Archive for Distance Learning Tools

Don’t Just Throw It Out There: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself When Planning Your Upgrade from Wimba to Blackboard Collaborate

I recently was asked to write a guest blog post for Blackboard Collaborate

Amy Thornton worked in the instructional technology department of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) for more than a decade where she administered numerous Blackboard technologies and spearheaded its upgrade from Wimba Classroom to Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing.  Amy is now at Columbus State University (GA), but because numerous schools throughout the world are currently going through this same upgrade process, we want to share Amy’s 4 questions to ask yourself when planning your upgrade.

1. How many Wimba users are there at your institution?

The answer to this question can affect how you will roll out your upgrade whether in cohorts, pilot or to everyone at once.  You must also consider your resources in terms of availability for training, support, and documentation.  You don’t want your staff to be overwhelmed by the workload of supporting this transition along with any other duties they may have.

2. What is your school’s upgrade strategy?

If you are like us, you have too much to get done and not enough people or time to do it.  It’s the world of higher ed!  Unless you have more staff than you know what to do with it (if you do…can I borrow a few), it is important to take into consideration what is on their plate.  I’m sure this is not the only thing they will be working on.  You will need time to update documentation, construct the messaging of promoting the move, work with any 3rd parties to address any issues (e.g., helpdesk – internal or external), testing of the new technology inside and outside the LMS.  Depending on your answer to the first question, does a phased approach make sense rather than rolling it out all at once?  Doing a pilot first can give your staff some additional time to work on documentation, learn the new technology, get feedback from your pilot group, and work through any potential issues.  When doing a pilot though, it also means you will be supporting two different products (technologies) at once, which can put added strain on your staff.

3. How will you communicate the upgrade to your school?

There are many ways to distribute information on a university campus.  Each campus has a different culture, so you know what works on your campus.  If distributing the information via e-mail, remember to start early and keep the information brief and relevant.  Folks are most likely to skim their e-mails especially if they are long, so ensure that you only include must-know information and chunk the information.  Chunking is not only useful for course design!  Provide your faculty with the language they need to give to their students, so the same consistent message is getting out there, or at least you are doing everything you can to ensure this.  Some editors are out of your control.

When making a move to a new platform, especially one that is quite a shift, it is important to keep the messaging positive.  Promote the features your users will gain by making the move.  Assure them that you (your staff) will be there every step of the way to provide support and even “hold their hand” if necessary.  This is also a great time to promote the use of a virtual classroom to those who never used Wimba.  One very important decision to make before beginning your promotion campaign, decide on what terminology will be used to describe the new platform (e.g., web conferencing, virtual classroom, Blackboard Collaborate, etc.).  Consistent messaging is a must.

4. What resources are available to you?

When making the move, take advantage of any and all resources at your disposal.  If you have a helpdesk whether internal or external, make sure and keep them in the loop so they can help field those 1st tier support calls as this might help in updating your documentation, knowledgebase, and/or messaging.  Don’t forget Blackboard Collaborate provides virtual workshops which can help get you over the hump when trying to train a large user base.  It offers the flexibility to allow your faculty to login from anywhere.

The most important thing to remember is to stay calm.  You don’t have to have all the answers from the beginning.  For those off the wall questions, that’s when you turn to your Blackboard Collaborate folks and beg for help!

To learn more about upgrading, visit our upgrade page at:

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Increased Engagement and Communication Through the Use of ConnectYard

I attended the Creating Futures Through Technology at the beginning of March in Biloxi, Mississippi.  This a local conference that is geared towards the use of technology in higher education in Mississippi.  This year, I presented along with my colleague Dr. Cindy Handley on our use of ConnectYard at USM.

Increased Communication and Engagement Through the Use of ConnectYard from ahornton

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Engagement, Persistence, and Retention: How USM use ConnectYard to Successfully Enhance these Key Factors

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the 2012 Blackboard World Conference in New Orleans, LA.  Blackboard World is always a huge conference with a lot of information.  Like years past, there were a lot of useful sessions and time well spent collaborating and meeting new folks from other schools learning about their experiences and key take aways.  There were several things I thought they could have done better, but the big negatives were the food and location.   Considering we were in a city known for their great food, what they provided at the conference was a disappointment.  And, although I love New Orleans, having to shuttle back and forth to the convention center from my hotel was a pain and the few times I had to walk the 2 miles to get to the other end of the convention center wasn’t pleasant, although admittedly the exercise was good for me 🙂 Overall, though I’m glad I was able to attend.

