Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Blackboard has a free site, CourseSites.com, where one can create his/her own Blackboard courses. I often suggest using this site for course development, especially where one’s access to Shenandoah’s Blackboard, or access to the next semester’s courses, for instance, are limited. Courses can be developed on this site, and then EXPORTED for use in Blackboard at SU, much the same way we currently export and import from semester to semester on our Bb server.

You can find CourseSites at http://coursesites.com.  CourseSites has most of the tools that we have in our Bb platform.

It is important to note, however, that the Bb team at SU, while possibly able to help you with information about and the mechanics of CourseSites, cannot fully support you in your use of courses there. We do not have access to your courses to help you or your students troubleshoot any issues that may arise. Bb’s CourseSites does have its own Frequently Asked Questions page, as well as its own support through the contact information there.

Getting Started begins with creating an account.

Possible uses for CourseSites:
  • Course Development: A course can be developed here and exported and imported to a new course shell at the beginning of a semester.
  • Course Backup and/or storage: A course can be exported or archived from our Bb server and uploaded or imported to a course shell in CourseSites for storage, and/or for quick access to certain materials.
  • Course Restoration: A Bb course archive can be ‘restored’ (minus the users) to a course shell on CourseSites for easy access to past materials, tests, etc.
  • Course Replacement: There is a way you can ‘invite’ your current students into your CourseSites course to provide a quick substitute, in the event Bb service at S.U. is interrupted or unavailable for a time. Faculty teaching distance education courses may want to keep backup materials here in the event of an unscheduled outage.

As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. We are happy to help in any way we can.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I would like to take this opportunity to invite each and every one of you to the 4th annual Virginia Blackboard Users Group (VaBUG) Conference! This year’s conference will be included in Blackboard’s “Never Stop Learning Tour.” Along with the usual fare of concurrent sessions and networking opportunities, Blackboard is anxious to me you, the educators, technologists and leaders that share their passion for making the educational experience the best it can be.  The teams that design and build the tools you use everyday are jumping at the chance to meet and collaborate on what matters to you, where you are. 

This is a great way to plug into your community and engage with fellow Blackboard users in your region.

This year’s VaBUG conference will be held on Friday, October 25th, at the Crowne Plaza in Richmond, Va, and is co-hosted by our friends at VCU.
We invite you to join us for this free, one-day event to: 
  • Connect with other Blackboard users in your area
  • Learn about the latest in features in Blackboard
  • Ask questions or share feedback with Blackboard product experts

Click HERE for more information, and to register for this exciting event!
Looking forward to seeing you in October!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Day 1, Part 1: Welcome to Vegas!

As many of you may have heard by now, my journey to BbWorld this year was, shall we say, eventful, in that my small bag with my wallet, checkbook, credit cards, etc. disappeared along the way....probably back at Dulles Airport. Needless to say, when I got to my layover in Chicago and realized it was gone, my panic was rather all-consuming. The entire rest of my trip, and indeed the rest of the night and halfway into the next morning was spent begging people on the phone to help me by looking for my bag; canceling credit and debit cards; desperately trying to get on the airport wireless to file reports; arguing with the hotel on arrival that all I had in my pocket was eleven dollars, which, by the way, they TOOK; calling home and trying to coordinate with the hotel office to send my wife a credit card authorization to cover my $100 deposit....it goes on and on.

When morning rolled around, and of course my eyes popped open nearly three hours early because my body and brain are still on Eastern Standard Time, the processes began again. I was also beginning to stress about having not eaten since lunchtime the day before. I was still first getting messages from the front desk that I needed to take care of my deposit right away, and simultaneously arguing with the office because they had still not emailed my wife the forms that needed to be filled out and sent back. When it was time for me to get dressed and head out to the Bb World registration, nothing was settled, and only half my mind and heart were on the conference.

Once registered, I put on my special Bb World ID and my VIP Blogger ID, and walked back down the hall where the DevCon conference was still going on, and there it was....a coffee break table!! Oh, man, if I could just get ONE cup of coffee, I knew I would feel better. I reached for a cup....and as I did, a rather stern voice came from behind me. “Sir,” he said, “that coffee is for the people in those meetings down that hall.” OK....he was only doing his job, but I still had no money, no hope of getting any soon, and this guy was denying me a cup of coffee! Certainly, I reasoned, he has no way of knowing what’s going on in my life, and I felt like the kid who had been caught stealing candy in the corner store, so I slowly dropped the cup, apologized, and slithered away, defeated.

They day began to look up for me when some of my colleagues walked down the hall and found me sitting against the wall, charging my phone, and trying once again to reach my credit union by phone. I had spent an hour and a half earlier on hold with them, and I still had not talked to a person. I finally just gave up and greeted my friends.

