Context is Key: Using Films on Demand’s New Intro Video Feature

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

In online teaching, an important part of successfully using video for educational purposes is framing the video in the context of your lesson and learning goals by using annotations. When you embed a video (or any multimedia element) into an Item in Blackboard, you should include annotations that orient your students to the content of the video.

Effective annotations include:

  1. An overview of the video’s subject-matter
  2. Information on how the video aligns with your weekly or course-level learning objectives
  3. Specific information on what students should pay attention to in the video or an overview of what students should take away from the video
  4. A reminder for students to take notes, if necessary
  5. Insight on any related activities or assessments that will be conducted after viewing


Example Annotation
An Example of Embedded Videos with an Annotation in Blackboard


If you’re looking for high-quality video content for your classes, our library subscribes to Films on Demand, a streaming video platform that specializes in educational videos. Our subscription to Films on Demand can be accessed through the Charles “T” Jones Leadership Library’s Online Resources page.

Films on Demand allow users to bookmark videos, build playlists, and generate share links and embed codes to embed videos in Blackboard. Additionally, Films on Demand has a new feature that allows users to create 2-3 minute intro videos for their playlists.

Click this link to see an example of a Films on Demand Playlist with Intro Video.

Users can use intro videos to build continuity and cohesion into their courses, to provide brief instruction to students, and to put videos in the context of a lesson or learning goal. Using an intro video also adds instructor presence because it allows students to hear from (and see) their course instructor as they set the stage for learning.

If you are interested in learning more about this feature, check out the Films on Demand Support Center. Need help recording your first intro video? Contact the Faculty Support Center:

Are you going to give this feature a try? Let us know how it goes in the comments section!

Lunch & Learn Highlights: Strategies for Using Group Work in the Classroom

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Sometime today, take a few minutes and type “I hate group work” into YouTube. Your search will return about 144,000 results including many videos created by college students lamenting over their hatred for and the injustices of the group work expectations in their undergraduate courses. One student vlogger shared: “When I die, I want every single person I’ve done a group project with to be at my funeral so when they bury me they can let me down one last time.” Talk about having some very strong feelings!

Teachers know that group work plays an important role in today’s classroom. Group work affords students the opportunity to practice the important soft skills they will need in their careers including collaboration, communication, problem solving, leadership, and organization.

On the other hand, from the student perspective, group work can seem like a frustrating and unnecessary burden. Students’ lives are so busy that coordinating collaborative sessions with team members who have equally busy lives can feel impossible. A commonly shared complaint is, “I don’t like group work because I just wind up doing all of the work myself!”

How can we help students see the value of group collaboration while also equipping them with the skills they need to collaborate successfully with their peers? On Friday August 26, 2016 a group of fourteen faculty members gathered for a roundtable discussion to consider this challenge and to discuss strategies for using group work in the online and on-ground classrooms.

Lunch and Learn August 26

Here are some of the strategies suggested by the group:

  • Students do not always know how to function in a group – scaffold group assignments by providing resources that help students understand how to collaborate. Examples of resources you can share with students include:

Infographics: Tips for Online Students: Successfully working in Teams or Pairs

Videos: Thomas Frank’s YouTube video 5 Tips for Dealing with Lazy Group Project Members

Embedded tutorials: Embed the Learn to Work in Groups Module into the Groups in Blackboard

Reading assignments: eLearners – How to Survive Virtual Group Work

  • Teach students about online collaboration tools such as the Blackboard Groups tools and Microsoft 365
  • Have students negotiate their roles and sign group contracts or submit communication plans
  • Allow group members to evaluate and rank one another (make their peer evaluation part of the assignment grade)
  • Do not prolong group assignments
  • Reframe “group work” as “team work” or something with a more positive connotation
  • Give students the choice to opt out and work independently
  • Help students avoid procrastination by requiring timely check-ins, progress reports, or submission of work periodically throughout the term
  • Use classroom assessment tools such as surveys to check in with groups and to evaluate their learning experience
  • Assign students to groups strategically so students can support and learn from each other
  • Clearly articulate expectations to students and spend class time reviewing the assignment and the way the groups will be graded

How do you use group work in the classroom? What strategies do you employ to set students up for success while working in groups? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Additional Resources:

Every person who attended the Lunch and Learn received a copy of the Faculty Focus Special Report: Effective Group Work Strategies for the College Classroom. Use the link to download your free copy!

The Value of Course Level Assessment

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Todd Zakrajsek, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Executive Director of the Academy of Educators at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Dr. Zakrajsek is also an accomplished author and presenter in the world of faculty development and teaching excellence in higher education; I’ve had the privilege to hear him speak on numerous occasions. During his talks, Dr. Zakrajsek usually shares a video clip called the Five Minute University:

This video is a humorous riff on a lingering question: Why invest so much time into learning if we are destined to forget most of what we learn? I acknowledge that, as educators, we knowingly view this question as illogical. We are privileged to know that higher education is not just about memorizing facts and figures or checking boxes on a degree matrix; it’s about developing the hard and soft skills that will sustain an individual in their career and for the rest of their life. The real question is: How do we ensure that our courses and curricula are equipping students with the skills they need to be successful? The answer: Assessment.

