BBWorld Europe 09

Just a very quick update on the opening keynote from Michael Chasen, Blackboard’s Chief Executive. Essentially BB appear to be trying to come over all Open Access – some interesting features are promised about opening up the content store to either institutional level, or to a completely open model where items in Blackboard can be made available to any other Blackboard user (whatever their institution) . They’re also promising an Instant Messaging tool, (free) and a more sophisticated interface with Facebook (or indeed, any other “online space where students might be found.” I’m Not quite sure about that when I think about it. ) They’ve got round the authentication problem by pushing stuff out of Blackboard. For example a student who is logged into Facebook might be notified that they have a new grade, but they’d still have to log into Blackboard to find out what the grade actually is. They’ve also released a nice looking iPhone app. for remote users.

Unfortunately I can’t really liveblog from the conference as the hotel only has a few open access stations, but I’ll try and write a more considered report on what they’re up to when I get back.

Applying Laurillard’s conversational framework to blended learning, blogging and collaborative activity design

This presentation was from Rose Papworth, now at the University of York, (and who some colleagues may remember as a member of the Computing Sciences department in Hull.)

One of the criticisms levelled at virtual learning environments such as Blackboard is that they tend to be used more of a repository for content than as an environment in which students learn. This kind of approach has been criticised by many scholars, in particular Diana Laurillard, who sees learning as a conversation between teacher and learner, in which conceptual understandings are constantly revised. A criticism of this argument though is that while it is well suited for small groups or one to one teaching, it is not really very practical for large group teaching.
That said, the technology does exist to facilitate large group conversations, and Rose’s presentation focussed on developing Blackboard sites to facilitate learning as an active process, a social and collaborative cycle which contained intrinsic feedback to students. The sites were based on 2 3rd year undergraduate case examples, a small cohort in English & related literature and a large cohort in Environmental studies

Both course had a clearly stated idea of what they were working towards which Rose described as “scaffolded teaching and learning” The aim was to extend structural work with discussion time and improve the quality of discussion. In English, they used a blog as a repository for a weekly critical analysis in which the students were asked to consider the relationship between two texts. All members of the course had to read other members analyses and leave at least one comment. In English the intrinsic feedback came from the comment features, where the tutor started the process by making comments on early posts, and this started a cycle of where the students took action (posting their blog entry), received feedback, (from the tutors, who for example, directed learners to reading that may foster emerging interest in themes), reflected upon that feedback, posted revised comments and thus revised their understanding of the topic. In Environment and Health, they experienced some problems in getting students to engage with the process and as well as blogs they used a wiki an which groups published reports. In evaluating the project they found that there was less generic agreement about the value of the process but they did conduct entry and exit surveys with this group and they found that the process of engagement definitely promoted a wider conceptual understanding of the topic.

Rose then presented some findings from the evaluation. There were frequent log ins and wide experience of sharing ideas between students. Everyone agreed it complemented the class based learning and there were lots of positive comments from students and from tutors. One reservation expressed by teaching staff was that it was quite a challenge to give feedback without it sounding like it was the last word on the topic. Students are used to submitting a piece of work, and receiving feedback, but are much less used to the idea that they should respond to the feedback . They also found that it was important to model commenting so that students knew what they were doing.

Lessons learned
It remained difficult to assess group contributions, even with the wiki. Tutors in Environmental studies found that there was a need to make it explicitly clear that students need to do all their work in the wiki so that the tutor can see who has contributed what.
Students also found it rather daunting to be asked to write in public, and there were some examples of group politics, where students deleted each other’s work. Of course, the advantage of a wiki is that all the edits and deletes are preserved, but there is a need to ensure that students have group management skills before embarking on this kind of process.
The final lesson was around scalability. They used adaptive release with postgraduate teaching assistants for large groups but there was some variation in their understanding of the requirements of the wiki and blog environment. In future iterations of the programme they feel they need to more adequately brief the postgraduates about what needed to be done.
Even with these problems this does seem to be a more effective use of Blackboard than simply posting course materials. It

Has E-learning lived up to its early promise?

After the rather bitty liveblogs from the Blackboard conference, I’ve started to write up the other presentations where I took notes with a pen. (Now there’s a reliable, resilient and portable technology!) Hopefully, they’re a bit more reflective and readable. Rather than try and write up the whole conference in one post, I’m going to release an account of each presentation as a single post. This one’s probably the longest!

