Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for Group Assignments

GVSU Nursing faculty Nancy Schoofs and Sue Harrington wanted to try something new in their Professional Nursing course. Instead of dividing their students into groups and having them submit a review of the course readings, they decided to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and have the students record themselves engaged in a group discussion about the text. The results exceeded all of their expectations.

To carry out the discussions, students were divided into small groups and provided access to the Collaborate Ultra course group tool where they could share content and use the whiteboard, as well as create recordings.Blackboard Collaborate Ultra AllowHalf of the students read one course text and the other half read a second. They were then required to discuss a set of questions about each reading during a series of Collaborate Ultra sessions that were recorded throughout the semester. A rubric was used to evaluate their discussions based on the content they covered, their organization, teamwork, delivery and effectiveness.

According to Professor Schoofs and Harrington, their students really embraced the opportunity to discuss, rather then write about, the readings. Most of the students joined the sessions using their own computers and devices, but some chose to meet face-to-face and simply used Collaborate to record their discussion. Both methods worked exceptionally well and the results were both engaging and insightful. Given the opportunity, both Professor Schoofs and Harrington agreed that they would use the Collaborate Ultra course group tool for similar assignments in their future courses.

GVSU eLearning team attends BbWorld’19

System administrators Katie Clark and Colleen Cameron and eLearning and Instructional Technology Specialist, Vince St. Germain attended the national Blackboard “BbWorld’19 – Moving Education Technology Forward” conference which was held from July 22 – 25 in August, Texas.


Pictured left to right: Andrea Linn, Blackboard Account Executive, Vince St. Germain, Colleen Cameron, Katie Clark at the BbWorld Conference taking a ride in the Blackboard Ally “On the Road to IncluCity” VW Bus

Here are a few notes and highlights captured by the eLearning team and some photos too!:

Ally Roadmap Notes

New features in development or coming soon to Ally:

New Institutional Report:

Instead of With/Without Ally, the Institutional Report will display:

  • Overall Score: based on everything
  • File Score: Word docs, pdfs, etc.
  • Average WYSIWYG score: based on content from the text editor

Usage Reporting: Will be available to System Admins

Departmental Reporting: Based on institutional hierarchy and allow delegated access to departmental administrators (will require a Learn update)

Extended accessibility checklist with WCAG 2.1

Starting Trial of BeeLine Reader 

  • An additional alternative format (color pattern transition in text to help with reading)

Instructor-facing Course Report

  • Provides summary to instructors and helps with prioritization

WYSIWYG live scoring

Made Ally Indicators more prominent for students: Instead of the dropdown arrow, the A icon will display

The Ally Roadmap presentation concluded with a picture of Katie, Colleen, Vince, and Andrea on the way to IncluCity – because we’re kind of a big deal.


The first component of BbData has been released. Conference attendees encouraged to participate in 21 Days of Blackboard Data where participants can complete one challenge per day to help prepare for the developer release of BbData:

Tips and Tricks for Inexpensive Accessibility Testing

Elizabeth Simister

“All accessibility issues are usability issues, but not all usability issues are accessibility issues.”

This session provided an overview of some inexpensive techniques such as basic keyboard commands, color contrast analysis, use of operating system accessibility features, and how to interpret automated testing results from tools such as Axe, Wave, and SiteImprove. 

Some examples in the session: 

  • Check color contrast using a tool like Paceiello’s Color Contrast Analyzer.
  • Switch your computer to high-contrast mode.
  • Practice keyboard-only navigation to ensure that all (and only) interactive elements need keyboard focus.  
  • Pair a keyboard to a mobile device and check keyboard interaction.
  • Check mobile mode too (zoom to 200%).
  • Utilize accessibility features in Word/PowerPoint/PDFs.

Get Your Gauge Up! A Campus-Wide Blackboard Ally Implementation

Texas Tech University: Justin Louder, Lisa Leach, Chyrel Mayfield, Terry Knight

Changing the Culture: Go from Reactive to Proactive

  • Plan to be fully compliant within x years
  • Include milestones
  • Find a champion in each college/school
  • Pick the low-hanging fruit (e.g. use descriptive links instead of URLs; caption videos; use layouts in PPT; etc.) – documentation and templates for instructors

GVSU Professor receives Blackboard Award for Optimizing the Student Experience

Dr. Szymon Machajewski, an affiliate professor in the School of Computing and Information Systems at Grand Valley State University, has been named a winner of the Blackboard Inc. Catalyst Award in the “Optimizing Student Experience” category.

szymonawardquote.PNGMachajewski said using Blackboard in his CIS 150 course is a critical component and helps drive student success.

“The coordination of the course focuses on improving student experience and ensuring that Blackboard technology scales instructor efforts in communication of announcements, grades and course outline,” Machajewski said. “Students have a better course experience when they know their current grades to manage their academic effort and exact due dates through notifications and mobile technology to manage their time.”

GVNow – “Grand Valley faculty member wins Blackboard Catalyst Award

See Also: “Blackboard Announces Winners of 2019 Catlayst Awards


About the Optimizing Student Experience Blackboard Catalyst Award

Founded in 2005, the annual Catalyst Awards recognize and honor innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global community of practice, where millions of educators and learners work every day to redefine what is possible when leveraging technology. Winners are selected by a cross-functional team of Blackboard experts.

Specifically, the “Optimizing Student Experience Award”, honors those institutions whose educational and administrative innovations have markedly improved the total learner experience. This includes their addressing of new and changing dynamics in fields such as student recruitment, financial aid, enrollment, retention and assessment, graduation, and beyond. More information about the Catalyst Awards can be found on Blackboard’s website.

Optimizing Student Experience at GVSU

As coordinator and instructor of CIS 150 Introduction to Computing, Machajewski has integrated Blackboard tools to engage with students and to motivate them to succeed. In addition, he is an expert in leveraging technology in a variety of ways, always focused on student success and optimizing the student experience. Here are a few examples of his work at the intersection of teaching and technology:

  1. “Using Blackboard Goals to Monitor Curriculum and for Accreditation” – GVSU eLearning Blog Post
  2. “GVSU’s Blackboard Student Photo Roster enhances Personalized Instruction”  – GVSU eLearning Blog Post (The photo roster application was also released as an open educational resource, available for download.) 
  3. “Move over, Mario Professor invents game to engage students in learning” – Grand Valley Magazine Article
  4. “Open Source Analytics for Blackboard Learn” – 2014 GVSU Big Data Conference
  5. Gamification Strategies in a Hybrid Exemplary College Course” – International Journal of Educational Technology


The eLearning team at GVSU congratulates Dr. Szymon Machajewski in receiving this recognition, and his commitment to student success!!!

“We’re thrilled to honor this year’s Blackboard Catalyst Award winners for their commitment to improving the educational experience for all learners through EdTech and sharing these insights with the broader community,” said Lee Blakemore, Chief Client Officer and President, Global Client Operations & Success at Blackboard. “Clients like these inspire us to accelerate innovation driving student success and we’re proud to be a part of their story.”

Lee Blakemore, Chief Client Officer and President, Global Client Operations & Success at Blackboard

Machajewski will also be honored alongside other Blackboard Catalyst Award winners during BbWorld 2019, Blackboard’s annual user conference to be held July 23-25 in Austin, TX.


Dr. Szymon Machajewski was also recognized with a Blackboard Exemplary Course Winner award in 2017 for “Introduction to Computing” at GVSU.

About Blackboard
Blackboard is the leading provider of learner success-focused technology solutions and services. Its product portfolio is unmatched in the marketplace, spanning teaching and learning, analytics, community engagement, campus transactions and security solutions as well as student services.

Our mission is to partner with the global education community to enable learner and institutional success, leveraging innovative technologies and services. With an unmatched understanding of the world of the learner, the most comprehensive student-success solutions, and the greatest capacity for innovation, Blackboard is education’s partner in change.


2018 Campus Technology Readers’ Choice Awards highlight Best Technologies at GVSU

20181016rca2018The 2018 Reader’s Choice Awards have been announced by Campus Technology!

With a variety of technologies being used in higher education, Campus Technology has been surveying readers of across several product categories to find the favorites. These awards have been given for the past 4 years and readers vote on the best technologies in place  at their institutions.

“Technology has changed our culture and also our classrooms!”

This post highlights technologies that have received award recognition and are currently used at GVSU to support teaching and learning.

Learn more and get support in using these technologies in your teaching at GVSU by visiting our eLearning and Emerging Technologies website!


GVSU’s eLearning Team Receives Award at National Blackboard Conference

Over the summer, several staff from GVSU’s eLearning and Emerging Technologies team attended the national Blackboard Conference called “#BbWorld18“.

One of the highlights for the eLearning team was honor and recognition of receiving the 2018 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Professional Development. The team was recognized on the main stage, while receiving an award at a special luncheon reception for Blackboard Catalyst winners.

Pictured below is Colleen Cameron, Katie Clark, Vince St. Germain, and Eric Kunnen who received the award on behalf of the eLearning team. Recognition was provided by Tim Atkin, Chief Client Officer and Bill Ballhaus, Chairmen, Chief Executive Officer, President at Blackboard Inc. (Pictured below left and right respectively.)

The eLearning team was also recognized at a GVSU Board of Trustees meeting.  (See Also: “eLearning Team Celebrates Receiving the Blackboard Catalyst Award“.)


Eric Kunnen, Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies, blogged several sessions at the conference. Also, #BbWorld18, the Twitter hashtag at the event was a popular stream of highlights.

#EdTech with Eric Blog #BbWorld18 Posts

eLearning Team celebrates receiving the 2018 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Professional Development

The eLearning and Emerging Technologies (eLearning) team is honored to receive the 2018 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Professional Development!

GVSU’s eLearning team was recognized by President T. Haas at the July 13th Board of Trustees Meeting.


Pictured Left to Right – GVSU President T. Haas with eLearning Team: Kim Kenward, Justin Melick, Glenna Decker, Sherry Barricklow, Colleen Cameron, Eric Kunnen, Hunter Bridwell, Katie Clark (Not pictured: Vince St. Germain and Matt Roberts) – Photo by Elizabeth Lienau


See Also:
GVSU earns National Award for Blackboard Innovation

Blackboard Announces Winners of 2018 Catalyst Awards

Grand Valley State University’s Catalyst Award Story

Every year,  institutions are recognized for their innovative uses of Blackboard through a series of Catalyst Awards. This year, 32 recipients were selected out of 75 submissions across 7 categories. The eLearning and Emerging Technologies team (Eric Kunnen, Katie Clark, Colleen Cameron, Vince St.Germain, Sherry Barricklow, Kim Kenward, Glenna Decker, Matthew Roberts, Justin Melick, and Hunter Bridwell) will be honored alongside other Blackboard Catalyst Award winners during BbWorld 2018, Blackboard’s annual user conference to be held July 16-19 in Orlando.

In short, GVSU’s eLearning team was recognized for their creative suite of innovative professional development support and resources at Grand Valley State University. 

“The eLearning team’s focus is centered on innovation in new pedagogies and the creative use of technologies at the intersection of teaching and learning. By leveraging Blackboard, the eLearning team provides high quality professional development through empowering faculty and students in the creation of the next generation of education.”

As higher education continues on the path of the digital transformation of teaching and learning, the eLearning team collaborates with faculty to apply technology to reflect innovations in pedagogy.  In fact, the eLearning team’s slogan is: “Supporting faculty pursuing innovation in teaching and learning.”

At the core of the faculty professional development provided by the eLearning team is a specific focus on student success through the GVSU 2021 Strategic Plan, with direct alignment in the areas of inclusive learning and innovative teaching. The eLearning team aligns to the university’s institutional outcome whereby GVSU supports innovative teaching, learning, integrative scholarly and creative activity, and the use of new technologies.

Further, the eLearning team provides the key institutional strategic support for GVSU 2021 Strategic Plan Objective 1.D.2 which states: At least 93% of faculty members regularly use electronic course management tools, such as Blackboard, in their teaching.

As part of the Information Technology Department at Grand Valley State University (GVSU),  eLearning and Emerging Technologies is on mission and is dedicated to supporting faculty, contributing to teaching excellence, and enhancing student success through a unique synergy between the following professional development facets:

This combination of professional development and support resources provides great breadth and depth in the support of faculty and students at GVSU. The work of the eLearning team is further extended through institution-wide partnerships and collaboration, including: the Office of the Provost, Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, Disability Support Resources, and University Libraries.

In summary, the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team is highly accomplished, providing a unique blend of innovative professional development programming at GVSU that contributes to teaching excellence and student success.

eLearning provides innovative training methods to create a rich and well organized set of resources for professional development and faculty support. These resources go above and beyond the common help desk support that is typically offered. The ultimate goal is to widely share best practices and innovative pedagogies to inform and to transform teaching at GVSU. The following list is an example of the wide array of support that is provided to faculty at the university:

