Blackboard Midlands User Group meet. Part 3: Community reports

Or, what everyone else is doing with Blackboard.  As I said in part 1 of this post, the biggest issue for many of our local Bb users is whether or not to upgrade to version 9. Northampton had done so, albeit on hosted servers, rather than attempting to install it locally, whereas Leicester had tried to and abandoned the project because of what seemed to be a relatively trivial issue about font recognition. Of course it turned out not to be trivial!

There was a bit of a debate about how long sites should be “kept” for, largely because a delegate asked whether you could transfer archived sites across versions. A delegate from De Montfort said that they had tested it and yes you could, although the question wasn’t so much about learning materials, where it seemed that many institutions had found that colleagues were quite happy to copy sites from one year to the next. The issue was one of student submissions, and how long they should be kept for. Only one institution follows our model of keeping the last two years, and deep-archiving older sites (I think it was DMU again – it’s hard to keep track of who says what in a discussion that takes place in a lecture theatre). The question at issue was the maintenance of electronic “quality boxes”. Yes, of course you could download selections of submissions and keep them separately but some delegates felt that Blackboard should be able to offer some sort of feature like this. Afterwards it occurred to me that you could probably manage this by using the content store if you really wanted to.

A few institutions were working with web 2.0 and other add ons. Staffordshire were putting out tenders for proposals by teaching staff for innovative use of web 2.0 tools (A similar model to our FED projects, I guess, and they’re supporting that with a technology enhanced learning conference each June. (Think we could squeeze yet another conference in?) In a similar vein the University of Worcester were doing a lot of work with tools like, their learning object repository, Wimba and the Adobe e-learning suite, although they didn’t demonstrate any of this. They’re also creating a virtual streaming server to enable staff to upload audio and video, again, much as we plan to do.  This kind of third party approach to modifying Blackboard was also in evidence in the presentation from University College Birmingham where they’re making use of Articulate to increase the level of student interactivity.

The last category of activity was around the way Blackboard is managed, and there were some interesting comparisons, although unfortunately not enough time to discuss them. Aston for example manage their entire support with a team of three, two full time staff and one placement student who changes each year, and Staffordshire are talking about “farming their course management” out to the faculties. If that means having “super users” in each faculty, I can see that might be a productive approach, but as ever there wasn’t time to follow this up in any detail. On a more technical note, I was interested to see Derby’s approach which used multiple log in pages for different types of student. It wasn’t easy to get a view of what this looked like for students, because Sandra, their sys admin, showed us her page which contained tabs for each of them. I’m assuming that they’re using branding to manage this.

So, all in all a useful, if rushed, day. I do think we need to do a bit more investigation around the third party tools that others are using and see if we can get any benefit from them ourselves. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to follow up some of the contacts at the national user group meeting in Durham next January.