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].
Voting tools, ‘clickers’ or audience response systems are all terms for the combination of software and hardware which enable students or audiences to click a button on a device and have their votes display rapidly and dynamically on a screen.
There are many audience response solutions available, ranging from comprehensive systems with dedicated credit-card like controls, to elegant online software which partners well with ubiquitous mobile technology such as phones, tablets or laptops.
One such online tool is called Mentimeter. It is easy to use and very quick to display results in real time. In common with most online tools, Mentimeter has both a free and paid-for versions. Free versions often have restrictions which limit their usefulness, but Mentimeter’s free version does not have a limit on the number of students who can participate and includes the two most popular question types for voting – multiple choice and those which call for a free text, or ‘tweeted’ answer.
How to use Mentimeter
Instructors can create a free account with Mentimeter and prepare as many questions as they wish before a lecture or teaching session. During the lecture, students participate by visiting a web page on their phone and entering the number displayed on the screen to begin voting. A distinct advantage of Mentimeter is that students do not have to create their own account or download an app. To vote, they just need to enter new question numbers displayed on-screen in front of them. All votes are anonymous.
Using voting tools for teaching and learning
You can use Mentimeter (or a similar voting tool) to add some interactivity to a lecture or to take a quick ‘pulse’ to gauge understanding at the start or the end of a session. Voting tools are invaluable for the Flipped Classroom model in which students undertake some learning before the in-class time. When students come to the contact session, a voting tool can be used to see how well they have understood what they have learned. A multiple choice question can be set and if the majority of responses are correct, students can partner up and try and convince the other that they are right!
Questions which require a free text answer are great for prompting discussions. Students can ‘tweet’ sentences which appear on-screen in front of the group. With Mentimeter, you can highlight one of the contributions by bringing it to the centre of the display where it is automatically highlighted.
You can keep a Mentimeter voting session open for a space of time and you can embed the live results on your Blackboard. When students vote, they can refresh the page and see how their choice has altered the results. Note that the embedded version doesn’t display on Apple iOS devices, so just include a link to the live voting page so students can view it just by a single click.
Help and advice
Hydra is an immersive simulation system, supported by the Hydra Foundation, that provides a unique, high-fidelity learning environment that enables the monitoring of real-time leadership and decision making in critical incidents (e.g., terrorist attacks, murders, abductions). The system has now been extended to other areas such as education, health, social services (e.g. child protection enquiries) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (e.g. hostage recovery) in the humanitarian world.
In each simulation, participants are split into teams. Each team operates within a separate ‘pod’ which functions as a “microworld”, so that it is as close to reality as possible; they are monitored via CCTV and boundary microphones. A team of staff will run the simulation via a central control room and will observe the behaviours and requests of each team interacting with the simulation.
How did CCCU become involved in using Hydra?
The university placed a bid to work closely with the Hydra Foundation so that we could offer students who were planning to go on an work in policing a unique opportunity to experience first-hand an authentic simulated experience of being part of a critical incidence unit. What you need to bear in mind, our students are not police officers, so a certain amount of transitioning is needed.
There are a couple of firsts for the University. We are the first university to be using the new web-based Hydra in the Cloud system that can operate on tablets, laptops, and desk computers with no addition software installed.
We are also the first Higher Education Institution (HEI) to use Hydra within our undergraduate programme offering.
How is Hydra being used by the School?
As this was our first year with the system, we piloted Hydra on a Level 6 module called Terrorism and Political Violence.
What is involved in setting up Hydra?
There was quite a bit of time needed to get Hydra up-and-running and supported, so I am indebted to Shireen Dorosti (of IT) for supporting helping me with the installation and project management aspects of the role.
But to develop a “scenario” within Hydra can take up to 6 months from idea, to research, developing a narrative, ensuring that it constructively aligned to the module’s learning outcomes and for the creation of a range of materials and resources.
In addition, staff that were using and supporting the Hydra system had to go on a two day training course to be certified to manage and support Hydra.
How has Hydra facilitated with your teaching?
You don’t develop Hydra around your course. It is a tool that enables you to demonstrate, as realistically as possible, the processes involved and the decision made by a team during a critical incident.
On a personal level, it was very satisfying to see how much the students enjoyed the experience and the invaluable insights that they gained from that. It has also sharpened their critical thinking skills. In fact, one of the unintended outcomes of this process is to see how transferable this experience has been to students in other modules in terms of attendance, criticality and engagement.
How have the students responded to the use of Hydra?
Because the Hydra experience was so full-on, the attendance by students on these events was very high. They developed stronger models of thinking and for some students, the experience helped to build their confidence – so it was not all about academic attainment.
The students got to learn, very quickly, that they had to think about different outcomes for certain incidents based on the information that was being presented to them by a number of external actors within the scenario. This had led to a number of students to develop mind maps to help them organise and synthesise different types of information and outcomes.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Looking back, I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently. There was a lot of uncertainty in pulling this project off, but I learnt so much along the way. The project incorporated the co-operation of around 60 people in total and I believe we worked well as a team together to make the project a success.
We are planning to introduce Hydra into a Forensic Investigation module called Crime Scene Management in 2015/16, Law and Criminal Investigation modules in 2017/18.
I am also planning to evaluate and publish our findings and experiences into academic journals and conferences as I think we have a really good story to tell.
The School of Law, Criminal Justice and Computing are looking to make us a Centre of Excellence on the use of Hydra.
I have been working very closely with the Information Technology (IT) department to get this system up-and-running and indeed colleagues in the Computing, Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity department over the summer they will be to refurbishing and refreshing the rooms in the Invicta building to enable us to do a lot more with our students.
There are also plans a view for the future to have a booking system so that people can book out Hydra for learning and teaching events.
So there will be a lot going on in terms of promoting, embedding and expanding Hydra within the University and beyond.
My thanks to both Elaine and Shireen for giving up their time to discuss this very fascinating and important project.
A webinar is a live meeting that takes place over the web. It can consist of presentation, discussion, demonstration, or instructional session. Participants can view documents and applications via their computers, while shared audio allows for presentation and discussion.
Webinars can be an efficient way to transmit and share information. There is no transportation involved – so webinars can save time and money.
Using webinars for learning and teaching
JISC Digital Media offers some very sound advice on conducting a webinar, and suggest that webinars can be used for learning and teaching in the following ways (JISC, 2015):
Enhancement of limited teaching time by offering provision to a wider and more dispersed audience;
A flexible feature set that incorporates mixed media such as images, video, web and audio for use in presentation, discussion or support;
Supports remote teaching sessions;
Improves access to support for staff, students or your learning community via face-to-face settings (e.g. ‘drop-in’ or scheduled appointments);
Facilitates individual or group activity.
John tried out two forms of webinar, one that was hosted and organised by an external partner, and the other one was hosted and organised by John.
The external partner brought a wealth of experience in terms of the technology and their contacts and was able to edit and piece together the webinar to make a coherent narrative. As John notes, it “takes both time and technical training which most educators simply don’t have, to make the videos look somewhat professional” (Fitzgibbon, 2015). However, there is the potential drawback that your pedagogical goals for the class may not necessarily align with those of the external partner, which may lead to a lack of class interaction and control on the teacher’s part.
In the webinar organised and hosted by John, he used a combination of conference cam and Skype to deliver his session – the class were able to hear and see the main speaker with clarity. In this way, John was in total control of the topic of discussion and students had an opportunity to speak and ask questions of the webinar speaker, thus giving students access to experts in particular fields of scholarship and inquiry and ask questions on deeply complex contemporary issues.
Whilst John had used an external partner and Skype to run his webinar sessions, the University has software called Blackboard Collaborate which could be used to run webinars.
You can use Blackboard Collaborate, a tool integrated into Blackboard, to easily create your own webinars. If you would like to know more, contact your Faculty Learning Technologist and arrange for a chat.
This is the seventh (and final) in a short series of posts on the work undertaken by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on flexible learning.
This final report (Barnett, 2014) is the culmination of four earlier reports, under the aegis of ‘Flexible Pedagogies’, which have considered flexible learning from a range of perspectives. It draws upon and brings together those many threads that have been offered in the previous complementary reports. The report references the HEA‘s overarching research question:
Why and to what extent might flexible pedagogies be promoted, and in what ways?
Professor Ron Barnett, the report’s author, offers a nuanced critical analysis of what flexibility may – and may not – mean, and the conditions under which a greater measure of flexibility is likely to flourish within, and benefit, the United Kingdom (UK) Higher Education (HE) system.
The notion of flexibility in higher education is not new. Barnett (2014) recounts that in 1858, the University of London offered degrees to any (male) student regardless of where they were in the world. Barnett also notes that flexibility, within the literature, has been theme for inquiry and investigation for more than 20 years, yet it has become something of an “empty concept”, arguing:
Flexibility being such a fluid and indeed inchoate and elusive concept, with rather loose attachments to specific settings, it can be – and is – called up to meet many if not all of the alleged shortcomings in and challenges facing higher education. (ibid., 2014:32)
If there is too little flexibility then the systems that are in place are unable to be responsive. On the other hand, too much flexibility could run the risk of lowering standards.