It is a misnomer that assessment is reserved exclusively for the academic department level, academic school level, or institution level. Assessment belongs at every level, especially the course level. I highly-encourage every educator to find a method of course assessment that works for them and to practice it regularly. The results of this practice are higher-quality courses and an improved student learning experience.

My personal assessment practice begins with course planning: (1) I use the approved course learning objectives as the learning goals for developing my course; (2) I determine what constitutes evidence that these learning objectives are being achieved; (3) I create an outline for my course that aligns my course learning objectives with weekly learning goals and objectives; (4) I develop assignments, activities, and instruction to support the process, capture evidence, and assess learning.

Once the course begins, I monitor overall student performance throughout the term and make note of the needed changes or improvements that become evident right away. Next, I make it a point to check in with my students regularly to hear their thoughts on their experience in my course (eventually I pair this information with my student observation results).

When the term wraps up, I add my final reflections and organize my notes (I use Microsoft OneNote* as my notebook) so they are easily accessible the next time I am scheduled to teach the course. I organize my notes into five categories: (1) things that exceeded my expectations; (2) things that met my expectations; (3) things that need improvement; (4) things that need to be eliminated from the course; (5) things that need to be added to the course.

On a final note, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Dr. Zakrajsek speak (he is the Director of the Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching), take the opportunity. Dr. Zakrajsek is an inspiring speaker and teacher educator.

Microsoft OneNote Logo

*Microsoft OneNote is a notebook in Microsoft Office that allows you to capture notes, drawings, screen clippings, and audio notes. You can organize your notebook into tabs (I tab mine by course). There is a built-in search tool that makes retrieving notes easy.

What do you do to assess your courses? Tell us about it in the comments section!

How much work is enough?

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

At my undergraduate college orientation, the director of academic advisement took a moment to inform my freshman class that college is more than just attending classes. Nobody in the room look overly surprised by this information, that is until they distributed a chart that further informed the group that for a college freshman taking a full-time course load, there would be between 24-36 hours of out-of-class work per week.

As I progressed through my college education, I learned that the 24-36 hour figure presented at orientation was an estimate that varied widely depending on the course subject and level, my pre-existing knowledge, and the professor’s teaching style. Yet, my freshman year was an eye-opening experience that included many late nights in the library spent reading and writing more pages than I had ever previously attempted in my academic career. Sometimes it felt impossible to keep up with my work, and that was without the responsibilities of a full-time job or family, which so many of today’s college students balance in addition to their studies.

Years later, the tables turned, and I found myself in the role of educator. There I was, looking at the very same chart I received my freshman year, wondering how I would find the right workload for my students. It turns out, I am not alone; I am often brought into conversations with colleagues who feel challenged to find the right balance for their students. It seems many of us feel that this challenge is only compounded by technology and the multitude of teaching modalities that blur the line between time spent in-class and work performed outside-of-class.

As you pursue the right workload for your students, my best advice is to seek input from colleagues both inside and outside of your academic discipline, to talk to your students, and to tune into the research and conversations about student workload that are happening across the landscape of higher education.

A handy tool for gauging your current (or future) student workload is Rice University’s Course Workload Estimator. This is an impressive, research-based tool created to estimate how much time a student can reasonably expect to spend on work outside of your class every week based on  planned weekly reading assignments, writing assignments, exams, and other assignments; I highly recommend checking it out.

What do you do to determine the right workload for your students? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Midterm Inspiration

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Midterm is a stressful time for students and professors alike; sometimes we need a little extra inspiration to get us over that midterm hump. Kevin Gannon, professor and chair of the History Department at Grand View University, provides us with a healthy dose of motivation in his recent article, Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. Through the lens of critical pedagogy, Gannon reminds us that reflective teaching can be used to refresh and re-energize our teaching, especially when we feel drained or defeated.

If you enjoyed Gannon’s article, check out his interview with Bonni Stachowiak on the Teaching In Higher Ed podcast. 

What do you do to refresh and re-energize your teaching? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Invitation Only: Guest Speakers in Online Classrooms

By Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

We all know the benefits of inviting experts into our classroom space: abstract theoretical concepts become more relatable and concrete; difficult, contentious topics have a knowledgeable spokesperson; essential skills and ideas are given professional application; different perspectives on discussed topics, just to name a few.   When teaching online, however, we tend to forget about these ‘guests’ and the rich experiences to our onsite classrooms.

Online classrooms, whether synchronous sessions or asynchronous lessons, can benefit from inviting experts to speak about topics.  Here are a few ways to invite experts into your online course:

Guest Lecturer

For onsite classes, many of us already use guest lecturers as a way to put a face to a debate, theory, or idea.  The same thinking should apply in an online course.

