October 17, 2009

New grading routine attempt... and why Blackboard 8 continues to be horrible

I need to crack down on myself today and spend all of it grading and doing other teaching-related tasks. Now that I have figured out an awful, awkward, arguably arbitrary workaround for an incredibly stupid usability problem with the Blackboard 8 Grade Center,* I know how students can access feedback I upload and can be confident that the students in my online class can access it. Yes, we're in the middle of the semester, and I had asked for some help with this weeks ago. But I don't blame the tech-support professionals at USF much, given that a power outage a few weeks ago crashed a disk with a key CMS database. Given that massive failure, Blackboard's ordinary, predictable stupidies are minor. And I usually can figure out workarounds myself.

In any case, the new routine over the past week: spend some time at the beginning of grading providing intense, line-editing feedback on a short passage for each paper in a batch. Take a break, and then read, provide feedback, and grade the substance of the entire paper. Yes, this is a standard writing across the curriculum division of writing vs. content feedback, except that I have a very hard time stopping myself from line editing everywhere. So let me see if this separation of tasks works for my time and my students.

* First, the Blackboard 8 Writing Center makes it very hard to upload files with feedback. In the Writing Center, you have to know to right-click in a cell, click on "Grade Details," wait for another page to load, know to click the "View Details" link in the middle-right of the screen, and then upload a file. Repeat for every student.

In addition, Blackboard 8 does not provide automatic links from a student's individual grade to the page where you can upload a file with feedback. Instead, students have to go back to the original assignment, click "View/Complete," wait for another page to load, and know to click "OK," the button that usually returns you to the prior page in BB but here sends you to a page where you can access a file that your instructor uploads.

And because many faculty who set deadlines for assignments ask Blackboard to make the original assignment link invisible after the deadline, my workaround is to modify the assignment entry so that it has a new title with the phrase now graded at the end and so that it is visible to students again.

Oh, yes, and because of the structure of the database with assignments, Blackboard does not allow instructors to create a folder labeled "Graded assignments" and move the assignment entry-points into that new folder. Noooooo... that would be logical, helpful to students, easy for instructors. Therefore, Blackboard makes it impossible.

Next predictable stupidity: Blackboard 9 and accessibility, since BB9 just expands the Javascript unpredictable-flickerable-on-mouseover feature from Grade Center to everything. The evidence on BB's understanding of Section 508 (and that's from 2008--I couldn't find anything more recent) is not impressive.

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Posted in Teaching on October 17, 2009 9:18 AM |