Bear in mind of Accessibility and do what we can from now

I become more and more interested in Accessibility and assistive tools since my mother started to say more often that she cannot hear what I said over video calls and she cannot see clearly if she is not close to the screen, which my father seems ok at present.

I’d like to understand her experience and see if there are good solutions to help her. Of course someday I may have similar experience due to ageing, accident, heredity, or misunderstand an interactive design, who knows.

The accessibility helpful resources that I regularly learn from are below:

Last week, two conferences were available for me: Gregynog Colloquium Online (10-11 June) and #KentDigitalAccessibility2020 (9-11 June 2020). I prioritised my time to attend the second conference. If it’s not the lockdown situation, unlikely I had the opportunity. Thus very appreciate the University of Kent has organised the online event. I realised that a lot of changes I need to take into practice and more good tools I can use immediately even though I have started slowly.

You can see my tweet highlights – day 1, day 2 and day 3.

First and foremost, I started with “creating/editing content” as this probably is the most common thing I do daily. About emails, I have already been very careful of using colours based on previous learning. However, I don’t think I checked the links and the attached images a lot, so from now I remember to give more meaningful link description and image names.

what is an accessible link for everyone?

I will think twice when I generate a PDF file. One thing I am happy that I have done recently is to move many PDF guide files into one web object (using Xerte). I checked the improved guide (it’s about Blackboard Collaborate Ultra) using the Accessibility Insights for Web. This handy tool can tell me right away what accessibility issues that my web pages have. So I improved the colour contrast of the links and the footer. It’s so common to forget the colour contrast problem when we look at the whole web page layout and content. Meanwhile, I checked my blog. I now know the green link colour (#28B463) does not meet the minimum ratio requirement for 4.5:1. As I’m using a free WordPress theme, I only can change the colours partially, but I have improved it to a higher ratio (5.1:1) rather than just using a colour that I like.

What’s so bad about PDF?

Over the past two months, I heard searchBOX from webinars. But I didn’t know what I can use it for. Thanks for Huw Alexander’s presentation in the conference, I learned that what textBOX does and the ideas behind when describing images. Definitely I will try the suggested ways to break down an image and see how to describe it.

Furthermore, I was surprised that there are so many tools that Microsoft and Google have provided to support accessibility and help us to improve accessibility (I mean for us who create digital content) that I haven’t noticed. I used the Word Check Accessibility often as it helps me to compare the results to Blackboard Ally feedback. I haven’t used the Dictate and Editor, Read Aloud features a lot. However, I tried Read Aloud as I feel it can help to free my eyes. Then I noticed that why a good link description is so crucial in the content. If it’s a URL format, it reads letter by letter. How terrible it is to hear a link by letters and how frustrated it is to not be possible to follow! It’s so easy to find a piece of inaccessible content. Well, it never can be done by one day. Let’s start from the Accessibility fundamentals and any new content that we need to generate from now on. Start small but consistent steps, such as adding ALT text to images, use colour contrast checker to check colours, providing meaningful links, use Accessibility checker or other tools to check the document accessibility.

To me, every session was useful in the three days conference. I do recommend people to check back the recordings.

In addition, apart from we, who create content, need to start create accessible digital content, teachers need to teach students accessibility as a part of their degree too. Below are two useful resources.

A few notes from Blackboard TLC Europe Online 2020 (Online)

Who would know that the coronavirus changed the world and affected almost everyone’s life more or less.

I didn’t plan to attend this year’s Blackboard TLC Europe (18th May – 5th June), which supposed to be hosted in Amsterdam, during the time when I would have been exploring Tibet.

Well, then I got the chance to work from home (from 18th March) which avoided to cycle in the changeable UK weather and immediately became isolated (still not sure this is lucky or unlucky). I was able to attend online conferences which I wouldn’t have had chance to attend. Moreover, plenty free digital resources became available online.

It’s a kind of strange also because I received unexpected Skype messages, emails, alerts at any time once I was online. Hardly imagine that I talked to many unknown students and staff over online calls (especially oversea) in the past two months than I did in the past five years. What an amazing change!

I would say thanks to Blackboard first for making the TLC Europe free for anyone to join online.

I attended some sessions when I thought I could deal with multiple tasks at the same time, which was obviously not good. So I watched the recordings afterwards when I could. Here I’d like to highlight my key takeaways.

First, SaaS (Software as a Service) + Ultra experience is the way. It’s important work on our schedule. What works, what doesn’t and why on SaaS are the things I paid attention to. The Information Gathering for Migration source is particularly useful for us at this stage.

Second, Accessibility becomes more important than before (I mean “the old normal”) not only because of the regulation but also because of the virtual and digital environment. On 21st May, it’s the ninth Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Probably, I was too slow to notice this, it’s the “ninth” year! We have Blackboard Ally, but we need to make more people to start the first step to make the digital content accessible as soon as we can.

