Online Assessment – a marriage between Registry and Faculty


Durham Blackboard User Conference on Assessment and Feedback provided an opportunity to disseminate the work I and fellow Learning Technologist Tony Reeves have done to move the University for the Creative Arts towards a fully online assessment process. My conference paper ‘Online Assessment – a marriage between Registry and Faculty’ unpacks why UCA took the decision to give Registry responsibility for setting up all online submissions and assessment forms via Turnitin, and myself and Tony acted as broker to facilitate such a marriage.

what students say about assessment feedback

The mantra for such change in practice embodied parity for student learning and experience across all courses in the use of Turnitin, leaving administration and process to Registry – sparing Faculty the pain.

Grades journey via Turnitin

View the presentation:Online Assessment – a marriage between Registry and Faculty



Sector spotlight on the Blackboard Mobile Apps – Bb Student and Mobile Learn

The Durham Blackboard User Conference 2017 was themed around Assessment and Feedback. However for me, discussions about the student mobile experience stole the limelight.

Mobile Learn screens (left) Bb Student screen (right)

Mobile User Symposium

The pre conference workshop manifested into a mobile user group symposium of which was the conference highlight. This group was made up of 35 delegates from over 30 HEIs and each voiced how their institution was delivering a mobile experience to their students. Unsurprisingly not one institution had a mobile strategy in place and this was understandable considering the pace technology moves.

Mobile Symposium – user stories revealed

What did come to light from each delegate were Blackboard’s two different mobile apps and how this is causing some confusion in deciding which to employ and promote to students. Mobile Learn (pictured above on the left) is the older of the two and displays much of what Blackboard Learn (desktop) delivers whereas Bb Student (pictured right) delivers only a fraction of the contact and is mainly geared around working with Blackboard’s own core tools, such as Marks, Due Dates, Announcements, Grade Centre and course content. Bb Student does not display module pages*, Turnitin assignments or Campus Pack objects (blogs, journals, eportfolios and wikis). Therefore, UCA would not be deploying the Blackboard Bb Student app (although visually more attractive) at this stage. Blackboard would need to build in more integration for third party tools to consider adoption. The notion of putting all eggs in one basket (using all of Blackboard’s tools) builds a model reliant on one provider and this would alienate many of our current users who value a range of technologies and providers – many of which are cloud-based and use open source.

Mobile Symposium – minutes

* UCA are currently heavily dependant on module pages to host library content including subject specific resources

Conference workshop tackling first year student engagement with learning technologies and the VLE

Delivered at The 16th Durham Blackboard User’s Conference – Jan 2016 themed ‘Learning from Failure’

I devised this workshop to sound out TEL folk across the sector on what they might want for their 1st year student experience and explore ways in which institutions prepare learners for study. This is based on the fact that it is a misconception that learners arrive at university with the ability to discern and select ‘appropriate’ learning tools.

Content given before group task

Split into three groups, 18 hardy colleagues from UK HEIs contributed by participating in the following tasks:

Task 1 – The Learner’s PLE 
Design a PLE (personal learning environment) that enhances a new student’s learning experience at university. The group may elect a specific subject area the student has chosen to study.

Task 2 – TEL Manifesto
Draft up an institutional TEL Manifesto intended for new students that enhances learning and enriches their online user experience.

The workshop was a mix of lively discussion and resolve. Groups had 20 minutes to work on both tasks and a further 5 minutes to share their findings. Overall outcomes demonstrated that educators need to be more proactive and prescriptive in advising learners what tools/apps they should use to enhance learning. Along with a learners’ preference of tools, alternatively known as their personal learning environment (PLE), the workshop explored what principals and guidance institutions give to new students to enhance learning and enrich their online user experience. Workshop participants worked in groups to tackle both these questions; outcomes can be viewed on the Padlet links below.

