Liveblog from the Blackboard Conference!

I’m sitting in a lecture theatre in Durham University’s very impressive Calman Learning Centre waiting for the session where Blackboard tell us what they’re going to do over the next few years to start. However, the conference organiser has just written “No sign of anyone from Blackboard yet” on the lecture theatre’s whiteboard!

So, as this is the second day of the conference I’ll start by briefly reviewing yesterday, which began with a thought provoking Keynote from Andy Ramsden who is head of E-learning at the University of Bath. Andy drew our attention to something called the Collis & Moonen four Es model of technological learning…

Ah, the Blackboard staff have arrived… I’ll return to the keynote later

They are about to reveal the brand new strategy – which apparently hasn’t been revealed to the rest of the company. You can hear breath being baited!

They’ve rebranded the academic suite as Blackboard Learn. – because they feel that it defines the products by what they do rather than by which market they are in. They have a large market in FE, Schools and corporate training and “academic” isn’t appropriate”

The suite also contains Blackboard Connect and Blackboard Transact – a messaging and an e-commerce suite – not yet available in the UK, but Connect is a multi modal messaging system, and there’s a lot of work to be done in negotiating agreements with mobile telephone companies

Showing a word cloud slide – Blackboard brings out three words in the cloud. Learning, Student, and Experience. No surprise there then!

Bb very aware that there are what they call spikes of use acxross most institutions. In other words it’s patchy, but BB are confident that students “love it”. Well they would say that wouldn’t they!

In 3 years they’re forecasting that there will be more use of Blackboard, (predictably) but they are also forecasting replacement of some physical sessions, and the development of better on line pedagogy. Indeed the speaker has just referred to having visited an FE college which has a new building that has been designed so that you can’t do traditional teaching.

BB have also noticed that there is a bit of a contrast between initial investment and long term gain. We all want to get our courses up and running, but how to develop this over the longer term. That’s pretty much where we are now, I’d say. And they’ve also pointed out that institutional missions change and that was often out of our hands.

He’s just mentioned the words “credit crunch – quite good that they resisted using them for 15 minutes I suppose”

But BB are driven by economic uncertainty, and global connectedness. At least that’s what driving the company’s strategy – how do we engage diverse learners with diverse styles in and beyond the classroom”. I’m quite pleased to see that they’re accepting that learning occurs everywhere now, testing the classroom centred model

But technology can play a big role, ifyou can manage it, measure it, rely on it, it will solve tomorrow’s problem, as well as todays, and it comes from experienced sources that are going to be around for a long time. (I predict that we’re about to hear that Blackboard are just such a source!)

Bb think that engagement is key to recruiting and keeping learners, and central to that is the learning experience. And that includes the social experience of learning. Interestingly Blackboard seem to think assessment is important, and needs to be integrated into daily teaching and learning practices and they have a plan to centralise and integrate all your assessment initiatives.

Now this is interesting – they’ve started talking about delivering through an Open platform. – They haven’t used the phrase “open source” yet, but they do acknowledge that it is a useful way of developing very rapid innovation. – THey see their role as vetting the tools to see that they a) are fit for purpose and b) to integrate any such tools properly into the Blackboard suite. . They’re also talking about opening up content, not only produced by academics, but also by students. This has to be done in a secure and sustainable way, and they see the way forward as being through the development of well documented APIs

Just changing presenters – time for a short rest from typing.

    Next generation product strategy

Version 9.0 is now known as NG. (Not every innovation will be released at once though)

Doesn’t look all that different from current functions. Modules can be moved around much more easily via drag and drop. Course pages also appear to have acquired modular home pages. You don’t have to go to the control panel to build a course – all the tools are in the instructor view. There’s also a link to the community system, so you can integrate links to communities inside courses. There are tools to assess individual discussion postings. There are additional forms of assessment (safe assign, a self and peer assessment tool and an extended range of assessment types. Hmm this is questionable – he’s just given the example of a question hot spot. Which isn’t new at all!

Now showing the grade centre – which does look quite intuitive. They’re also providing a lot more opportunities for feedback – They’ve found that students and academics have a different understanding of what they mean by feedback – so Bb have introduced tool by which academics can tell students what they need to do to improve performance.

They’ve also created something called “social learning spaces” (sounds pretty much like rebranding comnunities to me – as I say though, they have added a tool where stuff in communities can be incorporated into courses) – And now we have the inevitable link to facebook, You can access your Blackboard work via facebook, There’s also a link to Merlot (Actually these links look like they’ve just created tabs, which contain web links – It looks as though sites can have their own tabs, although I might have misunderstood that)

Scholar (the social bookmarking tool) is now incorporated, but when a user signs up, they keep the account for life – even if they leave the institution – good way of keeping in touch with alumni.

They’ve also introduced a tool to manage digitised resources- so when the CLA people come round and ask what’s been digitised, and who’s using them, you can just ask Blackboard. They implied that this is free in v.9.0

They’re working on a Blackboard interface for the iPhone, and a variety of other mobies. They’re also developing Blackboard Sync for iGoogle and My Yahoo. Actually that does look like quite a cool application.

We’ve moved onto questions now. First one, is “Not much of this is actually new, is it?” (Beat me to it.) And the answer is that it is new to former WebCT users. Hmm.

Second question is will there be a UK english language pack, as there are currently three versions of US English. Again, I thought we were using UK English.
Ah, now somebody’s asking about Blackboard Sync – their technical people wouldn’t install it because of the risks of authentication. Sounds familiar and a lot of other people are asking that. But there are no usernames and passwords passed to Facebook (or any other clients).

BB do store the passwords, but use them to create protocols for a 3rd party client which then uses some sort of single sign-on tool. This discussion is getting a little technical (even for the BB staff, and they’re now arguing that institutions should talk to their TSM about this matter because there is no single generic answer. Which seems sensible to me.

They’ve also developed what they’re calling an “outcomes system”. You create a map of your instititution and against each faculty, and department, you post their change management initiatives, and measure progress against them. Not sure that this will have wide immediate appeal across academia!

Right. They’re summarising now, so I’m going to stop now, and save the laptop batteries.