Third, Blackboard Academy Catalog is improved and there are more timely training courses for supporting Blackboard users. The conference sessions and details were published in a TLC Europe 2020 course via the website (Very different from previous conferences). However, it’s unavailable after the event ended, which means I cannot find the recording links to share and you are unable to view the recordings now. However, Blackboard provides many training sessions regularly, and if you missed one of the sessions, I’m sure you can contact the presenters, they are always helpful and like to share experience/ideas.

Fourth, I learned a lot from the Blackboard community, particularly the Ally User group (2020 Catalyst Awards Community Engagement winners – Kristen McCartney-Bulmer and Claire Gardener) and the MoCo User group (2019 Catalyst Awards Community Engagement winners – Sarah Sherman and Amy Eyre. Now it’s led by Amy Eyre and Helga Gunnarsdottir). They are successful Community of Practice examples.

In addition, many of us have never had opportunity to attend the BbWorld conference. This year, the BbWorld + DevCon 2020 is scheduled on 6-22 July. It’s online and free for joining.

Takeaways from the 20th Durham Blackboard Users Conference

It’s my first Durham Users Conference – the 20th Durham Blackboard Users Conference (6th-8th January 2020, #durbbu, Access all Areas padlet).

Three days after the conference, I still laugh and feel the fun when thinking about the real-time subtitles* (technology+live stenographers) in the speaking from Dr Malcolm Murray, Bill Ballhaus and Kathy Vieira; I still feel the inspiration and think the faintly visible ideas about what we can do when recalling the playful learning from Dr Katie Piatt‘s talk; I still feel the joy and encouragement from the vivid conversations and sessions with people from different institutions. Indeed the members of the Durham Centre for Academic Development deserve a big thumbs up and huge thanks.

Now I got a bit time to check my notes and the resources I couldn’t read thoroughly at the time.

My first purpose for attending the conference was to expand my knowledge and find solutions to problems we are facing (e.g., e-assignments, assistive technologies, Accessibility training and support, issues when adopting Ally, benefits and risks in moving to SaaS and Ultra). I always wished we could have done something differently quickly.

The accessibility is an inevitable task on our road-map and the conference theme focused on accessibility, which helped me to gain the most of it. Firstly, the Blackboard Ally Data workshop delivered by Nicolaas Matthijs was very helpful. Through a hands-on exercise to understand our institutional reports data in a comparison view have made more sense than just reading through the isolated reports. I learnt that we have used the type of PDF files a lot in our system, which means the accessibility score in our reports would be very different (i.e., lower accessibility scores) from those institutions that have used more of WYSIWYG types or other types. It’s good to know that on the Blackboard SaaS, the Ally reports will be a part of the Blackboard data which is available automatically. I wondered if we don’t have Ally but are on Blackboard SaaS, can we use the Ally institutional reports directly? It’s also good to learn that the most common difficult accessibility problems to support are below, which help us to prepare and provide more support for these issues.

  1. contrast issues
  2. internal templates – this requires all teams to check and update their existing templates.
  3. headings problems – I experienced a problem myself recently

Secondly, I have realised the good work from the University of York in supporting Accessibility via Richard Walker‘s talk in the “Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations – November 2019 Update” webinar and Lilian Soon‘s presentation in the Ally User group 2019 November meeting. I also know Lilian’s excellent work together with Alistair Mcnaught and Ron Mitchell in the Future Teacher Talks. It’s nice to meet Lilian again in the conference and attend her workshop about using Kotter’s eight-step change process in improving accessibility support practice. I was dreaded when she showed a spreadsheet for checking their VLE accessibility without using Blackboard Ally based on their VLE Accessibility Review Guide**. It just looked like awfully a lot of manual work! We rely on Blackboard to provide an accessible platform and the Ally to help us identify accessibility problems. Of course things like the system outlook, the module template, the customised module menus and the embedded external content can be customised, accordingly such Accessibility Review Guide would be extremely useful. There were other useful resources from the University of York that I list here. 

Thirdly, many people/institutions have done a great amount of work and shared their experience with us. I missed some interesting sessions, such as the “Aligning Microsoft Teams and Blackboard” presented by Claire Gardener, the “Enabling virtual classroom technology for the whole institution” presented by Tom Foster, and the #BbMOCO pre-conference workshop. I managed to reach the useful resources as follows.

