Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Possible LMS Change for UHCL?

Contributed by Jenni Willis-Opalenik - Director, Technology Learning Services

As some may have heard, President Walker and Dr. Maynard announced that the University of Houston Main and Downtown Campuses are transiting from Blackboard Learn to Instructure Canvas as their learning management system (LMS). As Dr. Maynard’s stated, “Our University Technology Advisory Committee (UTAC) will be considering this issue and providing an update at the October meeting of the Faculty Senate. If a decision is made to change LMS providers, there will be a significant lead time to manage the transition, and the current academic year will not be impacted. Please contact Dr. Jana Willis, chair of UTAC, with any questions about the committee’s work.”

The Office of Information Technology’s Instructional Design and Technology (IDT) team will assist the UTAC in its work to select and implement a new LMS for UHCL. The UTAC and the IDT team will address issues around successfully transitioning existing courses to a new system, preparing faculty and students for the change, and supporting a new platform.

Our team understands that faculty members may already have numerous questions regarding a possible LMS change, and we commit to being fully transparent throughout the process. Until UTAC completes its work, we cannot address individual inquiries concerning the new LMS. Please continue checking our weekly newsletter for updates as they are made available to us.

Improving PowerPoint Presentations: Images

Contributed by Jane Nguyen, Instructional Designer I (CSE)

This is the third article in my series about improving PowerPoint presentations. As with many ed tech tools and pedagogical approaches, PowerPoint undeservedly catches a lot of flak, with people calling it “unimaginative,” “boring,” and “lazy.” What people often don’t realize is that the tool itself is amazing; it is the way people use it that is poor; they fail to engage when they don’t have sound knowledge of how to (or even if they should) place elements and in what quality and form. Personally, I can never get tired of talking about PowerPoint because it is a tool that I love, despite all the hate it gets.

So…let’s get back into it. I’ve previously talked a lot about text in PowerPoint, and now I want to focus on images.

Making images larger

The thing is…images are king. PowerPoint presenters don’t leverage them enough. People are very visual and nothing reels them in like a powerful image. So…even if you are already a person who includes images near text to convey your learning content, consider making the images bigger in relation to the text, especially if you are presenting your PowerPoint and it is not simply being posted to Blackboard or another LMS for learners to view and read.

Presenters and teachers are conditioned to believe that the words are the most important element on PowerPoint slides because…well, that’s the information. There’s some validity to that, but it is still the case that in terms of engagement, viewers are drawn into a powerful image and may listen to your words more attentively since you’ve caught their attention. The image being “powerful” has to do with the image itself, but also to do simply with how big you make it on the slide.

Look at the difference between these two slides and consider how one might be more captivating than the other. It’s a subtle effect, but…don’t be afraid to size up your images for greater engagement.



Of course, size decisions still depend on what you want for a given slide. There may be some slides where you want students to notice the text more than the image, at least initially (presumably you want them to notice both). In those cases, by all means make the text bigger. The point is, be intentional with where you want attention drawn, and size elements accordingly rather than rotely make everything the same size.

Avoid multiple images

Another image mistake to avoid is having too many photos on a single slide. The temptation to put four photos on one slide may be there sometimes, as you’ll feel “thorough” having many photos reinforcing your content. Two or three photos may be an acceptable max; when you get into four or five, you may be dividing the viewer’s attention too much, to the point that they are too distracted by various photos to listen to you (the speaker) or to even be able to focus on any one photo. A quality image or two should be good enough.

Maintain diversity in photos

When including images of people in your PowerPoints, be mindful of including people from many different backgrounds, in terms of race, ethnicity, disability status, body size, height, age, hair color, etc. It can be easy to inadvertently include only a narrow “type” of people in images, especially if one is drawing from free stock photos on the Internet, which for a while now have skewed toward very mainstream. Though this is changing and you will see stock photos that reflect more diversity, you may still end up having to be intentional about which photos you pick. The reality is that college students come in all body sizes, hair colors, ages, backgrounds, etc, Some are in wheelchairs, some are 40 rather than 18 or 20, some have hair with green highlights, some have tattoos. They are all students who should be represented even in learning content such as images in PowerPoints.

For more on images in PowerPoints, here is an excellent tip sheet:

A Guide to Using Images and Photos for PowerPoint.

Zoom Learning Center

Contributed by Samantha (Sam) Houston, Learning Technology Administrator

Did you know that Zoom offers free training through its Learning Center? The Zoom Learning Center provides video tutorials, on-demand courses, and live training covering Zoom Meetings and Webinars. It is available to all Zoom users, regardless of account type or user role!

To access the Zoom Learning Center, ensure you are logged into your Zoom account. Log into https://go.uhcl.edu with your UHCL credentials and click the Zoom tile. Once logged in, click or paste the following link into your browser's address bar: https://learning.zoom.us/pages/27/home

From Zoom Learning Center, you can:

Enroll in an On-demand course!

Not sure what to take or how to get started? Click on the Course Catalog tile to search for and enroll in an on-demand Zoom course of your choice:


Register for a Live Training Session!

