Planning for the Coronavirus with Blackbaud’s Education Management Solutions

March 5, 2020 Daren Worcester

A high school student working remotely at home during a school closure.

As private schools are digging into emergency preparedness plans for COVID-19, the newest coronavirus, I’m reminded how Blackbaud K–12’s Emergency Bulletins feature came to fruition in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. During that devastating storm, New Orleans schools needed a way to provide updates on Katrina’s physical impact on their campuses, and the quick-fix solution was to preempt the home page with a hard-coded news story.

That “quick-fix” eventually became so prevalent in the makeup of our school websites that we added it as core functionality to the education management solutions. Nearly 15 years later, there’s an abundance of technology options to help schools communicate and foster classroom collaboration during emergency situations. We’ve been getting support calls asking how Blackbaud’s education management solutions can help, so let’s take a look. 

Communication Tools

The following communication features are available with all of Blackbaud’s education management solutions. We've included links to help documentation for more detail.

Emergency Bulletins — Available to Platform Managers under Core > Communication > Emergency bulletins, this special news feature displays on the school’s Blackbaud website as a lightbox (pop-up box) and as a banner in the internal app. This feature doesn’t replace text or call-dialer services; it supplements them by providing on-site notifications for people who missed the message or aren’t included in the school’s emergency contacts. 

The design styling for Emergency Bulletins is controlled under School Website > select to edit the school’s main website > Styles

Sign In Messages — Similar to Emergency Bulletins, Sign In Messages display as a pop-up when constituents sign into the app. Because these messages are tied to the user’s login, the added benefit is that the school can track read receipts.

Pushpage — Blackbaud K–12’s email newsletter tool is a critical component of crisis communications. With enough preparation time, schools should consider creating a special “emergency” template to provide a visual indicator that the message is of greater importance than the standard school newsletter. To alleviate the stress of rushing a vital communication, it’s also wise to prepare ahead of time the email messaging and approvals necessary for the various contingencies that may arise. 

Resource Boards — A Resource board post can serve as the central hub for emergency information such as policies, news, announcements, and helpful links. Similar to Pushpage planning, an emergency Resource board can get pre-populated with information likely to be used in a crisis that is published and expired as needed. 

Community Groups — With built-in Bulletin Board, Topic, and Roster functionality, Community Groups provide a more robust option to Resource Boards as the central internal hub of emergency information. The group owner can create a smart roster by querying the database to pull together a large group of people such as all parents and faculty, as well as email messages to all group members. 

Ecosystem Partners — Our open APIs and partnerships with Blackboard Connect 5BrightArrow and CrisisGo enable schools to connect their constituent data in Blackbaud’s education management solutions with these mass communication services. 

Classroom Collaboration Tools

Blackbaud Learning Management SystemTM provides a variety of classroom tools to complement the school’s chosen video conferencing solution for remote learning. In that regard, Google and Microsoft have announced that they are providing free access to their enterprise conferencing solutions for a limited time; GoToMeeting and Zoom are other video conferencing options that schools are considering. 

As for Blackbaud’s LMS, the Teacher Resource Page in our How-To Center provides documentation on the following features.  

Bulletin Boards — Teachers can use bulletin boards in remote learning situations to post general class information such as a welcome video, expectations, and announcements. 

Topics — Topics are where teachers post information for specific units, chapters, or themes. A variety of content options are available from photos and videos to embed codes from third-party educational tools. In schools where video conferencing isn’t being used, teachers could post a video series in Topics for an improvised asynchronous classroom lecture.

Assignments — Assignments provide a convenient and paperless method for students to complete coursework. Blackbaud’s LMS supports online submissions to collect student work and integrations are also available with Google Drive and Turnitin. To stay organized, students (and their parents) can view their entire workload from all courses in the Assignment Center.

Assessments — Quizes and exams to gauge student understanding are administered through Assessments. There are a variety of customization options available to teachers such as question type (multiple-choice, essay, etc.), the time to complete, and whether students can retake the assessment. 

Graded Discussions — Ideally suited to remote learning situations, Graded Discussions enable teachers to open a discussion thread as an assignment for students to comment on and engage with each other. These discussions can get graded but that functionality isn’t required.

Course Roster — From the course rosters, teachers can communicate with students via messages within the application or email. This is a good way to provide feedback and connect with students to make sure they’re staying on task. 

Blackbaud Support

We hope that emergency measures won't be necessary at your school, but as was the case with Hurricane Katrina, Blackbaud’s Support team is ready to help with any questions you may have on the features mentioned above. If you find yourself stuck on something, please don’t hesitate to contact them at 1.800.468.8996 or via chat.


About the Author

Daren Worcester

Daren Worcester has been a member of the Blackbaud K-12 team for 17 years, assisting hundreds of independent schools through a variety of website development roles. A former copywriter and a published author with an appetite for SEO, Daren currently serves as the senior content marketing manager for K-12.

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