  • Matthew Deeprose’s presentation about Blackboard Accessibility (115 pages!). There are many important highlights. The slides 16, 35, 46, 51, 66, 69, 79, 92 and 113 had called my attention particularly due to my support experience.
    • Definitely useful for us to understand the most common accessibility problem – contrast issues. The Contrast Ratio checking table is helpful, I make a note for my team. Also, I installed the Microsoft’s Accessibility Insights tool***, and found it’s very handy to check accessibility on a web page. I tried it on our Blackboard system and noticed it can check the third-party tool like the Eesysoft Support Centre too. One thing to remember is to refresh the page, otherwise, the marked-out checking results on the Eesysoft Support Centre window will not disappear after closing the window.
    • The Southampton’s branding provides a very clear guideline. I run a quick search from our University website and found the similar support information. Unfortunately, it’s not public-facing, so I am unable to share it.
    • I’m looking forward to seeing the enhanced ATbar being available in the Blackboard Community as I used it on my blog and CMALT site. I’m interested in how well it has supported users in Blackboard when thinking about the Blackboard’s own inconvenient settings – the ‘Change Text Size’ and the ‘High Contrast Setting’ via the Global menu.
    • Meanwhile, I have to recommend the Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society MOOC delivered by the University of Southampton again. I took it in 2017, which was a useful starting point of understanding accessibility issues.
  • Tim Smale’s blog post about the conference. This is very helpful as he noted some of my missed sessions, especially the Turnitin workshop. I don’t know how he had time to jot down the sessions. He must have noted things in his blog during the session.
  • Amy Eyre (University of York) has well organised the #BbMOCO workshop as always and all presentation recordings are available. I am pleased to be able to view the recordings afterwards, particularly to learn the University of Derby Digital Practice Handbook and Laura Hollinshead‘s presentation of “Inclusive use of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra“,  a comparison between using the Blackboard Group and the Collaborate Ultra room for summative assessment from Helga Gunndarsdottir‘s presentation, and Julian Brown‘s and Rachel Bassett-Dubsky‘s use cases from the University of Northampton.

My second purpose for attending the conference was to present our work with Eesysoft and share our experience with others. The key benefits for us to use the tool include:

  1. to allow us to deliver contextual support in Blackboard easily (aiming for supporting learning design models and approaches into activities),
  2. to understand how the system have been used (aiming for strategical evaluation, monitoring, cost-efficiency analysis), and
  3. having the capability of intervention (either from the perspective of supporting teaching and learning enhancement or from the perspective of improving a service).

My third purpose for being the conference was to learn new things beyond my field and networking. I noticed that many attendees are working on CPD design and staff engagement (or having most relevant responsibilities for them). A successful sustainable service/support requires the organisational structure, the adopted service approaches, principles and leadership connected well. I feel it’s a bit magic that some universities could roll out Ally in a few weeks without delivering staff accessibility training at first and didn’t get many complaints as we thought it would be, and some universities treated Blackboard help materials support as a separate part from the IT service. One important impression I had was from what Dr Katie Piatt said, “… Probably I was senior enough to say …”  when someone questioned her how they dealt with different voices about playful activities in VLE. Leadership is such a crucial element in innovation and changing management. Another good example of Ally support is from the University of Reading ****. It shows a support model of leading teams and their responsibilities clearly. Some people may see Ally is just a checking tool. I seem to take it as more than just another tool in Blackboard but a handy accessibility enhancement solution.

To be realistic and to not be overly eager to many fantastic ideas and possibilities, I reviewed my notes from the last year’s Blackboard TLC conference and again use the MoSCoW method to create a plan.

Must have ➽ Review and improve Blackboard Collaborate Ultra support materials relating to accessibility and inclusivity.
➽ Checking Ally(accessibility) support materials in Eesysoft and make the new structure available.
➽ Improve the Blackboard Ally support materials for our IT staff, especially the information for supporting assistive tools, contrast ratio, mobile accessibility, and equations.
➽ Blackboard Ally availability goes ahead
Should have ➽ Comparison of Blackboard managed-hosting and SaaS, learn what SaaS does and doesn’t. Do we have resources ready?
➽ Map out the Accessibility Support Staff Engagement teams, what we have and what we need to develop.
Could have ➽ Move to SaaS – to meet and discuss with the universities that have been on SaaS
Won’t have (this time) ➽ Very accurate live captions – Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Skype, Panopto


  • * Providing accurate captions will be the upcoming task.
  • ** The guide can be very useful for us when we are doing our VLE review.
  • *** I will improve the accessibility of my blog using the existing good tools.
  • **** Thanks for Anne-Sophie De Baets having taken the photo of ‘Ally – Staff Engagement from the University of Reading’. I couldn’t attend that session. I hope you don’t mind I keep it.

Finally, I must admit that the Durham University has put their heart and soul into the event. I had entirely enjoyed the time there, never thought we would be in a show of murder mystery when having a good meal in the Durham Castle.

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Takeaways from the Blackboard TLC 2019 (Newcastle)

The Blackboard TLC 2019 ends. Big thanks to Blackboard and the University of Northumbria for the collaborative conference, and the speakers who shared their experiences and stories. Now it’s the time to polish up my notes and reflect on my experience over the three busy days.

I think the key discussions are still around (1) user experience – accessibility and Ally, (2) learning analytics – (Blackboard) data and (3) the platform – SaaS & Blackboard Ultra.

I can’t recommend the Blackboard community groups enough. I found it’s a good way for me to learn solutions and new things about the technologies we support. It’s a repository where I can find useful support materials and ideas. It saves my time when I am able to reuse some excellent support materials. There are always one or a few peers to answer my questions and help me understand the tool and the design ideas behind. Congratulations to the MoCo User Group chairs Sarah Sherman (BLE) and Amy Eyre (University of York) who won the Blackboard Catalyst Award for Community Engagement.

Visions, why and how

Blackboard announced its EdTech platform which aims for supporting connected user experience, academic effectiveness, learner engagement, and education insights. The journey for us will be self-hosted service -> Blackboard managed-hosting -> SaaS -> Blackboard Utlra. 