Get tips, tricks, and real-time demonstrations from one of Zoom's expert trainers in a live training session. Click the Live Training tile and search for an upcoming live training on a Zoom topic of your choice:


View the Video Tutorials

If you're looking for quick help on a specific skill or feature, explore our vast "Show Me" video collection. Click on the "Show me" Videos tile to view Zooms Video tutorial collection:


If you have any questions about the above information, don't hesitate to contact the Support Center at either 281-283-2828 or supportcenter@uhcl.edu, and a team member will be in touch to assist!

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Improving PowerPoint Presentations: More on Text

Contributed by Jane Nguyen, Instructional Designer I (CSE)

Last week I ended my article on improving PowerPoint presentations with the tip that you should not have too many words on a single slide. A rule of thumb is to have a maximum of 30 words per slide. Even if you have several paragraphs that you want to convey, and they are all related to the same idea or subject, break up the information over many slides rather than try to fit them into one or two slides.

At the same time, balance this with not going from slide to slide too frequently, which can be distracting to a listener. Generally, 1 to 2 minutes of talking per slide is a minimum that ensures you aren’t going “too fast.”

Furthermore, for presentation purposes (meaning you plan to deliver the presentation to students as opposed to the Power Point functioning as detailed notes for them), don’t put all the words on the slides anyway. Instead, keep them in Word document notes that are for you as you present. If you want, you can make your notes available to students afterward. The slide itself should only have keywords, phrases, or names (such as of a theory or concept) that help keep the listener focused as you present.

Another frequent inclusion on Power Point slides is bullet point lists. (The keywords, phrases, and names of concepts/theories mentioned above could be in bullet point lists.) It is recommended that you have no more than 6 bullet points per slide. Thus, if you have twelve bullet points, you’ll need at least two slides to present them.

Consider using the “animations” function in Power Point to have those bullet points appear one at a time instead of all at once. Words or phrases appearing to the audience as you talk about them can help to focus learners so that they are not “reading ahead” to your other topics as you try to talk about them and keep them focused on the current one.

To have bullet point items appear one at a time, just select all of the bullet point text items, go to “animations” in the toolbar/menu, and select an animation type. There are many. I tend to like “random bars,” but you can select from many others that are visually appealing but not distracting. As soon as you apply that animation to the items you’ve selected, you’ll see in a right-hand menu an ordering of the items: 1 through 6 or 1 through 5 (however many bullet point items you have). You can change the order of the items (and/or have an image appear with an item) as you see fit.

At the top, you have an option to choose what will make the item appear. Choose “on click.” This will make it such that your first bullet point won’t appear until you mouse-click, your 2nd bullet point won’t appear until you mouse-click again after that (after you’ve talked about your first item), and your 3rd bullet point won’t appear until you click after that (after you’ve talked about your 2nd item). And so on. It is a very nice touch to give your PowerPoint a true “in the moment” presentation feel.

A final text tip:

You may be tired of hearing this one, but it bears repeating. Provide good contrast between the text and the background. It’s hard to not want to choose favorite colors regardless of what is most readable. But readability is paramount. Place light text on a dark background or dark text on a light background.

Next week, I will talk about images and how to place them for optimal engagement. Until then, check out this short write-up that offers yet more Power Point recommendations: Top 10 PowerPoint Tips to Make Your Slides More Effective.

At-Risk Students and Blackboard Retention Measures

Contributed by Henry Newkirk, Instructional Designer II (HSH)

Many instructors have heard the term “at-risk student,” but may still wonder what does that mean, and why would Blackboard provide a Retention Center specifically to support at-risk students? At-risk student is a term used to describe students with a higher probability of failing your course. There are many reasons why students are identified as at risk, including individual and family factors. For more information about at-risk college students, we recommend Joann Horton’s 2015 paper, Identifying At-Risk Factors That Affect College.


This newsletter article will focus on how instructors can use the Blackboard Retention Center to monitor the level of engagement of all students to identify potential academically at-risk students in their courses. At most institutions, the risk is calculated from the probability of students achieving a passing grade of C or higher in the course. Those that are at increased risk have a low likelihood of earning a passing grade. A recent Blackboard press release indicated some profound points. According to a Blackboard survey of at-risk students and students of color, “nearly 80% of students considering discontinuing their studies believed their institution can do more to keep them enrolled.” The survey also revealed that 48% of students of the students at risk of not returning to school were not satisfied with the level of support received during COVID.

At the University of Houston – Clear Lake, UHCL, we know that instructors already go above and beyond to provide academic support links in their Blackboard shells, and guide students to the different resources when they need help. You may be wondering how you can extend this support with the limited time you have available while juggling the many demands as faculty.

The Blackboard Retention Center (BRC) provides an easy way to discover which students in your course are academically at risk and allows you to communicate with them to help them take immediate action for improvement. With this tool, instructors can focus attention on students who need it the most to succeed in their classes. With Blackboard’s Retention Center, helping your students is easy as checking your email.


