On the 28th July 2016, Blackboard Accessibility Manager JoAnna Hunt led a webinar titled ‘Making Blackboard modules and content accessible for all’. This webinar was timely given the changes to the DSA allowance in the UK.
JoAnna highlighted how inclusive learning approaches benefit all students. However, it was acknowledged that there are challenges outlined in building an inclusive classroom. One of these that we are addressing at CCCU includes a ‘knowledge and skills gap’ for staff and ‘ongoing support for staff.’ These challenges are currently being addressed at CCCU through a working group which is looking at the implications of the changes in DSA funding for students and staff. Look out for staff development workshops around developing an inclusive curriculum and a new tab in Blackboard containing a link to an Inclusive Learning and Teaching Blackboard site.
The diverse needs of learners were outlined in this webinar including Cognitive challenges, Visual Challenges, Physical Challenges and Hearing challenges and the impact of these different challenges was on student learning was outlined. As JoAnna states:
‘There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Inclusiveness does not mean all students doing the same thing the same way. It means enabling everyone to achieve the same goals.’
There are things that can be done pedagogically to assist students using Blackboard (you may already be doing some of these)
Make the course outline available.
Define your learning outcomes.
Provide explicit instructions.
Include collaborative learning.
Use differentiated activities where appropriate in the curriculum.
In terms of content you put into Blackboard, the following checklist is useful:
Ensure images have alternative text – this means that visually impaired students using a screen reader know what the images are.
Limiting the use of animation to where it is critical to learning.
Ensure Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents are properly structured.
Ensure PDF documents are accessible.
Ensure colour choices have proper contrast (e.g. dark text on a light background).
Do not use tables for formatting as these are read differently by screen readers (i.e. only use tables for data).
The aim of this webinar was to help staff think through their pedagogy and understand how they can make adjustments.
On Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th August 2016, the Blackboard system was updated by colleagues within IT and the Learning Technology Team. The system was made available to all users ahead of schedule at 12pm on Wednesday 10th August.
Why did this happen?
The upgrade ensures the system remains current and it brings a few new features to the system and its suite of tools:
Users using Windows 10 and/or Microsoft Office 2016 may experience issues submitting work to Turnitin, if using one of the new fonts such as Arial Nova.
Statement from Turnitin:
The new fonts found in Windows 10 and the latest version of Microsoft Word are not currently being displayed properly within Turnitin. If a newer font type such as Arial Nova is used in a document, it will be converted to a different font for display within Turnitin, and may appear as a cursive-based font.
We are working to make changes to better display these new fonts in future versions of Turnitin. In the meantime, a work-around to this would be to change the font to a type commonly used in previous versions of Word (such as Arial) before submission to Turnitin.
Plickers is another free online voting tool that can be used to engage students. However, where it differs from many other online tools is that it combines an app that the instructor downloads (free of charge) with paper/cards that the students use. This means that students do not need any technology to take part so no student is disadvantaged if they do not have a smart phone/tablet. The student registers their vote using specially designed cards. The camera in the app ‘reads’ these votes which are fed back to the tutor and can be displayed on a computer screen in real time if you want the students to view them.
How to use Plickers
Instructors create a free account with Plickers and download the app which available via Apple or Android. N.B. Please ensure that you select ‘iphone only’ when searching via the Apple store even though the app will work on ipad
You can print out cards (free) or order them online. Each card has a unique number which you can choose to assign to students by name or the students can be anonymous. You can add classes and assign students cards through the Plickers website. New questions can be created in your ‘Library’ within the website and organised into folders. The questions can include images and are either multiple choice or true/false. The instructor uses the app to select the question to be answered and clicks on the camera icon to scan student’s responses. The cards are rotated by the students to select their answers.
Free and easy to use software Students do not need any technology as they do not download an app
Tutors can view a report of the questions and how they were answered
You can assign students to cards or use anonymous voting
Immediate results can be made visible to students via the Plickers web page
Limited to 63 users
Limited question types (MCQs, T/F)
Not integrated with powerpoint
Need wifi access
Need sufficient lighting to enable the camera to pick up images
Audience response systems can be used to increase student engagement. As a lecturer you are able to adapt content in response to student answers. It could be used to stimulate debate and discussion and it can be used to help students interact throughout the lecture and enhance learner motivation.
An update to the Blackboard system is scheduled to take place from 6am on Tuesday 9th August 2016 and will involve a maximum of 48 hours downtime. During this time there will be no access to Blackboard courses or to its integrated tools (i.e. Turnitin).
Why is this happening?
Primarily the update is to ensure the system remains current and can continue to be supported, however any new features will be posted in the coming months.
