From the Director’s Desk – Fall 2014

Profile Picture for Dr. Scott R. FranklinIs it just me or does the beginning of the fall term feel like a dust storm rolling in, a haboob, if you will?  Thanks to the fact that the Plainview campus schedule and the external campus schedule collide for the start of the fall term, the Virtual Campus gets stretched just a little thin this time of year.  But the good news is, now that we’re past the census date, the dust is settling.

Since that last time I wrote to you, we have taken a number of steps to help improve our online courses including an update to Blackboard, a reorganization of our faculty resources, and a complete redesign of our online term schedule.  In this newsletter, you’ll find links and information about all three of these developments.

In my column this term, I wanted to draw your attention to some of the new features that are now available in Blackboard Learn thanks to our recent update and give you glimpse of some exciting things on the horizon.

Continue reading

Transactional Distance Theory

Those in the School of Business can probably tell us a lot about transactions. We most commonly think about them in the exchange of money for a product. This involves a close face to face component where money is handed back and forth between the people. Some transactions involve credit or debit cards, and some are on the Internet where distance is a factor. We may not feel so secure about those distant transactions. Transactions in learning are the exchange of knowledge between instructors and learners. And in online learning this involves distance; a potentially insecure, lonely environment.

Michael Moore, a leader in the field of distance education, coined the name “transactional distance” in 1980. It is “a psychological and communication space to be crossed; a space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of the instructor and those of the learner”. The theory was expanded and elaborated by Saba and Shearer in 1994. If learning outcomes are to be maximized, the transactional distance must be minimized. Interactive components in the online classroom are the key to accomplishing this.


Dialogue between learners and instructors -learners in an online course are not just separated by geographical distance but by design and structure of a course. They may feel disconnected or isolated if they are just given an assignment and reading and told to meet a deadline. This leads to low motivation, less engagement with the course material and ultimately – attrition – the killer of all online programs. So how do you increase dialogue?

  • Use discussion boards where the instructor actually comments back to learner posts in a timely manner, or summarizes learner posts at the end of the discussion. A great motivator is to name learners and specific contributions in the summary: “John Smith provided a foundation concept blah, blah, blah. Susie Jones furthered that concept by explaining Saba’s research done in 1998″. Learners love that pat on the back or recognition and are motivated to contribute more significant ideas.
  • Use discussion boards that require learners to interact with other learners in a meaningful way. Don’t just accept replies that state “good job” or “I agree”. Ask the learner to further the discussion by bringing in evidence in an article, or personal experience, or by elucidating the idea posted by the first learner. Research shows that learners are more motivated and more satisfied with learning that involves peer to peer interactions or participation in a purposeful community of inquiry (Moisey, Neu, & Cleveland -Innes, 2008) and (Stavredes, Herder, 2013).
  • Blogs and Wikis provide a different peer to peer interactive experience. Blogs tend to allow more free flowing thoughts and ideas. Wikis require learners to contribute and refine ideas into a succinct product.
  • Use Blackboard IM as an immediate question/answer platform when learners and instructors are online simultaneously.
  • Provide a place for learners to ask questions or seek directions of other learners in the course.
  • Use Kaltura to place short 3-7 minute videos; either lectures, voice over power point, announcements, or feedback to students on a project. Add a question/answer component after a video to help ensure assimilation. Seeing the instructor’s face and expressions improves satisfaction in the course by fostering a sense of community.
  • Utilize Blackboard Collaborate in office hours, community meetings with learners and instructors for explaining or expanding concepts, or a place for learners to meet to exchange ideas and build knowledge without the instructor.


Structure and Design of the course – the flexibility or rigidity of instructional methods and strategies can greatly increase or decrease transactional distance. Structure has a big influence in motivation to succeed in the course, and general satisfaction with the subject matter. Learners who can’t navigate the course or find vital information easily will become frustrated with the course and are less likely to participate fully.

  • Extrude the components of your syllabus into the Bb classroom. Syllabi are very important documents. They provide the direction and structure of the course, and expectations of the instructor for the learners. We expect learners to read the document, but it should not be used as a listing of course activities. Learners are using more and more mobile devices in learning. Constant downloading of documents can be expensive, time consuming, annoying on a slow service, or hard to read once acquired. If you place the course schedule, textbook and resource links, parameters for discussions or papers in the Course Information area they are easily seen by the student by one click and become better reminders of how to act in the course.
  • Anything to do with course materials and content should be in a content item on the menu (not in the syllabus). If your course is arranged week by week use weekly folders with the reading, Discussion Board, written assignments and quizzes inside the folder. If you want to contain all the quizzes in one menu item “Quizzes” then link to the quizzes folder or quiz in the weekly folder. This will provide the learners with a clear list of activities and due dates. If you arrange by unit….do unit folders the same way.
  • Be sure there are active links to the VC for help, and the library, and any other technical assistance you deem important. Learners need to have a way to request help quickly to stay active in the course.
  • The Effective Design Initiative(EDI) course provides you with a checklist for classroom design items – some which are required and some that offer suggestions and best practices. Use this to set up your course design.
  • Think interaction in whatever ways are comfortable for you.


Autonomy – the degree of self-directedness of the learner. This is a trickier component. Some instructors have very specific components with which every learner must interact. But research has shown that some autonomy gives the learner a sense of ownership, satisfaction, and accomplishment. Giving learners options on how to learn is a good solution.

  • Giving learners some choices can be simple or more complex. Because people learn differently you could provide videos, power point slides, or audio for the chapters. They select what works for them. Some textbooks provide at least the PPT’s and the audio in the faculty resources.
  • You can provide some different learning options in different weeks – such as a choice of article critiques.

You can encourage your learners to research and bring new found knowledge to the classroom discussion or blog.

So consider all those academic transactions you could make with your students. By decreasing the transactional distance and you will “show them the money”. You’ll give them evidence of a more successful classroom experience.

“Moore, M. G. 1991. Distance education theory. The American Journal of Distance Education 5 (3).

Saba, F. & Shearer, R. (1994). Verifying key theoretical concepts in a dynamic model of distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 9(3).

Blackboard Upgrade Scheduled – Friday, August 15

On Friday, August 15, we will be conducting an update to our Blackboard Learn 9.1 system (  We are upgrading from Service Pack 13 to the April 2014 Release.

The update is currently scheduled to begin at 4:00 pm (CDT) on Friday, August 15, 2014.  The system will be unavailable for approximately 15 hours during the update.  The system is expected to be fully up and running by 7:00 am (CDT) on Saturday, August 16, 2014.

There should not be any noticeable formatting changes to the Blackboard system and all of your course materials will remain intact through this update.  However, there are a couple of exciting new features that will accompany this update (see below).  As always, there are some bug fixes that will aid in resolving ongoing issues.

Two exciting new features added to Blackboard:

  1. SafeAssign Integration

The SafeAssign feature (for plagiarism detection) has been integrated into the Assignment object so it will be possible to check a box on an assignment for a SafeAssign report to be generated.  This also means that instructors can use in-line grading on these assignments, eliminating the need to create separate assignments for each purpose (plagiarism detection AND in-line grading).

Click here for more information and a short video:

Note that existing SafeAssignments will be converted to Assignments with plagiarism detection turned on.


  1. Student Preview

There is also an easier to use feature that allows instructors to switch between a student view and back again.  We have a feature installed that does this clumsily but now it will be available at the click of a button: one click to switch to a REAL student view and then a click to switch back.

Click here for more information and demo:


If you have any questions, please let us know using the Instructor Help Request Form

Effective Design Initiative Update

At WBU, we endeavor to offer the best online classes.  To that end we use a standard established from global best practices, SACS requirements, and WBU expectations called the Effective Design Initiative to evaluate the design and functionality of our courses.  We want effective learning communities with easy access to course materials, and a common organization to facilitate learning.

In the winter term, we began evaluating courses using our phase 2 rubric which provides more detailed information about establishing communication in the classroom, how students find their course materials, and the effective use of Blackboard.  (Compare EDI Phase 1 Rubric and  EDI Phase 2 Rubric).
We encourage you to self-evaluate your course using the phase 2 EDI rubric.   If your course was reviewed by a member of the VC Staff, you will receive an email letting you know how to access the results.  Please apply the recommendations provided.
Wayland Baptist University has a wonderful online program and we are glad you are a part of it. Thank you for your efforts and contributions to the Virtual Campus!

Engaging the Online Learner

TrifilioTrish.jpgIs your online class in a rut?  Do you assign readings, ask a question for discussion, maybe have a short assignment, and give a test?  If all my classes were set up this way, I’d be bored with the work and probably boring in my responses.