  • Website Resources – The resources available on provide a rich and robust set of best practices and support resources for faculty. Included in these resources are instructional design theories and research that leads to effective practice such as: Applying the TPACK model to Blackboard, and Applying Blackboard to Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice.
  • eLearning and Emerging Technologies Blog – Highlighting timely events, noteworthy teaching practices, and shining a spotlight on resources is the focus of the eLearning blog.
  • Email and Social Media – Monthly campus wide eLearning Newsletters are leveraged to increase communication with faculty. Twitter and Facebook provide community wide sharing of eLearning trends and the latest updates from the eLearning team.
  • Print – The eLearning team leverages postcards, seminar handouts, and a variety of print materials to further communicate strategies to advance education through technology.
  • TECH BYTES Video – Recently added to the eLearning YouTube channel (and also uniquely available on Fire TV via an Amazon App), video is used to widely share best practices in leveraging Blackboard as well as a variety of instructional technologies to enhance teaching. In fact, eLearning offers 14 “TECH BYTES” videos as well as 10 videos that highlight good practice in teaching online or hybrid courses.
  • eLearning Open Office Hours – GVSU has a geographically spread out campus with the main campus about 20 minutes from downtown Grand Rapids. To provide presence to faculty and to support them where they are located, eLearning offers drop-in assistance at a variety of locations and times. Assistance is available for Blackboard, instructional design, digital media, online/hybrid course development, and instructional technology support.
  • Open Badges – eLearning facilitated the implementation of open badges for faculty professional development. In fact, the first badge awarded at GVSU was eLearning’s “#EdTech Summer Teaching Institute” badge. Further, 7 badges are currently offered by eLearning, including 4 Blackboard badges, a digital media badge, an #EdTech Summer Teaching Institute badge, and a badge for the successful completion of Foundations of Online and Hybrid Course Development and Delivery.
  • Department Engagement – Through the eLearning team’s staff of instructional designers, digital media developers, and eLearning and instructional technology specialists, a variety of departments are provided with ongoing support. 
  • Faculty Learning Communities – With over 150 faculty enrolled in a Blackboard Organization Site, instructors teaching online or hybrid classes are provided with a wealth of resources, access to meeting minutes, and opportunities to learn about new pedagogies in distance education. The Blackboard Organization has become a growing repository of tips and best practices associated with online instruction and course development.  The Online/Hybrid Faculty Learning Communities are offered in partnership with GVSU’s Faculty Teaching and Learning Center.
  • Academic Advising Blackboard Sites – Through automation, eLearning offers a series of advising organization sites in Blackboard. These efficiently connect faculty advisors and students while providing a home base for helpful resources and opportunities for increased communication for advisors.
  • Certificate of Completion –  With the aid of an opensource “Certificate of Completion” building block by Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, instructors at GVSU have the ability to create and distribute custom certificates that students can proudly post, print or display. This tool has allowed nursing faculty and staff to be more efficient and effective in providing students with achievement verifications.
  • ePortfolios for Faculty – GVSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) is the largest of the university’s colleges. The benefits of using Blackboard for ePortfolio work provides additional opportunities for faculty while encouraging greater adoption of the system for teaching.
  • Class Photo Roster – Based on a project request from faculty involved in the GVSU Faculty Teaching and Learning Center’s “Strong Start Initiative”, a class photo roster feature was implemented in Blackboard to enhance personal connections between faculty and students. The Strong Start Initiative focuses faculty attention on best practices for engaging students in first-year undergraduate courses and important aspects of the college experience vital to student success. Blackboard’s Class Photo Roster at GVSU assists faculty in learning students’ names, which contributes to improving student success, along with being more approachable as a faculty member.  (Note: This photo roster tool is an opensource Blackboard Building Block by Szymon Machajewski, an affilate faculty member at GVSU.)
  • Special Events – eLearning at GVSU assists in a wide array of campus events including: New Faculty Orientation, establishing a new 2 day #EdTech Summer Teaching Institute, and facilitating the Teaching with Technology Symposium which has been offered for more than 16 years. This yearly event brings together faculty and staff to focus on enhancing teaching and learning through technology. 
  • Rich Faculty Digital Media Support  Sharing and creating content for faculty across the curriculum leads to student success and faculty effectiveness.  At GVSU, faculty do not have to spend time worrying about the technical details, as the Digital Studio comes along side professors to support digital media creation. Faculty focus on their content and the delivery, and the Digital Studio handles the rest. Here is a comprehensive list of a creative set of Digital Studio projects that eLearning has provided as a resource to faculty at GVSU.
  • Leveraging Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for Global Reach at GVSU – Blackboard Collaborate Ultra provides live web conferencing, virtual office hours, guest speakers and more at GVSU. The following examples highlight a few of the unique ways that the university is leveraging the use of LIVE videoconferencing applications that are integrated into Blackboard:
    • Physical Therapy LIVE from Iraq
    • Lunch and Learn Brown Bag Series LIVE from Palestine
    • United Nation’s Youth Virtual Conference LIVE from Africa and Europe
  • Emerging Technologies and the Technology Showcase – As part of the eLearning team’s work, the latest emerging technologies are a focus of the Atomic Object Technology Showcase. The mission of the showcase is to provide faculty, staff, and students with an immersive and engaging environment to: interact, discover, learn, and share how innovative emerging technologies can enhance teaching and improve student learning at GVSU.
  • ‘hackGVSU’ hackGVSU was the first hackathon event to be hosted at Grand Valley State University in partnership with Blackboard Inc.

