Tips for Teaching Online at GVSU

Are you teaching online this semester? If so, check out this checklist to help you prepare and build your course, zero in on student engagement and instructor presence, and overall focus on student success and retention.


  • Complete a self peer review.
    Use the Online Education Council peer review rubric or the Blackboard Exemplary Course Award rubric to review your course. See the “Good Practice Teaching Standards” on the IDeL website.
  • Make course improvements.
    Using the information gleaned from the peer review rubric above, reflect back and ask yourself: what worked last semester, what didn’t, were students confused, are more directions or explanation needed, can you add in more interactivity or active learning through instructional design, do you need some help from the digital studio in bringing in more video with Panopto?
  • Communicate and open your course to students in Blackboard.
    In order to best help your student prepare for the upcoming semester, be sure to communicate with your students before the semester starts and open up your course availability to students.
  • Encourage students to complete readiness checker.
    Take a moment to encourage your students to complete the self-assessment: “Are your ready for online learning?


  • Welcome your students.
    Post an announcement and email your students to welcome them. Let them know who you are, where to begin, etc.
  • Provide a course orientation.
    Some students may be new to online learning, and all of them will be new to your course. Give them some guidance around how your course is designed, create a course overview video, provide tips for success, etc.
  • Connect with your students.
    Provide a way for students to introduce themselves with a FlipGrid video, a discussion board post, a blog post, or other.
  • Monitor your student logins.
    Review the Blackboard Performance Dashboard and check in to make sure that your students are logging into your course! If not, send a personal email and reach out to them.


  • Establish your online presence.
    Be sure that you are visible in your online course. Take note of the times where you send out communication, respond to student’s discussion board posts, etc. Take advantage of the Blackboard Retention Center to review your engagement.



  • Monitor your students.
    Check in and monitor your students using the Blackboard Performance Dashboard, Grade Center, and Retention Center.
  • Maintain instructor presence and communicate regularly.
    Be sure you are continuing to engage in the course to ensure you are electronically “visible” to students. Use discussion board, email, announcements, etc. to keep communication flowing.
  • Offer online office hours.
    Use Blackboard Collaborate to offer students to meet with you live for online office hours. This can help break down the barriers and increase engagement with students.
  • Mid-semester course correction.
    Provide an opportunity for students to give you feedback in mid-semester as to how things are going. Use a Blackboard survey to get feedback from students that may provide you with insights for improvement.
  • Grade and provide feedback.
    Be sure you are providing timely feedback on learning activities, assignments, quizzes, and tests. Students will often submit their assignment and desire immediate feedback. Use the Blackboard Grade Center to provide student feedback, the Blackboard inline grading feature for assignments, etc.



IDeL in eLearning offers a variety of additional tips for teaching online:

Are you teaching online? Please leave a comment with your tips for success!


ETOM Meet Up features GVSU’s Lightboard

The Educational Technology Organization of Michigan (ETOM) conducts monthly “meet ups” when are live webinars focused on a variety of topics centered on distance learning and instructional technology.

On Thursday, January 17, Justin Melick, digital media developer, presented and shared GVSU’s experiences with building and using lightboards to enhance teaching and learning.

Justin brought the idea for a lightboard to GVSU and built the first one back in 2015. Since then over 30 instructors have taken advantage of the lightboard in in their online, hybrid, and in person courses. To date, there have been over 500 videos created by faculty at GVSU!

Here is professor Becky Bergakker talking about the benefits of using lightboards in her courses.


Lightboards are available on the Allendale Campus in the Kindschi Hall of Science (KHS), downtown in the College of Health Sciences (CHS) and coming soon to the Seidman College of Business (SCB).

Designing Quality Courses in Blackboard with Cheryl Kautz

kautzcSit back, relax, and watch as Cheryl Kautz, Affiliate Instructor, in the School of Computing and Information Systems at GVSU guides you through her CIS 231 course in Blackboard.



As a previous “Blackboard Exemplary Course Award” and “Most Inclusive Classroom Award” recipient, Cheryl focuses on using quality course design methods including key tools in Blackboard such as Blackboard Ally for accessibility (eg. Syllabus, course content etc. includes alternative formats such as audio only), Panopto for video with popup formative quizzes, and tips for improving navigation including using course links to keep students on track and to provide easier navigation.

Highlighted in Cheryl’s course tour are the following design principles in using Blackboard to delivery quality instruction at GVSU.

Streamlined Course Menu

Customizing the course menu provides students with a simple and easy way to navigate the areas of her course. When designing your menu, aim to keep your navigation areas as clean, short and simple as possible. Use headings and dividers to break up the menu into chunks.


Course Links

Course Links assists students with navigating and jumping from section to section in a course site. Using Blackboard Course Links ensures students can easily navigate to other areas of your course quickly.


