Blackboard shmlackboard


There. I’ve said it.


This fall my department has purchased a new, online grammar-practice program that has to be integrated with Blackboard: integrated by each individual adjunct, not by the department or the vendor.

In theory, the program is a good idea. We need a grammar-practice program, and if the new one we’ve got were on paper I would be ecstatic.

But it’s not on paper. It’s online.

And it has to be integrated.

As horrifying as that prospect sounded to my ears, I have, amazingly, managed to integrate the new program with Blackboard completely on my own, sans any instruction or help-desk help whatsoever.

But now that integration has been achieved, I have to deal with Blackboard, a task I’ve avoided for years. I’ve always used a class blog with no log-in; no password; no multiply-nested, counterintuitive pathways to whatever you’re looking for; and easy to find on Google to boot. I could send out a class email with a single, solitary link, and with one click my students were exactly where they needed to be, not on a landing page with a mile-long menu bar in need of perusing.

These days, though, most of my students seem to have gotten used to Blackboard, and would like to see class content on Blackboard.

So Blackboard it is.

Thus far I’ve spent …. is it 2 hours now (?) …. dealing with Blackboard, at the end of which time I have successfully: loaded a picture of myself.

Two hours, one photo.

Photo-loading accomplished, I experienced a ray of hope that help, or at least intelligible guidance, might be available when I came across a page informing me that I can receive in-person Blackboard training here in the town where I live.


But no.

Not fantastic.

The appointment link is broken.

And why not?

Apart from the (broken) link, there’s no other means of reaching the promised live-instruction humans: no email, no phone number, no Chat. So live instruction has turned into yet another issue to troubleshoot. Maybe YouTube will have a video.

Then there are the grammar exercises themselves, which, albeit integrated with Blackboard, continue to reside on their own site.

Which is a labyrinth. Page after page after indecipherable page, with links that aren’t located in obvious places and aren’t labeled with obvious terms.

So yesterday I spent two hours on the phone with the publisher’s tech person.

She was a saint.

By the end I was so frustrated I could hear myself becoming cranky and short, something I try never to be on the phone. Or in person, either, but somehow cranky and short seem worse on the phone with a complete stranger who is only trying to do her job.

The phone connection didn’t help. The tech person could hear me, but I couldn’t hear her, and no amount of polite requesting made it better.

“Could you say that again?”

“Could you say that a little louder?”

“I’m having trouble hearing you, could you talk a little louder, please?”

Which gradually gave way to modal-free eruptions like “I don’t know what you just said.”

Also to modal-free, one-word responses like:

Help-desk person: “Can you hear me better now?”
Me: “No.”

Another problem: half the site’s pages seemed to be named the same thing, so the customer service person and I had recurring episodes of thinking we were looking at the same page when we weren’t.

Throughout all this my interlocutor remained calm, friendly, and encouraging, finally confiding in me that the site is indeed difficult to navigate but gets easier after you do it for a while.

I did pick up one useful bit of information: if I want to build my own test, I can’t use the “Test Builder” function to do it.

Good to know!

Test Builder does not build tests. That I’m going to remember clear as a bell next time I work up enough nerve to attempt a feat of online test-building.

The Test-Builder-doesn’t-build-tests rule reminds me of our old campus password system, which required us to change passwords every 90 days.

When you got to the change-password page, there were 2 options: one that said “Change Password” and another whose legend I forget.

If you clicked on “Change Password,” it locked you out of the system.

I didn’t realize till today, thinking about it, what an oddity that was.

Aside from the obvious illogic of “Change Password” meaning “Lock me out of the system,” why would you have a “Lock me out of the system” feature anyway?

When does anyone want to be locked out of a system?

Do people ever want to be locked out of their car or their house?

Or their office website?

Has Lock myself out of the system ever appeared on anyone’s to-do list, ever?




I wrote this post at least a week ago, thinking I’d edit the next day, then didn’t get to it.

Between then and now I’ve made friends with Blackboard.

It’s a pretty easy site to deal with, as work sites go (and I dealt with a doozy last summer–or with what I took to be a doozy, given my blessedly limited experience of workplace websites.)

