Jarl Jonas, Senior Program Manager for CourseSites, tells all about CourseSites by Blackboard and why you should check it out!
1. What is CourseSites by Blackboard and what is its mission and vision?
CourseSites by Blackboard provides every instructor with the most powerful tools to extend their classroom online, increase productivity and efficiency, and raise student engagement and achievement. These tools are free and all located in one place.
CourseSites is powered by Blackboard Learn, Release 9.1, along with some capabilities of Blackboard Collaborate and Blackboard Mobile Learn. These technologies, along with some additional applications, enable individual instructors to create interactive course websites quickly and easily, without the worry of cost, time consuming set-up or software downloads. CourseSites is a hosted solution, and offers live phone and chat support, as well as live and self-paced training.
Blackboard’s latest and greatest technology will always be available on CourseSites, so every instructor can stay on the cutting edge of instructional technology, keep students engaged, and continually increase the impact of their teaching.
2. Who would benefit from using CourseSites?
CourseSites is designed primarily for individual higher education instructors and Grade 8-12 teachers who may not have access to a Learning Management System (LMS) at their institution or district. Those who already have access to an LMS can still benefit from CourseSites as they may be more familiar with Blackboard’s tools and environment, or they may want to experiment with our latest technology. In addition to using CourseSites to deliver instruction to students, a host of clients are using it as a way to connect and collaborate with colleagues and offer professional development on various topics.
Additionally, clients who license Blackboard technology can benefit from CourseSites in a few ways. They can use it to evaluate the latest release and prepare for future upgrades. We will soon be announcing how CourseSites can help BbWorld 2011 presenters connect with participants before, during and after the conference too!
3. You used to be a high school English teacher and online instructor. Coming from an instructor’s point of view, what makes using CourseSites unique and worthwhile?
When I taught High School English, there was nothing like CourseSites; and the Internet was not even a well-known entity. I wish that I had a tool like CourseSites to continue lively conversations after the bell, and enable every student to have a voice, especially if he or she did not get a chance to talk in class.
Now that the Internet and other online teaching tools are prevalent, CourseSites stands apart due to its comprehensiveness, ease of use and support. To name a few exciting features, teachers can:
- Publish an Instructor Home Page as a gateway to themselves and their instruction;
- Manage and deliver lesson and course curriculum;
- Offer a variety of formative and summative assessments;
- Efficiently monitor student performance;
- Align content, tests and activities with K12 state standards;
- Offer student-centered activities using social learning tools like blogs and wikis;
- Publish podcasts, including student voice responses/comments;
- Collaborate with students live at a distance using IM or a live classroom;
- Differentiate instruction.
In a nutshell, it’s a one-stop shop for almost any instructional situation or need.
Unlike other services I’ve researched, we offer help at every step. For instance, when setting up courses, teachers can choose from over 30 pedagogically-sound course templates to help kick-start the course building process. Also, every teacher is enrolled in a self-paced Getting Started course. They can refer to this course anytime for more information or contact live support with questions.
4. How does CourseSites differ from the commercial versions of Blackboard?
CourseSites is designed specifically for individual instructors. The majority of its powerful features are available at no cost to all individual teachers and students.
To optimize the service for individual instructors and to extend their reach beyond the brick and mortar classroom, we’ve added features available only in CourseSites, which include:
- Ability to Login using Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Windows Live, or Yahoo account information;
- Instructor Home Page;
- Course Creation Wizard with Structure and Theme choices;
- Course Invitations;
- Sharing of course elements with social media services (i.e. Twitter);
- Live classroom powered by Elluminate technology;
- Voice Discussions and Podcasts powered by Wimba Voice technology;
- Access to partner technology, such as SoftChalk and Respondus software.
5. How does one get started using CourseSites and is training available?
Getting started with CourseSites is as Easy as 1-2-3!
1. Sign Up. Visit https://www.coursesites.com and click the Sign Up Now button to create an account. At the site you also can learn more about features, read FAQs and watch videos, visit https://www.coursesites.com.
2. Create a Course. After creating an account, users begin to create a course. They can choose from a variety of pedagogically-driven course structures that align with their course organization or teaching method. They can also import an existing Blackboard Course Package during this process.
3. Invite Students. Once instructors have built their course, they can invite students to participate, or create accounts and distribute them to their students.
Yes, there is a lot of training and support available!
- Getting Started with CourseSites. This is a self-paced course in which every instructor is enrolled. It’s designed to acquaint instructors with CourseSites and teaches the basics of how to set-up and facilitate an online learning environment.
- Instructor Community. Each instructor is also enrolled in the CourseSites Instructor Community. There users will find further training resources, interact with other users, and post their own best practices and online teaching techniques.
- Student Orientation. Each student is enrolled into a self-paced orientation course to introduce them to basic tools. This training prepares them for learning online and helps to remove technology as a barrier to their learning.
- CourseSites Tours and Tutorials: https://www.youtube.com/coursesites
6. What programs and products work with CourseSites and where does SoftChalk fit in?
As an online delivery platform, CourseSites will enable instructors to provide any type of file for student consumption. CourseSites makes it very simple for instructors to include multimedia into their courses, such as YouTube movies, Flickr pictures, and SlideShare presentations at no additional cost.
SoftChalk allows instructors to easily create interactive and engaging content for their CourseSites and have it look like it was designed by a professional. They can quickly turn static documents into dynamic content with pop-up text annotations, drag and drop activities, and even self-assessment quizzes that link with the CourseSites Grade Center!
Respondus provides assessment management, learning activity and browser management tools.
7. What’s in store for CourseSites in the future?
We are continuously working on enhancing some of the CourseSites-specific features based on user feedback. In addition, we are localizing CourseSites into three languages to help support our international users.
Users can also expect to see some new, incredible functionality from our team, along with our eventual upgrade to Service Pack 6 of Release 9.1.
8. Are there any events coming up where those interested can learn more about CourseSites?
SoftChalk will be hosting a webinar on May 26th at 12:00 p.m. EST titled, “Transform Static to Ecstatic! with SoftChalk, CONNECT and ScoreCenter!” Users can register here.
CourseSites will be offering some more live training and office hours that will be posted soon to our Instructor Community. Until then, instructors are welcome to watch the recordings of our webinars held to date: