The Voice: Spring 2003

The Voice

Blackboard expands classroom doors

By: Andrew De Jong

Student using Blackboard.

Dordt College classrooms are much bigger these days. Thanks to Blackboard, an online service that Dordt College subscribes to, students can enter a “classroom” whenever they sit down in front of a computer.

According to Dee Kramer, Dordt’s Blackboard administrator, “Blackboard helps enhance classroom learning by giving students access to course materials 24/7.” Blackboard was first available to students and faculty in the fall of 2000. Not all professors currently use Blackboard, but as Kramer points out, it is being used more and more frequently. Currently, fifty Dordt College professors use Blackboard for 112 courses.

The professors who do use it claim that Blackboard is a valuable resource for their classes. With Blackboard, they can post announcements and assignments online, give students access to additional information by incorporating links to related websites, post grades, or create an opportunity for online discussion.

Some professors have found ways to tailor the technology to meet the unique needs of their classes. The foreign language department, for example, uses Blackboard to upload language tapes that the students can access from any computer.

Susan Van Geest, professor of art, appreciates Blackboard because she and her students can post images of art online. In her art history class, Van Geest puts slides online for her students to access and memorize at any time. Students can also put their own art on Blackboard to be seen and responded to by their peers.

Students in Math 212, Discrete Structures, don’t have an option of whether to use Blackboard. Their textbook, which is written by their professor, Dr. Calvin Jongsma, is posted online. Students have the option of reading it online or printing it out as they need it. Considering that most mathematics texts cost nearly $100, students are finding it a good option.

But the class that has used Blackboard the most may be English Professor Dave Schelhaas’s Poetry Writing class. Students post their poems on Blackboard, and Schelhaas responds to them.

“The participation so far has been very enthusiastic,” he says. “I can’t keep up with the poems.”

Students, too, appreciate the ability to access course materials at any time. According to Kramer, the feature that seems to be appreciated the most is the online grade book.

She says, “I have found in talking to students that they really like to access their grades online. It is also helpful for the shy student who doesn’t like to talk during class.”

Denise VerBeek, a junior who uses Blackboard in two of her classes, appreciates the opportunity Blackboard gives her to interact with students and teacher outside the classroom.

“It is interesting to see what other people have to say,” she observes. “It works really well and the benefit is that we get more people’s responses to our work.”