphics, all Public Domain licensed
    • https://openclipart.org -- clipart and drawings in the Public Domain
    • http://compfight.com -- this is a specialized search engine for Flickr, the image sharing site; when searching using this tool make sure to choose “Creative Commons” as the license type to limit your results to reusable photographs

Magnifying Glass over the word SearchAll of these sites provide some information on how to download the image files, and also some instructions on how properly cite the image, if this is required. Once you have downloaded an image file, you can place it in your course in Blackboard, or in your course materials in Word. If you're looking for tutorials on the mechanics of adding images, check out Blackboard's Adding Images page, and GCLearnFree.org's Adding Images in Word 2013 pages.

Happy Image Searching!


Images aren’t the only things that are often overlooked when providing citations in your course materials—for a short discussion and a list of citation guidelines and gotchas, see Dr. Miki Crawford’s article on Faculty Focus.

Photo: Angela K. Titherage, M. Ed. Posted by Angela Titherage on October 16, 2015

As I walked to my office this morning I noticed that the trees across campus are boasting a beautiful array of colors and felt the brisk nip in the air, signaling that fall is here. Can you believe it is the middle of October already? Not only does this mean that it is time to begin to think about midterms and plan for the holidays ahead, it also means that the Spring course shells are available for you to begin the process of preparing your online course shells for the Spring 2016 semester.

 Hopefully you have seen the communications and information that our LearnAU team has provided regarding the myAU Course Menu that has been establish as the default menu within the course shells. This standardized default menu is the next exciting step towards excellence in online learning here at AU.  I know-exciting may seem like an odd descriptor when talking about a course menu.  It is easy to take something as basic as a course menu for granted in the online course experience, unless of course you are a student who is struggling to adapt from one course menu organization to the next as they navigate through their courses in Blackboard.  If you are that student, a move towards something that is standard and will reduce your frustrations and time spent hunting for things as you move between the varied course menus of all your courses, exciting might be a perfect description!

 As you begin the process of looking at your 2016 course shells and planning for Spring 2016 and explore the myAU Course menu, keep that student in mind. I encourage you to remember that most students are taking more than one course each semester, and thus, have to learn a new navigation and roadmap for each course.  The more standard the navigation is across online courses, the less time a student has to spend learning the navigation and the more they can spend learning your material.


Want to learn more about best practices in course structure?

Check out the 2012 abstract from the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration article, An Analysis of Organizational Approaches to Online Course Structure.

In this article, Dr. Cheng-Yuan Lee, Dr. Jeremy Dickerson and Dr. Joe Winslow review the importance of a standardized course structure for online learners.   

Spencer Stadnik profile picture Posted by Spencer Stadnik on October 2, 2015

Tomorrow afternoon (Saturday, October 3rd), your 2016 Spring courses will be made available to you! They will automatically populate within your Blackboard Learn envrionment. As we continue the semester we will be implementing several great features that Blackboard has to offer. This is our opportunity to start implementing a standard AU branded experience within our online learning environment. The myAU Course Menu does leverage some familiar labeling from Angel, to help return a sense of familiarity of organization labels.  Our goal is to move towards a best practice of offering a standardized course menu that will help students spend less time adjusting to the technical format of the course navigation and be better able to jump in and focus on the curriculum.  Given the varied nature of courses across AU and the varied needs based on the instructional and content design, tools and resources, the myAU Course Menu allows us to provide consistent navigation landmarks and organization that will improve consistency across courses and hopefully reduce the learning curve and technical hurdle from course to course. 

If this menu causes red alert be not afriad, for you can continue to use the menu from your previous courses. We have created several instructional materials to help you with this menu. Remember that we are here to help try to make your teaching and learning experience the best that it can be. Check out the playlist below for more videos on the myAU Course Menu. Thanks for you cooperation and have a great weekend!

myAU Course Menu and Copying into Course Shells

Spencer Stadnik profile picture Posted by Spencer Stadnik on September 25, 2015

The past six months have been a time of introduction and "getting acquainted" with Blackboard Learn as our new learning management system.

Your LearnAU team is excited to announce that as a result of your hard work getting familiar with Blackboard Learn, we are ready to move into the next phase of implementation and will be releasing the myAU COURSE MENU.

The myAU COURSE MENU is the layout within Blackboard that will become available with your 2016 Spring Courses on October 3rd-That’s next Saturday! Access to the myAU COURSE MENU should become available that morning, and you’ll know it’s ready for you when you see your 2016 Spring Courses populate in Blackboard.

This menu has been created to leverage many familiar "landmarks" from Angel, while building the "best practices" in our AU online experience. If you’re hesitant about this activation, no worries! You can still customize your menu to best fit your students needs. Check out the myAU COURSE MENU video for a sneak peek at the layout.