When is this happening?
The update process is scheduled to take place from 6am on Tuesday 9th August to 6am on Thursday 11 August 2016.
What do I need to do?
At this point in time please make a note of this date in your diary and for those colleagues who have assessment deadlines or feedback due on these dates, please adjust these accordingly.
Further information will be posted in the coming months.
Each year Durham University hosts a Blackboard Users’ conference, organised by the user community, for the user community. This year was the 16th annual conference that took place on 7th & 8th January 2016. This year’s theme was “Learning from Failure” which focused on areas such as:
Lecture Capture and many more!
The conference regularly attracts over 140 delegates from Further Education and Higher Education institutions, ranging from: learning technologists, system administrators, librarians and academics. Luke Dunmall and I attended the conference on behalf of the Learning Technology Team.
Rather than reporting on each of the sessions attended, I am going to offer some of my reflections on those sessions that resonated with me.
#1: Designing pre-induction materials
Steve Dawes, from Regent’s University London, ran a short 25 minute session called “Designing a Pre-Induction Course: Mistakes, Issues and Successes”. In his session, Steve discussed the institutional drivers for the development of an online induction course and the need to provide specialist pre-arrival information for large intakes of international students. A key focus of the project was to develop a student-centric platform that could be easily accessed before the students received their computing accounts.
After reviewing the available options, it was decided that Blackboard would be utilised for both the creation and delivery of the pre-induction course. By using the University’s Blackboard virtual learning environment, this allowed students to become familiar with both the system and course layout before commencing their studies, due to the pre-induction course being based on the University’s standard course template design. The use of Blackboard, also provided opportunities to include interactive elements, which may not have been possible if another platform had been used.
The learning design for the induction course consisted of a simplified, sectional design which guided the prospective students through the relevant parts of the course. Plain English and brevity were also used throughout, to avoid information overload. The course also made use of some html elements, to allow the display of navigational tabs and interactive elements such as quizzes, to provide an interactive checklist for the students with contextualised prompts/feedback. Links to the University’s various social media channels were also included within the course to encourage interaction.
Since introducing the pre-induction course, the University have seen a reduction in the number of enrolment-related questions being referred to the student support teams. In addition, it is estimated that each applicant accessed the pre-induction course at least 3.6 times. Future improvements/considerations to include: accessibility on mobile devices, face-to-face web conferencing sessions and improved multimedia content.
#2: An approach to transferring grades from Blackboard to the student record system
Jim Emery, from Glasgow Caledonian University, delivered a 55 minute session called “Marks Integration and the Digital University: Our Experience of Using Blackboard’s Grade Journey”. In his session, Jim provided an overview of the administrative burden faced by many universities regarding the transfer of grades from virtual learning environments (VLE) such as Blackboard to student information systems (SIS). Although a large proportion of grades are captured electronically, these often have to be manually inputted by academic or professional services staff into the student information system to meet university regulations. In order to improve staff/student satisfaction and to become a ‘more digital’ university, a project was undertaken by Glasgow Caledonian University to explore the use of Blackboard’s ‘Grades Journey’ tool, to automate the process of grade transfer between the VLE and SIS.
The tool works by exporting the assignment details of each module held in the SIS and passes this through to Blackboard. Once the relevant assessments have taken place in the VLE e.g. completion of a Turnitin Assignment, Computer Aided Assessment (online tests) the grades can be transferred at a click of a button from the Blackboard Grade Centre to the SIS. Therefore, avoiding the need for hours of manual input.
Although this tool is not currently available at CCCU, the session provided an informative overview of the tool (including some of the technical challenges experienced) and demonstrated how the capabilities of the University VLE, Blackboard, can be expanded/improved to better meet the needs of staff and students.
#3: Introducing OneNote to students
Alaric Pritchard & Elaine Tan, from Durham University, delivered a 25 minute session called “OneNote: The Gold Mine we treat like a coal mine”. In their session, Alaric and Elaine described an approach taken by Durham University to encourage students to take more effective notes i.e. notes which are accessible, searchable and shareable. Whilst at the same time developing the skills and abilities of their students, in key areas such as; organisation, comprehension, and time management skills. Their approach, introduce students to a tool that most students already have access to, but have probably never heard of – OneNote.
OneNote is a tool available as part of the Office 365 suite (currently licenced by the University) or is available for free with a Microsoft account and works on any device. It is a digital note-taking application, which provides an easy way to store notes, photos, audio recordings, web clippings and much more in a searchable digital repository. Notes can be organised within notebooks and by using tabs, pages and tags. With notes being stored in the ‘cloud’, these can be accessed on any device, wherever the student is. Notes can also be easily shared with others, allowing easy collaboration. By using an industry standard tool such as OneNote, this can help to improve student’s employability through the development of transferable skills.