Culminating together, the achievements and support offered through eLearning at GVSU illustrate a rich and structured professional development program that:

  1. focuses on course quality
  2. shares best practices
  3. generates economies of scale
  4. coordinates resources
  5. evaluates to focus on continuous quality improvement

“Blackboard enables GVSU to transform education by empowering faculty to be more effective in their teaching – and students more efficient in their learning.”

Congratulations to the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team!

About Blackboard

Our mission is to partner with the global education community to enable learner and institutional success, leveraging innovative technologies and services. With an unmatched understanding of the world of the learner, the most comprehensive student-success solutions, and the greatest capacity for innovation, Blackboard is education’s partner in change.

About the Blackboard Catalyst Awards

For over a decade, the Blackboard Catalyst Awards have annually recognized and honored innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global community of practice, where millions of teachers and learners work every day to redefine what is possible when leveraging technology.

Blackboard is focused on highlighting client successes and raising awareness throughout the educational industry by celebrating client achievements and milestones. Our community centers on educators and administrators who are passionate about using technology in education and collaborating on best practices. The Blackboard Catalyst Awards are an opportunity to celebrate these accomplishments and help raise standard for the entire community.

The Blackboard Catalyst Awards include 8 categories this year:

  • Blackboard Catalyst Award for Leading Change
  • Blackboard Catalyst Award for Community Engagement
  • Blackboard Catalyst Award for Teaching & Learning
  • Blackboard Catalyst Award for Inclusive Education
  • Blackboard Catalyst Award for Optimizing Student Experience
  • Blackboard Catalyst Award for Training & Professional Development
  • Blackboard Catalyst Award for Student Success

For more information on the Blackboard Catalyst Awards, please visit the client awards website.

Submit YOUR Course and Participate in the @Blackboard Exemplary Course Program

Blackboard recently featured a quality course program in a post entitled: “The Blackboard Exemplary Course Program: What’s in it for You?

In short, the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program recognizes faculty and course designers from schools, colleges and universities around the world who develop exciting and innovative courses that represent the very best in technology and learning.

The award highlights technologically rich, engaging, well designed, and pedagogically sound courses that showcase best practices for the user community. Submissions are judged by peers and by experts on the following components through an Exemplary Course Program Rubric:

  • course design;
  • interaction and collaboration;
  • assessment; and
  • learner support

Faculty and instructional designers can:

  1. Submit their courses for self-review
  2. Submit their courses for peer-review
  3. Volunteer to review courses

The following video spotlight features the exemplary course program and includes a segment by GVSU Affiliate Instructor, Szymon Machajewski, from the School of Computing and Information Systems.


Last year, Grand Valley State University’s professors Szymon Machajewski and Cheryl Kautz, earned recognition from education technology company Blackboard Inc. as recipients of the “Exemplary Course Award” through the Blackboard Catalyst Award program. The winners were recognized during the BbWorld 2017 conference to be held July 25-27 in New Orleans.


Szymon Machajewski, Affiliate Instructor, in the School of Computing and Information Systems at GVSU received a 2017 Blackboard Exemplary Course Award for his CIS150 – Introduction to Computing Course.  The award also recognized Brad Brege, CIS150 course coordinator, as a course collaborator and contributor.


Cheryl Kautz, Affiliate Instructor, in the School of Computing and Information Systems at GVSU received a 2017 Blackboard Exemplary Course Award for her CIS238 – Internet Media and Programming Course.



About the Blackboard Exemplary Course Award – This award recognizes faculty and course designers who develop exciting and innovative courses that represent the very best in technology and learning.

Congratulations again to GVSU faculty Szymon Machajewski and Cheryl Kautz, along with all of the 2017 award winners:

  • Hawaii Pacific University: Dr. Han Nee Chong
  • Algonquin College, Ontario, Canada: Dr. Albert Dudley
  • Grand Valley State University, Michigan: Cheryl Kautz
  • Grand Valley State University, Michigan: Szymon Machajewski
  • Columbia Southern University, Alabama: Jacqueline Pica and Dr. Christine Whitaker
  • Ohio University: Kyle Rosenberger
  • Kent State University, Ohio: Dr. John Staley