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What is the Purpose of an LMS?

The Learning Management System (LMS) provides a central repository for all course materials with one login, which simplifies the learning process in the online environment. An LMS can be used for blended and face-2-face courses as well. Videos, blogs, wikis, journals, and portfolios can be added to courses within the LMS expanding the students’ resources and offering collaborative learning possibilities. The LMS includes efficient tracking and recording tools for monitoring progress to ensure that students are meeting their performance milestones. If a learner is not able to successfully complete a lesson, you can offer supplemental resources.

Although students are tech savvy, they are not always tech knowledgeable. They do not always make the best decisions about privacy and we should not contribute to this delinquency by requiring students to visit or register for sites that are not vetted by the technology services experts on campus. The LMS organizes e-learning content in one secure location.

Some opponents of the LMS believe the focus of the system is the storage and delivery of content rather than having a learner-centered focus. This is actually more myth than truth; the LMS can be flexible enough with the mode of instruction, interaction, and assessment strategies to accommodate a variety of teaching strategies with the added benefit of one central login and privacy protection. Think about adapting the system to fit the instruction as opposed to modifying the instruction to fit the affordances of the tool. Our number one priority should be our students, and requiring them to learn a new tool and sort through new navigation for every class is not the most efficient use of their cognitive energy.
VCU is currently using the Blackboard Learn LMS.


A rubric is a great way to articulate your expectations for a project or assignment and it can help ensure consistency. A rubric clarifies for students the qualities their work should have. You can list the criteria and describe the levels of quality as you define them. The three important features to a rubric are the evaluation criteria (the elements that will be considered when grading the item), the definitions of quality (a detailed explanation of the skills or proficiencies a student must demonstrate in order to attain a level of achievement), and the scoring strategy (the scale you use related to the quality to judge the project or assignment).

Rubrics have the potential to promote learning and achievement in a student-centered approach, helping students understand the targets and the standards of quality for a particular assignment (Reddy & Andrade, 2010). You can develop your rubric to align with the course learning objectives so students can see how the assignment fits into the course goals. Blackboard offers the ability to create multiple rubrics and assign them to a variety of assignments. I usually start creating my rubric by looking at the highest and lowest points then I fill in the middle section. Break your assignment down into areas of achievement; if it is a paper, you may be looking at grammar, paper format, the topic sentence, supporting evidence, references etc. Each of these items would then be ranked based on how you grade each element and it would also include a description for what you consider to be full credit, partial credit, and no credit. You can divide the quality into as many columns as you need to define the criteria by which learning will be assessed. Rubrics provide transparency into your grading methodology.

For more information on rubrics, how to create rubrics or how to include them in your course, contact Learning Systems at or check our Learning Systems Academy video on Creating a Rubric.


Reddy, Y.M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(4), 435-448.

Active Learning

In any classroom, students need to be active rather than passive learners; it is especially important to engage the learner in the online environment. Getting motivated, energized, engaged, enthusiastic, and focused makes a fundamental difference in a student’s ability to learn and achieve results (Neville, Murphy, & Connolly, 2010). Successful learning experiences connect with learners; empower them to explore, experiment, and react in a learning environment that provides feedback, help, and guidance (Allen, 2011).

It has often been said that students retain more by doing rather than just listening; therefore, it stands to reason that active participation offers more opportunity for an engaging, effective, and efficient learning experience than would be possible by just listening to a conventional lecture.  Material that is learned passively is typically not well retained and is commonly not effectively applied; active learning is a process where the learner takes a dynamic and energetic role in the educational process, which adds to the retentive qualities of what is learned (Petress, 2008).  The focus should be on creating an atmosphere that encourages a deeper level of communication between students (Conrad & Donaldson, 2012). The problem then becomes how to motivate the student to want to be active.  When students believe that they have control over some aspects of their learning, they are more likely to be motivated (Jones, 2009).  Students do not always fully grasp the big picture and cannot relate activity to retention.  One thing they may recognize is that when they are more engaged they are more attentive, which empowers them to question and consider topics, ultimately resulting in comprehension of more of the lesson.  A student who is engaged in the class must use more problem solving and critical thinking skills offering another layer to the benefits of interactivity.  Getting students involved in their learning encourages them to take ownership of their education.

An effective engaging classroom requires a more student-centered approach, giving the student more responsibility for his or her own learning.  Active learning provides the student an opportunity to engage in a higher-order of thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Michael, Carter, & Varela, 2009).  The instructor takes on a new role of helping the student to turn information into awareness; encouraging the student to use the information; guiding him or her through mistakes, and offering feedback through each attempt.

Heritage University participated in a project that featured problem-centered learning and transparent assignment design with 1,172 graduate and undergraduate students – Transforming GE Courses from Predictive Contexts to Engage Unstructured Twenty-First-Century Problems



Allen, M., (2011). Successful e-learning interface; making learning technology polite, effective, and fun. San Francisco, California: Pfeiffer.

Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2012). Continuing to engage the online learner: more activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, B. D. (2009). Motivating students to engage in learning: the music model of academic motivation. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 21(2), 272-285.

Michel, N., Carter, J. J., & Varela, O. (2009). Active versus passive teaching styles: an empirical study of student learning outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly. 20(4), 397-418.

Neville, C., Murphy, M., & Connolly, C. (2010). The ultimate study skills handbook. McGraw-Hill International.

Petress, K. (2008). What Is Meant by” Active Learning?”. Education128(4), 566-569.

Can I offer a tip or two?

Tip: It may be helpful to encourage your students to get digitally organized.  Google drive is a great way to store documents and notes but it is important to ensure that course documents, assignments and notes are quick and easy to find. Modeling digital organization through how you create your modules or units in Blackboard provides students with a structure for how they can organize their materials.

By providing students with examples of what good organization looks like you give them the foundation that they need to develop a system that works well for them.


Tip: Another great tip, is to encourage students to use tagging for better recall of content.  I bet they are familiar with the technique of tagging because they use it with their social media but I wonder if they realize how useful it can be for school?  Tagging helps to connect related materials for easier searches.  It is great to get into the habit of tagging all documents as they are created, before saving a document add the tags that relate to the content so that days, weeks or even years later you can easily find what you are looking for.


Tip: Encourage students to create a Portfolio to collect the artifacts that make up their educational journey at VCU.  Students can share their portfolio with prospective employers, or as part of a graduate school application as evidence of the skills they have learned and their future potential.  Portfolios can be created in Blackboard outside of a specific course by accessing Tools in the menu in the top right-hand corner under you name.

Helping your students to get better organized will not only help them in your class but it will set them up to be more successful when they move beyond the University.

For more great tips or support adding technology to your classes contact us at

Are Students Ready for Online Classes?

The number of U.S. college students taking at least one online course was estimated to be 6.7 million, 32% of all higher education enrollees (Allen & Seaman, 2013).  In a Project Tomorrow report (2011) 43% of high-school students identified online classes as an essential component of their ideal school.  Pressure to obtain a college degree has increased the number of students entering college without the requisite level of academic preparation. With a larger number of students wanting or needing online classes, what can we do to continue to offer a quality university education?  Means, Bakia, and Murphy (2014) offer strategies to improve the success rate of under-prepared students.

Set prerequisites for taking online courses:

  • Administer an assessment of “readiness for online learning”
  • Require successful completion of an online orientation prior to course enrollment

Improve the pedagogy of online courses:

  • Ground teaching of a new concept or skill in a concrete context
  • Ask learners to apply key skills in multiple contexts
  • Use spaced, quick assessments of learning
  • Represent concepts in multiple media but avoid overloading the learner’s cognitive capacity
  • Include practice and assessment items that require students to generate answers and provide feedback as quickly as possible
  • Provide feedback that addresses the nature of a student’s misunderstanding and includes tips for remediation
  • Apply the Goldilocks Principle in selecting problem difficulty
  • Build in scaffold for developing self-explanations and self-assessment routines
  • Harness the power of peer-to-peer collaboration
  • Create a sense of instructor presence and responsiveness

Improve the support systems for online students:

  • Counsel students individually to clarify course expectations and set up needed arrangements before the course starts
  • Provide mentors for online learners
  • Institute “early alert” systems based on learner analytics and course progress measures.





Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Babson College, MA: The Sloan Consortium. Retrieved from

Means, B., Bakia, M., & Murphy, R. (2014). What research tells us about whether, when and how. New York, NY: Routledge.

Project Tomorrow. (2011). The new 3 E’s of education: Enabled, engaged and empowered: how today’s students are leveraging emerging technologies for learning. Congressional Briefing – Release of Speak Up 2010 National Data for Students and Parents.  Retrieved from


The Practice of Good Teaching and Learning

“And in our rush to move courses online, we’re all too often putting innovation ahead of pedagogy.” (Ben-Naim, 2017).

smartWhat makes a course “smarter” in today’s terms? Ben-Naim (2017) believes that smart courses are not the ones jammed packed with impressive technology, they are the courses that use technology to enhance the practices of good teaching and learning.  Having information is not the only criterion for learning, therefore, just offering learners pages and pages of slides or reading materials doesn’t accomplish the goal.  Learning begins to take shape when a learner uses the information provided to do things.  You want to offer your learners the right tools (materials) to embark on a learning journey but you also want them to know what to do with the tools.  Most learners don’t get the opportunity to practice and develop skills if they only read a textbook or listen to a lecture.

Mastering a skill is different than having knowledge, and if your students do not need to be proficient at what you are teaching then you are only seeking to impart knowledge but if you expect them to develop a skill, they will need practice.  Include opportunities for practice in your course and offer ways for students to interact with your material in a meaningful way.

Asking questions is a great way to get students involved with course material. You can pose questions through a discussion forum, use a polling tool or create an interactive asynchronous collaborative activity using something like VoiceThread. Think-pair-share is another way to get students to interact. Ask students to think about a question or topic and then pair them with another classmate to discuss their ideas and eventually share their thoughts with the whole class to compare answers/views.  Case studies and problem-solving activities are other options for providing engagement and opportunities for practice.

What Makes a Smart Course ‘Smart’? by Dror Ben-Naim

Happy New Year!  It has been an icy start to 2017 but Welcome back

studentsThe beginning of the semester is always exciting for me.  It is a fresh start, a new group of eager students and a new day to try things a new way.  The first introduction to you and your course can really shape your class environment and student attitudes; “it sets the tone for what is to follow and can greatly influence students’ opinions about the course and the instructor for the remainder of the semester” (Periman & McCann, 1999, p. 277).

As you prepare for the semester think about defining your goals for student learning rather than defining content. What knowledge and skills do you want your students to learn? Focusing on student goals will help you determine the appropriate content, teaching methods, assignments, and assessments.  Remember some students are motivated by desire, to learn but others need extrinsic motivation; if you feel a particular assignment will be extremely beneficial then make sure it is factored into the final grade.  Many students will skip assignments that are only strongly recommended.

Add a personal touch to your course, create a welcome video to give students an overview of your expectations and give them guidance on how you run your course. If you are teaching online this would be a great way to explain the functionality and navigation of the course.  A welcome video should not be limited to only online courses, it would be beneficial for blended and traditional f2f classes as well.  The millennial student is very comfortable with video content.  A welcome video would be a great introduction to your course and to you and can be created easily with Kaltura.

For more information on adding video to your course or techniques for getting started, contact someone at learning systems


Winding Down

koalaAs the semester comes to a close it is time to reflect on what was successful and what elements of your course you feel might need some adjustments.  The semester has its ups and downs, usually starting to flatten during the middle but hopefully, you ended on a high note. What can you do differently next semester to have more of an impact on your students or reduce your own stress going forward?  Debbie Morrison (2015) outlines what she believes to be the “Five Pillars of Quality Online Education.”

Take some time before the start of Spring semester to analyze your course. How do you feel about the past semester?  What would your students say about their experience in the course?  Are there things you would like to improve? What is holding you back?

The National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity offers a “Plan Handout” to get you jump started for next semester. You can also consider participating in a workshop to learn new skills to enhance your online or hybrid course. But for now, take a few days to relax and enjoy some quiet time.  Give yourself a well-deserved break so you can come back in the New Year with a renewed sense of energy and excitement to start again.

Thanks for following us, TLTech will be back again in 2017 with more tips and links to help you in your quest for successful teaching and learning with technology.

Happy Holidays


The challenge you set for your students should focus on course content and building skill sets; it should not center around access to learning.  A great way to help your online students navigate your course material and stay on task is to use an Announcement Page.

The very first announcement your students should see on the first day of class is a Welcome.  This welcome can take the form of a letter, it could be a video of you explaining how the course works, or you could use screen captures in a video to walk students through the layout of various course components.  You should include instructions on how to get started, a photo of you (if you are not including video), and information on where to find important elements in the course.

Continue to use the announcement page weekly or more frequently if you choose to remind students of important dates or update them on assignment specifications.  This area mimics the first moments in your f2f class where you inform students of what will be expected of them in the coming week.  This small gesture goes a long way to not only direct the students and keep them organized but it will help to personalize the experience and let them know you care.

Eight Ways to Increase Social Presence in Your Online Classes

Features of the LMS

e-learningIt is possible to teach online without an LMS but the University has invested in Blackboard to standardize the look and feel of our online environment to make it easier for students to navigate.  The use of Blackboard should also streamline the process of constructing and maintaining courses for faculty.

Each feature of the LMS you plan to use requires some setup before your course can go live, but each subsequent semester, the setup gets easier giving you time to develop new material or try new features. Some of the basic features of Blackboard are:

  • Announcements
  • Syllabus
  • Lessons
  • Discussion Forums
  • Assignments
  • Blogs
  • Journals
  • Self and Peer Assessment
  • Wikis
  • Synchronous Collaboration tools
  • Quizzes/Tests
  • Gradebook

But there are more options available through building blocks and LTIs:

Think about how you can exploit some of the benefits of online learning, things that you could not easily accomplish in a f2f setting.  The online environment allows for more types of active learning, which requires students to participate rather than just listen and receive information.

  • You can include brief questions-and-answers in a video,
  • You could send students a survey the night before you meet either f2f or synchronously online, to gauge their experience with a certain topic,
  • You can integrate discussion forums about specified lecture topics,
  • You could use a Journal and require reflective writing.

Always set clear expectations and develop strategies to offer feedback for these activities.

Remember — technology is only effective with good content and pedagogical approaches used to share knowledge!

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