One of the main things that stood out to me both during the session and also in my follow up research into OneNote, was the simplicity of the tool due to it using a similar layout and design of other Microsoft Office applications such as Word and PowerPoint. Therefore, avoiding the need for students to learn a completely new tool, with much of their existing knowledge being transferable to OneNote.
For more information about OneNote, check out the following web resources:
Rather than report verbatim on the 33 sessions that I had attended, what I would like to do is to offer some of my reflections on some of those sessions that resonated with me.
#1: A new model to describe e-portfolios
In John Couperthwaite’s session, “Nailing jelly to the wall: defining and describing eportfolio”, he discusses the thorny issue that surrounds the “conversational confusion about e-portfolios”, much of it stems from how an e-portfolio is perceived. Strivens (2015) suggests that there are three types of e-portfolio:
Type A (Represent One’s Self)
Type B (Presentation of Evidence), and
Type C (Demonstrate Achievement)
This largely draws upon the early work of Barrett (2004). John’s colleague, Shane Sutherland of PebblePad, offers a different solution, the “e-Portfolio Format Model”, which “suggests that an e-portfolio is the product of the interplay between the audience, the message being conveyed, and the content it presents” (Sutherland, 2015). In this model, the e-portfolio can be conceived as either “Me-Portfolios” or “Task-Portfolios”, of which there are a number of related purposes:
Me-Portfolios (tends to focus on the author)
Task-Portfolios (tends to focus on an activity)
Whilst this might be a useful step in helping people to conceptualise what an e-portfolio is, there is still, I think, a lot of work need to be done in demonstrating the “value” of an e-portfolio.
#2: An approach to developing digital capabilities for staff
The team used a “Trojan horse” approach to staff digital literacy by embedding it within a 2.5 hour Curriculum Design workshop in a bid to change academics belief systems around the value of learning technology. Adopting an appreciative enquiry approach and using the JISC ViewPoints cards developed by the University of Ulster, the team got the academic staff to think about their curriculum; how it fitted within institutional agendas; look at issues identified by the academic team; involve cross-functional teams (Learning Technologists and Librarians); look at how technology could be meaningfully incorporated within their redesign; and identify support for it.
This is a very interesting and powerful way to develop staff digital literacy skills through the intervention of a curriculum design workshop. As was noted by the presenters, a 2.5 hour workshop is not sufficient. Somewhere down the line, institutions need to create some valuable space and time so that academic staff are able to engage with far-reaching agendas in a friendly, but critical, environment.
#3: The Student Dashboard
Ann Liggett and Ed Foster, from Nottingham Trent University, ran a short 15 minute presentation called “The Student Dashboard: An Innovative Collaboration in Learning Analytics” (a variation of their presentation can be found here). Their presentation related to a pilot project, involving 500 students and over 40 tutors, whereby the institution wanted to use an assortment of student support systems more effectively to support the student journey. This ‘dashboard’ provided views for both students and staff and drew data from a variety of sources such as:
Student biographical information (e.g. enrolment status)
Evidence of student engagement, which include:
door swipes (where appropriate)
Library book loans
Future enhancements to the ‘dashboard’ will feature student attendance and e-resource usage. Furthermore, the ‘dashboard’ provides a mechanism that compares individual student profiles with that of their cohort and generates a simple ranking, from high to low. This has, apparently, prompted 27% (135) of the students to become more engaged with their studies.
In addition, tutor alerts are automatically generated for attention of personal tutors, if a student has no engagement at all for a fortnight or fails an assignment. However, the presenters were not entirely sure if the tutors were using the ‘dashboard’ in a consistent way. Unsurprisingly, it was noted that there were ethical issues that needed to be addressed in dealing with such ‘big data’.
Learning Analytics, as it is called, has been quite prevalent in the US for some time and is beginning to make inroads into the HE sector from the likes of JISC and the HEA. Potentially, this can give tutors an almost 360o perspective of their students, drawing upon a vast array of data that could help tutors to better support their students, thus helping towards dealing with student retention and attrition.
Strivens, J. (2015). “A Typology of ePortfolios”. RAPPORT: The International Journal for Recording Achievement, Planning and Portfolios, 1(1), pp. 3-5. Available at: http://joom.ag/I58p [Accessed 22.9.2015].
Sutherland, S. (2015). “Reflections of the Typology”. RAPPORT: The International Journal for Recording Achievement, Planning and Portfolios, 1(1), pp. 6-10. Available at: http://joom.ag/I58p [Accessed 22.9.2015].