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The University of Northumbria presented their journey. I would say the most difficult part is to have a clear strategy as a guideline. I was very impressed with their rapid process of moving from Blackboard managed-hosting to Blackboard Ultra. Undoubtedly many teams have worked together to contribute to the successful transform.

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Revisit the known

From learning design to students experience investigation, many useful cases and experiences were shared. It’s always nice to recall the resources again.

Learn the new

First, the keynote from Professor Kevin Bell (Western Sydney University) called us to rethink learning, learners’ experience and what skills students need to have. It brought concepts, designs and practices of gamification (the idea, the book), ubiquitous content (a quote about information), story arc (also narrative arc) (an explanation, storytelling), intrinsic motivation (an explanation, Dan Pink’s TED talk about motivation), credentialing mistakability (Professor James Arvanitakis’ talk) and more. I quite like the innovative example of UNIV 291 Courses. Making students take the ownership of the learning activities and feel they are an important part of the group that affect the activity outcomes. Gaming, is very psychological. It’s about curiosity, control, challenge, enjoyment, self-value, and satisfaction.

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Second, what is learning capture? Jim Emery (Glasgow Caledonian University) presented their project that encourages us to think out of the box. Don’t just create videos of lectures.

Third, Blackboard Data is a new unified, cross-portfolio data and reporting platform. It is a SaaS platform itself and has been integrated with Blackboard SaaS only. Obviously, Cardiff University VLE won’t be able to use it yet. Here are the platform displayed by Rachel Scherer (Analytics Product Director) and the Blackboard Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs) for authorisation.

Fourth, Brian Finnegan (Director of Educational Consulting) introduced the new Blackboard Training and Professional Tool. It was designed to support requests such as pre-sessional students to use VLE, a way of supporting prospective students, pre-enrolment engagement, viewing students journey and so on. However, we have a student journey tool. Do we want another tool? I think the key problem here is not the tool, but the management policy and workflows, the data flows and the regulations of managing and using the data.
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Last but not least, Karen Howie and Paul Smyth (University of Edinburgh) showed how they have improved student experience with VLE, which focused on 6 streams: VLE templates, template checklists and guidance, redesign of training, agreeing consistent terminology, automation of processes and finally measuring and evaluating the impact of the project. They have used the Elements of User Experience framework (developed by Jesse James Garrett) to improving their service based on their findings.

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To-do and To-ponder

One good thing about attending conferences is to get great insights, ideas and inspirations. However it’s not good to have many wanted things and ideas together at the same time. I use the MoSCoW method to help my next-step plan.

Must have ➽ Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – A “First step of delivering online session checklist” (ideas from the Amy Eyre’s Online Workshop/Seminar Requirement Form, the University of York)
➽ Review our existing support materials and improve the icons. (ideas from Steinar Hov and Paul Ole Hegstads’ Eesysoft experience of using Eesysoft, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Should have ➽ Comparison of Bb managed-hosting and SaaS, learn what SaaS does and doesn’t. Do we have resources ready?
➽ Revisit our design (surveys and communication methods) of evaluating user experience of VLE (ideas from Karen Howie and Paul Smyth’s research and improvement work, the University of Edinburgh)
➽ Explore Blackboard Coursesites
➽ Check GDPR (T&C) for our supported learning technologies
Could have ➽ Blackboard Ally – to review the Ally report my colleague has written.
➽ Move to SaaS – to meet and discuss with the universities that have been on SaaS
Won’t have (this time) ➽ Blackboard Data
➽ Blackboard Ultra


With speaking to people from different universities, it’s fairly clear that the VLE system support and the academic activities support relating to use VLE must work closely. Those who have been in the same team/division work more productively and feel less stressed.

It’s very nice to see old peers and meet new people. Interestingly it’s the first time in the UK someone asked me if I have a business card. No, no, since LinkedIn, Twitter or personal web pages are well used, I am a visible/searchable person online. Newcastle is a wonderful city. I had taken the opportunity to see the beautiful seven bridges in the sunrise and the Angle of the North in the sunset. I was very impressed with the City Campus East, Northumbria University (though the lecture halls do not have charging points). I also wonder if students will miss the support posters in the lift. I didn’t attend the DevCon, some interesting information can be seen via #BbTLCEUR.

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Catch up insights (2)

As I am not a teacher, I wondered how I would teach if I were offered a teacher job? With this question in mind, I finally revisit and carry on learning the Future Teacher 3.0 Talks (resources) over the Christmas break.  The rich resource indeed provides a handy guideline for me to refer to if I’d like to learn ‘how to teach’. [It’s recorded, it’s accessible and I hope it’s available even after the project ends.]

Very grateful that Ron Mitchell, Alistair McNaught and Lilian Soon have designed and facilitated the online sessions. I enjoyed this online learning particularly on the five aspects below.

First, I like the storytelling style which brought my focus into the session topic through an interesting story (e.g., Harold Houdini’s escape in session 2 and the singer’s Tarboosh in session 3). This is well linked back to session 1 (8/23) – ‘Elements of brain-based learning’ and proved the ‘Emotional’ element works.

Second, each session was well organised with similar pattern: introduction, pedagogic topic with research evidences, engaging view sharing, presentation, engaging activities, review, reflection, and reminder at the end. I can see all elements introduced in session 1 (8/23) have been applied in the session activities. It provided a consistent and coherent learning environment that reduces participants’ confusion and supports effective learning.

Third, it invited some practitioners to present their work and practice in the session (e.g., Using social media in Chemistry teaching from Glenn Hurst in session 8, a summative podcast project designed by David Beer in Session 11). This is a great way of sharing good practice and let participants to see how other educators have used technologies in their specific teaching area. With practitioners to answer questions, it stimulated deeper discussions and allowed connections to be built between people who are interested in the similar teaching activity/idea.

Fourth, participants were encouraged to share their work and contribute to the topic. This brought new views and discussions. For example, in session 4, Teresa MacKinnon was invited to explain terms of ‘information sharing’, ‘collaboration’, and ‘co-creation’, which pointed out the most demanding action is not only sharing information and working together, but more about sharing understanding and creating together.

Last but not least, the sessions own are excellent examples of how technologies can be used in online teaching to engage learners and simulate active learning. For example, Xerte is used to create the website and to present session content; Zoom is used to deliver the online sessions; Textwall and Padlet are used to collect/share/present participants’ views/resources; Tricider is used to for participants to share and vote views; and many more (e.g., mindmeister for creating mind maps, Audio Feedback Toolkit for creating audio feedback). I noticed that Zoom has a same problem to Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, which people who join the session cannot see the resources(links) that have been shared before they join the session. The moderator needs to keep checking if newer participants follow and re-post the resources again and again. (To show resources in one place of a session without re-posting has been one of the highly required features in Blackboard Collaborate community.) I also remembered recently a University student told me that a lecturer took the assumption that all students have smart phones and asked them to use TurningPoint to answer questions without providing alternative options such as the website URL if accessing via a laptop. This made students who do not have a smart phone feel helpless. Clearly, the “The ironies of text” in session 5 and the session 9 Inclusive Practice are essential guidelines for us to avoid such problems.

There are many useful tools/resources for me to explore. I am unable to cover everything I learnt here. I listed some new tools that I had a quick look when they were mentioned the session.

  • Zeetings A cloud-based presentation platform that allows users to combine their PowerPoints and PDFs with video, web content, notes, images and polls. Seems this is a powerful tool. I will try this one soon.
  • Ipadio A podcast tool that allows record, upload and share audio to the web easily.
  • poodll It is a set of tools for language teachers to build dynamic courses. I cannot tell how useful it is for non-language teachers yet.
  • The application aims to collect comments about statements made in any web-accessible content, and filter and rank those comments to assess each statement’s credibility. Very useful for peer review.
  • This is a collaborative online mind-mapping tool.
  • SMOG Calculator It is a handy tool that helps you to check the readability level of your own documents or texts from a website.

I am sure I will revisit the site for time to time to check the case presentations, learning design checklist (session 1 16-20/23) and tools/resources/research that people have recommended.

Catch up insight (1)

Today I am able to sit down to catch up the ALT Online Winter Conference 2018 recordings (one of the enjoyable things on my to-do list over Christmas break).

I am glad to review the Johari window model, revisit my digital capability mapping (JISC Digital Capability Framework), and try the practice mapping template after viewing the session of “‘Mirror, Mirror’: working towards a reflective digital practice“.

Probably I came across Johari window back to my Masters study on Nonaka’s SECI Model many years ago, and then used it in a CPD training course to learn assertiveness four years ago. I don’t remember how I did it in that course, but I realise that such activities (Digital Perceptions tool), which is similar to the ‘skills audit’ activity I did in the Springboard course last year needs other people’s help, otherwise I cannot complete it right away. Although in the discussion part (@34:15), Dr. Donna Lanclos has explained Rosie’s case, I still wonder how much useful balanced views the person who I seek feedback from can really provide based on their knowledge of me online and/or reality?

I thereafter listened to the e-Learning Stuff Podcast #92: The Digital Perceptions Tool to learn more. This is not diagnostic tool, it is for reflection. Yes, it should not be a diagnostic tool, it should not be a judgemental tool. It said that the bottom-left quadrant shows what you have chosen about you but others don’t. The bottom-right quadrant shows leftover terms which are those terms that neither you nor others have chosen. Thus my understanding is that in Rosie’s example of the bottom-left quadrant is empty (Facade), it means all six terms that she chosen were chosen by others too, which should all appear in the top-left quadrant. As I can only choose top six terms about myself, and others need to do the same, I will not know the terms that I abandoned about me and others abandoned too due to the option limit, so these terms left in in the bottom-right quadrant and become Unknown. The interesting thing is some terms could be “Known to self” (in my perception) but they become displayed as “Not Known to Self”.

