Blackboard for Artistic and Visual Materials

Emilie Burnham and E-Learn Team
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Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The use of digital learning tools is often seen as a good strategy for courses like mathematics, sciences, and languages. Nevertheless, artistic and visual signatures are usually confined to the analog corner. Emile Burnham, Associate Professor for the Visual Communication department at the Dar Al-Hekma University, a female higher education institution in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, explained how to take advantage of the Blackboard Learn platform for these kinds of subjects.

How important is technology for learning purposes within the University?

Dar Al Hekma was using Blackboard Learn even before I arrived, which was in the fall of 2014. Blackboard Learn works throughout the entire University and it is used primarily for grading and attendance, and sometimes for posting projects briefs. Some of the faculties also use it for giving exams and for running writing assignments through “Safe Assign”.

Tell us about your class. What is it about and what kind of projects do you do with your students?

Instructors teaching courses in Visual Communication require evaluations of students’ work that is both, static and dynamic, analog and digital. My own course projects include formats such as: large-scale typographic posters, way-finding signage, photography, videos, stop-motion animation, multi-page PDFs, sound, and more. These multiple formats create higher demands for course management and require a higher degree of organization compared to just dealing with exams and papers (for both student and instructors). My projects are complex; they have various phases of development and emphasize time management. As the various projects become more complex, so does delivery of information, administration, time management, and course assessment.

When I started using Blackboard Learn for my Visual Communication classes, I didn’t realize the variety of ways it could be used to support creative work outside of attendance, exams and writing assignments. Visual Communication courses are image-rich, practice-based, and typically don’t include tests, but instead, they are assessed on creative, critical, and analytical ability.

Inside the Dar Al-Hekma University. Photo: AFP Reem Baeshen.
Inside the Dar Al-Hekma University. Photo: AFP Reem Baeshen.

According to that, what are the main benefits that you find in Blackboard Learn?

Blackboard Learn is easily customizable, and its ability to streamline class distribution reduces wasted class time. It also facilitates dissemination of information and keeps track of all project phases and deadlines for students and faculty alike. I reduced a lot of redundancies through the use of the platform, which freed me up to spend more time on pedagogical enhancements.

Using Blackboard Learn to keep track of schedules has been invaluable. Because visual design projects are so subjective, that assessment comes down to the quality of student engagement and creative process. Using tasks to track deadlines is very useful. Instructors can create a deadline date and time that will not allow submissions after, which is helpful to keep track of which students are not keeping up or otherwise need help.

Project organization through the use of folders keeps all the components together such as briefs, information, and resources, for easy access. Also, discussion boards keep preliminary submissions together for procedural critiques. This can also help begin relevant discussions between students using this forum.

What are the advantages for the students?

Students really like that I break the projects into bite sized pieces through the use of Tasks. Tasks help illustrate the importance of developing a process that breaks down large projects so that they don’t do everything at the last minute.

Blackboard Learn also helps students stay on task within project timelines. In the design field, this skill is important because projects in real life can be extensive and components and deadlines need to be time-managed in order to complete them within budget and on time.

One of the most obvious benefits to students is that they can learn on their own time and schedule. Students are more diligent and because of this, which enhances comprehension and retention, student engagement is higher, contributing to the spirit of inquiry and communication by providing a forum for discussion with visuals.

Generally, Blackboard Learn is great for covering multiple learning styles. Instructors can use group dynamics so students can help teach each other. Classmates act as catalyst for brainstorming and generating ideas together rather than just being consumers of information.

*Emile Burnham, Associate Professor for the Visual Communication department at the Dar Al-Hekma University.

*Photos by: AFP Reem Baeshen

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