Multimedia resources on Blackboard

Deliberations over sharing multimedia resources with your students using Blackboard should be guided by one simple principle – taking the time upfront to consider how best to make these resources accessible for your students to view. File size is one important consideration. For example, a student using a broadband connection would be able to download a 10MB file in approximately 1 minute or less, whereas a student on a slower connection could spend considerably longer downloading the same file. File format is another issue to contemplate. Does your student have the right browser plug-ins or video codecs to view your materials, and how can you minimize potential difficulties? Uploading your materials using the correct multimedia player will drastically help reduce or eliminate problems.

So, if you are deliberating over how best to upload new media to Blackboard this semester, here are some suggestions to make life easier for your students:

Video

A recent 2012 study by the Pearson and Babson Survey Research Group has reported that 88% of US faculty members across the board have incorporated video into their teaching. There isn’t any comparable data on their Irish counterparts, but it stands to reason that video is similarly an increasingly popular medium on this side of the Atlantic.

What implications has this for systems like Blackboard? Well, for a start, when it comes to putting video and audio online, Blackboard is just a webserver, best suited to static downloadable powerpoint, word, and text files. It needs additional help to adequately deliver multimedia files to you and your students. Other helper applications are available that make it possible to “stream” video. Streaming video is attractive as, there is hardly any wait for users who wish to view your video files, such as your students who may not have access to an adequate broadband connection.

It is always better to stream the video than to upload the file as a content item to Blackboard. You have two basic choices: (1) host the video on a free site like YouTube, Vimeo, or Blip.TV amongst others, or (2) upload the video to NUI Galway’s own Kaltura video server from inside Blackboard. In both instances, files uploaded to a streaming video site are then embedded in Blackboard (this makes them appear to be contained in Blackboard, but they are actually streamed from the streaming video site). The advantage of Kaltura is that your content will only be visible to your registered students, should you wish for it to be kept solely within your Blackboard course.

Audio

Audio files online are best uploaded in the following formats .MP3, .M4A, .M4B, .AAC, and .WMA (and under 5MB in size). The best way to post an audio file to Blackboard is to make it a podcast episode. This displays a player for the audio to the student and  he/she does not have to download the audio before listening to it. Note: .WAV is a legacy format for which the file size is too large and is therefore not recommended.

Images

Most images you upload directly on a Blackboard content item should only be around 60k-100k, and a maximum of 720 pixels in width, if you wish for them to display well to students on Blackboard. Larger sizes are acceptable when larger files are required (e.g., graphic design courses) –  in such special cases, the image size should be 500k or less. The best image formats are JPEG (.jpg) and GIF (.gif) or PNG (*.png). Note: JPEG is preferred for general ‘photo’ images and PNG is better for ‘line-art’ or graphics.

Powerpoint and PDF files

PowerPoint and PDF files can be added to a Blackboard site but should be limited to 10 MB, if possible. When creating a PDF file from a PowerPoint Presentation, it is recommended that the print setting be set for 3 slides per page. This will reduce the number of pages, should a student wish to print the document. The best PowerPoint format is PowerPoint 97-2003 (.PPT) rather than the newer PowerPoint 2007 (.PPTX) format, which might require students using older versions of Microsoft Office to download a special viewer.

Some other popular tools to embed:

Rather than uploading materials to Blackboard, several members of staff are also hosting their materials on complementary platforms, like Prezi, Google Docs/Drive, PBWorks, Slideshare, etc. (see Jane Hart’s most popular tools for 2012: http://c4lpt.co.uk/top-100-tools-2012/  for more examples). Most of these can be seamlessly embedded into Blackboard, providing a  jump-off point for students participating in educational conversations or activities relating to their modules in external locations.

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