Course Management Software
TΦ101 takes great pride in being a poster-senior for Medicare eligible faculty members who embrace classroom technology and is surprised by the number of humanities faculty members who don't use the expensive course management software packages provided by their institution. (TΦ101 is most familiar with BlackBoard so your own package may have different features.) We did hear of one faculty member who used the Google suite of programs for course management and there are those who use facebook pages to do much of the work.
Some of the handy features available in BlackBoard and the standard packages are:
Learning Modules. TΦ101 uses this feature to organize each week of the class, with the titles of the entries as the date of the class (these can be easily changed for a later semester). The learning module allows a faculty member to integrate study notes and questions, graded short assignments, pdf files and websites for reading assignments, and supplementary video materials (such as YouTube clips).
The grade book. This is an online grade book that can also function as a spreadsheet to do the math to produce a final average. Students may only see their own grades. There are a number of great features here. For short assignments, the grades are entered directly into the gradebook as the assignments are graded. In addition, since students can see their grades as they develop (with running averages), they are less likely to question the final grade. If there are mistakes in the grades (and TΦ101 makes a fair number), the students can point them out before the course is over. Also, TΦ101 believes that one should never put a grade on a paper because, all too often, the student looks at the grade and then ignores the comments. Instead, an instructor might hand the paper back with only comments, and then post the grade at a later point on the online grade sheet.
Short assignments and blogs. Programs like Blackboard work very well for short assignments or blogs, since the instructor can grade the assignment, write a comment, and enter the grade all online. Very handy!
Blogs, wikis, discussion forums All of these features are extremely useful. Wikis are great for group projects, and blogs allow students to post their individual work and let other students comment. Discussion forums (which can be subdivided intro groups) allow for debates and discussions. In fact, wikis are also a great way for students to schedule appointments.
Paper assignments, syllabi, course policies. All of these documents can also be posted on the course management program, so students can access them when they lose them.
Updates for next semester. If you remember that you will be updating the material for a subsequent semester, you can be cagy about where you enter specific dates. Then, when you revisit the material, if there are no other substantive changes you may only need to change the dates. Indeed, the programs also permit notes that are not visible to the students, so one can enter notes for the future right into the assignment area.
In other words, an investment of time in mastering this software can have big educational payoffs.
Update: September 7, 2012