See the slides at

The first keynote presentation which was from Andy Ramsden, head of e-learning at the University of Bath, who set about exploring whether e-learning has lived up to its early promise. In one respect he showed that it has, by using an electronic voting system throughout the presentation which would have been very unusual a few years ago, and did lead to quite a lot of interactivity in the session. He started by reminding us that those of us involved in e-learning were actually small cogs in big institutional machines, but that didn’t stop us from doing quite a lot to bring about change. In the first electronic poll he showed that at least 25% of the audience had been involved with virtual learning environments for more than 8 years, (including, it has to be said, your correspondent!) which led to the unspoken conclusion that if e-learning hadn’t lived up to its promise, we’d no-one to blame but ourselves!

He then presented the results of a survey at Bath, which found that 51.7% of academics didn’t post their lecture material before the lecture, and that 21.9% didn’t do it afterwards. In fact 10% of academics at Bath don’t engage with learning technology in any shape or form! Even those that do, tend to use things like PowerPoint, or even OHP transparencies. That said, there was some encouraging use of newer technologies like Twitter and videoconferencing. So, it appears, on the face of it at least, that the newer technologies have not changed teaching very much. But as Andy indicated, that kind of conclusion didn’t sit very easily with the array of technological gadgetry sitting on the desk in front of him, and he also noted that most people do in fact share things like web resources quite a lot. But there was another question about how they did this sharing, and we had another poll this time using a service called Edutext (I’ve got us a free trial by the way I’ll post here when the details come through) This time we all texted in the ways we shared information with colleagues. Predictably e-mail was by far the most common communication method in HE. (By a very large distance indeed.) So, there are at least two technologies, e-mail and the web that have very much lived up to their early promise.

What might explain this phenomenon. We were introduced to something called the 4-Es model developed by Collis & Moonen, (Which I shall be stealing, ahem, referencing for my ED thesis). This states that an individual’s likelihood of making use of a technological innovation for a learning related purpose is determined by four factors

• Educational effectiveness
• Environmental (that is, institutional) factors,
• Ease of use
• Engagement.

Without going into more detail this explains why people are perfectly happy to post word documents purporting to be the “course handbook” but less happy to spend time designing and posting on-line quizzes, learning how to use text messaging to promote interactivity in a lecture, developing multimedia etc. etc. Essentially if you want to get a technology adopted (the “success threshold”) you have to balance all these four factors. Take the example of the course handbook. The institution encourages the posting of these things. ||It’s easy to attach a document to a file (well, it is for most people). It’s information students need, so it’s educationally effective. (Actually, I think that’s questionable, but I take the point that it meets a need that students believe that they have.). I’m not all that convinced that it’s all that engaging, but course handbooks are something that people are familiar with. You can see that quizzes don’t really tick the same boxes, and you might say the same about some of the other technological floribunda, that grow in the e-learning garden, such as Second Life, blogs, wikis, and so forth. (They’re often engaging, but not easy if you’re new to them, nor are they institutionally encouraged, (well, OK, they’re not discouraged, but setting up a wiki isn’t an obvious route to academic advancement) and their educational effectiveness is, to date at least, unproven.

One of the things that we can do is to try and lower the environmental factors. If we can do this, we should be able to push the success threshold down.

The second strand is concerned with ease of use and engagement. Most obviously the network must be sufficiently robust to allow users to do what they want to do. Engagement does of course cover things like the relative attractiveness, ease of navigation, and other attributes, but it can also be encouraged by modifying the environmental factors. If, for example, posting high quality interactive materials was seen as a route to career progression then it is quite likely that more people would be inclined to do it. (That, of course, is precisely the argument we’re making for the deposit of material in the institutional repository.) The fact is though that Universities are in general rather more geared up to running relatively simple teaching and learning activities than they are to operating riskier programmes that have higher level learning objectives.

So, how might we change the situation.

Well, at this point, Andy went into a discussion of QR codes. Careful readers of this blog (and if you aren’t, may I ask why not?) may remember these being discussed in a previous posting about mobile technologies. A QR code is a variant on the bar code that can be scanned with a camera phone. Once it has been scanned it can link to a web site, send an SMS message to a phone, transfer a phone number, or simply provide more text. They are appearing in posters and advertisements in our larger cities, (although I haven’t noticed one in Lincoln yet). There are all sorts of potential educational and administrative uses, including campus tours, Library catalogue information, (although I wasn’t clear how this would work), they can be appended to printouts and the user can scan them for further guidance, and more exotically they can be used in Augmented Reality Gaming (Again, I hope you’ve been paying attention, – I wrote about this back in June – it’s a project at Manchester Metropolitan University where they send the students off around the city to find these QR codes. Not that I’m exactly sure about the wisdom sending students into some parts of Manchester flashing expensive technology around, but I guess it’s their city and their project!)