Blended learning course III week 2

To complete the week 2 was not as smooth as I expected because of some other unpredictable work. I went through each section and felt this course does not have as many comments from participants as the other two Blended learning courses. However, this doesn’t mean the course content is not well-organised. I am very grateful for the module providers and educators.

The key points of this week are digital content creation and collaboration in relation to the Digital Skills Framework.

We create/use digital content almost every day. It can be simple or sophisticated. I summarise a list of common skills and knowledge as follows.

Digital Content Creation Skills Knowledge on using technologies Tools / Technologies
Create/edit/publish/share images
  • image file types (e.g., .png, .jpeg, .exif, .gif, .svg, .bmp)
  • editing
  • convert file types
  • backup
  • embed html code elements
Create/edit/publish/share podcasts
  • audio file types (e.g., .wav, .wma, .mp3, .rm)
  • recording
  • editing
  • convert file types
  • backup
  • embed html code elements
Create/edit/publish/share videos
  • video file types (e.g., .mp4, .flv, .avi, wmv, .mov)
  • recording
  • editing
  • captioning
  • convert file types
  • backup
  • streaming
  • embed html code elements
Create/edit/publish/share websites
  • webpage files
  • RSS
  • CSS
  • HTML(5)
  • XML
  • Web domain
  • URL
  • web browser
Create/edit/publish/share objects
  • presentation
  • animation
  • multimedia files
  • web design
Create/edit/publish/share documents
  • file types (e.g., .doc, .odt, .rtf, .pdf, .txt, .xls, .csv, .wps)
  • backup
Create/edit/manage databases/content management systems

We share digital content with others frequently. We can reuse numerous online digital content created by others too (see free digital resources below). Copyright of digital content is the crucial knowledge. It is vital for we to understand what is free licensed online content and how we use Creative Commons.

We use collaboration technologies widely too. It can be a group of people work on organise socialised activities, distant learners take a group work, researchers from different institutions co-write a book, or people undertake a project together. Many useful tools have been introduced in the course. Here I list a few.

  • web conferencing and meeting tools (e.g., Adobe Connect, Webex and GotoMeeting, Skype, Google HangoutsGoogle Hangouts, WhatsApp, FaceTime) You can communicate online either one-to-one or in a group.
  • Twitter hashtags (A way of organising a discussion around topic and allowing people to easily follow through twitter.)
  • Diigo (A multi-tool for personal knowledge management. It supports many features such as bookmarking websites, tagging, creating your own library of online resources, highlighting text on web pages, and adding notes to web pages.)
  • OneFile (An e-portfolio tool that records and manages work-based training.)
  • Mahara (An open source ePortfolio and social networking web application.)
  • PebblePad (An ePortfolio and personal learning platform, where learners can manage their own learning materials in the way suits their learning purposes.)
  • Slack (A Teamwork tool that supports messaging, files management and sharing, video communications and more.)
  • Trello (A project management tool that can be used as a personal to-do list, or as a collaborative online tool for sharing and planning how a group of people work together.)

For me, there are many good tools, but the key is not the tool itself as it always changes and develops according to people’s needs. We cannot use one technology to help learners achieve the expected learning outcomes. It’s necessary to trail different ways of using technologies and find the most useful features that the technology can support for the learning activity.

Blended learning course III week 1

Completed the first week of the Blended Learning Essentials: Developing Digital Skills online course. Comparing to the previous two Blended Learning Essentials courses, it includes more learning design activities. Although it says 4 hours per week are required, I still feel it’s not enough. If I read all comments and responded all questions, I would double or triple the time.

This course focuses on developing learners’ digital skills for successful employment and modern workplace. What digital skills employers are looking for? How can education help students to gain the skills?

The University of Leeds and UCL have developed a Digital Skills Framework which includes four themes:

  • Managing digital identity
  • Managing digital information
  • Creating digital content
  • Collaborating digitally online.

This week is about the Digital identity and Digital Information, and the next week it will be more about the Digital content creation and Digital collaboration. One of our activities was to find the requirements for digital skills in job descriptions in our own area. Interestingly I read a tweet recently about “Learning Technologist” and “Learning Designer”. My opinion is that they have little difference about required digital skills but some differences of the levels of requirements for pedagogic and research knowledge. Linking to the course activity, I list brief examples between the two according to the digital skills requirements.

