5 – Communication in Your Module

In the above video, we cover:

  • Use announcements
  • Send messages
  • Set up and use class conversations and discussion boards

1 Overview of Communication in Modules

In all of your modules, you’ll find a document called “Contacting Key People” in the Learning Module “Module Guide”. Based on feedback from academics across schools, we strongly recommend that you use this document to lay out your communication plan. Include important details such as what methods you’ll use (announcements, email, and discussion boards were all recommended by our academic staff), what your office hours are, and what a typical response time is for communication.

Students do use and refer to this document, and it’s a clear way to set expectations for you and your students.

We’ll cover how to use announcement, set up discussion boards and Padlet as this was highlighted by our staff, and briefly cover messages. Staff have reported that messages within My Dundee are more trouble than they’re worth, so this section will be brief as it’s still useful to know where and how to send these and read any messages your students send to you.

Announcements are the favourite feature noted by our staff, so let’s start there!

2 Using Announcements

Announcements are a really powerful tool at your disposal. You can email them to students, and they will pop up in your module so they are the first thing students see when they open the module page. This ensures that students have to click it before they can see the rest of the course content. There is also an archive of the announcements, so you and your students can easily return to read past announcements.

To create an announcement, go to the main course content page of your module. Near the bottom of the Details & Actions menu, you’ll see a link under Announcements. Click on this to open the Announcements window. If you don’t have any announcements yet, this will automatically open to creating a new announcement, so let’s start here.

You can title your announcement, we’ll call this “Welcome to My Dundee 101”. At the time of recording, there is a drop-down for the recipients, but your only option is “All course members” which does include all staff enrolled on the module.

Below that you have the WSYWIG editor and you can enter your announcement message. This should look fairly familiar, but there are a few things specific to Blackboard documents that you should pay attention to. The first one is the very first icon – this controls if the text you are entering is a title, header, sub-header or paragraph. This is very important from an accessibility point of view, so make sure that you use these instead of simply making a header by making the text bold or a larger font. We’ll cover this more in our session on “Making your content accessible”.

The next several icons are the typical font controls, but if you click the three dots to the right of the underline icon, you’ll see options for adding a strikethrough, super- and sub-scripts and code snippets. A few icons past that, the “Paragraph” icon allows you to add and customise lists.

The last thing you that we’ll point out in this top bar is the plus sign icon at the far right. You can use this to add a YouTube video directly to the message.

The easiest way to add an image is have the folder that holds the image open, then drag and drop the file directly into this box. Here you’ll have the ability to adjust the file name, add descriptive alternative text, and decide if students can view or download the file. Once you’ve filled out this pop-up, select “Save”, and you’ll see the image if you selected an option that included “View”. You can’t adjust image sizes here, so you will need to make sure your original file is the size you’d like it to be.

Finally, there are two useful tick boxes below the announcement content: “Send an email” and “Schedule announcement”. One thing to note is you cannot use these together – you can either send this as an email (this will send to the University of Dundee email addresses for all course members), or you can schedule it to release automatically at a date in the future, but not both. However, this does not mean that you have to send the announcement as an email right as you create the announcement. Ifyou select the email option and click “Save”, you’ll now see the main Announcements page and that announcement is now there as a “Draft” and there is a button to “Post now”. This means that you can write your announcements in advance and then post them to your students once you are ready.

At the far right of this line, you can see three dots. If you click on this menu, you’ll see the option to edit, delete, or copy this message.

At the top of this window you can also see some quick statistics for how many announcements are posted, scheduled, and drafted. At the far right of this is a plus sign icon. You’ll use this icon to create all new announcements.

Next, we’ll look at setting up discussion boards!

3 Discussion Boards

Finally, you may want to set up class conversations or discussion boards. There are two different tools for discussion boards – one built in to your modules, and an external tool call “Padlet”. We’ll start with Padlet as that is the favourite by our staff, and it has the added bonus of letting students add anonymous comments which is not possible with Blackboard’s discussion boards at the time of recording.  

3.1 Creating a Padlet

To use Padlet, go to https://uod.padlet.org . You will need to log in using the top option – “Continue with Microsoft” and then you will see the typical single-sign-on.

Once you’re signed in, you’ll see the landing page for Padlet and we’ll now walk you through creating a Padlet with anonymous settings and embedding it in your module.

Click on the pink “Make a Padlet” button on the top right-hand side of the screen. From here you’ll have a variety of options of Padlet layouts – we recommend having a play with these to figure out what layout works best for your activity.

You’ll be brought into the Padlet with the side-panel that lets you decide settings.

First, you’ll need to title your Padlet. You can add a brief description below this, if you create it as an anonymous Padlet, it can be handy to let students know that in the description and also add any community guidelines you may want.

Below that, you can add an icon.

Underneath that is an area where you can customise your URL. You’ll always have the base of “uod.padlet.org/[USERNAME]/”, but you can determine the bit at the end that will point to this specific Padlet. You can use letters, numbers, and underscore. If you try to enter any character that isn’t allowed, you’ll see a red note appear under this URL reminding you what is allowed.

Below that you can determine the appearance – please remember to keep this as accessible as possible and keep things like font and colour contrast in mind!

Below that are settings that allow you to decide how other users (both students and any other staff on the module) can post. For an anonymous board, make sure this top slider for “Attribution” is off. You may also want to turn on comments, as that way students can add directly to other student’s posts.

Below that, you can decide any moderation for posts.

Under the next section, Remakes, you’ll likely want to turn off the option to allow non-admins to remake this Padlet.

You can ignore the last item here, Advanced.

Once you’ve got these settings in place, click on the button that says “Next” at the top.

You can now set up any information for your Padlet, such as columns headings (if you are using a “Shelf” style Padlet).

3.2 Setting up Visibility for Your Padlet

On the right-hand side of the screen, you’ll see some small icons. The cog wheel near the bottom lets you go back in and edit any of the settings you’d made when you created the Padlet (including the URL). However, to share the Padlet, we’ll want the second option from the top which is an arrow.

The first, and most important, item here is to check the Privacy settings. Padlets are set up as “Private” by default which means they can only be accessed by listed members – this is a little “too” Private for a module.

Next is “Organisation wide” – this makes it publicly available to the whole of the University of Dundee. It’s very unlikely you’ll want to use this setting!

Below that is “Password”, which does what it says – a password is required for users to access it. Again, this is probably “too” private for modules.

Last is “Secret” – this is the ideal setting for modules. Anyone with the URL can access the Padlet and it can be embedded into a module.

Once you’ve set the Padlet as “Secret”, you can decide visitor permissions. For this example we’ve used, you’d likely want visitors set to “Can Write”. This means that if someone goes to the custom URL, they can create their own posts but they cannot edit/delete/approve any other posts. Save this at the top right when you’re done, and let’s go back to the sharing.

3.3 Embedding Your Padlet in Your Module

Once you’ve got your Padlet ready, you can share the URL and also embed it into your My Dundee module. Embedding this in your module will require you to copy and paste some information from Padlet to your module, so you’ll need to have both pages open so you can go back and forth between them.

Carrying on in the same menu, to share the link, simply go down to the “Copy link to clipboard” option to copy the URL, and paste it wherever you want to share the link!

To embed this into your module, click on the “Add to your LMS as an external tool”. LMS just means Learning Management System, and for us just means My Dundee.

This will open a side panel with a lot of information. Keep this tab open and open a new tab for My Dundee.

Go to your module, and click on the plus sign to add content wherever you want to embed your Padlet. From the plus sign, select the option for “Create”. In the side panel that appears, click on the option for “Teaching tools with LTI connection”.

At the top you can enter the title for this and you can also determine the visibility for students here.

Go back to the Padlet tab, and copy the line called “(Secure) Launch/Tool URL” – this is the top URL.

Go back into your module, and paste this into the empty box on the right under “Configuration URL” area. Leave the box on the left to the default “https://”.

Go back into the Padlet tab again, and this time copy the second item called “Consumer Key”.

Go back into your module again, and paste this into the next box called “Key”.

Go into the Padlet again, and copy the line called “Shared secret” and paste this back in your module and paste this in the box called “Security Token”.

Go back into your Padlet one final time, and copy the item called “Custom Parameters” – this one is at the bottom of the list. Go back into your module, and click on the link for “Custom Parameters”. Paste this information in the box that will now appear.

Still in the module page, decide if you want this to open in a new window or remain within the module environment. You can also add any description information if you wish.

If you want to edit any of these settings, click on the three dots to the right of the item and click “edit”.

3.4 Using Blackboard Discussion Boards

Although feedback from academic teaching staff has been that Padlet boards are the better option, we want to walk you through how to use and set up Blackboard Discussion boards. These have the advantage of being attached to your module directly and you can assign marks to them.

To create a Discussion Board, find where you want the item to be. Click on the plus icon where you want the discussion board to be and click on the option for “Create”. In the side panel that appears, select the “Discussion” option near the bottom.

At the top you can title your Discussion by clicking on the text and typing in your new name. In the middle of the screen, you’ll see the typical “WSYIWIG” editor where you can enter the description and instructions. We covered the WSYWIG editor in depth when we discussed Announcements, so we won’t go into detail about that here.

On the right you can see Discussion Settings, which we’ll discuss shortly, your information, the list of participants, and a search bar. Any participant who has a responded or created a new post will have a clickable name in the list. Anyone who has not participated will appear as a greyed-out name. If you click on a linked name, you’ll see their posts.