There is no suggestion that QR codes are the solution to lowering institutional barriers. Andy was using them as an example of the way of thinking we need to adopt if we are going to keep on developing technology. We need to ditch large scale workshops, and focus more on specific projects, which we might lead, but ensure all the team delivers on. We should prioritise profiling at meetings, (i.e. who does what, what are people’s capabilities) and produce short frequent publications reporting on our projects, and we should do it in all media. The point is there’s a long term commitment to be made, and it involves a change in the way we think about educational development.

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.

Blackboard, Midlands User Group, Northampton

Being fairly recent converts  to Blackboard, I’ve always thought that it would be useful to get involved with  the local user groups, and I have been to a couple of Midlands User Groups meetings.  So, I hired a car and took a couple of colleagues to Northampton University (Evidently, “local” these days is a fairly relative term!)

The usual format of the meetings is that there is usually a brief update from members on issues that are currently of interest, so the proceedings started with me being put on the spot! I discussed our experience of lumpers and splitters, which seemed to generate some interest – well,  some nods of recognition anyway! There were some questions about what our largest lumped course was, which I can’t answer yet, because we haven’t enrolled any students. But it seems that, based on other institutions’ experiences there are performance issues with large courses, specifically relating to archiving, copying, assessment and gathering course statistics.

There was a lot of interest from other presenters in Safe Assign  in particular as a competitor to Turnitin. The Blackboard representatives there were very cagey about what exactly Safe Assign could search. One reason given was that if students knew this they would know where not to copy from. Reflecting on this in the car on the journey home we thought that this was a bit odd – if students are that sophisticated in their plagiarism, that is, choosing and synthesising sources and rewriting them, they weren’t that far from doing proper academic work!  More pragmatically there was some criticism of Safe assign  on the grounds that it was a one-shot process, i.e. it doesn’t let you resubmit the same assignment

Northampton demonstrated  a blended learning course based on the e-tivities idea. Essentially it appears that they’re using wikis, blogs syllabuses and Scholar,  (Students upload their own work to this and link to each others’ projects). They’ve provided course material on how to use wikis and blogs (Students use the blog as a reflective diary)  There has been considerable interest in using this type of approach from other schools in the University.

It was also interesting to note that we have been comparatively fortunate in that we have been able to invest in a comprehensive package with Blackboard. One colleague reported that they were just piloting  the learning objects LX pack for distance learners for example, and another reported on their recent acquisition of the Content System.

Another interesting issue came from Cranfield University who had similar problems to us in some respects –  at least in terms of the splitters. All their taught courses are 12 months – teaching tends to all happen early on,  and then students go away to work on dissertations. It is obviously very difficult to integrate the gradebook in this context. So they were looking for a way to make gradebook easier to use for academic staff. They employed a graduate from a previous year to redesign the course with quite interesting results stripped down the navigation for example – quite dramatically in many cases. The view was taken that students did not need all the links that a typical course provided, which bears out my own view that we do tend to overengineer learning technology.  (Having multiple ways to do the same thing makes it a bit like those adverts that say “more information on our web site, and when you go there it’s exactly the same information)  They ended up merging courses into single sites (not unlike our lumping) One interesting comment was that many academic staff had no idea where in Bb to load content! They had a publicity drive on this but it had had very little effect. Although, I’m not quite clear what if any changes they made to the gradebook as a result of this.

Another theme that came out of the discussions was the extensive interest shown in the e-portfolio tools, for assessment, rather than for PDP purposes. We’ve hidden these because we want to emphasise Pebble Pad for personal development planning. I think PebblePad remains a much stronger product, for PDP but I wonder if we shouldn’t spend a bit more time looking at portfolios as an alternative assessment tool.

One of the strengths of these meetings is that they are attended by representatives from Blackboard and we were presented with a Blackboard Road Map. In truth I’d seen quite a lot of this before (at the Blackboard Users Conference at Durham) but there do appear to be some quite convincing reasons for moving to Blackboard v8.0 , not least because Safe Assign and Scholar, Blackboard’s social bookmarking tool are integrated into it.  We could have the latter as a plug in but it would seem more sensible to have a complete product rather than a loose association of tools. Of course, the counter argument is that we’ve hardly tested our current version of Bb in anger yet, so there’s a risk in upgrading. Having said that Blackboard 8.0 is largely a back end upgrade, so there shouldn’t be many customer facing issues.