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Group 1 workshop outcomes

Group 2 workshop outcomes

Group 3 workshop outcomes


Padlet was used during the workshop so groups were able to disseminate their findings collectively on group board – this tool proved to be more effective in working collaboratively to gather ideas and place all associated workshop detail in one place.

To prep or not to prep: supporting newcomers to online learning

Studying an Open University module by nature is situated within a group of learners and tutors, this naturally evolves into learning community.

The success of such a community is dependant on the group dynamics such as how the forum activities lend themselves to discourse, how the tutor draws out discussion and the ability and confidence learners have to engage with such discourse.

Personally, the benefits if learning within a community is sharing knowledge/experience with fellow learners and making sense of course material, literature and new concepts from shared perspectives. Learning alone would cancel out the shared understanding and reduce the richness of my learning journey significantly. There is also the peer-supporting element of the community, getting help and advice from co-learners helps to build a stronger sense of community and this bonds learner more closely.

The Ludwig-Hardman and Dunlap 2003 model is far too supportive of learners and does not provide the authentic learning environment learners really experience when arriving in a new environment and discovering new forms of communication. I would also argue taking learners along such a supportive route is stifling their own pursuit of experiential learning, as McLoughlin states ‘To foster effective learning, it is important to make sure that the learners are not just exposed to inert facts and information, but they are afforded an experience that enables them to plan, act and reflect’ (2002pp.157). Doing this within the course environment and at point of need then becomes meaningful and relevant. Salmon also supports this view by stating ‘offering face-to-face sessions to try and instruct new participants in all the features of the platform and then to expect them to be able to take part successfully is not a good idea’ (Salmon 2002 pp. 14).

Having the resources to help students at point of need is a matter the course team should build in (or link to) by default at the start of each online course. The course tutor should ensure such resources are used by students who are less confident, while at the same time allowing the more confident learners to help with this support. Thus, such a model helps to support the notion of community and learning happens in a far more evolving manner.


Ludwig-hardman, S., & Dunlap, J. (2003). Learner Support Services for Online Students: Scaffolding for success. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, vol. 4, issue 1. Retrieved from

McLoughlin, C. (2002) ‘Learner support in distance and networked learning environments: ten dimensions for successful design’, Distance Education, vol.23, no.2, pp.149–62.

Salmon, G. (2002) E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, London, RoutledgeFalmer.

Typesetting, Typeface and Dyslexia

Typesetting is an old word now, but I’m trying to describe a mix of uppercase/lowercase alpha characters alongside numerals, so for now I will refer to typesetting because that’s what we do when we apply these to a page.

I’m one of those people that struggle with block text presented in uppercase, in fact I also struggle with combination of uppercase letters and numbers such as RFPR2201 – there’s just nothing memorable about it for me. Besides not being able to remember such arrangements, they are hard to read smoothly, coming across as tongue twisters – try saying RFPR2201 quickly. Does this make me dyslexic I wonder? If we consider changing the pattern of this code, which version do you find more memorable? I’ve place them in an order I find most memorable and less difficult to say…

  1. rFPr2201
  2. RFpr2201
  3. rfPR2201
  4. rfpr2201
  5. rFPR2201
  6. Rfpr2201
  7. RfpR2201
  8. RFPR2201

Again, ordering by ease and memorability, the connections I make are denoted by a hyphen acting as a pause:

  1. r-FP-r-2201
  2. RF-pr-2201
  3. rf-PR-2201
  4. rfpr-2201
  5. r-FPR-2201
  6. R-fpr-2201
  7. R-fp-R-2201
  8. RFPR-2201

Typeface also plays a strong role in setting triggers in memory and legibility. I came across Christian Boer’s Dyslexie typeface, which is especially designed for people with dyslexia. Research by the University of Twente in Holland showed that people with dyslexia made fewer mistakes reading with the typeface Dyslexie compared to standard fonts. Dyslexie has distinct differences between each character such as placing emphasis on certain parts of the letter which makes it easier to recognize against similar letterforms.