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January 16, 2010

UMBC Blackboard Usage Sets All Time Record in FA2009

Based on UMBC's most recent Blackboard Report for Fall 2009, students and faculty used the course management system (CMS) in more classes than ever before. Specifically, 1,430 courses used Blackboard in Fall 2009, compared to 1,014 a year ago (a 30 percent increase). In addition, 215 courses included one or more sections, which means at least 1,645 sections (or 65 percent of the university's approximately 2,500 sections) used Blackboard.

While it's hard to pinpoint specific reasons for the increase, the preparation for academic continuity in case of an H1N1 outbreak may have been a factor.

UMBC Blackboard activity by grade distribution, 2007-2009. Detail table
In addition, 29 faculty participated in the voluntary request to post final grades in Blackboard, the most ever since 2007 when DoIT began studying how students use the CMS by grade distribution. To date, students earning a final grade of D or F in 110 courses have used Blackboard 39 percent less than students earning a C or higher (the average was 37 percent less in Fall 2009).

We know hits alone are no measure of quality teaching or learning. Also, the sample needs to be expanded and the demographics of students needs to be studied further. But does the pattern hold true throughout the semester? If so, how might students’ self-awareness, motivation and performance change if they could know how their CMS usage activity compares to more successful peers, earlier in the semester? If not, how and when does the pattern break down? And is it significant enough to dilute student awareness and motivation to seek or accept help from an instructor or the Learning Resources Center (LRC)?

While we can not yet fully answer these questions, DoIT continues to explore ways to provide this information to students sooner. And they are finding it. During the three-month period from September 1 to December 1, our custom Check My Activity (CMA) tool recorded more than 15,000 visits and 52,000 page views (see Google Analytics report). The CMA lets student compare their own activity against an anonymous summary of their peers, based on average hits per user. This is also how UMBC's most active Blackboard courses are determined.

In addition, if faculty post a grade for any assignment in the Blackboard grade book, students can view an anonymous summary of the Bb activity by students who earned the same, lower or higher grade as their own grade. Nearly half of the FA2009 Bb courses (658) contained active grade books with at least one recorded grade, and past surveys of specific UMBC classes have shown more than 50 percent of students would be inclined to use the CMA for past assignments before future assignments are due--if they have grades to check. This confirms a national study by the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR) that shows students value checking their grade more than any other function in an online CMS like Blackboard.
Check My Activity
While we would like to better understand how and why students are using the CMA, and what it tells them, DoIT has made the CMA easier for students to find by creating a custom "building block" that links directly to it from within any UMBC Blackboard course (tools-->"My Activity").

For more information, visit the UMBC Blackboard Reports project blog at


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