Using BlackBoard at NOVA.

The big picture with few practical notes and tips for the beginner and advanced user and links to comprehensive online resources.


By Robert Dušek


This document has many links to online resources and is therefore more practical to be used electronically rather than in printed format.  That said here is a link to a printable PDF version.

We are currently using BlackBoard Version 9.0 until end of spring 2012. From summer 2012 we will be using Version 9.1



BB-I – Class management basics and building the content. 2

Accessing BlackBoard: 2

Review the main tabs on the top: 2

When you open the class: 2

Recommended BlackBoard Resources: 3

Control panel essentials: 3

Your Student Account: 4

How to copy content between classes during or between semesters. 4

Building course content. 5

BB-II - Online Communication. 6

Asynchronous communication: 6

Synchronous real-time communication: 6

BB-III - Assessments & Managing the Grades. 7

The Grade Center: 7

The Grade Center columns: 8

Tests, Surveys, Pools: 9



BB-I – Class management basics and building the content.


Accessing BlackBoard:

The typical way to access BlackBoard is using the MyNova portal on the college home page or just typing the direct address:


Review the main tabs on the top:

Each tab is preconfigured with a group of Modules. Each tab can be customized. All tabs have the same list of Modules available. You can: Manage/collapse/drag (reorder) and add/remove Modules. You can also Personalize page with different colors and themes.

You will find a lot of duplication. Please review these available tabs:

·         NOVA – default, primary access to your classes.

·         Teach – among others access to available instructional software.

·         My Files – mostly referred to as: My Collection, My Content and Content Collection.

·         College Connect

·         Research

·         Help


When you open the class:

When you open a class you see on your left top the Course Menu and Course Management/Control Panel on the left bottom. Explore how to use the Course menu: Hide/show/collapse/refresh. Review also the different Course menu views: List/Folder/Window.

The items on the Course Menu are either:

1.      General Content Areas, that are by default empty (like Syllabus, Course information, Course Documents, Assignments, External Links) or

2.      Tool Links (all the remaining items on the course menu, like Tools, Announcements, Discussion board, Faculty Information, etc.). You can easily create or remove these areas or tool shortcuts.

Tip: Notice, that by default many tools shortcuts are duplicated and removing the duplication will make your menu look cleaner and be easier to navigate. For example the course menu item Faculty Information is the exact duplication of the area Contacts and in addition it is also available in the Tools area. The area Communication is the exact duplication of the area Tools.  Discussion Board and Announcements are just shortcuts available already in the Tools area.

Review all the tools in the Tools link on your Course Menu. Notice the Hide Link button. Be careful: you can easily accidentally hide tools from students unintentionally.

Explore navigation in Course management -> Control Panel Menu: Expand/collapse.  This area is not available to students.

Explore on top right: Edit mode: On/Off to see the content from the students perspective.


References about What is New in Version 9.1:

1.      By BlackBoard: View Gallery, Read the PDF Brochure

2.      PDF file by Xavier University

3.      Other sources, that include “What’s new” as well as good other tutorials: Cal Poly Pomona'sDartmouth

Comprehensive BlackBoard references:

1.      Online comprehensive Instructor Help/Manual/Instructor Guide by BlackBoard:

For the new version 9.1

For the current version 9.0

2.      Set of over 50 Flash movies, PDFs and other resources by BlackBoard called:

On Demand Learning Center 

3.       Over 100 short (1 to 2 minutes) Flash movies by Atomic Learning (together with over 35,000 tutorial movies on more than computer 110 applications).  See here the list of the BlackBoard Videos.  You will need your NVCC account information to login. Here are the instructions.


They all will help you to learn about everything in BlackBoard and how to use it. As usual, you will not find anything about how to apply it in your particular class. That is where your ingenuity will have to come in.


Control panel essentials:

1.      Course availability:  New courses are by default not available. It means that students enrolled in the class do not see the class. To make the course available, go to: Customization -> Properties.  Consider to make them unavailable at the end of semester.  

2.      Course customization: To change course Menu Style, Entry point (Announcements is the default) and Course Banner go to:  Customization -> Style. 

3.      Available Tools:  To review what Tools are available in general and to enable or disable them, go to: Customization -> Tools Availability. For example enable the Disk Usage Report, to see how much storage your class is using. It will become available in the Control Panel -> Course Tools.  Tip: The limit to class content is 2GB. The online storage My Files (also referred to Content Collection) is limited to 100MB, but can be extended to 200GB. 

4.      Users: To list, enroll or change users go to Users and Groups -> Users. You do not need to manage your class roll. It is synchronized with the class toll in SIS (myNOVA

) with one day delay. You can consider adding your student account (see “Your Student Account” next) to your classes, or to add your colleague for sharing or learning purposes. Note that students can list the class roster using: Tools -> Roster.  Tip:  In each case to get the class list you have to change the filter to “Not Blank”.  You could consider changing the role of any students auditing your class to Guest. Guests can see all the class content, but cannot interact and get any grades.


