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Developing a Communication Strategy for your bSpace site

bSpace Messages screenshot

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Introduction

There are several ways to communicate with students using bSpace.  In this article, I'll share with you the advantages and limitations of sending email from the different tools within bSpace.

Rationale

Now, if you’ve never thought about using bSpace as a means to communicate with your students, here are a couple of good reasons:

  1. Everyone is in bSpace.  All Berkeley students, staff, and faculty have accounts, and after you create your course site, bSpace uses the information provided by other campus systems to keep track of who is in your class, their enrollment status, and email address.
  2. What happens in bSpace, stays in bSpace.  You are probably already using bSpace to share a syllabus and course materials with students.  Communicating through bSpace keeps everything in one place, making it easier for you and your students.

Objective

Since every instructor and every course has different needs, there are multiple ways to send email using bSpace. As a best practice, I encourage you to identify one or two ways that work best for you and develop a strategy that meets the needs of you and your students.

Considerations

Here are 3 main considerations that I want you to think about as you plan the communication strategy for your course:

  1. What types of correspondence do you need?  Do you make general announcements to the whole class?  Do you need to send email to individual students?
  2. How do you like to communicate?  Do you use your calmail account?  Do you want all of your course correspondence to be archived in bSpace?
  3. Do you want students to communicate with each other? Do you want them to work in groups?  or do collaborative projects?

Basic Tools

So what are these options?  Well, let’s start with the default set of tools that are in all bSpace sites.

With the default set of tools, bSpace gives a beginner everything they need to send out class announcements and contact individual students via email.

Announcements

Announcements are a default part of all bSpace sites because they provide a simple way to broadcast information to your site members.

The primary advantages of Announcements are:

  1. It’s Easy – From your site’s Announcements tool, click Add.  Enter a title and the body of your announcement, and click Add Announcement. Done.
  2. Recent Announcements show up in a list on your site’s home page, providing a quick and easy reference for you and your students.
  3. Most of the time, you’ll want to send Announcements as email.  This option is always available to you.  Simply choose the Email Notification drop-down menu and select “High-All Participants” before clicking “Add Announcement.”

It is important to note that Announcements not sent as email will only be seen by students when they log-in to your bSpace site.

Roster

The Roster tool is a powerful source of information about the students in your class.  When a roster is attached to your bSpace site, you will be able to access and print lists of:

  • student names
  • enrollment status
  • photos
  • email addresses

There is no need to keep separate lists of email for your students, because you can easily look up any student on your roster and copy their email address when you need to send them a message.

Advanced Tools

Beyond the default tools, bSpace has two other communications tools: Email Archive & Messages.

Email Archive

The Email Archive is an electronic mailing list, sometimes called a listserv, that is dedicated to your bSpace site.  As a mailing list, the Email Archive keeps track of all of the email addresses in your bSpace site so you can send email to everyone using one simple address from anywhere you have access to your email--home computer, laptop, even your cell phone.

Another big advantage of the Email Archive is that all of the messages you send are archived in bSpace under the Email Archive link where it can be easily sorted and searched by you and your students.

Messages

The last tool I want to share with you is the newest to bSpace.  Simply called Messages, this is the Swiss army knife of communication tools.

The biggest advantage of Messages is that it allows you to send email to any combination of individuals from your bSpace site.  For example, you can send messages to everyone, or just students.  You can select everyone in a section, or send to a handful of students from that section. If you have created additional groups, you can select them as well.  The combinations are endless.

Like Email Archive, messages you send from bSpace are stored in bSpace.  By default, you are given received, sent, and deleted message folders, but you can add as many as you need to stay organized.

Messages also allows students to email each other.  This feature can help students collaborate on projects or get together for study groups. 

We’ve heard feedback from some of our large class instructors that they would like to control whether students can send Messages.  Not a problem.  If you are considering Messages, but don’t want students to be able to send them, simply email us to have this feature disabled in your site.

Tool Comparison

To review, Let’s do a quick feature comparison of the four tools:

bSpace Tool

Ease of Use

Sending Location

Who Gets Email

Copies in bSpace

Announcements Default

Sent from bSpace

Sent to Everyone in bSpace Site

Stored in bSpace & Home Page

Roster Email Addresses

Default

Sent from email

Sent to individuals copied from Roster

No copy in bSpace

Email Archive

Add on/Setup

Sent from email

Sent to Everyone in bSpace Site

Copies in Email Archive

Messages

Add on/Setup

Sent from bSpace

Sent to any combination of individuals

Copies in Messages Folder

Ease of Use

For ease of use and setup, Announcements and the Roster are the best.  They are default tools that are added to every bSpace site and require no setup.  Although it is not difficult, Email Archive and Messages need to be added to your site using Site Info and may require some setup, whether it be assigning a default email address for your email archive or enabling Section Info for Messages.

Sending Location

If you prefer sending email without being logged into bSpace, Email Archive might be your choice, because you must send Announcements and Messages from within bSpace.

Who Gets Email

Announcements and Email Archive are good for general announcements and reminders because they send email to everyone in your site.  Messages, on the other hand, lets you pick exactly who will receive your email.

Copies in bSpace

Announcements, Email archive, and Messages will all save copies in your bSpace site.  However, email sent from outside of bSpace to individual students either by copying their email from the roster or replying to a message they send you will not be saved in bSpace.

Conclusion

The golden rule for communicating with students using bSpace is to keep it simple and be consistent.  When picking a communication strategy for your class, make it as simple as possible. I outlined several options for you.  Now that you know the advantages of all the different options in bSpace, select what works best for your situation and stick to it. A little advance planning and setting expectations can make for happy, well-informed students and can go a long way toward reducing the chances of a communication breakdown in your class.

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