To create new posts and reply to threads works like a typical forum or discussion board. To write a post, click on the text box in the top area. This will then create a link below it that says “reply” so the next person can create a new thread or reply to an existing thread.

Now, let’s go back to the settings. Click on the cog wheel to open this up and see your options. The first thing you’ll see is the box ticked for “Display on Course Content page”. You’ll want to keep this ticked.

Below that, you’ll see an option where you can require that students have to create a post before they can see any other content in the Discussion Board.

Below that, you can turn on marking. If you tick this box, you’ll see options where you can enter the due date (participate by), mark category, the mark using option and the maximum points, and finally a rubric. The Mark Category will be set to “Discussion” by default, but you can change this if you want to use the Overall Mark in the gradebook and don’t want this to be in the Discussion category. For more information on setting up and using the Overall Mark, see our 101 video on the Gradebook.

For more information on using Rubrics, you can click on the link below for the vendor’s guides.

Below that is Goals – Goals are set up as a university, and as we don’t have these set up, we will skip this option.

Finally, you can assign this to a group if you want a space for group discussions. For more information on setting up and using groups, see our 101 video on groups.

One final note on Discussion boards relates to visibility. You will want to be sure to set the visibility for the Discussion Board, even if you typically control visibility by Learning Module rather than by item. The reason for this is that the top of your module has a tab called “Discussions”. Discussion boards can always be found here, even when they are embedded in your course content. So, for instance, if you have the Week 1 Learning Module set to only become visible on the 3rd of October, you may have set all of the items within it to “visible” as students can’t access this section until the 3rd of October. That will work for all content except Discussion Boards, as a student could go to the “Discussions” tab and see this visible discussion board, even if is before the 3rd of October.

3.5 Conversations

You can attach a conversation area for Blackboard content, namely Blackboard tests and assignments and Blackboard documents. These function much the same as Discussion Boards, but with a few small changes. These cannot be marked, and they do not have an area to add a topic, as the item they are attached to is meant to be the topic.

To add a Conversation to an item, find the item. For this example, we’ll use a document. Use the settings cog wheel icon, click the option for “Allow class conversations” and then click “Save”.

This item will now have an icon of a person with a speech bubble in the top right. This will be purple if there are any unread comments. There will also be a speech bubble icon on the item itself that you can see from the Course Content page that will alert you to any new messages. Let’s click on this icon to take a look at the interface.

You can see it is nearly identical to the Discussion board, but with the differences we noted previously.

4 Send Messages

Finally, let’s cover messages.

To send a message from your course, go to the “Messages” tab at the top of your page. We’ll only cover this briefly as we have had a lot of feedback from staff that messages aren’t the most useful tool. The reason we’ve heard for this is mostly related to the fact that messages are kept within My Dundee. This means you have to check messages in My Dundee to see if you have any messages that you need to look at. This ends up adding work as it’s another potential point of contact, and you and your students are likely to miss information.

To create a new message, click on the plus sign icon in the top right-hand side of the screen. Here you can select either “All course members”, which does include all staff enrolled on the module, or you can select individual people in the module. At the time of recording, there is not an option to select “all students”. There is a way to send a message to a group, but we’ll cover that later.

Below that, you can decide if you want the recipients to be able to reply.

Finally, you have the standard WYSIWIG editor. This is the same as it was for the announcements, so we won’t cover this again. Once you’re ready, hit the send button at the bottom right.

We’ll be brought back to the Messages tab, but now we can see this message. In this tab, you can see any message where you are the sender or recipient.

To check your messages, you will have to go to this tab. But note that there is nothing in the page to let you know you have a message waiting. If you go to the main Institution Page for My Dundee, you will see a number next to the “Messages” tab. This number is how many unread messages you have. If you click on the messages tab from here, you can scroll until you see the “unread message” text below the module title. At the time of recording, there isn’t a way to sort by modules with unread messages, so you will just need to scroll until you see this text. If you click on the module from this tab, you’ll be brought directly to the Messages tab in that module.

4.1 Sending Group Messages

Sending messages to groups can be a bit confusing, because it’s not in the typical messages tab. Instead, once you’ve set up your groups, you will need to go back into the “View sets & Groups” link from the Details and Actions menu. Find the group set that contains the group or groups you want to message and make sure it is a “visible” group set. At the time of recording, you can only send to visible group sets. Next, click on the three dots next to it and select “Edit”.

Then, find the group that you want to message and click on the three dots at the far right of their group name and select the option for “Message group”. This will auto-fill the recipients field with the group members.

From here, you will enter your message as you typically would. For more information on setting up groups, see our 101 on “Setting up Groups”.


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Updated on 09/09/2022

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