We were still at this time struggling with whether the times that our respective calendars had recorded as our scheduled sessions, meetings, etc., were accurately depicting the events in PACIFIC time, or whether they were recorded on the calendar in our own EASTERN time, and not translating over. Once we determined our first obligation was actually to take place at 3:10, we decided to have some lunch, and my friends, Mary and Melissa treated me to a nice meal. I was starting to feel human again! During lunch, I got the message from my wife that she was wiring me money, and that I could pick it up next door at Harrah’s casino. I knew having some cash in my pocket would make me feel a LOT better, so we took a walk over to Harrah’s to retrieve my money! At this point, I knew I still had a lot to do to complete all the cancelations, replacements, etc. that would make me feel safe and in control again, but at least I had a few bucks to get food, drinks, and maybe a Vegas souvenir if I was so inclined! My mood lightened significantly!

Day 1, Part 2: Let the Conference Begin!

Back to the conference center we went to gather for our first event, the Virginia Blackboard Users Group or VaBUG meeting, over which I was to preside. We were a little early, and waited for some folks from a previous session to vacate the room. As we waited, we joked about the fact that we were the only ones in the room, and of course, we all work at the same institution. I would really have hated it if more people didn’t come! Finally, they began to trickle in! We ended up with a very nice group of representatives from about 7 or 8 institutions. It wasn’t a huge group, but it WAS a very responsive and sharing group, and I would say we had a very successful time together! We hope to begin planning our annual conference very soon!

Next, we were off to the first Keynote Session, and I made my way to the VIP Bloggers’ area and found a seat. Jay Bhatt, Blackboard’s CEO, began the event with some welcome words, as well as sharing some vision for Blackboard’s future, and the future of education in general. It seemed as though he’d been spending his first months at Blackboard actually meeting with and listening to clients, as he spoke of new ideas for better Bb tool integrations, acceleration of programs and development, and of new innovations. Bhatt also noted that there were over 30 countries and all 50 states represented at this year’s conference, and that there were 235 sessions out there ready to be attended, and most of them facilitated by peers. He then artfully segued into the introduction of today’s keynote speaker, Clay Shirky.

Educator, innovator, and author, Clay Shirky is an internet icon, a “deep thinker”, a “revealer’ in the world of digital usefulness and crowd-sourcing. His works, including his most recent book, “Here Comes Everybody” reveal measurable ways that the Internet has changed, and continues to change our culture, economically, educationally, socially, governmentally. His presentation today was primarily about sharing: the way the network we’ve created brings together what he calls the “cognitive surplus,” that vast world of knowledge, skills, and experience that can now, because of the Internet, be collected, tagged, categorized, indexed, and shared....and completely accessible to the masses. It’s an exciting new age, he tells us, where we’ve taken the already collaborative world of education, for instance, and added a level of instant contribution as well.

We learned about the Darpa Network Challenge, the The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Internet, in which a team from M.I.T. confirmed the importance of the roles that the Internet and social networking play in modern day communication, team- or tribe-building, and problem solving.

Shirky also talked about the numbers of potential man-hours it took to create the phenomena that is Wikipedia, 1 hundred million hours, and compared that to the number of hours people spend watching television per year, or 200 billion hours, and planted the thought that if even a small number of people changed behaviors just a small bit, the wave of change could be enormous!

Of particular interest to me were the stories of a couple of young ethnographers who were using a simple web tool like Instagram to document their work, at the same time instantly publishing, without the usual time lost in the mire of editorial or bureaucratic politics or processes.

The presentation, of course, turned to the world of education, and focused on the changing landscape of teaching and learning in this new Internet-dependent culture. Students can now collaborate to create, instead of just read textbooks. Students can use social networking to study together, help each other, and teachers can of course share resources readily, and begin to use the Internet to meet students where they live.

Clay Shirky is an idol, a teacher, a leader, an understander, and an eye-opener, and I have to admit to having a new appreciation, as a result of his presentation, of the Internet. I thought I understood its impact, its usefulness in our culture, its place in education, but I, like most of us take the web for granted. Even with the amazing things that are being done to utilize this network and collective pool of knowledge, we obviously haven’t even scratched the surface of its potential.

DAY 1, Part 3: Food and Fun!

After the keynote we all gathered in the vendor area for the opening reception. Time for a beer, some great food, a little networking, chatting with some of the vendors, and meeting up with old friends. Our little group then slipped off to our rooms to deposit all the baggage, freshen up, and then met up again to attend a nice cocktail party at V Bar given by Bb Collaborate! More networking, meeting nice people, letting our hair down a little, and general relaxation!

In our usual tradition, we then left the party to seek out the Gelato stand in the plaza! Along the way, we stopped to listen to some music, as well as take advantage of some photo ops!

The lost wallet incident was getting farther and farther behind me!

