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ConnectYard Extends Integration with Blackboard

ConnectYard is extending its reach into BlackBoard Learn through use of the latter company's Building Block technology. ConnectYard said its social channel communication functionality will now integrate with Learn 9.1's Announcements and Discussions sections. Previous editions of the Web-based software used a QuickConnect widget that required more implementation effort on the part of IT and faculty members.

ConnectYard's product extends the communication capabilities of learning management systems. With the use of the new Blackboard building block, when new announcements or discussion threads are added to a course, notifications will be automatically sent via social networking sites, text message, and e-mail. Faculty will be able to engage with students without having to "friend" them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or exchange cell phone numbers.

Likewise, students don't have to use Blackboard or e-mail to respond to instructor announcements or discussion posts; they can reply via their preferred mode. All posts and replies, regardless of where they originate, will be recorded in the university's Blackboard system, making them visible and searchable by course members.

As Engagement Specialist Sophie Alstrom explained, when a teacher sends out a post about a change to that day's class, for example, students don't have to pull up Blackboard to send follow-up questions or responses; they can simply respond in the same way they're notified. That response becomes a group response.

The tighter integration with Blackboard also means that students will be auto-enrolled based on their inclusion in the course, and they can specify how they want to receive messages from the course. Under the widget model, somebody--typically an IT person--would have to create the groups, or "yards" as ConnectYard refers to them, that would be part of that communication network. "Now, when you install the building block, anyone in the Blackboard group is in that 'yard,'" she said.

"One of our biggest challenges at our institution is when announcements have to go out, our faculty have to respond to each student individually by e-mail--often fielding the same question multiple times," bemoaned René Aubé, a learning management system specialist at Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick. "ConnectYard permits us to allow them to reply once and address the question for the entire class. In addition, faculty will be able to view and reply to new discussion threads directly from their e-mail without being logged into Blackboard, while students will be able to do the same from their Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones, which is truly exciting!"

More technically savvy faculty can also access other new aspects of the application, such as a report that shows what students have viewed an announcement or discussion post and by what means.

The new version also includes a "Like" feature, which, according to ConnectYard CEO Don Doane, tends to encourage people to participate more in forums. "Students will post an interesting comment or question, and their classmates will 'like' it. Those students are more likely to interact with that course more often."

Also, students can specify from whom they'll receive notifications. "If you're in a large class with a thousand students, there could be a lot of notifications about new posts," noted Doane. "We introduced a feature that allows faculty and students to specify who they want to be notified by--'I only want to be notified when my professor posts something.'"

Doane said the inclusion of social networking into course management "opens up opportunities for learning in new and exciting ways."

He cited the case of a professor who was teaching a communication theory course. "That day she was covering verbal and non verbal cues. Later that day she went into Blackboard and posted via ConnectYard for students to look around the room and send an example of a non verbal cue," he said. "The interesting thing here is that that one message went out to students on Facebook, Twitter, mobile devices. And whether they were in the library, in the dorm, at a friend's house, they could resend from their phone, Facebook, etc. Some texted. Some used their phones to record video and post that. In each case, it showed up in Blackboard. Then she used those replies as a basis for discussion for the next lecture."

ConnectYard will be showing its Learn integration capabilities at a Blackboard elearning symposium at Jacksonville State University later in the month.

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