The University of North Texas (UNT) is one of the state’s largest universities with around 37,000 enrolled students. The campus is located in the city of Denton. UNT offers 100 bachelor’s 83 master’s and 37 doctoral programs.
Even though UNT’s faculty helpdesk is open throughout the week and part of the weekend, they were always swamped at the beginning of the semester with questions pertaining to Blackboard. According to Mary Speight, UNT’s Instructional Technology Administrator, many faculty members also tend to overwhelm instructional consultants with the same questions. To overcome this obstacle UNT purchased EesySoft’s Blackboard building block in 2015.
UNT has gradually rolled out the solution in the course of the year. The Winter semester of 2015-2016 marked the first semester that EesySoft was fully deployed on UNT’s Blackboard Learn instance. EesyMessaging was used to assign proactive messages to faculty members with information about how to copy and set up their Blackboard courses. These brief instructions were supplemented with FAQ’s that were integrated into the EesySoft context-sensitive help menu, which can be accessed from anywhere within the Blackboard environment by clicking the ‘support tab’.
Student Preview is a relatively new feature within UNT’s Learn environment. Mary found that, because this feature was not present from the start, many instructors simply did not know about it. She created a pop-up message that appears when users hover over the Student Preview button on the course home page. With EesyReports she was then able to see that after the placement of the message the number of Student Preview users was higher than it had ever been before.
Mary also recalls an instance when an instructor initially e-mailed a consultant to request assistance with setting up their course. Within ten minutes he e-mailed again and said: “Hey, disregard that. I saw the pop-up on my Blackboard page and was able to complete the copy myself.”
Promotion of EesySoft
Every Friday afternoon Mary’s department hosts an ‘open lab’ where faculty are free to come in and ask questions about their Blackboard courses. Mary takes this opportunity to make faculty aware of the resources that Eesysoft provides for them. She actively promotes the context-sensitive help menu and pro-active messages, so that instructors are able to find the answers to questions that may come up after the open lab on their own.
Since UNT integrated Eesysoft’s context sensitive help Mary has seen a massive increase in the use of the support tab. The click rate went from 80 to over 700 in only a few months. Mary encourages all faculty to use the context-sensitive help menu, so that they are able to find solutions to issues when they are working with Blackboard in the evening or during the weekend instead of having to wait until Monday to be able to contact faculty support.
Another big advantage is that UNT has been able to greatly reduce the number of e-mails sent to instructors. Previously faculty members were sent bulk e-mails to make them aware about specific tools. According to Mary many of them would respond with “can you take me off your mailing list?” She now favors using simple pop-up messages that highlight specific buttons and explain what they do over emails.
Jane Himmel, the Associate Director of CLEAR (Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment and Redesign) at UNT, uses EesyReports to measure user activity in Blackboard. She said: “We have wanted to know for a long time how many faculty really are using Blackboard and how they are using the tool suite within Blackboard.” EesyReports provides this insight in real time and to a very fine-grained level of detail.
Identify power users
One of the main objectives is to identify ‘power users’. These are faculty members who use Blackboard intensively and use more advanced functionality. These instructors are invited to participate in focus groups. This allows Jane to gain valuable insight into how they are using Blackboard and how best to support this usage. More importantly, power users serve as great inspirators for their peers. According to Jane “a lot of times faculty will listen more to other faculty than they will to people in units like ours that don’t teach. So that’s very helpful.” Jane also talks a lot with power users about which products to purchase and how to improve the LMS.
Usage of third party building blocks
With EesySoft’s reporting functionality UNT is also able to determine the usage of third party Blackboard integrations. These applications are often significant investments for universities and can be very beneficial for faculty. Underused tools can effectively be promoted with EesyMessaging. According to Jane faculty often struggle with setting up online assessments, because they are not aware of the fact that Respondus Lockdown Browser is available to them. Jane said: “If we can target messages about Respondus in Blackboard using Eesysoft
then that will create the awareness there.”