Digital Skills Learning Technologist / Educational Technologist (job essential criteria examples) Learning Designer / Institutional Designer (job essential criteria examples)
Digital Identity
  • Knowledge of ways to present information online for maximum impact and professionalism
  • Experience of using websites and social networks in a professional context
Digital Information
  • Knowledge and understanding of TEL theories, systems, tools, their varied applications and potential for innovative practice
  • Awareness of issues related to the use of resources in an HE context, such as copyright, data protection, academic integrity, accessibility etc.
  • Provide research, analysis and optimisation of all digital activities
  • Ability to analyse and process data accurately
  • To plan and manage the development of varied e-learning material, including video, webinars, self-paced interactive resources, and online activities.
  • Experience of administering content on a virtual learning environment or online content management systems
  • Ability to evaluate and quickly learn new software tools.
  • Experience of administering content on a virtual learning environment or online content management systems
  • Good understanding of copyright surrounding the use of digital materials
  • Have a good understanding and experience of web technologies such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.
Digital Content Creation
  • Knowledge of tools for multi-media content production, including ideo and audio creation systems and associated editing and streaming technologies
  • High level skills in writing and editing online content
  • Knowledge of design and implementation of engaging online guidance, training materials and technical documentation
  • Ability to create and maintain digital resources for learning – including, graphics and video.
  • An excellent understanding of and confidence with complex IT systems and multimedia content creation
  • Reviewing and creating learning content for websites and other digital products including the content of interactive games, video, animation, apps etc.
Digital Collaboration
  • Excellent team working skills, able to work collaboratively to enhance service delivery
  • Able to work in a team of multiskilled professionals.
  • Work in a supportive role within a team, collaborate with colleagues to solve problems and innovate
  • Ability to create visualisations and prototypes/mock-ups for sharing ideas with colleagues


When we talk about Digital identity, using digital badges is one way to motivate learners to gain more skills and do better. For example, the Employability passport set up by the Sussex Downs College. Primarily, I hope educational institutions and employers develop more agreements on digital capabilities and issue relevant digital badges widely.

Some other digital skills frameworks (see below) are also useful. Basically for me, apart from subject knowledge, what we teach and what students need to gain are the skills that enable them to be adaptive, transferable, resilient and learn how to learn.

As usual, I learned new resources:

  • Tech Nation 2016 Transforming UK Industries  – An annual report that said “… digital jobs and activity are becoming ever more important in traditionally non-digital areas of the economy.” Yes, I haven’t found a job that does not use digital technology completely nowadays.
  • OneFile – a training eportfolio, an assessment software, a CPD tracker, a dynamic reporting suite and a virtual learning environment.
  • Weebly – a free online tool for building a good quality website from scratch. I have seen Wix as a free online website-building tool due to advertisements.

Notes from the BbTLC 2018

This is the second time that I attended the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference. As Cardiff University has about 31k students and 5k staff using the Blackboard technologies, it is an effective way for us to get involved in the event. I highlight what I have gained from the 3-day conference as follows.

1. Expectations and unexpected facts

Having a conference mobile app and a twitter hashtag is an effective way of organising my activities and not getting lost in the big venue and the busy schedules. One feature I like particularly is the option of “mobile web browser” if you do not want to install an app on your mobile device. Also, following the #BBTLC18 tweets allows me to learn what is going on in other sessions that I was unable to attend. It’s a good way of taking notes and sharing with people at the same time.

Attending conferences is a great opportunity to network. It helps me to catch up with old peers and get to know and meet new people who work in the same area. Especially it’s very useful for me to recognise the pioneers and experts from other universities and to learn how they have contributed to this area. For example, talking to Dr Jonathan Knight, one of the three UK Blackboard MPVs (Matthew Deeprose, Chris Boon), I learnt that Blackboard provides Weekly Office Hours (Technical and Learn) to enhance its support.

Blackboard IM product will end its life in December 2018. Although not many universities are using it, we have users who like it and use it for supporting students widely. It’s pity that Blackboard did not show its user feedback research on this tool before they made the decision. Conversations with Behind The Blackboard are often like to talk to a robot. So I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Anneke Bates about my concerns and requirements. Thank Andy McGinn and Wade Weichel for directing me to the right expert.

There is no perfect product and service. With non-enough testing and users’ feedback, the transitioning from Crocodoc to New Box View had brought many unnecessary problems to our users. I appreciated that Blackboard honestly took the responsibility for this issue. I’m also very grateful for the peers who have shared their resources and experience of supporting the transition via the Blackboard Community.

2. Priority

For me, the first thing that I need to do is to check and participate in the User groups. The Blackboard Community has been available for all users for about two years. I haven’t followed the user groups as regularly as I should. I need to go through the information and discussions in the Mobile/Collaborate (MoCo) User Group and the Wales User Group, and keep an eye on the European Ally User Group when it activates.

In Wade Weichel and Dan Loury‘s talk, it presented Blackboard’s platform strategy and upcoming product development. Blackboard becomes listening to users more. So the second thing for me is to check the details of the Q2 2018 and discuss with my colleagues about our plan.

The third is to bring the offer of “Academic Adoption Discovery Workshop” back. Although we had Blackboard consultation a few years ago, I don’t know where it ended. Meanwhile, I didn’t attend the pre-conference Academic Adoption Day on 9th April 2018, and not sure if there were something similar. It would be helpful to see other attendees’ reflections on it if they had attended the first day activities.  I will keep an eye on relevant tweets, blogs, and discussions.

The Blackboard Catalyst Awards can be tracked back to 2005. It aims to recognise and celebrate those in the Blackboard Community that have demonstrated and achieved exemplary practices in teaching and learning improvement. Congratulations to the BbTLC18 winners (University of Derby, Edge Hill University, University of Leeds, Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University). I think two schools in Cardiff University have done excellent work through Blackboard technologies. I will encourage the academic staff and learning technologists to submit applications for the awards.