Checking for Accessibility with Blackboard Ally

Cheryl has dedicated time for inclusive learning by ensuring the content uploaded is accessible with Blackboard Ally. A GREEN indicator indicates that the file has a good rating. Yellow or red indicators appear when a file has low or poor levels of web accessibility.


Students benefit from using Blackboard Ally by accessing alternative file formats such as audio only.


Getting Started

Establish a “Getting Started” content area to help students “get started”. This area of Cheryl’s course provides:

  • links to “Are you ready for online learning at GVSU”
  • encouraging students to upload a Blackboard profile picture for increased engagement
  • an introductory Blackboard blog post for student to student interaction
  • a course link directing students to begin the “week 1 tasks”

Weekly Folders

Each weekly folder uses a consistent design and includes key dates and reminders such as midterm, spring break, final exams, and most importantly the objectives to be covered. The objectives are connected to the learning activities and assessments to inform students clearly about what they are expected to accomplish throughout the week which is good instructional design.


Inside of each weekly folder, students are presented with a “To Do” instruction list, practice assignments, video lectures, discussions, projects, quizzes, audio PowerPoints, and homework help.


Panopto Videos with Quizzes

Cheryl uses Panopto to present video based instruction with quizzes to check for students’ understanding and to provide formative feedback.



eLearning and Emerging Technologies Team offers Course Design and Development Support

As you build courses in Blackboard, please feel free to reach out to the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team for assistance in most effectively leveraging the use of Blackboard in your teaching at GVSU. We’re here to help!

How to use Blackboard Analytics to Support your Students at GVSU

You have probably heard about “BIG DATA“. Here we make the case for the value of “small data” and provide 3 ways you can access data in your Blackboard course to improve student success.

Big data is about gathering large amounts of data to reveal insights through analysis. Small data, on the other hand, can provide just enough data in order that action can be taken based on the evaluation of information at hand.

In education, data can lead administrators and faculty to improve student success and retention through “learning analytics”.

“Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.”

– The Predictive Learning Analytics Revolution: Leveraging Learning Data for Student Success via EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

While Blackboard provides products such as “Blackboard Predict” to monitor students at risk and to connect advisors to students for early intervention, there are tools available in every course at GVSU enabling faculty to receive “early alerts” and to take action through small nudges given to students.

Blackboard Retention Center pictured on Laptop

The key benefit of accessing data and taking advantage of learning analytics is to take action based on the insights provided. Using the insights, faculty can provide communication nudges to students to encourage them to keep going, give them a kudos or thumbs up for a job well done, or offer advice to those that may need an extra level of learner support.

Here are 3 ways you can leverage data in your Blackboard course to improve student success and retention at GVSU:

#1 – Use the Blackboard Retention Center to discover and to monitor students “at risk”.

Found in every course, under the “Evaluation” menu in the “Course Management” panel, the Retention Center provides faculty with the ability to monitor students, and their levels of performance regarding:

  • missed deadlines – provides faculty with students who have missed an assignment due date
  • grade alerts – provides faculty with information about students who are performing 25% below the class average
  • activity alerts – provides faculty with a list of students whose activity is 20% below the course average
  • access alerts – provides faculty with the last course access of students

Further, the instructor themselves can receive assessment, interaction and collaboration insights through their own activities in the course.

Blackboard Retention Center Screen Capture Showing Students Currently at Risk

Blackboard Retention Center Screen

Blackboard Retention Center Screen Capture showing

Learn more about using the Retention Center to monitor students at risk.

#2 – Use the Performance Dashboard to become aware of students activity at-a-glance.

Found in every course, under the “Evaluation” menu in the “Course Management” panel, the Performance Dashboard provides faculty with the ability to monitor students, and their levels of performance regarding:

  • last course access – provides faculty with the last date the students have accessed the course
  • review status – provides faculty with which students have marked items as “reviewed”
  • adaptive release – provides faculty with a view as to how students are progressing through a course using adaptive release
  • discussion board posts – provides faculty with the students’ activity in the discussion board

Learn more about using the Performance Dashboard to monitor students.

#3 – Use Item Tracking for monitoring students as they interact with content.

Found in every course as faculty upload or create content, the ability to turn on “Statistics Tracking” provides a report as to which students have accessed the information. The report includes the user activity to date, day of the week and hour of the day.

Learn more about using the Statistics Reports to monitor students.

Top 8 Posts from 2018

At GVSU, the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team is here to support faculty pursuing innovation in teaching and learning. Our team is dedicated to supporting faculty, contributing to teaching excellence, and enhancing student success through:

  • exemplary instructional design
  • effective application and integration of instructional technologies
  • interactive digital media development
  • administration and enhancement of the university’s enterprise learning management system (Blackboard)
  • deployment of innovative emerging technologies


Reflecting back on 2018, we would like to recognize and celebrate the work of faculty at GVSU in their efforts to advance education through the application of technology in teaching.

