Now that you are aware of your audience’s needs and have determined your purpose in “writing” to them, you are ready to dive into the context you will use to teach online. At Mason, this context is Blackboard. Many familiar genres appear in Blackboard, but their delivery and format will feel different.

Mason requires faculty to use Blackboard for online course delivery, and while Blackboard has its drawbacks, students are familiar with it. They come to Blackboard with expectations of how it works and what it looks like, so if you think of Blackboard functioning as a genre in this way, it can not only help you organize your content, activities, and assessments, it can also help you choose the tools that work best for what you want to teach and how you want to teach it.

Blackboard has plenty of tools to enable a smooth transition to online learning. Consider Blackboard tools first before considering third-party software.

Quite often, third-party software such as Slack creates FERPA risks. Still, Google Docs, a frequently used platform for collaborative writing and peer review, can serve many purposes in online teaching.

If you are unfamiliar with some of Blackboard’s tools for content creation, student collaboration, and assessment, these resources will be very useful.

Overview of Blackboard Tools 

Announcements and Send Email: The best way to communicate with your students. Blackboard keeps a record of the announcements so students can return to them. You can also “push” the announcement to each student’s Masonlive email address, which is very useful because students can read them on their phones.

Adding Course Content “Containers” to Blackboard

  • Content Folders: A way to organize the content for a “day” or “week” in your schedule. Students scroll through the content.
  • Learning Modules: Another way to organize the content for a “day” or “week” of your schedule. Learning Modules create a table of contents for students to click through. No scrolling.

Discussion Board: Most commonly used collaboration tool. Useful for peer review.

Kaltura Video: Kaltura is a video creation tool embedded in Blackboard. It is easy to use. and you can directly upload any videos you make to your MyMedia collection. Mason is offering several Kaltura training sessions in March.

Kaltura does not, however, caption audio. You can always upload a transcript to go along with any video you create, or you can use other video platforms such as the paid version of Screencast-o-Matic that will create captions.

PowerPoint presentations can now include audio narration. This video shows you how to embed audio in PowerPoint slides. You can include the transcript of the audio in the notes.

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra: Collaborate is a virtual meeting tool embedded in Blackboard. It usually works quite well. If you are unfamiliar with Collaborate, Mason offers regular training in how to use it. You can also use it to set up virtual office hour sessions.

If you feel that synchronous meetings are necessary in your course, begin with Collaborate. If you discover connectivity issues, you may need to explore alternative virtual meeting platforms (see third-party tools below).

Groups: Useful for organizing students into small groups for collaborative work.

Journals: Great for compiling student reflective writing or response writing. There are many strategies for “grading” journals. Look here for some ideas.

Rubrics: To save time on providing feedback, create rubrics that can be used for specific tools and/or assignments. Create a set of criteria (not too many) with point values and use them as feedback. No individual commenting required.

SafeAssign: This is Blackboard’s plagiarism detection software. You can set assignments to screen for plagiarism through SafeAssign, but you cannot use it to screen discussions, blogs, wikis, or tests. There is a DirectSubmit feature if you want to upload a specific piece of student writing.

BTW–Plagiarism happens in both f2f and online courses, so don’t get overly concerned if it happens online. It just happens. 

Tests/Quizzes: You can create short, self-scoring quizzes that measure how well your students understood a reading or other content. Assume students will take these quizzes as open-book and perhaps take them with their peers. That is okay.


Other Virtual Meeting Platforms: WebEx, Skype, or Zoom (free version). Just keep in mind that WebEx and Skype require students to create an account, and the free version of Zoom limits meetings to 40 minutes.

Google Docs: An excellent tool for collaborative work, including peer review and annotations. Getting students to access a Google Doc can get a bit complicated, but make the effort so that the links remain private and you avoid the FERPA risk. Typically, Google Docs works very well inside Blackboard.

WordPress Blogs: While technically “third party,” WordPress blogs are now native to Blackboard.

PBWorks Wiki: PBWorks is not native to Blackboard, but it provides a much better wiki tool than the one currently in Blackboard. You can request a PBWorks site for your course by emailing your request to Courses Support at