3. Adoptable ideas

Andy Jaffrey from the Ulster University (the first UK university of adopting Blackboard Predict) presented how they have used Blackboard Predict to explore predictive analytics solutions which would allow at-risk students to be identified sooner, make early intervention possible, and further to increase retention. He mentioned that they provided “Annual report for each school on their Internet”. I think this is a service that we haven’t done enough and should investigate how we can improve sooner. We use Eesysoft to assist the Blackboard analytics. When Andy mentioned the challenge of answering to staff’s question “Can you show me why the student is predicted to fail?“, I took it as a thought-provoking question for both my team and Eesysoft (a very friendly supportive team) to prepare.

Maria Tannant from the University for the Creative Arts shared their experience of developing a toolkit to support their VLE. The most valuable lessons/tips for me to take back include:

  • Devolve responsibility and allocate ownership of the resources to different teams – indeed when we design a supporting structure, we often manage the resources for the original team which created the resources. We did not make the ownership and responsibility clear.
  • Involve QAE (Quality Assurance and Enhancement) – we often forget this one or maybe we do not know how to involve them?
  • Provide Glossary to help students to understand the terms that the University uses, for instance, learning outcome, feedback, and assessment. We are improving at this point. However, we need to make it more accessible for students, and design a way of involving students to contribute to it too.

The Excellence in VLE Awards scheme developed by the University of Southampton is a good example of engaging academic staff to recognise and share e-learning best practices through listening to students’ voices. I missed the session presented by Tamsyn Smith, Sam Cole, and Matthew Deeprose. However, I had nice conversations with them in the evening party. I’d like to share their tips and experience with my colleagues and develop some engagement programme in my institution.

4. Good to learn

  • The close speech from the Professor Richard J. Reece, the Associate Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students at the University of Manchester showed us what a Digital university looks like, what the University of Manchester’s digital strategy is and how they are working on it. I like the diagram of the Student Lifecycle at Manchester in particular.
  • It’s good to have the time to read the e-learn magazine (No.19 Learner Engagement) on the train back to Cardiff. The particular interesting reading was the 5 UK highlights in Education on p.67.
  • Not new but still good to see the similar findings of what are the key matters in students’ experience of VLE from Lisa Fishburn’s (Newcastle University) presentation, for instance, More lecture capture, Easy to access resources, Better mobile app, and Consistency of content. I was surprised to see an Organisation in their VLE has grown so massively and pleased to learn how they have stopped the potential disaster. It’s an alert for us to check our use of Organisations in VLE too.

5. Further reading and exploring

The conference can be overwhelming. All in all, it provided opportunities for me to meet people, develop ideas, speak to vendors, be aware of new development, and get inspired. A very big thank you to Blackboard for organising the event. I look forward to working more closely with the community, the peers, the third-party producers, and Blackboard partners.

Jisc Digifest 2018 notes

IMG_20180306_093656It’s the first time I attended Digifest (#digifest18). Thanks for technologies and sharing, most programme sessions are available now.

The key areas include digital strategy, learner experience analysis, and blended learning pratice, especially many from FE.

What did I learn?

  • Many institutions have developed digital strategy.
  • Many institutions have adopted the Jisc Digital Capability Framework.
  • There are two types of digital strategies. One is the  institution commits to its digital strategy (e.g., Lancaster University, UCL). The other is the institution grants the digital champions who drive the digital change (I suppose Cardiff University is one of these).
  • 116 institutions have used the Jisc student digital experience tracker over the past two years as a benchmark. The Jisc staff digital experience tracker was released last month.
  • Institutions started to look into data critically, make sense of data, and generate useful data for students. It’s worth viewing the “Evaluation of student engagement with feedback: feeding forward from feedback” presentation made by Dr Dan Gordon.
  • Students’ expectations for enhancing learning experience include more opportunities for interacting with lecturers; collaborative opportunities; developing digital literacy skills; directing students to use BYOD in a constructive way; being partnership.
  • IT infrastructure and institutional culture are vital in digital strategy implemenation.

What did I think?

  • I heard the view of mirroring physical spaces to virtual spaces. I don’t think virtual environment should be the same to the physical environment, so do the learning activities and experience. If we just think how to mirror physical to virtual, we probably lack flexibility and innovation.
  • The challenge of changing from fixed to flexible study paths. It made me think about how APIs and SCORM were developed.
  • How important the digital learning designer’s role is?
  • Sanbot has visited three HE universities. It said that it can recognise faces, talk 28 languages, respond your questions. It can be programmed to do anything you need. Perhaps I only saw a small side of the technology. I felt it needs a lot of development.
  • A finding from the Canterbury Christ Church University: Students often said that they don’t want to be contacted by email. However, the survey found that students still use email the most to receive information. I guess that email is still the common communication method even though the instant messages, audio messages and video calls become increasingly used. This is because many institutions still choose conventional communication channels.
  • A senior audience said that it’s often the university policies (governance) stopped the university strategies. Sounds like a conflictive statement, but it’s the lesson and experience we should not ignore.

This is my reflective post for the Cardiff University Learning Technology blog.