Specifically, students can "Check My Blackboard Activity" to see a comparison of their own activity against an anonymous summary of other students in their classes. In addition, faculty can now run their own "Grade Distribution" and "Tool Usage" reports showing their students' Blackboard activity by any item in the Blackboard grade book (including final grade), or by overall tool usage within the course.
While the trend needs further study, initial findings suggest that students who earn higher grades tend to use Blackboard more than students earning lower grades. It is NOT the case that using Blackboard alone will produce higher grades, simply by "gaming" the system.
But if students know how their activity compares to an anonymous summary of peers, at any time during the semester, this timely and personal feedback may allow them to monitor and change their own behavior as it pertains to engaging with course concepts, materials, instructors or each other. In essence, students can now draw their own conclusions about the quantity AND quality of their Blackboard activity and the impact this may or may not have on their learning.
Since the "Check Grade" tool in Blackboard allows students to view statistical differences between their grades and the class average for any visible item in the grade book, OIT will eventually publish student reports showing activity by grade distribution as well. In the meantime, faculty who wish to can provide further insight to students, by viewing, printing and publishing (as PDF files in their Bb course site) their current or past student activity GDRs for their specific courses.
A year ago, OIT began reporting on UMBC's "Most Active Blackboard Courses" based on a simple "average hits per user" approach. In this way, "rankings" don't favor large enrollment sites over smaller ones. To date, we now have reports for the Spring, Summer and Fall 2007 semesters.
After OIT announced the Fall 2007 Blackboard reports and availability of the "self service" faculty Grade Distribution Reports (GDR), 16 faculty used their GDRs, which collectively showed overall Blackboard usage was higher by students earning higher grades. The self service GDRs complemented earlier pilots with two faculty from Geography and Environmental Systems (Karin Readel and Chris Swan), which also showed higher Blackboard usage among students earning higher grades.
While there is no statistically significant difference among students earning As, Bs and Cs (numerically there is: students earning higher grades tend to use it more), there is a significant difference between this group and those students who earn Ds and Fs. So far, the pattern has held true in the courses mentioned above, and OIT is working on a way to load final grades into a table that looks at all Bb courses to see if the trend is broadly generalizable.
OIT recognizes that hits alone are no endorsement (or indictment) of course quality. But looking at and publishing user activity is one way to help faculty and students identify and consult each other about effective teaching and learning practices. By adopting an attitude of transparency about Blackboard usage, the entire UMBC community (and not just OIT system administrators) gains a "birds eye view" of how this Course Management System (CMS) is being used.