Your Student Account:

Everyone has also a student account to explore your class exactly as a student. For example as an instructor you do not have access to the content of My Grades in the Tools area. Only students see the area.  The student logon name has a _student suffix to your regular user name. For example the user name jdoe would have jdoe_student as the student user name. The passwords are synchronized and are the same.  To logon as a student, you have to use this direct address: (It can be used for both, your instructor or student account).  Using the MyNova portal will only let you access the BlackBoard as an instructor. 

The student account is not automatically enrolled in your classes.  You have to enroll your student account to the class first.  To do that, go to Control Panel -> Users and Groups -> Users -> Enroll User.   But please be aware that if your class is not available, you will not see the class with your student account.

Tip: If you want to logon with both accounts simultaneously, you will have to mix the browsers, like IE with Firefox or Chrome.


How to copy content between classes during or between semesters.

It is important to know how to copy class content between classes.  You can use Course copy or Export/Import. To access these features, go to Control Panel -> Packages and Utilities -> Copy Course, Export/Archive Course, and Import Package. 

The Course Copy is an internal process (no external files are generated). In case of Export or Import you will download or upload external files to or from your computer. The advantage of using Export/Import option is to have a backup of your content in case Blackboard would completely fail.  Each option (Copy, Export or Import) will give you similar list of areas to include. If you are not sure what to include, select all.  After you submit any of the options, always wait for confirmation email. Do not perform the Import or Copy tasks twice. It will create duplicate copies in the target class and will have to manually delete them one by one!

Consider the time when to use these tools. During the semester the time between submitting and receiving email confirmation can be few minutes. The same can take hours or days when done the week before classes start – the peek time. Try to copy between semesters at the end of semester.

Tip: You can also copy individually folders or items within your course to other courses. See the respective item Copy option on the menu list, if available. Some items cannot be copied individually or within a content area, only using course copy. One example is deployed test or survey. This is because the item is just a shortcut to the Tests area in the Control Panel with the deployment options applied.

Tip: Please “Do NOT check this option”:

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If you check it, it will copy all the student accounts to the destination class, which is in most cases highly undesirable!


Building course content.

Explore what is available in the general content areas:

·           The Create Item – universal item with content and attachments.

·           The Build menu - create folders, links and other items

·           The Evaluate menu– deploy or create Tests, Surveys, Assignments

·           The Collaborate menu – mostly links to collaborative tools already available and accessible in Course Menu, Tools or elsewhere.

·           The More menu – create and deploy voice content items (some also available in Tools).


In each case you will have variety options to set. In most cases you will work with, that mimics most MS-Word functions. Please note that copy/paste between MS-Word and the Visual Editor might have mixed results. Please experiment first with the type of objects you plan to use (tables, columns, paragraphs, lists, etc.), if it is better to prepare it directly in the Visual Editor or outside.

If you intend to make any content available for uniform printing, consider to prepare it outside of BlackBobard in a word processor and saving it as PDF file. Then attach it to the item in BlackBoard.

Tip: If you are developing or updating in the middle of semester any content areas, that you want to copy to other sections of a class you teach, consider organizing your content under a folder in Course Menu, rather than flat list of items directly under a course menu content area. The reason being, that you cannot copy the content of just one course menu content area, but you can copy between courses a whole folder with all content. Alternatively you would have to copy one item at the time.

Online resources in form of short videos or PDF reference documents:

·         Working in the Course Environment

·         Building Course Content

·         Setting Permissions

·         Course Utilities


BB-II - Online Communication

Most of the communication tools can be applied on group or whole class level.  Most of these tools are available in the course menu Tools area or can be linked to any content area. All Wimba based voice tools are in the general content area under the More menu.

Asynchronous communication:

§  Announcements - Place to post time-sensitive material, like when Assignments are due, changes in the syllabus, corrections/clarifications of materials, exam schedules.

§  Discussion Board Forum - Threads that can be organized around a particular subject. Can be directly linked to Grade Center for grading.

§  Journals –A Journal is self-reflective tool for students. Only the student and the Instructor are able to Comment on Journal Entries. However, Journals can be made public by the Instructor to allow other enrolled users read the entries.

§  Blog – The scope of Blogs can be: Individual, Course or Group.

§  Email – Can be send to individual users, groups and class from grade center, tools and other areas. Students have by default also access to send email.

§  Notifications – as of now by default notification emails are automatically sent to all users about new or changed announcements, and when a class is made available. Each user can turn it off in the Notification Dashboard settings. In the same place you can also enable receiving email about new test or assignments.

