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A Toolbox for Blackboard Tim Roberts

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1 A Toolbox for Blackboard Tim Roberts

2 Introduction Goal: Increase the usage of Blackboard by making some core tasks simpler

3 Presentation Outline Blackboard web applications The Building Blocks program The Toolbox approach Assessments Content Dropbox Gradebook Users

4 Blackboard Web Applications Blackboard supports web applications by allowing you to install your own WAR (Web Application Archive) file. A WAR file is simply a ZIP file which contains files in a specific folder structure and with a.WAR extension.

5 Blackboard Web Applications A WAR file typically contains: –JSPs (Java Server Page files) –Manifest files (XML files containing information about the extra features the WAR file provides) –JAR files (Java archive files)

6 Building Blocks By joining the Blackboard Developers’ Network (BbDN), access is gained to the Blackboard API (Application Programming Interface) JSPs in a WAR file can programmatically interact with the Blackboard API, thus gaining access to the Blackboard data objects

7 Building Blocks This technology makes it possible to create JSPs which can be “plugged into” the Blackboard server and provide functionality which is in addition to the standard functionality Blackboard calls such plug-ins “Building Blocks”

8 The Toolbox Approach Most users of web applications are aware that because of the limitations of current technology and standards, web apps are not as “nice” to use as standard installed applications The web browser was originally designed to render static HTML pages – not to function as an application execution environment

9 The Toolbox Approach In this project a mixed mode approach has been taken The main user interface is a traditional Windows executable Blackboard functionality has been enhanced by creating a number of JSPs which the Windows app interacts with

10 Advantage of this approach The user interface can be designed for maximum user convenience and ease-of-use as it does not run within a browser environment

11 Disadvantages of this approach The application must be installed on the user’s computer – But it is relatively small and light-weight (eg no database) Available for Windows machines only

12 What does it look like?

13 Assessment Building Block The standard Blackboard screen for entering assessment setup details is shown in the following screen

14 Assessment Building Block

15 The assessment building block presents all details in a grid This allows them all to be seen at one time This allows the assessment details to be quickly and easily modified

16 Assessment Building Block

17 Content Building Block Blackboard uses the term “Content Area” to describe the following sections: –Course Information –Course Documents –Assignments –Books –External Links

18 Content Building Block Content Areas

19 Content Building Block The Content Area which is most commonly used is probably Course Documents Staff will be familiar with the Blackboard Control Panel interface to Course Documents:

20 Content Building Block

21 Content Areas are relatively complex. They can contain items and folders.

22 Content Building Block Items can have files and descriptive text associated with them. Folders can have descriptive text associated with them and can contain folders and items. Descriptive text can have attributes associated with it.

23 Content Building Block Item with multiple files attached Folder with descriptive text Item with colour attribute Item with attached file with descriptive text

24 Content Building Block The standard Blackboard interface requires items and folders to be added one by one If you have multiple items to add (eg 12 lecture files for the semester) this is somewhat tedious

25 Content Building Block In addition, if you make changes to one of the files after it has been uploaded to Blackboard, you must remember to upload it again

26 Content Building Block The Content building block which is under development will address these issues

27 Content Building Block Here’s a sample screenshot demonstrating: –Easy-to-use browser for navigating the Content Areas –Editing pane for the title and comment (including attributes) –Availability/tracking pane –Attachment pane

28 Content Building Block

29 The attachment pane is probably the most useful It currently displays an item’s attachments and allows them to be downloaded

30 Content Building Block In the future it will be “drag and drop” aware for both files and folders It will also support automatic updates – If you modify a file which has already been uploaded it will automatically reload the file to the Blackboard server

31 Dropbox Building Block The Blackboard dropbox simply lists all files in chronological order of submission

32 Dropbox Building Block It provides no means of: –Sorting files –Downloading files (other than one-by- one) –Removing files (other than one-by-one)

33 Dropbox Building Block Here is a screenshot of the Dropbox building block which has been developed:

34 Dropbox Building Block

35 Some its features: – Files can be sorted by any field – Entries can be filtered by date (makes it easy to separate one group from another) – Files can be downloaded to the local file system (and automatically unzipped if required)

36 Dropbox Assistant A further screen (called the Marking screen), allows files submitted for a particular assessment to be presented in a grid. Submitted files can be easily opened, and comments and marks recorded.

37 Dropbox Assistant When marking is complete, the comments can be uploaded back to the dropbox, and the marks can be uploaded to the gradebook.

38 Dropbox Assistant

39 Gradebook Building Block The gradebook serves as a repository for marks, and allows students to view their marks online The Gradebook building block presents all grades for all students on a spreadsheet-style page

40 Gradebook Building Block

41 The Gradebook building block is used in conjunction with the Assessments building block (which is first used to create the assessment entries)

42 Gradebook Building Block The grid in which data is presented supports copy and paste operations, enabling information to be easily transferred to and from a spreadsheet or other source of data

43 Users Building Block When Blackboard was first used at MIT, users were entered manually or uploaded in batches The Users building block was developed to present all users for a course in an editable grid

44 Users Building Block

45 Currently however users are registered in Blackboard automatically from enrolment data It is no longer possible to manually add, delete or edit a user

46 Conclusions Sample building blocks have been developed which provide an alternative interface for some key tasks The building blocks have been released to a controlled group of users for beta testing. In the future other building blocks could be developed for tasks such as data integration with other campus systems.

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