Engaged learning is not a new instructional concept.  You have probably heard the terms social cognition, constructivism, active learning, or problem-based learning.  Bruner, Vygotsky, and Piaget all professed that humans learn through interaction.  Learning should be collaborative with meaning negotiated from multiple perspectives (enter critical thinking!).  Activities that require students to interact and encourage a sharing of ideas promote a deeper level of thought.

In a face-to-face classroom you can tell when students are engaged by the sound level and energy in the room. Discussions become animated and there is reluctance to move to a new task.  So how do you create a similar environment online without those visual and verbal cues?

First, the activity you choose must meet the learning outcome you seek (matching learning objectives).  The outcomes of the activities should fall into application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation levels of thinking as described by Bloom’s taxonomy.


How engaging is the activity?

o   Do the learners use online tools (either in Blackboard or on the Web)?

o   Is there a social component in the established classroom learning community?

o   Is a particular problem presented and solved collaboratively?

o   Does the activity involve reflection using the text, Internet, or personal experience

Choose an authentic activity – it can be a motivating factor.

o   Activities that mimic an actual situation or shared personal experiences are great.

o   Failure, repetition, and subsequent reflection can be some of the best activities.

o   Activities should build skills that have value after the life of the course (Lose the busy work).

Part of the responsibility of an online instructor is to build student’s skills in using necessary tools for the particular subject.  This might involve Internet searches with critical examination as to its source and efficacy.  It might include multimedia, or worksheets.  Skills in group work, or debate, or problem solving might be required for certain professions, so build those skills in your classroom.

Remember, your students have come from an age where the internet has always existed.  Use it!  Try games or simulations –, Connextions, and MIT OpenCourseWare  are good places to start.  Take Virtual Field trips, do WebQuests, incorporate video (student created or on the Web).  Take a leap of faith and empower your students with learner-led activities where students become contributors of knowledge.

As an instructor you do not have to include ALL of these different activities, nor do you have to have one activity every week.  Try to improve you course by adding one engaging activity during the term and refine and improve it.  You might need to use trial and error to find the right activities to make your course more engaging, but when you see the level of excitement and enthusiasm from your learners it is worth the effort.

Dr. Tricia Ritschel-Trifilo
Distance Learning Specialist
Faculty Support
Wayland Baptist University

From the Director’s Desk – Summer 2014

One of the great “joys” of my position in the Virtual Campus is to coordinate with each state to make sure that we are authorized to offer our programs to their students. (Yes, read some sarcasm into that.) The good news is we are making great strides towards our goal of providing our programs across the entire nation. I wanted to share one of the great conversations that I had during this process.

Currently, there are several states that only have a handful of students enrolled in our programs. One of those states, which I’ll hold back on naming, has very stringent and expensive requirements to authorize in their state. It was made very clear by the official with whom I spoke that they have those requirements to protect their citizens from predatory institutions that do not have their best interests in mind. In spite of the fact that it is not in our financial best interest to continue offering programs in their state, I did get to explain to the official how we do “online education.” Continue reading

Proctoring Options – Blackboard Training Webinar Recording

Spring Training Workshops

On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, we conducted our third Spring Training webinar of 2014 with a session on “Proctoring Options (Including Remote Proctor Now)”  Here is a recording of that session.

Watch the Recording

4-28-2014 4-36-34 PM

Description: During this session, we discuss the test proctoring process and new options available for faculty who give proctored exams.  With Secure Remote Proctor, students can complete proctored examinations at home while they are recorded using a webcam.  The videos are reviewed and a report documenting any suspicious behavior is provided to the instructor.  We present how to set up your exams for Remote Proctor and review the reports.

Test Creation – Blackboard Training Webinar Recording

Spring Training Workshops

On Tuesday, April 15, 2014, we conducted our second Spring Training webinar of 2014 with a session on “Test Creation and Importing.”  Here is a recording of that session.

Watch the Recording

Description: There are wide variety of ways to create tests within Blackboard.  There are also a number of different resources available through publishers for importing tests.  Dr. Trifilo will walk us through these options and help clarify the settings for assessments in Blackboard.

Kaltura – Blackboard Training Webinar Recording

Spring Training Workshops

On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, we conducted our first Spring Training webinar of 2014 with a session on “Creating and Uploading Your Own Media with Kaltura.”  Here is a recording of that session. We’ve also included links to the handouts for the session.

Watch the Recording
4-14-2014 2-40-22 PM

Download the PDFs:
Introduction to Kaltura
Kaltura_adding saved media
Kaltura_Recording the screen