Beyond that it was quite interesting to get a corporate perspective on higher education.  Some of the slides were quite interesting  one interesting phrase I noticed was “Education= Economic and social health”, which suggested a rather instrumental approach to education. (Nothing about the discovery or  production of knowledge, for example)

 Blackboard say that they’re “not so much about the technology but about how the technology is used” and their strategy is to focus on student achievement. So they don’t see themselves as just a software company. They focus on three strands, “learn”, “transact”, and “connect”. (Learn is our area) – but  Bb claim to be 100% focussed on education and about moving from e-learning to e-culture. An informed e-culture to boot! (That wouldn’t be 100% on education then!)  Which made me think that the leadership awareness of e-culture could be an issue for many insitutions.  How far are senior management realistically able to keep up with the cultural change that technological affordances bring about? Blackboard do seem to be aware of this and are working towards assessment methodologies, not only of individuals,  but also of institutions, programmes, and courses, and that this requires academic and administrative levels of engagement and assessment. They also showed an awareness of web 2.0 with a tool for integration with Facebook (although we tested this, and it didn’t work – In fairness that maybe because our firewalls are blocking it.)

They also mentioned EduGarage, which is their developer network. This seems to work on open source principles, which I’m all in favour of although I’m not entirely clear about the exact nature of licensing model. But if we have people who are involved in development work, we should probably get involved.

We then returned to the member’s upgrades. Alot of this was about institutional contexts. Leicester had merged MIS/CS into a single IT services department and had also had to merge their two VLEs into Blackboard. This was problematic because they had to integrate Question Mark into Blackboard – but  it transpired QM have no commitment to upgrading their connector to Blackboard. There’s maybe a lesson for us about tying into 3rd party tools there. Having said that Leicester have bought Wimba, (which gives inter alia voice discussion boards .) Turnitin and others. They’re also planning to integrate with Facebook – initially using the Bb plug in.

Blackboard pointed out that they can keep 3rd party tools up to date if need be, although this would inevitably come at a price.

There followed a bit of a debate about how VLE’s are being used and supported. One telling point was made about how Resource Allocation Models tend to see teaching as “standing in front of a class” Preparing a wiki for example, is not seen as valuable an activity in terms of resourcing. (Neither for that matter is preparing a Blackboard Course)

There then followed another useful update from Dudley College. They’re running  WebCT and have been for a while. They appeared to be more interested in e-portfolios, again, more for assessment than for PDP type activities. But of particular interest to us I think, was their model of staff development. They’re running a 2 week on-line course for academic staff – to showcase what sort of things can be done with the software. This will count  towards staff CPD – they have to log in for a couple of hours each day. They’re also producing a CD-ROM for staff  with video guides on how to do stuff and have also produced a selection of flash games, which can be edited by the simple expedient of editing a text file. THe intention is that staff can customise the games to the needs of their own discipline.

In the afternoon (after an excellent lunch!) an “award winning” Blackboard course on Plagiarism that had been developed by Northampton was demonstrated. (The award was a “Blackboard Exemplary Award” whatever that might be. I’m a little bit sceptical when I see the phrase award winning these days, because there appear to be awards for just about everything. – I’m waiting for the first “award winning awards ceremony”)

Anyway. The aim of the course was to to ensure that every student gets the same message about plagiarism which can then be refned and dealt with in a specific way and present plagiarism in a positive light (Is it a Development issue or is it a Disciplinary issue). They used the metaphor of a degree course as an academic journey with hazards being littered along the route – successful study is about knowing how to avoid them. The destination is related to the type of skills you need for a particular degree. There are also links to personal development planning.It’s essentially a linear course – students work down the buttons on the left hand side. Rightly I think they tried not to just focus on plagiarism – shouldn’t be too threatening – instead the focus is on academic integrity and why it’s important. Of course you can’t avoid talking about academic misconduct but this is introduced later on and is talked about in the sense of not being fair, or in terms of gaining an unfair advantage. Issues like helping a friend in a crisis were also covered. Is this collusion?   The course also includes interactive demonstrations of what plagiarism might look like and the course finishes with a chance for students to submit to Turnitin at the end.  But no tutor sees the originality report- which made me wonder how  feedback was given. The course was quite well received by students who have suggested that it be made compulsory.