Meanwhile the online grammar exercises, which my students are actually doing (!!), need a user manual.

And see:
App shmapp

The Economist saves the best for last

A particularly shocking example of sentence end focus in a tweet from The Economist:

If you were wanting evidence that English readers actually do stress the end of a sentence, take a look at reaction to this tweet. Everyone reads it the same way: environment first, poor people second.

Seems clear readers would have been a lot happier if editors had flipped the sequence:

More poor people are eating meat around the world. That is bad news for the environment, but it means the poor will live longer, healthier lives.

And see:
Greetings from the West Bank
End focus, part 2
Greenbaum & Nelson on sentence end focus

Bullet journals and barking dogs

Just saw this in a New Yorker story on bullet journals:

He started writing down his thoughts in short bursts throughout the day and found that it calmed him, allowing him to see past his anxieties to their root causes. “When there’s a barking dog outside, you can’t hear anything else,” he told me recently, by way of analogy. “But when you go to the window you realize there might be something wrong, you think about it, you get the context. It’s barking at something. You actually get up and look. And, for me, writing is that process.”

The dog is barking at something. I love that.

Of course, in my own case, what with the two American Labs who weren’t bred to be “lifestyle dogs” and all, the real trick is training my adrenal glands not to launch a tsunami of cortisol every time the dogs explode into a frenzy of barking and hardwood-floor scrabbling over nothing at all.

I have an extremely reactive startle reflex. Medical science can do nothing to help (I’ve asked).

So the dogs we live with–Luke and Lucy–are the exact wrong dogs on that score. Roughly once a day I have the same bodily reaction to my own pets that I would to being caught in crossfire in Syria, say, or Yemen. Except there are no guns and no enemy combatants, quite apart from the fact that there is nothing in the yard that needs barking at. 

Keeping a bullet journal, which I do, doesn’t help with any of this, sad to say. I already know, as I’m jumping out of my skin, what the context is and whether there’s anything either I or my insane dogs actually need to worry about. 

There isn’t.

Warren Buffet on writing & net worth

Legendary investor and billionaire Warren Buffett has a tip for young people: Focus on learning how to write and speak clearly.

“The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now — at least — is to hone your communication skills — both written and verbal,” says Buffett in a video posted on LinkedIn on Monday.


“If you can’t communicate, it’s like winking at a girl in the dark — nothing happens. You can have all the brainpower in the world, but you have to be able to transmit it,” Buffett continues.

“And the transmission is communication,” says Buffett, who is currently worth more than $86 billion, according to Forbes.

Billionaire Warren Buffett: This is the ‘one easy way’ to increase your worth by ‘at least’ 50 percent

I’d love to see someone actually measure the gain to net worth. 

SAFMEDS instructions

Terrific post on Leitner boxes and flash cards at A Progressive Case for Classical Education. I’m inspired.

. . . as I prep lesson plans, I note the vocabulary, procedures (yes, you can have Ss recite the steps for long division, for example), and other facts they absolutely must know. On the first day of the unit, I have them write the item down on an index card and tuck it into the daily recitation section for them to practice. 

You can assign retrieval practice for homework, as a bell-ringer, as a time-filler for students who finish fast–whenever it works for your classroom schedule.

Retrieval for the Busy Teacher

Starting Thursday, I’m going to add SAFMEDS (not Leitner boxes) to my composition class. I have no idea whether Leitner boxes work better or more efficiently than SAFMEDS. They may. But if only because my class meets twice a week, having just 3 decks of flash cards (SAFMEDS), all of which every student does every session, seems more manageable than 5 decks of cards that require a spaced-repetition schedule.

I’m finally beginning to use SAFMEDS myself, by the way. It’s taken a while for me to get to it–it’s taken years–because until this very afternoon, I did not have a set of directions I could actually follow. Writing directions is hard.

This procedure from Rogue ABA is the most usable not to mention most logical procedure I’ve seen, and it’s what I’ll be using.

SAFMEDS = Say All Fast a Minute Every Day, Shuffled