Creating It

In my online courses, I use the guest lecturer in two different ways.  First, I might use an internal guest lecturer for a particular topic.  This might be another faculty member or a staff member (such as Career Services, Counseling, Library, or The Writing Center).  Another way to use a guest lecturer is to invite an external expert.  This might be someone who has particular knowledge or experience that will enhance the student’s understanding of the topic.

Using It

In either case, I will embed the video into Blackboard and surround it with directions on how to view it (“Please pay particular attention to this question/answer.”) as well as critical thinking questions (“What did you notice about the emphasis placed on this concept?”).  I will ask the students to follow up on these points in a discussion forum, a journal, or a blog.



Interviewing an expert helps students to learn more about the topic by interjecting the ‘human element’ into the conversation.  Moreover, by watching you interview an expert on the topic, students learn how 1) to engage in critical thinking and analysis, 2) to ask probing, thoughtful, and respectful questions, and 3) sustain a collegial discussion and debate with a peer.

Creating It

Obviously, when taping an interview, it is important to have the written permission of all involved and let them know the terms and conditions of recording process.

Using It

For an online course, there are several ways to use this recorded artefact: 1) to augment a particular topic, 2) to lead off a discussion board forum, and 3) to provide a starting place for a blog or journal.  You can also students the opportunity to do a synchronous ‘Q&A’ if the participant is available.



If you want a less formal format than lecturing and interviewing, storytelling is a more informal approach.  When you invite an expert to ‘tell a story,’ you are giving your students an opportunity to apply their observation skills and synthesize examples with topics.  I use storytelling in my courses as ‘case studies’ when I am trying to highlight a particular topic as well as give students an opportunity to hear examples from experts in their field.

Creating It

When you ask a guest to ‘record their story,’ you want to provide them with the class topic and perhaps present them with a certain scope.  This will help them frame their experiences and provide you with applicable material.

Using It

Much like interviewing, you can use this artefact 1) as a ‘case study’ to augment a particular topic, 2) as a prompt for a discussion board forum, and 3) to provide a starting place for a blog or journal.  You can also students the opportunity to do a synchronous ‘Q&A’ if the storyteller is available.


Are there other methods that you use to ‘invite’ expert voices into your classroom?  How do you frame these experts in an online environment?  Have you ever tried a ‘Q&A’ session?  What has been your students’ feedback about these ‘guests’?

Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections including Demons of the Body and Mind,  Transnational Gothic,  and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

Using Classroom Rituals

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Do you remember homeroom in high school? It probably looked like some combination of visiting your locker to collect your belongings, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the national anthem, and listening to the morning announcements. This homeroom routine is an example of ritual behavior. People take comfort in having a prescribed order to things; rituals can be used to set the tone in a classroom, establish expectations for behavior, create classroom memories, and bring a peaceful climate.

Here are some examples of routines/rituals that can set the right tone and bring comfort and order to your classroom:

Outline the day

On the left or right side of the classroom whiteboard, write a bullet point outline of the objectives, activities, or topics that will be covered in class. Not only does this outline serve as a helpful organizational and time management tool for the professor, it also serves to set expectations for the class meeting and help students organize their notes and stay engaged.

Tips for using this activity:

  • At the beginning of class, review the list with students as a preview for your meeting.
  • Cross off items from the list as they’ve been covered in class.
  • Include major assignment/project due dates on your list. I use this method and I split my list into “this class” and “next class.”

Create a classroom soundtrack

Use the classroom computer and speakers to play music for students before class. This method is great for setting atmosphere and starting social conversations with students. When students walk into class, they will enjoy hearing music. You will get to know each other through your song choices and preferences.

I previously worked with a professor who would create an electronic playlist that included all of the songs from class that she would then share with students at the end of the term. How fun and memorable for the students!

Tips for using this activity:

  • Choose songs that set the right mood for the topic you are about to discuss.
  • Use music as an opportunity for having informal conversation with students. As class settles in, talk to your students about your song choice for the day.
  • Let students join in the fun by inviting them to serve as guest DJs. Ask student volunteers to bring in songs to get class started or allow them to select a song from your playlist.

What’s the word?

I had a professor who began each class by asking us, “What’s the word.” He did not explain the activity, he just called on a student by name and popped the question, “Hey Joe, what’s the word?” Each class, every student would be asked to share a word. It didn’t take too long for the class to catch on to the fact that this would be our daily ritual. Students would bring their most silly, clever, or complicated words to join in the fun.

The professor used this activity to socially engage with students and to learn names and take attendance.

Tips for using this activity:

  • Occasionally replace the question, “What’s the word?” with more meaningful questions. For example, during the holiday season ask students, “What are you grateful for?” or during stressful times of the term when students are more likely to get homesick ask, “Who do you miss?”

Rituals are not just for the beginning-of-class; a ritual can be established for any point during a class meeting. One example of an end-of-class ritual is to have students report on their muddiest moment from class by writing down a concept or topic they find unclear or confusing. This routine lets students know that class is winding down and offers students an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve learned and what they still need to understand. It also provides another channel of communication between the professor and the students. Use their feedback to begin the next class meeting.

Do you use a classroom ritual? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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