§  By Wimba: Voice - Board, Email, Authoring, Presentation, Podcaster

Synchronous real-time communication:

§  In Tools -> Collaboration you can create:

·         Chat session – text based discussion

·         Virtual Classroom session – includes text chat and white board capable of displaying a group browser, class map and simple graphics tool input.

§  By Wimba: Voice Direct – text and audio conference session. Available in any general content area under More menu.

 Online resources in form of short videos or PDF reference documents:

·         Using the Discussion Board

·         Managing Group Work

·         Blogs and Journals

·         Announcements and Scheduling

·         Wimba Voice tools manual



BB-III - Assessments & Managing the Grades


The Grade Center:

Before you start to play with Grade center let me remind you that this is the time to add your student account to your class, logon as a student and open My Grade in Tools, unless you’ve already done so (See about Student account earlier in this document). Whatever you do in the Grade center will be reflected in My Grade view and only students can see it.  I will give you another reason. You will be able to submit any items for grading as an instructor, but it will not be registered in the Grade center, comparing to submitting as a student.

The navigation to Grade center is Control Panel -> Evaluation -> Grade Center. By default you will see in your Grade center these columns: Last Name/ First Name/ Username/Student ID/Last Access/ Availability/ Weighted Total/ Total. I recommend hiding the columns I underlined. They are redundant and take up space. I find the Last access very useful. I can quickly sort on the column and send an email directly from the grade center to remind the students to “stay in touch with the class”. The 2 columns Weighted Total and Total are calculated columns that can be used to determine the student’s grade, once you have created graded columns.

Please note that hiding a column from the column options menu will not hide it from students, only from your view. To hide it from students you have to use Edit Column Information option.



The Grade Center columns:

In general there are 2 types of columns: 

- Calculated columns: Total, Weighted, Minimum/Maximum and Average. These columns are enabling you to automatically calculate the student’s partial or overall evaluation based on graded columns or groups. You have the Weighted Total and Total created automatically by default. You can create any new by using the Create Calculated Column at the top.

- Graded columns: They can be created either:

§  Manually – to track student’s work created and graded outside of BlackBoard. For these use the Create Column at the top left.

§  Automatically – when adding these graded items in content areas:

·         Test

·         Survey

·         Assignment

·         SafeAssignment (text matching rating)

·         Discussion Board Forums (if grading enabled)

·         Self and Peer Assessment (not available by default, has to be enabled in Customization -> Tools Availability).


The graded columns can be further divided in 2 groups based upon how they are graded:

1.      Automatically – Tests and Surveys (depending on the type of questions you use. Many question types will require manual grading).

2.      Manually – all others. In case of Discussion Board Forums you will not enter the grades in the Grade Center, but using the forum itself and the grades will automatically entered in the Grade Center.

There are 2 useful options under Manage:

1.       Categories – to create categories, that can be later used to categorize your columns. Using categories rather than individual items in calculated columns allows you to drop or use the highest/lowest grades from that category.   

2.       Column Organization – to hide/unhide/reorder/categorize/freeze/unfreeze columns.

 If you have many columns that you grade externally and use the Grade Center only to share the grades with students, then the Work Offline option is useful (see the top right). It will let you enter the grades faster than using the web page. You can download the whole grade center or just selected column as spreadsheet to your computer. Open it in Excel and edit any grades. And then Upload it back to the Grace Center.


Tests, Surveys, Pools:

Test is a great tool that can help assessing students. Depending on the type of questions used they can be graded completely automatically, but there are some question types that will require manual grading. There are about 15 different question types that can be used creatively to effectively help in assessing student performance.

Pools are allowing you to store questions for reuse. Question Pools can be obtained from textbook publishers and Imported for use in your Tests and Surveys.

Survey is great tool to get feedback from your students for research and many other uses. A Survey is different from a Test in that no points can be assigned to the questions, they cannot be graded, you cannot give any feedback to students and they are anonymous. You will not see the answers of individual students, you can only see if they completed the Survey or not.

In general you can:

-          In Control panel:  Build, edit, import or export Tests, Surveys or Pools. The navigation is Course Tools -> Tests, Surveys and Pools

-          In content area:  Create (build), Add (deploy) and edit a Tests or Surveys and edit options.

When creating or editing Tests, Surveys or Pools, you can create, reuse and upload various questions.

You can take the Tests and Surveys as an instructor and you will get the same results and feedback, as if a student would take it, based on the settings, but the results will not be registered in the Grade Center. To experience that part, you should use your student account.

Once again I highly recommend exploring these online resources, I suggested earlier with 3 examples of PDF files that are very helpful to start with:

·         Grade Center  (Try the PDF file:  Getting Started with the Grade Center)

·         Tests, Surveys, and Pools   (Try the PDF file: Getting Started with Building a Test)

·         Assignments  (Try the PDF file: Getting Started with Assignments)