I've used Blackboard at several institutions and never been overly excited about it. I've developed and taught in a Blackboard environment I don't know how many times, but I always got the impression that it was designed by IT folks instead of educators. That being said, there are some new things that Blackboard has come out with that have impressed me so far. Here are three things that I've liked.
During the first part of this year, one of the institutions I worked at upgraded to a newer version of Blackboard Learn. It was a nice change - both aesthetically and practically. There were some great new features, including a redesign of how discussion boards are done, a persistent profile so that communication can now include a picture of the person (and a link to contact info, which is optional for the user), and new collaboration features, which allows for improved grouping of students and web-based projects that students can work on together and the professor can track who is doing what. Along with those, we had several new apps added. These are third party add-ons to Blackboard. The main one I'd like to mention is the Civitas Student Engagement App. This app allows you to see a visual representation of all of your students. They are color-coded based on the participation in the class. If they log-in multiple days, participate in online discussions, etc. they are ranked higher. While there is no grade attached to one's participation score, it does allow the professor to see if someone is not logging in or perhaps having issues that are preventing them from completing coursework. The professor can then contact the students using the app. There are many factors that you can select from to target specific groups of students. All in all, it has been surprisingly helpful.
Blackboard Learn is the main product put out by the company. When most people talk about Blackboard, that is what they're referencing - the online course system. However, Blackboard has several other products. One that I'm excited about is Blackboard Collaborate. Perhaps you've used WebEx or Adobe Connect as an online collaboration tool or perhaps to stream a lecture or communicate with multiple students at once. Well, Collaborate is Blackboard's entry into this market and has some features that make it attractive. For one, Collaborate has a nice set of features. It can do web conferencing, recording of lectures for later playback, instant messaging (which I don't myself ever using), screen sharing capabilities, and a design that allows mobile devices to be fully utilized. Check out Blackboard's Collaborate website for a demo.
Free MOOC Creator
I was at a demo recently of Blackboard's new MOOC creator. It is called Course Sites and allows the creation and implementation of open enrollment courses. If your institution has Blackboard Learn, it can create several free courses without having to buy the full product. From my understanding, anyone can create up to five courses free and run them through Course Sites too, which I'm sure will be appealing for those that would like to tinker in this arena. If you're interested at all in using or creating open courses, definitely give Course Sites a try.
We are happy to announce a new feature specifically geared to aid those looking for a job in ministry or education. The Jobs Section (found in the navigation bar) will allow job seekers to quickly find major employment sites (like Monster, Indeed, etc.), ministry-focused employment sites, as well as those looking into employment in Christian or public schools (it includes links to each state's school employment site). We will be adding sites, such as job boards, large universities HR pages, and regional job opportunities as they are suggested. So feel free to leave a comment below on any sites you'd like to see added or any improvements we can make.
One of the most frequent questions I get is, "What degree do I need to teach in a Christian college or seminary?" Well, let's get to the point and look at some options:
Undergraduate Degree - If you just have a bachelors degree, you likely won't get a faculty position in any college or university. However, most will have remedial teachers that teach basic English or basic Math courses. By most accreditation standards these instructors do not have to have a graduate degree because they are technically teaching high school level courses. Because of this you just have to have a grasp of the subject matter, although no doubt employers would prefer a at least a minor in whatever remedial subject you're planning on teaching. Sometimes, teaching something is better than teaching nothing.
Uncompleted Masters - Aside from Teaching Assistant positions, you can often be considered for a (usually adjunct) professorship if you have began work on your masters. To teach on an undergraduate level you need at least 18 hours in a particular area.
Complete Masters - Once you have completed your masters you greatly increase your chances of getting hired as an adjunct or perhaps a full-time undergraduate professor. Even if you don't have 18 hours in an area, if your masters is in that area, then its a moot point. For example, if you have a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies which required twelve hours of actual Bible courses you can still teach Bible courses because that is what your masters is in. It's a bit complicated, I know, but that's how it works.
Master of Theology (Th.M.) - If you missed the description in the Degrees section, I'll summarize: A Th.M. is usually a post-masters degree that generally takes a solid year or year and a half to complete. Because it basically gives you a concentration in a particular area, Th.M. graduates are great candidates for undergraduate teaching and having a Th.M. will often help you transition into a Ph.D. or Th.D.
Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) - If you have a Doctor of Ministry degree you can teach undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral courses in ministry. Depending on the school, they may ask you to cover a Biblical Studies course, but they will often have Ph.D.'s or Th.D.'s to do that.
Doctor of Philosophy / Doctor of Theology (Ph.D./Th.D.) - Having either of these doctorates is the ideal degree for teaching in most fields on the undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral level. Things that can affect your hiring once you have this degree are things like: your dissertation topic, the place you received the degree, how well you've connected with others in your field and how well you've connected with those at the place you're applying (yes, unfortunately it's still usually about who you know and who knows you).
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.