Faculty facilitate community building online using Blackboard
- Author: Aurelia Spaulding, WKU Public Affairs
- Author: Thursday, April 26th, 2018
Technology allows students the opportunity to enroll in courses and complete degrees online, and with their course design instructors can mold community into the learning experience. Western Kentucky University’s Department of Diversity & Community Studies offers an example of instructors using their curriculum design and Blackboard features to enhance student learning.
Within Blackboard, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra serves as a video conference tool for instructors to use virtual office hours, live class sessions, small group sessions, and one-on-one meetings. Diversity & Community Studies Department Head Dr. Jane Olmsted and Assistant Professor in Diversity and Community Studies Dr. Dana Cuomo use Blackboard and its Collaborate Ultra features in multiple ways. This includes creating a space for students to hold face-to-face meetings online, record presentations, give visual feedback to lesson topics and discussion, and much more.
Cuomo uses Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in her course titled Environmental Justice & Public Spaces. As Cuomo describes, “Blackboard Collaborate has these multiple purposes and functions in my mind, one of which is to help create community so that students and instructors get to interact with each other in a more face to face capacity. Also, it documents the work that is being done. By recording the presentations and the conversations, you have this archive of the work that they did over the course of the semester.”
Cuomo acknowledges that there is a foundation that must be created to support that community. “I communicate regularly, and I try to make it consistent,” Cuomo said. She emails her students at the beginning of the week and middle of the week in order to model the consistent regular communication that she is asking her students to model.
Olmsted, who is in her twentieth year of online teaching, led in the creation of the Master of Arts in Social Responsibility & Sustainable Communities (SRSC), which is entirely offered online. According to program’s website at wku.edu/srsc, the SRSC provides students with the tools to lead communities toward social justice and sustainability. It is designed especially for students inclined toward the humanities, social sciences, and related fields.
Two of the courses Dr. Jane Olmsted teaches in the SRSC program are GWS 545 Feminist Knowledge and Social Change and SRSC 525 Place and the Problem of Healing. She uses Mediasite, a tool within Blackboard, for her presentations. It allows students to share their projects and to submit oral responses to their classmates’ presentations. Her students use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for live discussion three times during the semester (at the end of each unit). In addition, they use it to talk about that week’s readings.
“The back and forth every week does help build community. They are learning each other’s written voice, stories, and antidotes,” Olmsted said.
Unlike some online degree programs, SRSC students travel to Bowling Green before graduation.
“They are building toward a group experience,” Olmsted said. “There is a lot of this embedded knowledge that they are in this together. They come to advocate for each other’s success.”
WKU graduate student Hayley M. Rigsby sees value in the community created. “The online experience in SRSC 525, and other courses of Dr. Olmsted’s, is a worthwhile learning experience with presentations, discussion forms, live group discussions via video chat. It gives you the flexibility needed, in regards to time and location, but it does not take away from the experience at all. If anything, it adds to it by encouraging participation from all students. There is no sitting quietly in the back classroom. We all have to contribute.”
Graduate student Sam Schwoeppe agrees. “I am grateful for the opportunity to take SRSC 525, it is an exercise in personal growth and development, and a life changing experience.”
The Master of Arts in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities is one of 90 online degrees and certificate programs offered at Western Kentucky University through the Division of Extended Learning and Outreach. More than 1,700 online course sections are available to students. This includes options, such as working at your own pace through WKU On Demand.
Blackboard Collaborate Uses
Amongst their resources for faculty, the Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning provides assistance with developing courses using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra through the Blackboard course site. This video conference tool allows instructors to use virtual office hours, live class sessions, small group sessions, and one-one-one meetings. To view all of their services, visit www.wku.edu/citl.