Student Evaluation Feedback #1 – Communication

With the semester coming to an end, we’d like to share valuable feedback we’ve seen in online course evaluations so you can evaluate your own courses for improvements.

This post will explore one of the more popular comments we see across online course evaluations can be summed up as: the communication needs work.

“Communication needs work”? What’s that mean?

Communication can relate to various aspects of interaction between an instructor and their students. When students talk about communication needing work, it is often because they have experienced one or more of the following in the course:

  • The faculty does not respond to messages/posts timely, promptly, or at all.
  • The faculty’s messages/posts are vague or unhelpful.
  • The faculty’s instructions are vague or unhelpful.
  • Expectations between faculty and students are unclear.

Why is this important?

There are many reasons why a student would want an instructor to be engaged in a course. If they have questions about an assignment and are unable to receive proper instructions, for example, it can make them feel the instructor is not interested in the course. It can also cause the student to receive a low grade because of the lack of instruction. If the instructor has little presence, the student misses out on valuable learning.

What can I do to improve communication?

  • Have a presence in the course.
    • Regular posts in Discussion Boards, announcements, and emails can show you’re active in the class and willing to interact.
    • Respond to messages within a few days and stay consistent about it – students should feel you are reachable when they need to talk.
    • For longer conversations or discussions, you can host “virtual office hours” and set up Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to engage in web conferencing with students or even schedule a simple phone call with the student.
    • This post goes over the available communication tools you can find in eLearning.
  • Provide valuable feedback.
    • If students submit a paper or a proposal, for example, make note of the parts you thought were good, parts that needed improvement, and your overall thoughts. Knowing what they did correctly or incorrectly can help students identify what needs improvement for the next assignment.
  • Make expectations/instructions clear.
    • Provide clear guidelines and expectations for course rules and assignments to avoid confusion.
      • Example: If it takes you 1 to 2 days to respond to an email, make sure your students are aware so that they don’t send several follow-up messages.
    • Use rubrics for appropriate assignments so that students can understand exactly why they earned their grade.

Leave a comment with your questions or thoughts.


What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Last month, we wrote about learning objectives and the value a well-written objective can provide in your course. This post will expand specifically on Bloom’s taxonomy.


Bloom’s taxonomy groups and categorizes learning objectives into various levels of complexity. Instructors and course designers often refer to this taxonomy to help create effective, measurable goals for their courses. Take a look at the graph below, courtesy of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.


The revised Bloom’s taxonomy features the following categories: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create. Each category represents an action a student might need to perform in a course for successful completion, and within each category are various action verbs. For example, if students need to Create, applicable verbs can be Design or Produce. You can use these categories to select the most appropriate verb for your objective.


Here is an example of a simple learning objective:

Know ways to improve diversity within a business or organization.

While the message might be valuable, the verb used is not.

Why it doesn’t work:

  • Difficult to measure
  • How does the student demonstrate success?
    • Do they write a paper? Make a list?

Now here is an example of the same objective after applying Bloom’s taxonomy:

Create an action plan for improving diversity within a business or organization.

Notice how the verb is now “Create” instead of “Know.”

Why this objective works:

  • Measurable and actionable.
  • Leaves little room for confusion or uncertainty
    • Objective says to make an action plan on a specific topic.
    • Student must create the plan in order to demonstrate mastery of the objective.

Of course, how you approach creating learning objectives will depend on your course and the subject, but Bloom’s taxonomy shows that there can be various ways to present an objective, some more measurable and specific than others. If you have trouble finding the right verb for your objective, review Bloom’s taxonomy for assistance.

Leave a comment below or reach out to us at

The Student Preview Feature

The Student Preview feature allows instructors to see their course from the perspective of a student. This can be valuable if instructors want to make sure certain items are hidden or available, or even to experience the course from a student’s point of view.

How Does It Work?

The Preview mode works by creating a new student account in the course for the instructor with their name and the words PreviewUser at the end (e.g. if the instructor is Jane Smith, the account will be Jane Smith_PreviewUser).

To activate the Student Preview mode, you’ll need to click the Student Preview button (which looks like an eye) found in the top-right of your course just beside the Edit Mode is button.

Student Preview button

Once you click the Student Preview button, eLearning will shift your view to the PreviewUser account. You can now experience your course just as a student would. To see an example of this in action, take a look at the following image.


It shows the view of a Course’s Homepage from an instructor’s view. Notice that the instructor can see all four items on the Homepage even though the third and fourth items have date restrictions.

Now take a look below at the view through a student’s eyes using the Student Preview feature.

StudentView Border

The third and fourth items are no longer visible. Since those two items are date restricted, students cannot see them, so the PreviewUser account doesn’t show them either.

You can also use the PreviewUser account to take exams and submit assignments. This can be valuable if you want to check exam questions to ensure students see everything correctly.

When you’re done using the Student Preview mode, click the Exit Preview button in the top right of the page. This will revert you back to your original instructor account.

Notes About Student Preview Mode

By default, the Student Preview feature does not work if you are trying to test group settings. The PreviewUser account created when you click the Student Preview button is not assigned to any group, thus preventing you from seeing any group-related/restricted items. You can, however, temporarily add your preview user account (i.e. Jane Smith_PreviewUser) to a group to test out the group settings, if needed.