Monday, July 8, 2013


As I prepare myself to fly out to Las Vegas today for the Blackboard World conference, I have to admit I have a lot of anxiety already over getting to the airport, finding parking, getting the shuttle, getting my bag checked, getting through security, etc. It’s normal for me, I guess. I love flying, but I’m never really settled until I get past the security check. Here’s me with my laptop, my iPad, my iPod Touch, my cell phone, my camera, and my folder of travel paperwork and conference-related things I need to remember, my little baggie of bottles with no more than 3…you get the picture! I’m probably the guy you hate to get behind in security!
I’ve tried to cut down on things that slow me down. I no longer wear a hat with a metal button in top. I wear pants without a belt. I try to remember to empty my pockets of change before I get to the checkpoint. I wear slip-on shoes, despite the fact that they have no support and my feet are killing me. Still, getting out my computer and iPad, and putting them in separate buckets on the conveyor, remembering to take off my cell phone….it just basically unnerves me for a brief time. Then, of course, there is NEVER a good place in the airports to put all your stuff back in order, put your shoes back on, put a belt back on before your pants fall off, all while (and I’m SO glad I’m past these days!) trying to manage and contain your children, watch your purse, make sure that’s YOUR cell phone you just dropped in your bag.
Anyway, wish me luck today! My last trip to the airport was a real nail-biter, when we were stopped on the highway because of a large accident (20 emergency vehicles!), only a few miles from the airport, and just beyond the exit where we could have detoured! We were very lucky that day! Some nice guy came along, and we were never sure who he was or in what capacity he did this, but he re-routed traffic off that highway behind us, even allowing us to turn around and detour off that exit as well! We made our flight, but not without a lot of running, sweating, and worry! Today I am leaving PLENTY early, and allowing myself some time to sit in the terminal and people-watch while I play music on my iPad, play WORDS WITH FRIENDS, and read my emails!
Have a great week, everyone, and watch this space for upcoming blog entries from Blackboard World 2013 in Las Vegas! This week, for me, at least, what happens in Vegas is DEFINITELY not staying in Vegas!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

'TRAINING" is Not a Four-Letter Word

The word “TRAINING” seems to conjure up some bad connotations for some these days. “If you call it ‘training’, many won’t come,” I am often told. Oddly enough, that, in itself, seems rather Pavlovian…a conditioned response…call it training, and we won’t participate. But I digress.
In this world of education, strangely, the ‘T-word’ is most abhorred, according to some. Faculty, for instance, I’m told, take great offense at the thought of being trained. I must interject here that never…and I seriously mean NEVER…has a single instructor shared that ideology with me. But there are some pretty influential people out there, evidently, who have written this in their highly revered professional journal articles. At least that is what I’m told.

So, some feel that ‘training’ has a bad connotation, despite the fact that the word is absolutely descriptive as both noun and verb. Here at Shenandoah University, I am a trainer. In fact, my official title for some time now has been Instructional Technology Training Coordinator. I offer training. So is it some perverse ‘political correctness’ that is causing some folks to suddenly try to change the rules? I am far too logical and pragmatic to look for another word for something that so perfectly describes itself. What other word would you prefer? Granted, if I put ‘ice cream social’ on the training calendar at work, I am sure I would have a lot more people sign up, but unless I had the ice cream on hand, it wouldn’t exactly describe what they were in for, now would it? I know that may sound silly, but this topic has been a conundrum for me for some time now, and I know I’m not alone. At conferences and workshops that I’ve attended or participated in over the past several years, these discussions often surface, and, as yet, I have not heard either a single good argument for choosing another word, or a good solution to what seems like a non-issue to me personally. Although it may sound as though I’m closed-minded, I assure you I am open and receptive to any logic, information, research, or personal experience on the subject that may illuminate me!

I am headed out next week to Blackboard World 2013, a premiere international technology conference for those of us in the world of education and instructional technology, led by one of the world’s leaders in learning management systems, Blackboard, Incorporated. I believe this is my 8th or 9th Blackboard conference. For the last 4 of those years, I’ve also been at times a presenter, a VIP Blogger, a Catalyst Winner, a user group leader, and a panel discussion leader. This year, I’m an official ‘VIP Blogger’ again, as well as a user group leader (The Virginia Blackboard Users Group), as well as a panel discussion leader. I will be leading one of the ‘Birds-of-a-Feather’ panel discussions scheduled for Thursday, July 11th at 2 pm, in Venetian H, entitled, “SHOULD WE CALL IT ‘TRAINING’?”  This is a chance for any and all trainers, workshop leaders, teachers, and even ‘ice cream social’ organizers to openly discuss the importance of what we call our tr-….uh……well, you know what I mean….and how best to reach our respective goals of teaching and learning. I am hoping it will be another humorous, grass roots approach to some common issues that seem to plague trai-…….um….people who do what I do…for a long time. 

I sincerely hope many of you can join me there!