Blackboard 9.1 Groups – first impressions

I had a quick look at Groups in Blackboard9.1 this morning with a couple of colleagues. Before I forget, here are my recorded highlights:

  1. Overall
    As a space for collaborative work, dare I say that I quite like it; it has a handy suite of tools all together in one place and students can probably do most kinds of stuff which group work requires here. Groups are easy to set up and Blackboard will, I believe, even create random groups of a given size for you. Hurray.
  2. Send email
    One of the difficulties with group work, but particularly with online group study, is what to do about students who don’t contribute – or pitch up at the end when it’s almost finished.  Group emails mean that members can be reminded that their participation is necessary, hopefully in a supportive and non-judgemental way.
  3. The Wiki.
    Unlovely as it is, as unintuitive as its buttons are, it is a proper wiki. Participation data can be collected, there is basic versioning  meaning a student’s contribution can be seen (though not easily -some kind of colour coding would have been helpful for that). Embedding images is reasonably straightforward. Tutors can grade the wiki and give feedback, though with nothing like the facility afforded by Turnitin.
    On the other hand, students can’t easily extract their work in the wiki, for example to add to a portfolio or to refer to later. Nor can it be exported to other platforms or submitted to Turnitin.
  4. File exchange
    Students can upload files to a repository area to share. These can be given a title, but not a description or explanatory notes. May be useful, who knows.
  5. Collaboration – which means Virtual Classroom and Chat.
    Awful. Why anyone would use these in a world containing Skype and MSN escapes me. Maybe because they don’t want the other students to have their msn ID?
  6. Group Blog/Group Journal 
    Not sure what the difference here is. In both blogs and journals entries can be posted/edited by anyone in the group; in both there are comments/discussions for each blog post. The journal looks like it’s written on a piece of lined paper torn from a spiral bound notepad. Outside of the group spaces journals are private to the student and instructor, maybe this can be turned on within the group setting so students can reflect on how they’re finding the collaborative process.
  7. Group discussion board
    Haven’t looked closely at this. A normal Bb discussion board I believe.
  8. Group tasks
    Very basic task manager. You can set tasks, give priority and deadlines. Maybe in the descriptions you might assign tasks to individuals? I kind of like it, based on a recent study experience where my group muddled through to no particular success and a rival group set and assigned tasks to win kudos. Mind you, they used a wiki to do it, which might be a more transparent way of going about it at least in the initial phases.
  9. Group Homepage
    You can add widgets – sorry, modules. I enjoyed adding the school Twitter feed to ours and links to Library resources.
  10. Customise Group Banner/Colour
    Some students will really enjoy doing this in the first 10 minutes in the Group space.
Hope to spend some time in the space and test drive some of the features in more depth. So far, not seeing anything that screams ‘no’. Which is nice.

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