Conditions of Flexibility
Barnett (2014) proposes a set of yardsticks that he calls conditions of flexibility by which institutions are able evaluate their flexible provision:
lead to a qualification that contributes to major awards (such as degrees or their equivalent);
offer all students access to suitable materials and appropriate cognitive and practical experiences;
offer academic interaction with other students;
offer access to tutors, in real-time interaction;
offer prompt and informative (formative) feedback from tutors;
offer access to other academic services (such as counselling, academic and careers advice);
offer financial services (appropriate to the cost to students in financing their studies);
enable students to offer feedback on their total experience;
provide a pedagogical openness;
be academically and educationally structured;
offer ladder(s) of progression;
be suitably robust and reliable (with built-in safeguards appropriate to the risk);
have sufficient structure so as to enable student completion to be a likely outcome; and
contain sufficient challenge that students are likely to be cognitively and experientially stretched and to be informed by a spirit of criticality appropriate to each stage of a programme of studies (so as fully to realise the promise of a higher education).
In his concluding remarks, Barnett (2014) is cognizant that “not every instance of ‘flexible provision’ will meet all of these 15 conditions of flexibility” (p.68) and suggests that institutions should construct a flexibility analysis and evaluation as a means to check the “educational soundness” of the flexible provision project. He calls for a “steady gaze” upon the “conditions” to act as a catalyst towards new thinking, new practices and new approaches in response to an uncertain and complex world.
This is the sixth in a short series of posts on the work undertaken by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on flexible learning.
The report on technology-enhanced learning (TEL) (Gordon, 2014) is the fourth (and final) in a short series of complementary reports from the HEA that go under the banner of “flexible pedagogies”. The report is guided by the HEA’s overarching research question:
Why and to what extent might flexible pedagogies be promoted, and in what ways?
The report considers the role of information and communications technology (ICT) and information technology (IT) through the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning that supports pace (e.g. accelerated and decelerated degrees), place (e.g. work-based learning and employer engagement), and mode of learning (e.g. blended learning).
Whilst the report is suggestive of the opportunities that technology could bring to flexible provision, it was also mindful that it could generate new dilemmas for institutions, with fresh issues around collaborative learning, plagiarism and the resource implications of allowing such choices.
Levels of Flexibility
Complementing the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning, the report (Gordon, 2014) suggests three “levels of flexibility” which are a mix of philosophical and practical perspectives. These are articulated in the following way:
ontological – the flexibility of the students themselves, such as how flexible they are to deal with different learning approaches as well as the wider context around them that affect their studies and their future development;
pedagogical – theories and delivery of learning in terms of the flexibility of the teaching, its approaches and modes; and
systems – how institutional structures and processes allow for flexibility in teaching (pedagogy) and learning (ontology).
Similarly these “levels” can be viewed as both opportunities and challenges to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) who want to adopt a flexible TEL approach.
Examples of TEL
The report offers a number of examples of how learning technologies are enabling learning, teaching and assessment. These include:
team projects, group work and peer assessment;
balancing and utilising formative and summative assessments when using computer aided assessment;
adopting e-submission and providing informative and timely e-feedback; and
applying new approaches to engage and motivate students.
However, as noted in the HEA Flexible Learning Pathfinders project, whilst learning technologies can be an enabler for greater flexibility in learning; there are other ways in which flexibility could be introduced that was not necessarily dependent on a technological solution (Outram 2011).
The report describes a range of approaches to learning that are significantly dependent on technology. These include:
personalised learning – tailoring the learning experience to an individual student’s needs and desires;
support for synchronous and asynchronous activities – the former representing activities done in real time with immediate interaction (e.g. webinar), the latter those done over a period of time (e.g. discussion board);
flexible learning – similar to personalised but with a greater focus on how the material adapts to an individual’s progress, and may include adaptive/flexi-level testing;
gamification – the use of game techniques (especially game mechanics) to encourage and motivate activities can be especially relevant to learning;
online learning – the use of Internet-based TEL to deliver content that supports anytime, anywhere, anyplace characteristics; and
blended learning – a mix of physical/real-world interaction complemented by virtual/digital-world interaction.
The report acknowledges that whilst the above list is not exhaustive, it does indicate those areas that can provide scalable and pragmatic solutions. By way of a conclusion, the report recognises that the fundamental learning and teaching activities are “not altered”; that is accessing concepts and ideas, assimilating these through practice and ultimately demonstrating mastery. What technology offers, the report’s author notes, is scalability, flexibility and new ways of learning.
Outram, S. (2011). Final Evaluation of the HEFCE-funded Flexible Learning Pathfinder Projects. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/3527 [Accessed 17.3.2015].