Here are the top 8 posts from the eLearning blog in the year 2018:

1 – 7 Things you didn’t know that Blackboard can do!

2 – GVSU selects Blackboard Ally to Support Inclusive Education

3 – First ever hackGVSU ‘Hackathon’ brings Innovative Ideas to Enhance Blackboard at GVSU

4 – Applying the Blackboard LMS to TPACK

5 – Teaching with the Lightboard at GVSU

6 – EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative “2018 Key Issues” meet the Initiatives in eLearning at GVSU

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

8 – GVSU selects Panopto to Increase Accessibility and Enhance Teaching with Video

EDUCAUSE research zeros in on Accessibility

Recently, the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research released a 2018 Students and Technology Report that zeros in on the need to improve awareness and support for accessibility issues in higher education.

Most noteworthy in this report is that students who have disabilities are often dissatisfied with their experiences at their institutions around general awareness of the importance of accessibility.

“The institutional provision of accessible web content and technologies is not then merely an issue of ethics or morality but one of legal liability.

Institutions that fail to properly accommodate the needs of their students may find themselves confronted with lawsuits, complaints, and settlements.

However, one of the major problems facing colleges and universities is that institutions may SIMPLY NOT BE AWARE of students’ needs.

EDUCAUSE 2018 Students and Technology Report on Accessibility

Blackboard Ally was adopted at GVSU to INCREASE AWARENESS of the importance of accessibility and ADA compliance, to BUILD the CAPACITY of faculty in creating accessible content, and to offer greater INSIGHT at the institutional level.

Looking more closely at the survey results, 58% of students with disabilities have responded that their institution’s awareness of their need for accessible technologies was “poor”. [See Chart Below]

Reviewing the data overall, EDUCAUSE suggests that IT accessibility is an issue for many college students with both physical and learning disabilities.

Also of note is that many students who have diagnosed disabilities do not reveal or register with the university’s disability support resources office for fear that they may be stigmatized or penalized.

To better support creating awareness and to provide better support to all students, EDUCAUSE recommends the following:

  • “Be a collaborative partner in testing and implementing assistive/accessible technologies and the principles of universal design for learning.”
    • At GVSU, the eLearning team works with the Disability Support Resources Office and supports the use of universal design for learning as well as the adoption of Blackboard Ally to encourage faculty to begin with accessibility in mind and to monitor the level of accessibility of their course content.
  • “Provide professional development to IT staff via accessibility workshops, conferences, and training; develop campus IT accessibility policies related to the development, procurement, and implementation of products…”
  • “Revise informational and course materials targeted to this population to emphasize accessibility, which focuses on inclusion and universal learning,11 to help destigmatize student learning barriers.”
  • “Offer training for faculty on implementing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines13 and other universal/inclusive instructional practices. Educate faculty on the inequitable impacts and potential legal implications that bans on in-class use of personal devices can have on students with disabilities.”
  • “And stop us if you’ve heard this one before:  STOP BANNING LAPTOPS.”


“After a difficult freshman year, Lucas realizes he needs help. In high school he was diagnosed with a condition that affects his fine-motor skills, and he received therapy and accommodations that helped him succeed. When he started college, he decided not to register with the campus Office of Disability Services, but the demands of college proved challenging, and he struggled to keep up. Writing in longhand for extended periods is painful and results in illegible class notes.

Using his laptop works best for him, but half of his instructors last year didn’t allow laptops in class.

The Office of Disability Services requires proof of his condition that must be no more than three years old, so Lucas visits his doctor for an updated exam, earns money to cover the medical fees to fill out his accommodation forms (which aren’t covered by his insurance), and registers.

He receives an accommodation to use his laptop in class and notifies all his instructors before classes begin. On the first day of his Intro to Economics course, the professor reviews the course policies, which include a ban on personal tech devices in class.

As the student next to him packs her laptop away, she says,

“Didn’t you hear her? We can’t use our computers in class.”

Even though he has an accommodation, Lucas doesn’t want to talk about his disability with a stranger. He closes his laptop screen and takes out a pen and paper.”

EDUCAUSE 2018 Students and Technology Report on Accessibility

Further, since 2014, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative has surveyed the teaching and learning community to uncover the top themes and challenges facing higher education. Accessibility and universal design has been in the top 10 as a key strategic issue in higher education, and in fact, last year was ranked as #2. This area of concern continues to bubble up and with it challenges such as:  faculty buy in, funding, time for training, expertise, and dedicated staff become areas of focus.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative 2018 Key Issues in Teaching and LearningAccessibility and UDL continue to be important key issues and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team supports these initiatives through faculty professional development and shared resources along with collaborative services with the Disability Support Resources department.

