Thoughtful technology use, or, reflections from the Engaging Students Symposium just in time for the spring semester

With the slight calm between semesters, I finally had the opportunity to watch the Engaging Students Through Technology Symposium student panel. Each year I become less and less one of the “kids these days” and more and more fascinated by how the current crop of students views technology in the classroom and in their everyday lives.

I especially listened for comments related to courseware — particularly what works well in Blackboard, what doesn’t  and what we could make more clear to users. Working with Blackboard all day every day gives me a much different perspective than students and faculty members, and I love hearing how it works for everyone else. The student panel was (as usual) mixed on how they felt about the courseware systems themselves, and they had lots of insight as to what worked for them in different classes.

The students on the panel brought up two points about good technology use that ring especially true with Blackboard and Canvas:

  • Technology use should be focused and intentional. Instructors should set the tone for technology in their classes and have clear goals for that technology.
  • Own the technology; use it well. This applies to everything from email to iPads.

For Blackboard and Canvas, this means thoughtfully using the various tools and capabilities in course development and delivery. Focus on why the students are blogging/discussing/etc., not just the inclusion of new tools. A basic, well-designed, well-used site will go further than an overcrowded site with more emphasis on the tools than the pedagogy.

Here are a few ways to make your course site, regardless of platform, easier for students to navigate:

  • Choose a consistent, predictable structure for your site. Consider giving students a tour of the site on the first day of class so they understand where course materials are located.
  • Let students know your expectations for use of the site, such as how often they should check for updates.
  • Create links to any heavily used tools, such as discussion boards and student grades.
  • Be sure to update any content that was copied from previous semesters and includes dates.
  • Use logical file names consisting of only alphanumeric characters, the hyphen, and underscore (instead of blank spaces) when saving file attachments for Blackboard. Characters to avoid include commas, ?, @, #, $, %, &, *, !, (, ), ‘, and “.

Our Blackboard office hours are great opportunities to take a closer look at your site and work through ways to make it even better. Sign up today, email us at, or share your thoughts below so we can keep using this tool in effective ways.

About Catherine Odson

I'm the Courseware Support Librarian at Penn. I support faculty, students and staff using Blackboard and other courseware systems run by the Libraries.

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