Monthly Archives: January 2013

Assessment Creation Best Practices and Information

Hello Everyone -

Below you will see a list of tutorials and best practices for both building and taking Blackboard exams.  If you ever experience any issues with students taking your Blackboard exams please report these problems asap to either Matt Long (, Cindy Bowers (, or Allen Dennis (  When reporting these issues please include the following:

  • Course ID
  • Test location and name
  • Student email ID
  • Symptoms (behavior/details, browser, PC or Mac)
If we cannot figure out the exact reason of your exam failure we will report this issue to Blackboard for more investigation and troubleshooting.

Keep in mind exam failures can be caused by a variety of reasons, such as wireless network, local computer problems, third party software running in the background, exam content (rare but does happen sometimes), and/or exam settings (see below for more information).

Test Creation Information and Best Practices

  • Assignment Tool (creates link for students) – download the PDF
  • Creating and Deploying Tests – download the PDF
  • Creating a Test From a Pool – download the PDF
  • Test-Taking Troubleshooting Tips for Instructors – download the PDF
  • Test-Taking Tips for Students – Share with Students — download the PDF
  • Respondus LockDown Browser – read the blog post for information
  • Rubrics with Assessments – download the PDF

Browser Info: Reminder: Blackboard works best using Firefox as the browser (for Macs also); please remind your students. The gradebook is especially noticeable (slow, not working properly) if you are using IE instead of Firefox. See Blackboard’s recommended browsers.

Blackboard Test/Exam Failure Avoidance: Best Practices

The suggestions below come directly from Blackboard technical support. Exams with a high rate of failure may have some of the following characteristics:

  • Avoid creating large exams involving many and/or complex questions and presented all at once.
    • 50 questions is a lot of questions.  SOLUTION – break up larger exams into smaller exams taken in a sequence vs. one large exam.
    • Large exams also create much more server load when submitting the final exam, which can lead to failures due to application overload when groups of users submit at the same time. SOLUTION – Stagger exam submission times when possible.
  • Train users to save their attempt every 10-15 minutes (but avoid too-frequent saves, which may overload the application). SOLUTION – train student to use the “SAVE ALL” option during an exam every 5-7 minutes if they are in the middle of working on a problem.
  • *Avoid randomized display order for exams using question-by-question (one at a time) display. SOLUTION – None.  Only use this feature if you believe it is needed for the test being given.
  • *When using random selection of questions from pools, keep the overall exam especially short. SOLUTION – None. Only use this feature if you believe it is needed for the exam being given.
*Regarding pools and randomizing questions:  If you are using a Random Block of questions for a given exam be sure NOT to use the “Randomize Display” option.  This is not helpful and definitely puts unwanted strain on the Blackboard assessment engine.
In summary, the above suggestions are a best-practices roadmap to making better and more reliable exams.  All of these features have been used by hundreds of ECU faculty for many years. With confidence, we can say that the large majority of Blackboard exams are submitted/completed without incident. The suggestions listed will be most helpful for those that are having consistent issues with student test completions.


As always, if you have any questions please call or email Matt Long, Cindy Bowers, or Allen Dennis. / 328-9074 / 328-9167 / 328-2841

Technology Survey Results from Fall 2012

Regarding our technology survey from September 2012,  we appreciate the instructors who took the time to respond to the two questions: (1) Are there any tools or features that you would like to see integrated with Black board, ECU’s Learning Management System? What additional support resources can we provide? (2) Please share any additional thoughts on how we can improve and enhance your overall Blackboard experience.

We value your comments, ideas, and suggestions and they are often the catalyst for our research of new technology products. The survey responses from faculty included many comments and questions about specific tools, features, and functionalities within Blackboard. It would be too lengthy to include a suggestion, solution, or comment to each response; however, since there were commonalities among the responses, we’ll mention a few areas, plus provide some resources where you will find instructions, and/or examples.

