The Online Environment
Blackboard had information areas that supported students' learning, and communication areas with collaborative tools that enabled students to learn collaboratively.
Blackboard and its feature
Blackboard, the software platform, had some important features, including its flexibility of any time / any place access, password security to provide a secure and safe learning environment, and personalised home pages for each student that included links to their specific courses.
Information areas and collaborative tools
The facilitator provided a flexible programme with twenty areas in Blackboard, designed for a specific reason. Blackboard had a similar format, layout and navigation for each course and the facilitator built on what the students already knew about standard navigation protocols. Some areas were for information, providing current messages, contact details and support documents, and others were for communication, such as the Discussion Board, an asynchronous tool (in delayed time), and the Virtual Classroom, a synchronous tool (in real-time).
Other technologies used
Other communication technologies used in the Learn-Now programme were: MSN, telephone, email, fax and video-conferencing.
Some issues arose during the study relating to the online environment but the facilitator provided strategies to overcome them. Slow downloading time impacted on student's motivation and engagement, and was overcome by using files small in size, opening several pages or all messages all at once, and working on something while downloading. Software compatibility also needs consideration when sharing files.
Students need time to become familiar with the features and functions of the synchronous and asynchronous tools. Students often had a restricted amount of time to read and reply to messages, and their typing speed impacted on what they could achieve in their time allocation. When using synchronous tools, the facilitator modelled some strategies to keep the wait-time to a minimum: computer texting (abbreviated words) and breaking a sentence into short phrases.
To motivate students, the facilitator added a title that moved back and forth (with marquee html coding), a colourful banner for each Announcements page and added colour to the text by using simple html coding before and after the text.
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