“Read Your Messages” Tops the List

UMass Lowell student listens to music while studying Image by Taz Sidi Urnek
Navigating Blackboard, UML's online learning management system, is easy -- and when it's not, we've got 24/7 support.

By Katharine Webster

“Read your messages.”

That’s the No. 1 piece of advice that faculty at UMass Lowell have for new first-year, transfer, graduate and online-only students. But that’s just the tip of the online learning iceberg.

Starting at the university and coping with a new online learning management system – UMass Lowell uses Blackboard – can be daunting. It can be even more challenging if you’re an international student, or taking your first online-only class. For starters, there are two versions of Blackboard: On-campus Blackboard for day students and OCE Blackboard for students enrolled through the Division of Graduate, Online and Professional Studies (GPS).

But never fear. We’ve got you covered with these tips from the online learning pros: Lisa Panagopoulos ’84, ’88, director of faculty development for online learning in GPS and an online instructor herself; instructional technologists Melanie Maxham and Mac Wishart; and Keith Mitchell, associate professor of English, and Rae Mansfield, a visiting professor in the Honors College, who teach both on-campus and online-only classes.

So keep calm and fire up your cellphone, your laptop or a university computer.

UMass Lowell student studies on the South Campus lawn Image by Adrien Bisson
A student studies on the South Campus lawn.

Here are some general tips from our experts:

  • Check your messages daily, whether that’s your university Outlook mail or your Blackboard mail, also known as "course messages." Online-only faculty typically use Blackboard mail for individual messages and Blackboard announcements for general notices. Face-to-face professors may use university email or Blackboard course messages for anything from individual messages to general assignment updates, reminders about holiday schedule changes and more. “I always tell students, ‘Not checking your email is no excuse for missing an assignment,’” Mitchell says.
  • Don’t buy expensive software before classes start. Most of the software you need can either be downloaded for free here or accessed on a “virtual desktop." Microsoft Office 365 – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more – and the Adobe Creative Suite are free. Your professors will tell you how to access a virtual desktop containing specialized software.
  • Read&Write literacy software is available to all UML students. It will read digital text aloud, and it also has tools to help students improve their reading, writing, research and study skills. It’s great for auditory learners and students trying to improve their English.
  • Not sure how to use new-to-you software? Log into Hoonuit (Formerly Atomic Learning) and check out their video tutorials.
  • Every UML webpage has a link in the upper right corner to “MyUML.” Click on it and you can access Blackboard, email, the NOW student dashboard, SiS (the Student Information System), the library, the Solution Center, technical support, the university calendar and more.
    Clarissa Eaton earned her B.A. in English online while raising her family and running a dance studio. Image by Emily A. Ray
    Clarissa Eaton studied in her ballet studio while completing her bachelor's degree in English and psychology through online and evening classes.

Here are the experts’ tips for using Blackboard,the learning management system that’s used for all fully online classes and that provides web enhancement for many face-to-face classes:

  • You can test-drive an online course to explore Blackboard. For fully online courses, Blackboard looks similar for every class and the layout is straightforward, Panagopoulos says. For face-to-face classes, faculty can choose which Blackboard features they use, so the look and layout can vary. If you can’t find your courses, look for the button at the top right of your screen to toggle between On-campus Blackboard and OCE (GPS) Blackboard. They’re different, and you need to be at the correct site.
  • Download the Blackboard app on your phone and use it to check your Blackboard mail (“course messaging” for day school classes), announcements and “What’s New and Due” several times a week. For face-to-face classes, make sure you check it on snow days.
  • Open up Blackboard on your laptop or a desktop regularly as well. That’s the best way to complete readings, submit assignments, take quizzes, check your grades and your instructor’s feedback, and do other things that require full functionality, Maxham says.
  • For online-only students, try to attend the weekly, one-hour live chat sessions with your professor, Mansfield says. Chat sessions serve as virtual “office hours” when you can ask questions via audio, video or text, or as virtual classes to discuss challenging readings and assignments. Chat sessions are recorded, in case you can’t attend live.
    UMass Lowell student studies in the library Image by Adrien Bisson
    For students studying in the library, IT offers walk-in technical help during business hours and some weekday evenings.

If you need technical support, here’s what you should know:

  • For all students, general IT support is available during business hours by calling the help desk at 978-934-HELP or toll free at 866-435-7437. You can also submit a web ticket through MyUML and www.helpdesk.uml.edu or email help@uml.edu.
  • Day school students can get walk-in technical help at University Crossing and O’Leary and Lydon libraries during business and evening hours on weekdays.
  • On-campus Blackboard support for day students is available 24/7 by calling 978-934-HELP or toll free at 866-435-7437. Students may also email bbhelp@uml.edu to receive a response during business hours.
  • OCE Blackboard support for GPS students is available 24/7 by calling 800-480-3190. You can also email onlinelearning@uml.edu to receive a response during business hours, or live-chat with the Helpdesk Support Team.
  • Resetting your password is one thing that weekend, holiday and after-hours technical support cannot help you with, so make sure that you set up security questions that will allow you to recover your password on your own, Wishart says.

Happy online studying!