The 18th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference
As always, this conference is predominantly about learning technologies and how they are used in Blackboard. Hosted annually by the University of Durham there were around 100 attendees from across the sector – academics and learning technologists enhancing learning and teaching with the use of technology.
Staff Development and Digital Competency
The opening keynote by Sharon Flynn from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in Galway focused on staff development and digital competency. The TEL team Interestingly sits in Teaching and Learning and includes learning technologists, academic developers and audio visual developers. She has tailored a National Framework for professional development and was instrumental in helping to form All Aboard Digital Skills in Higher Education, a national project that aims to empower learners, teachers, and anyone who uses technology to support their work/study, or other aspects of living in a digital age.
Sharon’s TEL team also have their own helpdesk system supported by a Resources Website where all help material is held. The Helpdesk allows the team to identify and track patterns and common queries. An Overview is produced on a monthly basis.
Typically, attendance at workshops are low but the prep material is useful to add to resources. A popular and well attended Blackboard festival is held at the end of August normally lasting 4 or 5 days. University of Kent also host a Blackboard festival each year where staff showcase best practice. Badges are used to encourage enthusiasm and recognition within digital literacy and managed through the Blackboard’s achievements, a feature we have yet to employ at UCA.
Real-time Video Conferencing with Collaborate Ultra
I attended this session given by the University of Northampton as I was keen to see what the tool could offer – as UCA has no classroom video conferencing or recording tools. Northampton use it mainly for seminars, group and one2one tutorials, research proposal workshops, interviews, guest speakers and PG twilight classes (1 hour session) which include a planned activity. Their PhD project community use collaborate to connect with fellow students globally. The conferencing tool opens directly in the browser, so no need to install any software to join a session. The only downside mentioned was rural areas with a weak internet connection which meant the session would drop out.
Personally, I am still unconvinced we need such a tool at UCA – UNLESS we expand into more online teaching and international partnerships with other institutions, then it would be a sound investment.
Online IT Induction for Pre-Arrival Students
Lina Petrakieva & David McArthur from Glasgow Caledonian University presented their work stemming from a 3 year research project around student induction. They designed and built a pre-arrival student induction which aims to help students become familiar with their login, university email and virtual learning environment (Blackboard). Working alongside Registry and IT, they used a number of techniques to take students to a bespoke learning object (built in Adobe Captivate) where students were asked to complete a number of tasks in order to obtain their university email.
Over 50% of students completed the induction which is significant compared to the 37 views we had with our own UCA IT Induction (hosted on YouTube). Glasgow now plan to make a part 2 induction which covers more aspects of digital literacy. This is definitely a model to learn from, GCU have sent me a copy of this induction, so watch this space.
EMA – Electronic Management of Assessment
A number of presentations covered this topic and it was interesting to see how different institutions approach this feat according to their assessment practice, tools and strategic vision. Both Reading and Aberdeen gave papers on how EMA brought consistency to the process that fostered pedagogical benefits, improved and supported assessment experience for staff and afforded significant reductions in administrative work. The use of Safe Assign was used at Aberdeen whereas Reading used Turnitin with both using the Grade Centre to distribute Marks – something UCA does not currently do. Andrew Yule from Aberdeen gave a compelling argument for Safe Assign in that letter grading could be employed (unlike Turnitin) and assignment Due Dates and Marks where flagged up in Blackboard’s mobile app – whereas Turnitin’s Due Dates are not – a bone of contention indeed!
Blackboard Managed Hosting – One Year On
Chris Boon from City College Norwich shared his experience of managed hosting. The advantages (fast, robust, up-to-date, headache free, responsive, better user experience) far outweigh the disadvantages. These disadvantage being loss of direct database access – which in most cases, forces best practice but can prevent customisations from working.
What UCA can learn from this – as we are due to move to managed hosting this summer – is to avoid the Webservices API used for SIS middleware, and use REST APIs instead.