Blackboard Retention Center (BRC)


The tool provides a colored bar display of a table with pop-up information. There are (4) categories in that your course records information about student engagement within the course.
  • Missed Deadlines
  • Grades
  • Course Activity
  • Course Access
Instructors can instantly monitor and notify students with one click (email) of available resources. Another great feature of this tool is that instructors can add these private notes about an individual student:
  • Remedial activities or accelerated materials offered
  • Special accommodations for disabilities or language barriers
  • One-on-one meetings
  • Extra attempts allowed on assignments or tests
  • Who is assigned to help the student
  • Possible teaching assistant or student mentor opportunities

Course Activity - Zooming in on What You Do

Monitoring activity in your course is an essential aspect of how you can help your student at risk of failing. The course activity section provides the instructor with a one-stop view of the course activities, engagement, and participation history of the instructor.

If you would like to learn more about the Retention Center and how it can help you, IDT’s instructional designers can assist via individualized consultation sessions. To take advantage of our services, contact the Support Center at SupportCenter@uhcl.edu or via telephone at (281) 283-2828. The Support Center staff will create a help ticket for you that will be assigned to a member of our IDT team, who will then contact you to schedule a consultation.

Recommendations for Student Submissions of Video Presentations and Other Large Files in Blackboard

Contributed by Jenni Willis-Opalenik, Ph.D., Director - Technology Learning Services

Submissions of video presentation and other large files (especially those exceeding 100MB) in Blackboard can often present challenges for users arising from several external (non-Blackboard) causes, including the user’s ISP, user-side bandwidth issues, and user-side slow internet speeds. This article will present two options for faculty and students that can alleviate such problems.

Large File Submissions Via OneDrive Share Links

Because all UHCL students have access to O365 (including OneDrive) both on and off campus, they can save their large files in their UHCL OneDrive. To submit their large files in Blackboard, students can use the Share feature on their OneDrive file and present their work as a clickable hyperlink. Instructors can click that link in the student’s Blackboard submission to access and download the student’s file from OneDrive. For more information, please refer to our team's support document Submitting Large Files in Blackboard Via OneDrive Links.

Student Video Submissions from Echo360 to Blackboard

Students can use Echo360 Universal Capture: Personal to create video presentations and save them in their Echo360 Library. They can then submit their video as a hyperlink in a Blackboard assignment drop box, discussion, or another area in a course. Our team has created a short “crash course” video, Student Presentations Using Echo360, for students on all of these Echo360 topics.

Faculty who would like to learn more about either or both options should contact the Support Center at SupportCenter@uhcl.edu or via telephone at (281) 283-2828. The Support Center staff will create a help ticket for you that will be assigned to a member of our IDT team, who will then contact you to schedule a consultation.

AI Tools and Their Effect on Higher Education

Contributed by Izaak Diefenbach, Instructional Designer I (COE)

In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in higher education. This is due to the many benefits that AI can offer to both students and educators. Some of the ways in which AI is being used in higher education include:
  1. Online learning: AI can be used to create personalized learning experiences for students. For example, the edX platform uses AI to provide students with customized recommendations for further study based on their previous performance.
  2. Assessment: AI can be used to automate the grading of student essays and other assignments. This can save educators a significant amount of time and allow them to provide more detailed feedback to students.
  3. Research: AI can be used to help researchers identify relevant papers, find new patterns, and make predictions. For example, the Google Scholar search engine uses AI to rank search results by relevance.
  4. Administration: AI can be used to automate administrative tasks such as scheduling and emailing. This can free up time for educators so that they can focus on more important tasks. Overall, the use of AI in higher education can provide many benefits to both students and educators. It can help to improve learning outcomes, save time, and make the overall educational process more efficient.
Before I go any further, I have to make an admission: this is the first sentence I wrote for this article. Everything above was written by an AI tool called GPT-3, part of the OpenAI project, a set of open-source tools that allow users to build AI applications. To generate the text, I set a few parameters in the tool and entered an eleven-word prompt: “Write an article on the use of AI in higher education.” Once I clicked submit, I had about 250 words in just a few seconds. I could have generated a much longer paper with just a few clicks.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article titled “Will Artificial Intelligence Kill College Writing?” Jeff Schatten discusses the effect AI tools such as GPT-3 will have on higher education and what it will mean for the future. At present, the tools are good, but not great. On some topics, GPT-3 can generate a pretty good paper, but others give questionable results. However, results are improving at a very fast rate.

One immediate concern for many instructors will be that these tools generate original writing; they are not plagiarizing from other sources, meaning that anti-plagiarism tools cannot detect an AI-generated paper. Another concern is that these tools are available at almost no cost to users, making them accessible to most students.

The initial reaction to this will be to panic. If we can’t detect when students are turning in work they didn’t actually do, how do we assess their work? In the end, as with all technological advances, it will mean a change of approach in how we teach students. Instead of saying, “How can we fight this?” we need to ask, “How can we use this?” That’s where innovation will be essential. AI is just a tool. How can we use that tool to enhance instruction and better serve our students? This is just one of the areas the Instructional Design and Technology team is following so we can help our instructors help our students.