by George Rosa

This is the BIG question: If you are using Blackboard in your course and a student is having a problem with it, who should they see first for help?

The answer: you,the instructor, followed by the Student Help Desk, Room C595! From my experience as both a Blackboard facilitator and a Hybrid course instructor, I realize that many problems students have with Blackboard result from confusion on how to navigate a course or how the professor has set up course assets.  Most problems rarely stem from Blackboard technical issues.   And occasionally the professor has made an error in the course setup.  These section-specific issues are the most difficult problems for the Student Help Desk to diagnose because they are not technical in nature. Nor do they typically result from technical illiteracy on the part of the student  More often than not it is a simple misunderstanding by the student of instructor requirements.

student help desk

These are some of the most common problems for students that I encounter:

  1. Students can’t get into Blackboard, even when they are able to log into the CUNY Portal – mostly this is because a student has more than one CUNY portal account, possibly due to having registered at more than one CUNY campus, and is unwittingly logging into the wrong account.  Unfortunately this is common. If a student is complaining about this problem, refer him/her to the Student Help Desk, room C595.
  2. Students don’t see the class – often this is caused by what I’ve found to be the most common mistake– an instructor forgets to make the course available.  Another problem I’m finding is that more and more students are now assuming all professors use Blackboard and go for tech support when they can’t find a section, not realizing that their professor is not using Blackboard.  We may have reached the point where all professors need to announce  whether they will use Blackboard or not in the first class.  This information should also be clearly stated in syllabi.
  3. Students aren’t receiving announcements and emails from their professors – it’s possible that the students emails aren’t linked to Blackboard or they are checking the wrong email.  Also, students’ Hostos email boxes may be full and need to be cleared.
  4. Students say they don’t see documents that are posted – I find multiple causes for this, from looking in the wrong Blackboard area to not recognizing the document names.  Sometimes students do not realize what a document posted in Blackboard looks like.
  5. Students can’t download documents – this is often caused by student confusion over the difference between a posted downloadable file and an item’s content that was posted directly to Blackboard.  Other causes include large document files that download too slowly.  Other times students are unfamiliar with the download procedure and mistakenly save it without ever realizing it. Sometimes the professor makes an error by posting a document  in a format that’s not downloadable—usually as an item instead of a downloadable file.
  6.  Students can’t upload an assignment – this is becoming a more common complaint, mainly because different professors post assignments differently.  Many now use the Assignment tool in Blackboard, which creates a link for students to upload their assignments. Other professors, however, post their assignments as items or downloadable documents and students then submit assignments either by hardcopy or by email.  This division of assignment delivery methods among faculty is confusing for students enrolled in multiple courses.
  7. Students don’t know where to find support – I’ve talked to students that have walked into all different offices – IT, Academic Affairs, Registrar, Counseling, Academic Advisement, Library, searching for help.  One even went to Public Safety!

As you can gather from reading these examples, one of the keys to effective use of Blackboard by your students is student-instructor communication. To use Blackboard successfully students do need to be computer literate and net savvy (most students are to varying degrees), but more importantly they need to understand how to navigate each specific course setup, be aware of how a course’s assets are presented, and to know the required operations to access those assets.

Now, finally, besides the instructor, where do students find Blackboard support?  On the Hostos campus, students have the option of going to the Student Help Desk in room C595 for in-person support by tech tutors.  Its extension is 718 319-6622.  They can also go to the EdTech website for tutorials and information at  They can register online for student workshops at  For faculty, the EdTech Media Center site at has information on Blackboard 9.1.  Faculty can also recieve support from EdTech in room C556 orthrough their department liaison.

A bit of good news is that, along with the upgrade to 9.1, CUNY and Blackboard have expanded and enhanced support for students and faculty. CUNY now has a Blackboard website, where faculty and student user guides can be found including both print and video tutorials. Information on both campus and CUNY-wide workshops and schedules can be found at this site.  A complete, comprehensive collection of Bb 9.1 videos and print tutorials and information pertaining to Blackboard 9.1 can be found at Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center Website:

EdTech and the Office of Academic Affairs took a big step this semester by setting up all Fall 2012 Blackboard sections with predefined areas for “Course Information,” “Course Content” and “Assignments” with recommended postings as well as External Links to important support sites.  The goal is to make the Blackboard experience for students a little more consistent across disciplines and have all the important links, both for Blackboard support and other college services, at their disposal within the course.

Here are some suggestions that might be helpful for the instructor:

  •  State if you’re going to use Blackboard, and if so, how and for what.
  •  Directions should be given on how to receive support, including the Help Desk, Blackboard workshops and online tutorials. Remind them that attending workshops earns them Rewards Points.
  •  If a student claims he/she is not getting into the CUNY Portal or Blackboard at all, refer them to the Student Help Desk, Room C595.
  •  The first announcement should include a “How to navigate” the course.
  •  All announcements to students should be posted in “Announcements” as well as sent through email broadcasts. Students should be required to check “Announcements” at least twice a week (required in asynchronous and hybrid courses).
  •  Ask students to verify that their Hostos emails are linked to Blackboard by clicking on the “Update Email” link in their Blackboard Home Page.  They can update it there if it is not . Also require them to use their Hostos email for all course correspondence and clear out their mailbox regularly.
  •  All assignments and documents announced as they are assigned, with a reminder on how to navigate to the area with the postings, and a link to the area in the “Announcements.”
  •  Documents posted for download should be clearly stated as “downloadable”.
  •  Instructions should be posted on how to submit assignments, either by upload through an assignment link or handed in manually.

Hopefully these, along with the improvements implemented by CUNY and EdTech  will help students to quickly master effortless Blackboard navigation and allow them to concentrate on their most important goal – success in their courses at Hostos.


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