Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference 2016: A Few Reflections

"Durham Cathedral" by dun_deagh. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA
Durham Cathedral” by dun_deagh. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

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:

  • Blended Learning;
  • Learner Analytics;
  • Course Design;
  • 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.

Further information on designing effective induction programmes for international students, can be found in the following Higher Education Academy publication.

#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: