Highlights from Blackboard’s L&T Conference 2014 – Dublin

My 3 days at this conference was a really worthwhile experience and below are some highlights I wanted to share and take forward in my own practice.

Keynote Address

The opening keynote was delivered by Professor Stephen Heppell – Chair of The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, a research and innovation centre based in the Media School at Bournemouth University. His talk focused on the value and power of the ‘now learning’… such as Twitter and YouTube and the sense of connectedness through technology and social media. His work researches how kids in different environments react to a range of learning and teaching approaches. His photographs demonstrate how spatial surroundings affect mood and attitude to learning by using colour, soft furniture, audio and a relaxed sense of order. His classrooms are more like chill-out pads than the usual traditional desks lined up in front of a blackboard.  The Kids would often be encouraged to direct the learning, take the classes and engage in peer feedback. This notion of peer directed learning brings about the need to involve students far more into curriculum development – which ideally needs to happen when courses are conceived or revalidated – something a bit more radical than inviting a few student reps along to agree a near preordained course program.

A number of workshops tackled staff digital literacy with using a range of frameworks to implement mandatory assessment and a suite of needs-based training – Regents University London being one. Other presentations focused on how course teams and learning technologists transformed the curricula to employ a blended approach to learning – reducing traditional lectures, using webcasts, reflective journals and peer reviews.

Peer Review with Turnitin’s PeerMark

There were 2 very interesting sessions about Turnitin’s PeerMark assignment tool presented by Jiska Bomans-Memelink and Klazine Verdonschot from Leiden University and Dr Ronel Callaghan from the University of Pretoria. PeerMark allows students to review their peers’ papers based on scale and free response questions selected by the instructor. In all cases, the practice was extremely successful and adds an extremely important element to student learning with regard to criticality and self-reflection.

PeerMark Process in BlackboardPeerMark process in Blackboard – practiced by Dr Ronel Callaghan

A Menu of Learning Approaches from SHU

Brian Irwin, Head of TEL and Ian Glover from Sheffield Hallam University presented an excellent workshop around teaching approaches to encourage deeper engagement with TEL. The university had two big institutional challenges around consistency and not fulfilling TEL potential. They TEL team wanted a way to encourage staff to go beyond the minimum and transform their teaching with the use of technology. They felt a fixed framework such as the minimum expectations would not work for teaching given the diverse needs of different modules and different teaching styles/personalities of academics. To meet this goal they set up a project as part of the UK’s Changing the Learning Landscape programme, which explored the creation of a ‘menu’ of teaching approaches, which reflected the ways academics at SHU were teaching their students. The menu works by helping academics identify the different ways they could teach their students. For each teaching approach there are examples of how technology can enhance those approaches using the range of tools available at the institution.

Cards to use for different learning approaches in workshopsCards used in workshops for different learning approaches

Their approach was to focus on the things Shu was doing from a grassroots direction involving academics. They pulled together a project steering group including SU and academics. The prompts were initially about teaching approaches (not focused on technology). They got over 100 staff attending the focus groups and they put together a menu (not framework) so choice is at the fore. Technology was thought about in a broader sense. The SU also ran their own workshops to identify needs. People participating at the workshops are encouraged to talk about their teaching approaches. Pedagogic language was not used to sell the concept, neither was technology – icebreakers were used to kick off sessions and relax everyone. The workshops last around an hour. The PVC was extremely supportive and encouraged people to attend the workshops. This has become so embedded that course validations are reflecting on their teaching approaches and employing the changing the learning landscapes program.

What’s New in Blackboard

In terms of Blackboard’s new products and improvements, the April 2014 release offers:

– Student preview
– Anonymous and multiple marking (parallel marking)
– Opportunity to reconcile grades
– Improved Safe Assign integration

Interestingly, Blackboard now has a new partnership with Tribal so they will be able to integrate more with marks, assignments, user and module data.

Tribal and Blackboard integrationTribal partners with Blackboard for a joined-up process

Another important aspect they are working on is simplification – making the look and navigation far easier and simple to use. The ability to drag and drop material into course areas will become available and the look will become much sleeker. They want to cut down on the clicks esp. in the grade centre. I have to admit that some of the proposed designs and features look fabulous – it remains to be seen if they actually materialise.

Blackboard's new look grade centre

A preview of Blackboard’s new Grade Centre

In terms of Blackboard’s cloud social space, students can now opt in by signing an agreement, they can also delete their profile and any content they have added to the cloud. For mobility, they are working on responsive design so lets see how well this pans out and complements the Bb mobile learn.

Responsive Design from Blackboard

A vision of Blackboard’s responsive design

Collaborate (video conferencing tool) is I the middle of changing the JAVA function so in future users don’t have the problem of ‘can’t install the latest plugin’ to make it work on institute machines that are locked down as far as upgrades and installs go.

Empower and Enhance with course templates and community modulesFinally, my own presentation Empower and Enhance with Blackboard Course Templates and Community Modules can been seen in Slideshare. It demonstrates how the learning technologists at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) use Blackboard’s tools to enhance staff/student learning

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One thought on “Highlights from Blackboard’s L&T Conference 2014 – Dublin

  1. Pingback: Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference 2014 | UCA Library & Student Services Staff Development Hub

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