AU Case Studies - Blackboard Groups

Last modified by AndyGreenway on 24/02/2011

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AU Case Studies - Blackboard Groups

Name of LecturerAlistair Shepherd
DepartmentInternational Politics
Course / LevelPart Two Undergraduate (Second/Third Year)
Approximate number of students involved60
TitleBlackboard and the development of seminar group knowledge and sense of ‘identity’.


Within the module on European Politics each seminar group (total of five groups) was given a name based on high profile European leaders of the last 50 years. Each group had to develop an in-depth political knowledge of their person’s impact on the process of European integration – positive or negative. The groups would then come together at the end of the semester to present and debate on the topic of: Which person had the most significant impact (positively or negatively) on the integration process? In order to facilitate the development of a ‘pool’ of knowledge and exchange of ideas I decided to use Blackboard.

Use of Blackboard

A Group Page was set up for each seminar group in Blackboard; only members of a particular group could access their group page. Each Group Page had the availability of: the ‘group discussion board’, ‘file exchange’ and ‘send email’ facility. The Group Discussion Board was where the initial research findings of the individual group members would be stored and was the most used facility. To begin each student had to post one significant fact, relevant to the task, about their person on the Group Discussion Board. Once a fact was posted subsequent contributions had to add to the knowledge pool – i.e. no repetition of facts. As all facts could be read by all group members the discussion board allowed the quick and efficient dissemination of knowledge and the module convenor could monitor progress for each individual group (as the module convenor was a group member for each seminar group). This list of facts was then printed off by the module convenor and a discussion was held in a seminar as to which facts were to be used to structure their end of semester presentation and debate. The groups then used their group pages to send emails and files to each other individually or to the group to develop their presentation and arrange meetings.


This was the first time I had tried this use of Blackboard and, while I have only a limited knowledge of the full range of tools in Blackboard, it was a success. The use of Blackboard was not assessed, although there was an informal prize for the winners of the final debate and some feedback was given. The feedback from the students on the use of Blackboard was generally very positive. A couple of students initially had a few problems acquainting themselves with accessing and contributing to the group discussion board, but these were quickly overcome. The ability to contact students in an individual seminar group simply and quickly proved very useful for both the module convenor and the students themselves.


Advantages of using Blackboard

Blackboard was useful in a number of practical ways. It allowed a reasonably organised collection of information to be developed without impinging on the limited time available in seminars. Blackboard, therefore, was an important time saving device allowing seminars to stay focused on the topic of the day while this longer-term project developed in parallel. It facilitated an exchange of information and ideas between the students. These exchanges and the information collected could be ‘monitored’ by the module convenor, allowing me to see which students were and were not contributing to the group project. I think that Blackboard, as a central part to the information gathering phase of this project, did improve student experience within the module as a whole and helped to foster a greater sense of group identity for the seminar groups. Overall, the use of Blackboard provides a new dimension to the teaching techniques I can employ and proved to be a valuable additional element in student learning.


Students without access to university computing facilities, for whatever reason, were difficult to incorporate into a large part of the process and could ‘free-ride’ more easily.

Future plans

I would like to get the students to do more with the group pages after the initial collection of ‘facts’ and information, particularly in the development of the key points and final presentation.

Created by Mary Jacob on 23/09/2009
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