This is the kind of idea that we might take forward with Bb. The Virtual Campus had a set of generic skills support materials involved, and Blackboard seems to have the potential to support more of this kind of work. The question is how can it be slotted in to existing courses. I’m a little wary of having a huge list of skills courses on the front page.

There was then another presentation from Blackboard on what is rather pretentiously called “Project Next Generation”.
Release 8 not a big interface upgrade but includes Safe assign, Scholar, Self and peer assessment tools, and an enhanced gradebook. Next generation (or “Release 9” to mere mortals!) still has the familiar tabs, but has some extra functionality, such as drag & drop capability on modules making it easier to redesign the front page. It also integrates Sakai and Moodle courses into a module – so if you’ve been working in Moodle, you can simply import your Moodle course into BB)

There’s also an instructor Dashboard which  has a traffic light interface – e.g. Red might show alerts about students  who have problems, yellow shows you things you should be doing in the next couple of days (e.g. notifying students about due dates) and green just shows you standard announcements. There is also the ability to create role specific tabs, so you could, if you wanted have a tab just for external examiners, that showed them the courses that they were marking. You can also have modules that are specific to your course. It’s also integrated with Facebook so that you can get Blackboard alerts when you’re in Facebook It also appears that frames have been replaced with modules – so a course menu might appear in another module. (I wasn’t entirely clear how this would work to be quite honest.) I did like the fact that it had an explorer type view available, which shows the icons for all your files.  (Interestingly this is known as the “WebCT view”  by Blackboard staff, which says something about the history of VLEs and how features move from one to another.)

The portfolio tool also looked much improved containing employer information, educational journal, reflective blog and a gallery. But on being asked for further and better particulars the presenter rather sheepishly admitted that what was being presented on screen was just a mock up and not yet available.

They finished with a mention of the Blackboard Ideas exchange, which appears to be rather similar to the developer community – This needs further investigation on our part, as I suspect it could be quite useful. Although I dare say we’d need to take some ideas ourselves!

The meeting finished with an Open Session at which people presented their wish list.

There was some discussions about Wikis – former WebCT users can’t use the Learning Objects LX plug in

A question was raised about the use of the peer and self assessment tool in group assignments – Apparently you can’t assign an assessment to a specific group. (or student)

 There was a request for a batch unenroll tool. This can be done in snapshot, but that isn’t a convenient method for many users.

Course test generation is apparently problematic on large sites, as is archiving courses. It seems that Bb is not really  designed for large courses, but we’d like it to be better able to cope with them. One solution might be to schedule complex tasks such as archiving for quiet downtime. It was also suggested that it would be useful to have some sort of warning that embarking on such a task will have consequences for system performance.

A request was made for the provision of section breaks in Blackboard pages. I didn’t really see why the syllabus tool couldn’t be used to achieve that though. 

Finally another request was made for more group functionality. It would be useful to make the group tool a little bit easier to use. Bb representatives talked about the community system as one way of communicating with groups, but I don’t think that was quite the point. On the other hand the group tool is very powerful, and I can see users tying themselves in knots with it as it isn’t terribly intuitive.

All in all a very worthwhile meeting, with a great deal of food for thought. In some respects I was quite impressed with how far we’ve come in such a short time, but of course we’re not really using it in anger yet. I think it’s definitely worth keeping up with the group, and I think all of us were slightly disappointed that the next meeting isn’t until Easter 2009



Well, I don’t know where all the text from this went…

 But here’s what I wanted to say anyway. (If this disappears I really am going back to bed)

I’m not now going to the Bbworld 08 conference in Manchester because I am simply too ill to drive there. Which is a pity because there appeared to be some interesting looking presentations about using Bb to support assessment. This is something that does come up from time to time in Faculty teaching and learning committees (e.g. Health Life & Social Sciences the other day). We do have Turnitin’s Grademark of course, but the drawback with that is that it doesn’t really support double marking. (i.e. anonymous marking). Or, if it does, I haven’t found out how yet. I did dream up a baroque routine where students’ work could be submitted to different tutors by admin staff, but technology is supposed to make life simpler, so I haven’t mentioned it yet.

Leads to an interesting reflection on technology in learning though – it very rarely seems to automate a practice in its entirety – certainly some aspects of a process are very well automated – but human beings being what they are, there’s always some other aspect that they want to cling to that the technology doesn’t cover. So our job is really about changing perspectives, not teaching which buttons to press.