Learning from Failure…

The 16th Durham Blackboard User’s Conference 2016

This conference was slightly different in that normally one would expect to share and disseminate success across the HE Sector, not reveal things that went wrong and messed up. But unpacking the concept, isn’t it always the journey that’s the most interesting aspect to a successful project… the things that were tried and failed for one reason or another.

Keynote by Eric Stoller

The Keynote ‘Why Educators Can’t Live Without Social Media’ by Eric Stoller highlighted the importance and power of tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn in that every person should have a profile. He also centred around what tools learners are using and how ‘tool selection’ is pivotal to learner success. This theme related to my own session, a workshop focusing around what advice educators should provide to learners when building their own personal learning environments (PLEs); and what guidance institutions should give to learners about using the VLE and associated technologies in the light of 81% of students use mobile devises to study.

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Interestingly, but not surprisingly Stoller spoke about how email matters – a great relief to institutions that completely depend on email for all core communications and day-to-day business. He spoke about the popularity of Snapchat and yik yak and how trends are moving towards anonymity and not exposing true identities. These tools, predominately used by Millennials foster new attitudes and social behaviour with peers.


This indeed introduces a form of semantic language whereby signifiers, like words, hashtags, signs, symbols and app functionality allow powerful and sophisticated ways of communicate. Along with anonymity comes the need to understand the implications of such tools. We have witnessed shame and disgrace on certain individuals that have openly voiced offensive opinions on social media. Employability and online profiles go hand in hand and educators need to make learners aware that the internet deletes nothing. Once a FB post or tweet is made there’s no going back. Undeniably learners need to be prepared for the potential onslaught social media can bring. Interestingly Stoller terms soft skills as human skills and advocates that digital skills need to be built into learners life skills.


But often, learners arrive at university unprepared for the world of social media and it’s greater implications to web ethics and online privacy. Institutions need to grapple with this problem and educate learners to protect their online reputation and create awareness around the misgivings careless and spontaneous actions on social media can cause.

Conference Sessions

Pre-Induction Course: Regents University London – Student Induction is always a nightmare and trying the pack everything into the induction week has proved ineffective and draining. Students are too preoccupied with settling in and forming peer groups, so preaching protocols, structures and processes is rather like pouring water through a sieve, the information will not hit the intended mark. That is one reason why I was interested to hear how Regent’s University London had tackled the problem. Steve Dawes presented a neat solution whereby the TEL team designed a Pre-Induction Course inside Blackboard for students to work through before they arrive at university. As the presentation demonstrated, this method proved highly successful, as the learners were far keener to explore the course area to gain insight to what they might find and expect at university.

Regents University London pre-induction course

Developing Presentation Skills: Durham University – Students were filmed during a 2 minute recording which was then uploaded to the VLE and used for peer review via adaptive release. Uploading the video clips was somewhat labour intensive but the exercise proved successful. Methods of giving peer feedback in this instance could be varied to suit the discipline. One method might be to use a blog post to embed the video and invite peers to comment, this could just as easily work in a locked down wiki page or Padlet which only the peer reviewers have the link.


Single input of grades from VLE to SIS: Glasgow Caledonian University – This is something all universities dream about and a true acclaim to being digital. Presented by Jim Emery, he revisits the term ‘Think Different’ with the laborious business of marks entered manually into the students records system, and the implications to data accuracy, pressure of time, system instability and staff stress. Piloting a new integration process that extracts Blackboard grades directly into SIS, GCU have successfully cracked the challenge.

Jim Emery from GCU presenting Blackboard Marks Integration with the Students Records System

The next step is system rollout but not before staff development, change management, and a simplified but effective workflow is implemented. Only then can GCU be deemed a digital university… the rest of us paper-bound manual institutions will look on in wonder and all want to work at GCU where things can only get better.

Incidental but of vital importance

One of the best parts of attending a conference is coming away with real gems often sourced from networking, below are my three DBBUser gems:

1 – Lynda.com

Blackboard’s Lynda.com building block – and to think we’ve had this resource for over two years and had no idea there was a building block that is accessed via the content mash-up tool. Installing this was painless, and Turning provided the API keys within hours.


2 – Turnitin’s Roster Sync

Casual chatting with colleagues about Turnitin’s Roster Sync was revelational, I discovered colleagues only needed to activate the Roster Sync to attach late students to a class – whereas in my institution there are no students listed to begin with and there’s a requirement to Roster Sync on every new module. Consequently, academics forget to do this and students cannot submit. A Turnitin support call is in progress.

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3 – Extending and Adapting Campus Pack

At last year’s Durham conference I gave a presentation about flexible learning spaces using Campus Pack (CP). One element of this was each student having an area for Professional Development Planning (PDP). At this year’s conference, I met a colleague who attended that presentation and stated she had implemented journals for each of her medical students using CP and got students to export these (as a webpage) to upload into Blackboard’s online submission area for assessment along with the various other assignment components. This extended practice not only enables all the work to be accessed from a central assessment location, it also exports a copy of the PDP at a point in time, so thereafter, learners can continue developing their journals in CP for the next assignment detail.