search articles: 

   from the issue of February 5, 2004

  Web program boosts communication, interaction between faculty, students

Blackboard grows as a helpful teaching tool


Students in some UNL classes complete assignments, work with others on group projects and meet with professors without entering a classroom or faculty office. The online interaction is possible with the use of Blackboard, a collection of Web-based tools that continues to become more popular and useful.

Wade Weichel, online learning and development specialist for the Department of Information Services, says the Blackboard program, which has gained...
 Wade Weichel, online learning and development specialist for the Department of Information Services, says the Blackboard program, which has gained many features over its six years of use at UNL, has become more user-friendly and popular among UNL faculty and organizations. Photo by Brett Hampton.

Most faculty use Blackboard to augment teaching and classroom experiences, said Wade Weichel, online learning and development specialist with the Department of Information Services. But entire distance education courses are also delivered completely online, he said. UNL committees and organizations can also use Blackboard.

Dann Husmann, associate professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication, posts handouts and presentations on Blackboard and lets students know about course schedules and changes in activities. He also uses Blackboard for online assessments of class-related materials. Students post assignments and projects and then review one another’s work and provide feedback. Husmann said Blackboard is an informal environment where faculty and students can connect.

“This provides for synchronous and asynchronous communication at times that are most productive, efficient and effective for students and faculty,” Husmann said. “Blackboard provides a platform to exhibit the course from a holistic perspective, allowing students to see what has happened, what is happening and what will happen related to course material.”

The Blackboard program, accessed through the MyUNL Academic Portal at , has grown in popularity among faculty and students since it was launched in 1998. At first, Weichel said professors had to manually develop courses and create accounts for students. The system became easier to access and use in 2000 when it was integrated with the Office of Registration and Records. Now, any course taught at UNL is automatically given space on MyUNL. All faculty, staff and students are automatically assigned logins and passwords, making it easier to use the service.

“Every year we’ve had more and more users,” Weichel said. “It’s really a part of the student experience now because 80 percent to 90 percent of students will have at least one course that has some content on Blackboard.”

Weichel said professors often start out on a small scale by using Blackboard for administrative purposes such as posting grades or sending e-mails to their students. As professors grow more comfortable with Blackboard, they can post assignments and course documents, offer virtual office hours, start online discussions with students or set up small group projects. Weichel said Blackboard adds experiences that enrich classroom learning.

“For example, the chat function can be used to bring in an expert,” Weichel said. “You may not be able to afford to fly in a colleague from MIT to speak to your class, but you can arrange an online chat.”

Online discussion groups have a different flavor than classroom discussions, Weichel said. They may be helpful for students who aren’t comfortable speaking up in class. In addition, written responses give more time for contemplation so an online discussion can be a rich, in-depth experience for students.

Weichel encourages everyone in the university community to give Blackboard a try.

“The advantage is that Blackboard is scalable. You can start small and build from there. The easiest way to get comfortable is to log in and give it a shot,” he said.

On the Web

The Blackboard program can be accessed at A login and password are needed.


Workshops on how to use Blackboard are offered several times through the semester for faculty, staff and students. The schedule is at Those who prefer an online, self-paced approach can use a video tutorials at . A searchable help database also can be found by clicking the “help” button at



Despite snow, drought still a concern
UNL is new site for AAU Data Exchange
Blackboard grows as a helpful teaching tool
Meyer, Specht receive universitywide kudos