Macgyvering Blackboard

While I won’t pretend that I am among the generation that watched and enjoyed MacGyver during the mid 80s and early 90’s, the concept of “MacGyvering” is one that I feel transcends generations. It reflects the ability to take whatever you have on hand, however impractical it may be, and accomplish what needs to be done. Secret agents like Angus MacGyver have their own tricks up their sleeve, and Instructional Designers do too. Using HTML Objects in Blackboard to develop and design instruction and materials beyond what Blackboard itself can natively encompass is a degree more practical than most of the items on the compiled list of every episodes “Macgyverisms”; but there is a degree of outside-the-box thinking and prerequisite knowledge needed before grappling with these tools and using them effectively.

Blackboard, the most common learning management system, offers users a large number of tools in an attempt to address the needs of the broad range of interactions, instructions, and assessments involved in developing a course. Some of these tools do a great job. Some of these tools are in need of improvement. Some tools and options you would like to think would be a part of your collection simply don’t exist. But their HTML Object feature, perhaps unintentionally, helps to solve this problem.

HTML, more or less, is the underlying language that dictates what your browser shows you when you’re looking at web pages. HTML Objects allow you to embed an HTML file, essentially a standalone web page, into Blackboard. Why would Blackboard have a tool like this? A few things come to mind initially. This tool was likely added because most lecture-capture software has the ability to render out the lecture video in not just a file, but a standalone HTML page with the video embedded into it. Aside from being a convenient export option for various institutions web needs, it also addresses the inflexibility of Blackboard’s own in-module video solution.

This is where approaching this tool from another aspect becomes rewarding. The point here is not to embed a basic page where a video and its player politely sit in the middle of an other area encompassed by Blackboard, but rather to build out a complex web page to present not only videos, but additional information, instruction, files, resources, and tools to the learner. For the most part, your only limitations are your own skills with HTML, CSS, Javascript.

From here, Blackboard simply becomes more of a directory to these mini sites. While Blackboard remains the fundamental backbone of the course, where convenient you can substitute these custom HTML objects for wherever you may find an unmet need in Blackboard’s offerings. Personally, our CSS stylesheet of these mini sites, which dictates how the HTML elements of the page are rendered aesthetically, closely mirrors Blackboard’s own so as to encourage a seamlessness and uniformity between the native elements of the platform and what we’ve crafted on our own.

The cherry on top? HTML objects can be edited and replaced using a file transfer protocol directly to your Blackboard server, depending on how yours happens to be configured. The power in that is that edits can be made very quickly, to many documents across many sections, without having to log in to the course through the web interface. As long as the file name stays the same, the link to the HTML object in the course is preserved and maintained. Not all Instructional Designers may have the time, resources, or background to craft these from the ground up. However, If they are carefully and explicitly created by someone who does, they can be easily edited in an HTML editor by others on the team or an ambitious, tech savvy instructor.

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