Blackboard – It’s not just for classes: Innovatively Using an LMS to Improve Academic Support Programs

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Innovatively using a Blackboard shell as a program management tool for the 150+ undergraduate student employees serving as Supplemental Instruction leaders resulted in improved accountability and transparency in Leaders’ completion of administrative tasks, increased efficiency in program management, and consequently, improvement in overall academic support for on-site and online students.

Presenters

Anne E. Raines serves as the Director of the Writing Center and Supplemental Instruction Program at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Extended Abstract

What if an LMS (in this case, Blackboard) was used in non-traditional ways innovatively broadening the base of users and the scope of its application? 

Traditionally, Blackboard is an LMS platform used to enrich instruction in both online and on-site classes.  Thousands of schools worldwide use Blackboard (or another LMS) for similar reasons and enjoy similar benefits.  An LMS can:

  • Organize content in one location
  • Provide instant and unlimited access to materials
  • Easily track and report progress and performance
  • Reduce learning and materials costs
  • Provide a scalable platform based on needs

In Spring 2017, the Supplemental Instruction (SI) Program, a large academic support program at the University of Arkansas, implemented the use of a Blackboard shell as the hub to coordinate collection of required submissions, to schedule communication, and to provide feedback to the more than 150 SI Leaders employed each semester.  The use of Blackboard has created a new culture of accountability, improved motivation, and simplified record keeping for leaders, mentors, and supervisors.  This Blackboard “class” was designated for all SI Leaders and with its implementation, SI Program supervisors have seen improved accountability and transparency for all stakeholders resulting in higher performance and greater efficiency for all.

SI Programs provide peer-assisted study sessions both online and on-site to improve grades and student retention within targeted historically difficult courses, ultimately leading to increased graduation rates.  SI sessions are facilitated by “SI Leaders,” currently enrolled students at the University who have previously earned an “A” in the course.  The SI Program has grown exponentially in recent years and currently employs 150+ SI Leaders serving more than 5,000 students each semester.

Managing a workforce of 150+ SI Leaders can be a daunting task.  Regardless of the size, however, an effective SI program includes frequent submissions from training documents and weekly session plans to peer observations and self-evaluations that must be collected and curated.  Additionally, effective communication among stakeholders is essential.

Tracking which leaders have completed all required tasks, providing feedback on lesson plans, and ensuring all leaders complete required observations can make for a busy semester at best and a chaotic experience at worst.  As each of these required tasks is an essential element of a successful SI program, streamlining the process to improve efficiency became essential with the growth of the program on our campus.

Using Blackboard as a vehicle to accomplish all tasks can work not only for SI programs but any program desiring the benefits mentioned above of an LMS.  Possible campus areas could include programs in orientation, international students, tutoring, mentoring, Greek Life, and housing. Ensuring that all student employees are completing required tasks and receiving appropriate feedback delivers dividends for overall program quality.  In the SI Program, greater transparency has improved leader motivation and investment in ensuring they are meeting all deadlines.  Leaderboard reports highlighting the highest performing teams of leaders with regard to required submission has created a spirit of competition for recognition as an excellent team.  For supervisors, carving out more time to create leadership development opportunities, collaborate with faculty, or eat lunch away from our desks increases our effectiveness.

The strength of this model using Blackboard lies in both its availability and scalability.  Most campuses have a learning management software that can provide an online “classroom” for use as a tool within student employee processes.  Further, using Blackboard or other LMS can easily serve any number of student employees at no additional cost.  Potential weaknesses may include willingness of LMS administrators to support the adapted use of the online classroom and necessary learning curve for those professionals new to the LMS classroom environment.

Access to a Blackboard or other LMS that can provide the online classroom is an essential requirement for implementation of the model.  Further, the support of an LMS administrator to assist with set up, train users, or answer questions is of great help.  Depending on the size of the student workforce, team mentors to assist with “grading” submissions and providing feedback will aid manageability.

SI is fundamentally about student success, and improving the SI program leads to greater opportunities to serve student as they pursue academic success.  As learning centers and many other student support centers are tasked with scaling programs and increasing academic support to serve more students – often with no additional staff, incorporating a model that improves efficiency in program administration and increases accountability among employees makes good sense.  The Blackboard online classroom environment provides a tool that can be adapted to serve many stakeholders in many unique academic settings and ultimately improve the service and academic support provided to students both online and on-site.

Session Summary

This session will focus on the structure of the SI Leader Kiosk in Blackboard with an aim of providing a blueprint for other programs to modify to fit their needs.  Included will be a brief PowerPoint to present an overview of the SI program (5 minutes), a tour of the Blackboard SI Leader Kiosk and review of lessons learned (25 minutes), and a discussion/question session (15 minutes).  Handouts of the timeline, structure of the Blackboard “class,” and tips for success will be available.

Note

If the information is better suited to a Discovery Session at the conference, we would be willing to adapt the material to fit the 10-15 minute format.  We certainly are interested in gathering input and feedback from attendees who may have insight and suggestions for improvement as we are pleased by the success of the LMS adaptation to program management and are committed to continuing to use the model.