Blackboard Ally was adopted and put into production at GVSU in the summer of 2018 to: generate awareness, build capacity, and increase institutional oversight of accessibility.

In addition, Panopto was implemented to provide video caption capability for faculty who are using instructional video content in their teaching.

Both Ally and Panopto support the principles of inclusive education through accessibility and UDL.

Technology and Teaching Naked Techniques

teachingnakedtech.jpgThis post highlights a variety of tips from the book entitled: “Teaching Naked Techniques: A Practical Guide to Designing Better Classes” by José Antonio Bowen and C. Edward Watson.

See also: Teaching Naked with Technology

“A fitness coach understands the human body and the individual subject, but also the equipment in the gym.

Technology is bringing new tools and new competition to higher education, but it is also changing the base rules about how we operate as human beings.”

  • Technology is a tool of which, the goal is to increase learning
  • The focus should not be on the delivery of content, rather, how can we best increase faculty-student interaction, design and sequence enhanced learning experiences, elevate students to the application/analysis/synthesis of information, and increase the motivation of students.
  • Technology makes course design and pedagogy more important
  • The role of technology is to create more time and generate more valuable opportunities for face-to-face
  • Faculty can leverage social media to connect ideas outside of the classroom

“In fact, if you don’t ever contact students outside class, you are reinforcing the idea that the information in your class is not relevant to the ‘real world’.”

First Exposure

  • TIP:  Make learning goals transparent to students and create rubrics (See Blackboard Interactive Rubrics) improve visibility and give students a target and checklists help students stay on track.
  • TIP:  Use online content such as creating your own video content (Panopto/Lightboard) and be sure to use closed captions, and take advantage of open educational resources, for first student exposure

arrow-2207748_960_720.pngLearn more about using Panopto and the lightboard to create engaging and motivating instructional video content in your teaching at GVSU. Use Blackboard interactive rubrics to make grading easier and to create student awareness of learning outcomes and assignment expectations.

Entry Point

So… where do YOU begin? Where do your STUDENTS begin?

  • Students start at “why do I care and why does this matter”?  Good teaching always starts with what matters to students… and ends with what matters to you.

  • Don’t ignore, rather, place your focus on the entry point of instruction
  • Discover what your students care about, what they are motivated by, and what they already know
  • Use opportunities to engage students with content and why it matters to students

Pre-Class Online Quizzes, Discussions, and Learning Activities

  • TIP:  Use frequent pre-class quizzes, online exams, discussions and learning activities to improve student preparation for class – with feedback
  • TIP:  Use student performance on these quizzes as an opportunity to guide classroom time

arrow-2207748_960_720.pngLearn more about using Blackboard to create online quizzes, assignments, discussions, and learning activities at GVSU.

  • Benefits of low stakes testing: aids retrieval and retention, identifies gaps in knowledge, students learn more when they study, produces organization of learning, improves transfer of knowledge, improves metacognitive monitoring, provides feedback to instructors and students, encourages students to study.
  • Low stakes assessments are critically important for students and they are much less likely to encourage cheating

“Limit the length of lectures, break up class time into active learning activities, leverage class time for connection, community, and relationships…”

Give Students Prompt and Detailed Feedback

  • Be sure your learning goals are linked to your learning activities and finally outcomes assessment
  • Provide clear goals and use rubrics and give feedback

“Learn to use your online gradebook – enter grades directly into your LMS (Blackboard) and include feedback…”

arrow-2207748_960_720.pngLearn more about using Blackboard’s grade center at GVSU to provide feedback to students.

  • Best practices in providing feedback include: frequent, immediate, discriminating (specific), and loving.

Use eCommunication Technologies to Connect with Students

  • Use a variety of electronic communication technologies to reach students
  • Increase your social presence
  • Add a social media presence to connect with students outside of class
  • Use your LMS (Blackboard) and email to provide a supportive presence to students

Ensure Student Success with Retention and Intervention

Technologies are proving successful at increasing the quality of instruction and improving student success rates across a number of metrics.

  • Learning and analytics tools embedded in the LMS (Blackboard) reveal predictive patterns and provide intervention opportunities for students at risk

arrow-2207748_960_720.pngLearn more about Blackboard’s Retention Center and Performance Dashboard at GVSU as learning analytics tools to monitor students and intervene with students “at risk”.


  • Encourage students to use SWEET:
    • S – Students need Sleep
    • W – Students need to drink Water
    • E – Students need to Eat well
    • E – Students need Exercise
    • T – Students need to manage their Time

Remember: “A single professor can make a massive difference in a student’s life.”

  • Significant student impact can be found with a professor who: 1) CARES about the student as a person, 2) MAKES students excited about learning, and 3) ENCOURAGES  students to pursue their dreams.

How about you?

What techniques do you find as beneficial to aid in student learning and success?