Blackboard’s Discussion Board

Some common questions about the discussion board included email notification, viewing all posts, and grading. When a discussion forum is created, there is a setting to “allow subscriptions.” If that box is checked, the instructor (and all users) will receive an email when a thread/post is added. Switching between list view and tree view provides a different look, as does choosing “Collect” to view specific forums and posts, plus print them (when desired). Regarding switching back and forth between the discussion board and the grade center, the most efficient solution is to add points to the discussion forum. Once points are added, instructors can grade all posts right from the Discussion Board. If you did not set it up that way, you can still “edit” the discussion forum and add points.

Blackboard’s Grade Center

The Grade Center, although not a Microsoft Excel product, is a rich tool with spreadsheet capabilities. Weighting grades at the beginning of the semester is a timesaver, thanks to categories that can be linked with assessments. That way, no matter how many assignments you add, as long as they are associated with a category already added to the weighted column, they are factored into the user’s weighted grade. We have a user-friendly instructional PDF on weighting grades on our Blackboard blog. Also on our blog, is a PDF on grade book housekeeping that is good to refer to when a total column does not add up, points or grade weighting looks “off,” or you can’t find a column that a student sees.

Creating a “My Grades” menu item gives students an alternate way to navigate to their grade center. It is a tool, so it can also be accessed through Course Tools. The grade center can be downloaded to Excel using the “Work Offline” button; however, please be cognizant of student data on your work or home computer. We have FERPA guidelines on our Blackboard blog. After you download your grade book to Excel and do some work, you can also upload that file back into the Bb grade book.

By adding gradable items (assignments, interactive tools), and assigning points to each item, a column is auto-created in the grade book. No need to manually create columns unless you are giving paper assignments or quizzes, or adding a column for participation, for example.

Blackboard’s Interface and General Functions

Blackboard’s interface allows users to format content from a rich WYSIWYG text box, e.g., font choices, sizes, colors, hyperlinks, images, lists, to name a few. The formatting text box is available for announcements, instructions, addition of content, etc. A user-friendly function is to create menu items/content areas from the front page, directly pointing to content and/or assessment areas, reducing the number of clicks. Course design/organization is discussed in our Blackboard Overview sessions.

Blackboard’s Integration with Turning Point

Audience response systems, or clickers, offer an option for student engagement and active learning. Clickers are designed to actively engage students, gauge students’ level of understanding of the material presented, and provide prompt feedback. Student responses are anonymous to other students. TurningPoint AnyWhere is for instructors who want to create instant polling questions from content on web pages, PDFs, Microsoft Office products, whiteboards, and more. For instructors who want to create and save quizzes and create interactive presentations in a PowerPoint format for current and future classes, they will use TurningPoint software. Once students have purchased and registered their TurningPoint clickers, instructors with TurningPoint software can easily upload grades from polled responses into their Blackboard courses.Both TurningPoint and TurningPoint AnyWhere downloads are free and compatible with PC or Mac. TurningTechnologies has an array of resources and videos to help decide which software is appropriate for different needs in higher education. Go to or see the list of resources below.

 Blackboard’s Integration with Joyner Library

ITCS and Joyner library are currently working collaboratively on both faculty and staff Blackboard modules.  These modules will highlight faculty and student support information and other timely information. Please see our list of resources below for more information.

Collaborate for Web Conferencing

In the fall of 2012, ITCS began to pilot a platform named Collaborate, which is a Blackboard building block.  Collaborate is a web-conferencing tool that directly integrates within the Blackboard interface.  Like Centra, Collaborate offers live video, chat, application sharing and playback of any recorded event. The pilot will continue in the spring of 2013 and slots are available along with group training sessions. If you are interested in learning more about this platform feel free to contact John Southworth, or see the resource list below.


Fall 2013 Kickoff Information

Hello Everyone –

Welcome back from the summer break!  Below you will find all of the different tutorials to make the start of your Fall 2013 a smashing success.  Good luck and please let us know if we help you with your Blackboard needs.