You may notice on your course Blackboard sites that there is an item in the menu called ‘Groups’. Perhaps you’ve used this before, as your lecturers have arranged you and your fellow classmates into groups for particular tasks. Or perhaps, if you were to log into Blackboard and check now you would realise you’ve never used it and it’s empty.
This area of a Blackboard module site could be ideal for starting discussions, creating a wiki or blog (all tools that otherwise you would need your lecturer or tutor to set up for you), as well as exchanging files and quickly emailing other group members. You can even customise a banner for the group homepage, as well as adding channels such as a calculator or dictionary, resulting in an area of the site which is even more personalised and engaging. Your lecturers are likely to welcome initiative shown by students setting up their own area of the site in order to discuss the module and share resources and ideas, but be warned – this isn’t a private area and what you put in there can be viewed by tutors!
Of course the alternative to this we’re all very familiar with is Facebook, where groups can be set up based on a whole range of interests or areas of your life, including your course. However, while this may be ideal for discussing aspects of your study and getting quick responses from your classmates (particularly important when you need to borrow a book or arrange post-exam drinks), there are some drawbacks to using Facebook. For one, it doesn’t have the same tools as Blackboard to create and discuss academic resources (such as blogs and wikis), using which would certainly earn you brownie points if spotted by your lecturer. As well as this, with the Blackboard Groups tool you needn’t go to the hassle of finding and ‘friending’ all your classmates in Facebook before inviting them to the group, made even more difficult if you’re on a new module or course with people you haven’t met before.
The ‘Groups’ feature in Blackboard is now a default item in each module site, with tutors actively having to turn it off if they want to; so, you’re more than likely to be able to use it. Go and make the most of it by setting up small peer groups of friends to discuss the new year’s reading list, or be ambitious and allow a specified number of your coursemates to sign up to a group which will act as a society or committee to represent the student voice of the course. The opportunities are endless!
For helpful introductions to some of the tools mentioned in this article, check out our posts on blogs and wikis, or let us know through the comments tool, or via Facebook, if there’s anything else you’d like to read about on the blog.