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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The Open Education Consortium

The Open Education Consortium is a worldwide community of hundreds of higher education institutions and associated organizations committed to advancing open education and its impact on global education. You can look for free online video lectures and over 40,000 courses. There are 6 UK educational institutions are members.

Open source geospatial resources

maptools.org hosts a resource for users and developers in the open source mapping community. I had a quick look at the links, it has very useful web resources. For example, GRASS GIS project provides GIS software suite used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics and map production, spatial modeling, and 3D visualisation. MapServer is an Open Source platform for publishing spatial data and interactive mapping applications to the web.

TNS: The Science Network

The mission of The Science Network (TSN) is to build an online science and society agora, or public square, dedicated to the discussion of issues at the intersection of science and social policy. By engaging a diverse community of concerned constituencies in conversation, on and offline through signature meetings, video programming, and in developing partnerships with public television stations, TSN is creating a scientific no-spin zone – a trusted destination free from the tyranny of the sound bite.

Connect journalism and technology

Storify.com is a tool to tell stories/news and also a resource of creative real-time content by journalists, bloggers and experts.

The founder of Storify also created Hacks/Hackers, a community of the journalism and technology. As they said, the original idea is to create “a network of people interested in Web/digital application development and technology innovation supporting the mission and goals of journalism”.