One feature of Blackboard that is nearly always overlooked is often the simplest and most effective: Announcements. I don’t know why this is as Announcements are, or should be, the main method for connecting with students and keeping them up to date with their learning journey.
Note: this is as much for campus-based courses as for DL (Distant-Learning). Students who are on campus also need to know how to find information, changes to timetabled session, introduction to activities, etc. as much as DL. Using Announcements effectively also encourages students to use Blackboard; it shows that you are prepared to engage them in the arena you ask them to use to find resources, assignments, activities, etc.
So, in order to provide a little help, here are a few tips on using Blackboard Announcements effectively over the duration of a course (not forgetting pre- and post-course communications):
- Announcements appear on both the Blackboard home page when a student logs in and on the home page of your course.
- You can send the contents of an Announcement to enrolled students as an email.
- You can use the ‘date restriction’ option to time-delay the Announcement’s release.
- Course Links can be used to deep-link to content and information within your Blackboard course.
So, now we know how Announcements can be used, how can we use them effectively and efficiently with our learning resources, activities, and students?
- Write your Announcement in Word or Outlook first. This will give you the opportunity to check both grammar and spelling before posting the Announcement. It’s always good practice to check this before someone else points out a mistake.
- If you think you will be using the Announcement again with subsequent cohorts then save the Announcement Word file to your X-drive, and remember where you put it. Whilst you will still have the online version to re-use, it’s always good to have your own copy stored in case something happens to the course, to Blackboard, or your access to it.
- Use the text formatting sparingly – no one really wants to read an Announcement that has large green italicised text.
- Use Announcements at various times during the course to introduce yourself, new theories or resources, highlight aspects of the course, and to remind students of timescale or deadlines for activities or assessments. It is also good practice to highlight room changes and/or altered timetables (as well as sending emails) to make sure that students receive the changes.
- Announcements can be used before a course officially starts (if the students are already enrolled) as a way to introduce the course, the contents or learning outcomes, the timetable, the lecture and seminar formats, the assessment strategy, etc. so that the students, from day one, can get involved immediately with the learning and not your management style.
- Use Announcements to close activities and introduce new ones. This is not just a simple “X finished, Y starts” Announcement but a contextual Announcement about an activity and participation/reflection as well as signposting how it fits in with overall course aim. If the next activity builds on knowledge or a skill from the previous activity, highlight this too.
- Try not to use ‘permanent’ option: very few Announcements need to be flagged as ‘permanent’ so they stick to the top of the Announcement list forever.
- Use the ‘course link’ option when you refer to or need to make reference to course materials: the ‘course link’ option will help students gain immediate access to course materials wherever they are located in the course structure. The more folders and files you have, the more Announcements that utilise ‘course links’ will benefit students.
- Do not upload or attach files to Announcements unless it is essential: use the course structure to upload the file as an attachment to an Item in the Materials & Activities or Overview folders, and link to the Item or Folder. This has several benefits, the most notable is that the Item or Folder will remain if the course is recycled, the Announcement will not.
- Yes you can re-order the Announcements manually, but try and resist doing this. Announcements are, by definition, related to a specific time and/or event, therefore they need to remain in the context of the course and settings.
- Use the ‘date restricted’ option if you want to pre-populate your Blackboard course with Announcements: e.g. release an Announcement every Monday at 8:00AM introducing the new weeks topic and activity schedule. Use this wisely as to have it look too automated will put students off and actually work against you.
If you would like to talk through Blackboard Announcements, or any aspect of Blackboard or Technology Enhanced Learning, with the College Learning Technologists, please contact David or Stephen.