You can also interact with the Discussion Board in your PreviewUser account, but your comments and posts will show up under the PreviewUser account name (e.g. Jane Smith_PreviewUser), which might confuse your students.

Email us at with your questions or comments.

I’m Teaching an Online Course Next Semester. What Can I Do to Prepare?

Teaching an online or blended course for the first time can seem daunting, but it can be an exciting experience once you are prepared and confident. This post will highlight some of the main steps new online instructors can take before setting up their course.

Check Out Online Teaching Documents and Resources

Instructor resources for online teaching are available on the ETS eLearning website. Here you can find online course development documents, software information, and more. An Instructional Designer from our eLearning Team is also available to assist you throughout the development process and during your course offering.

Get Trained for Online Teaching

Online Teaching Certification: Teaching an online course is a different experience than teaching face-to-face. As a result, some of the best practices and methodologies can differ. Consider enrolling in the Online Teaching Certification, an online collection of self-paced training modules offered by the UTD eLearning Team. In this program you will learn online teaching pedagogy, best practices, University policies and processes, eLearning (Blackboard 9.1) functionality, and other educational technology tools. You will also be able to experience online learning from a student’s perspective.

eLearning and Other Educational Technology Tools: If your experience with eLearning is limited (or even non-existent), consider training in eLearning and its various tools (a list can be found here). Our trainers regularly conduct group and one-on-one sessions. They also offer walk-in sessions for eLearning assistance every Friday from 10am-12pm in JSOM 2.224. Workshops on some other instructional technology tools are also available. Visit our website to request a training session with one of our trainers.

Blackboard (the provider of eLearning) has a help resource available where faculty can learn more about the various tools and settings available to them in their course. You can also visit our YouTube channel for helpful eLearning tutorials.

Determine What Your Course Will Need

If you’re going to teach one of your face-to-face classes as an online course next semester, you will want evaluate your most recent offering. Make a note of any materials, assignments, or assessments you will use so that you can determine how best to transition them into an online environment. For example, if your students need to discuss readings with each other, you can open a discussion board in the course so that they can share comments and ideas.

Identify relevant instructional goals, objectives, and outcomes, delivery options, timelines, and possible learning constraints. After you have done so, develop instructional strategies based on your learning outcomes so that students have an opportunity to demonstrate outcome mastery.

Build Your Course Ahead of Time

You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to build your course, perhaps more than you think you’ll need. Sometimes professors find that the process of course building can take longer than expected – before they know it, they are almost at the new semester with only a blank course for their students. Start developing as early as possible to give yourself time to design content, learning activities, assessments and student experience. You will also leave time for testing, reviewing and evaluating the course before its offering.

Please contact us at if you have any questions or comments.

Setting Up Respondus LockDown Browser

Setting Up Respondus LockDown Browser

The Respondus LockDown Browser is a tool in eLearning that prevents students from accessing other applications while taking an online exam. This post will walk you through how to set it up for your exam in eLearning.

To require LockDown Browser for your exam, please make sure you already have your exam set up and deployed within your course. Once you have done that, follow the instructions below in your course:

  1. Click Course Tools in the left sidebar.
  2. Click Respondus LockDown Browser. This will take you to the Respondus LockDown Browser Dashboard.
  3. Click the gray arrow to the left of the appropriate exam name, then select Settings.
  4. Select Require Respondus LockDown Browser for this exam.
  5. If you would like to add a password to your exam, enter one in the Password to access exam (optional) Click Save + Close when you’re done.


Please note: If you add a password in this section, the Browser will automatically add a series of letters and numbers to the actual test within eLearning (see the image below).

LockDown String

Do NOT edit this password. The LockDown Browser needs this string of characters in order to properly function. If you need to change the password for the exam, please do so in the Dashboard by following the steps above.

Please also make sure that your students install and use LockDown Browser when they sit for their exams. They will not be able to take the test in a normal web browser. A download link for the LockDown Browser (along with more information about the tool) can be found on our website.

Please email us at with any questions or comments.

ETS Survey Request

The UT Dallas Educational Technology Services (ETS) department consists of the eLearning Team, Media Services, Video Services, and the Testing Center. It is our goal to provide you with the best service possible. Please take a few moments to complete this very brief (2 minutes) survey and let us know how we are doing.

Student Survey:

Faculty & Staff Survey:

Adding Groups to an Assignment

If you want your students to submit an assignment as a group, you can set an assignment’s submission details so that a group submission is required.

If you have already created the assignment, follow the instructions below:

  1. Click the grey arrow beside the assignment name in your course, then select Edit.
  2. Under the Grading section, click Submission Details, then select Group Submission. Move over the groups you would like to be added to the assignment by clicking the group name and selecting the right arrow in-between the boxes.
  3. Fill out the rest of the settings on the page, then click Submit.

If you haven’t created the assignment yet, you will need to create the assignment first by hovering over Assessments, then selecting Assignment. You can then follow steps 2 and 3 as listed above.

Note: If there are already submissions for your assignment, you cannot change the submission settings to add groups.

Email us at with your questions or comments.