On the first day of the conference, along with my colleagues Sheri Rawls and Cindy Handley, we presented with ConnectYard.  We have been using ConnectYard for about a year to enhance the communication within our online courses.  ConnectYard provides the ability to set up alternate communication channels within Blackboard so students and faculty can self-select how they would like to receive discussion postings and announcements from their courses. They can select channels such as Facebook, Twitter, cell phone text messaging, or e-mail.  Feedback from our students and faculty has been overwhelmingly positive.  They like the customization of the service and that it allows them to access their messages from anywhere on their mobile devices.  We are currently pursuing other use cases for ConnectYard, such as for marketing and recruitment for our online programs and university wide communications among departments and online students.  To view our presentation, see below.

How USM Uses ConnectYard to Successfully Enhance Engagement, Persistence, and Retention Efforts from ahornton

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Features, Technical Problems and Technical Support in Wimba Classroom

At the 2010 Creating Futures Through Technology conference, along with my colleagues Mary Nell McNeese, Ph.D., and Jalynn Roberts, Ph.D., we presented on the research study we conducted about the use of Wimba Classroom at multiple institutions.  We surveyed 4 institutions to collect data regarding how Wimba Classroom is being used and what the perceptions of students and faculty are regarding its use.  To view the presentation, visit the link below:
Features, Technical Problems and Technical Support in Wimba Classroom
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eLearning Approach to Increase Enrollment, Retention, and Graduation Rates

My colleague, Sheri Rawls, and myself gave this presentation at the 2010 Creating Futures Through Technology Conference in March.  We spoke about the e-learning initiative The University of Southern Mississippi has undertaken to increase student and faculty satisfaction in our online programs as well as improve enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.  This is an ongoing project that will continue to improve our online programs.  The project included 5 main workstreams: Faculty Development, Course Development, Change Management, Scheduling, and Financial Model.  Through a partnership with Blackboard, we have been able to grow our online programs and ensure a satisfying experience for our online students.

To view our presentation, please click on the link below:

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Pros and Cons of Using Second Life in Higher Education


Recently, at the Creating Futures through Technology Conference in Biloxi, MS, me and my colleagues gave a presentation titled, “Does Second Life Belong in Higher Education?”

As novice users ourselves, we wanted to evaluate what we felt are the pros and cons of using Second Life in education.  Our hope was give our audience some things to think about when trying to decide whether to incorporate this as an educational tool.

We presented arguments for and against using Second Life in higher education classrooms. We discussed how current institutions are integrating Second Life into instruction, including the hybrid mashup of Second Life and Moodle called Sloodle. We also showed the audience an example of an educational community within Second Life as well as educational resources that are available for the use of Second Life.   The slides from our presentation are below.

Second Life Presentation Cfttc 09
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Lessons Learned: Implementation of a Virtual Classroom

Recently, at the 2009 Creating Futures Through Technology Conference me and one of my colleagues gave a presentation entitled, “Lessons Learned: Implementation of a Virtual Classroom.”      

In this presentation we discussed the implementation of Wimba Classroom at The University Southern Mississippi.  Southern Miss implemented the virtual classroom in phases, choosing to do a pilot before full implementation.  We discussed the lessons we learned throughout the implementation process.  We also included a discussion on the policy and procedures that were developed to effectively deal with any issues.

As illustrated in the presentation slides we are using Wimba Classroom in different ways out our institution, including academic and non-academic uses.   We developed a set of best practices to assist instructors as they are preparing to incorporate a virtual classroom into their course which are also discussed.  As a result of what was learned during the pilot and implementation, we also found that the training we offered needed to evolve in different ways to be of the greatest benefit to our institution.  To learn more about what we discussed, view the slides from our presentation below…

Lessons Learned: Implementation of a Virtual Classroom
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