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.

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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.

The third day note of #ALTC 2017

Keynote Speech

Peter Goodyear‘s keynote speech was about learning space. He talked about designing different types of knowledge. My understanding is what he mentioned here is explicit knowledge. Can we design implicit knowledge? He used five examples of learning spaces to state that learning space we create should be for students to shape their own learning spaces. It needs to be designed to be easy for individual learning, for staff supervision and for everyone in the room to connect to each other. He also mentioned the idea of different levels of learning spaces, and call our attention to the barriers such as languages and concepts we used. Peter also pointed out in research we often have findings that rely on correlations between two elements. However is this the reality of what students are doing in classroom? Student learning isn’t well supervised in the room! What we did was just not to disrupt in the environment. His research of using Activity-centred analysis and design (ACAD) framework to help learning design shows how the way changes from focusing on learning goals to focusing on learning activities. It’s quite true to use design as reasoning for what actually students do in the space.

Morning Sessions

A very useful session for me is to learn the ABC (Arena Blended Connected) curriculum design from Natasa Perovic and Clive Young’s (UCL) “Presentation: Our rapid blended learning design method is ACE! [1728]”. As they introduced, “ABC is built on University of Ulster’s ‘Viewpoints’ approach and based on Diana Laurillard’s notion of six “learning types” from her well-established Conversational Framework.” This is a practical approach to help people to work together to design learning activities. I need to spend time on knowing the background and understanding how we can design staff engagement workshops using this approach.

I’m impressed by the TRI_IT (The Technology Related Innovation-Implementation Tool) that the University of Nottingham has developed. Richard Windle and  Adam Pryor (Loughborough University) presented in the session of “TRI-IT. You might like it. A tool to support innovation adoption in Higher Education. [1782]”. I will certainly try it and see in which context, I am able to construct a learning pattern with technologies deploy within it. I quickly browsed their HELT Open website. Their evaluation toolkit called my attention. This is something I am thinking to develop in supporting our learning resources.

Afternoon sessions

There were not many people attending the afternoon sessions. The most useful session for me was Rob Cullen’s (Manchester Metropolitan University) talk of “Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLCs): Building and sustaining a webinar community of practice. [1740]”. As it said on the website “The TLC is an exciting informal cross-institutional collaboration to provide joint CPD opportunities for everybody teaching and/or supporting learning in Higher Education.” They use Adobe Connect to run a series of open, informal, monthly interactive webinars which have built an active online community of practice. I am interested in the approaches that they used for webinar activity design as this can be a good example for our ALT Wales community to form and grow.

In addition, 7 colleagues from Cardiff University presented their wonderful work.

Presenter Session Resources
Laura Roach Reuse repurpose, recycle: Utilising existing technology to reduce staff workload in Higher Education [1714] video (from 53:35)
Christopher John and Geraint Evans EasyPoll: Risks, obstacles and instrumental success factors to developing a bespoke learning technology tool within UK Higher Education [1752]
Dewi Parry, Matt Smith and Karl Luke The Phoenix Project – Interactive Learning [1691] interactive learning
Karl Luke Using actor-network theory as a lens to explore lecture capture practices in and across spatial (re)configurations [1661]  Slides
Rebecca Ferriday The way to Academics’ Hearts is Through their Minds [1602]
Geraint Evans and Dewi Pary Developing professional networks for Learning Technologists at Cardiff University [1774]

 

There are a lot of learning and reflection after the three days. I am sure I will check back my notes of resources from the conference. I noticed that many institutions are developing learning design approaches, including students experience-focused pedagogical methods, engaging academic staff, students as partners, CPD, and community of practice. I also noticed that designing new “learning space” becomes a trend; many universities are working on reshaping teaching spaces with requirements for developing a clear strategy at the same time. The ALT is really a useful community for me. It will be the 25th conference next year.

Useful resources and tools I learnt in the day:

One thing I learnt so far is to be impactive. I haven’t done this very well. I remember in 2014, I talked to someone I met in the conference that I don’t understand why people who I don’t know follow me on Twitter. She responded: I don’t know, I suppose they agree your tweets, or maybe they thought they get useful resources from your tweets. I am kind of person who do not like to be noticed, but I realised what “impact” means from this year’s conference. Through twitter, blogs, talks, and published papers, people become influencer. I think this is a leadership skill.

After writing my notes, I worked out what is in the canvas ball. It does not tell me the future, but it does call my curiosity, and make me wonder what’s inside by looking at it from outside.
IMG_20170908_110520

The second day note of #ALTC 2017

Keynote Speech

Siân Bayne’s keynote speech encouraged us to rethink the value of anonymity and leave space for un-nameability and ephemerality through presenting her research study on Yik Yak. The Yik Yak was popular as an anonymous messaging app among youngsters and undergraduates, and it’s closed up in May 2017 due to the problems with cyberbullying which anonymity plays a key role. Surprisingly to know that “40% of students in Higher Education have witnessed online cyberbullying in their social media networks”. On the other hand, anonymity brings “unreachability” which can “enable particular  forms of equality” (see Siân Bayne’s references). I agree what she said “…not only they did this for branding themselves but also more or less compulsory to be on Facebook to function socially…” I gradually reduced my posts on my Facebook as I sometimes feel I was on Facebook only for keeping the connection with my friends all over the world, otherwise there is no better way of keeping the connections. I will read the article “You are the Product” to learn how personal data are used by Facebook. I came across the Tor project, which aims to protect people’s data against a common form of Internet surveillance. However, I wonder how secure of using services like Tor will be.

Morning sessions

It’s good to see Fotios Misopoulos’ presentation of “Effectiveness of Learner-to-Learner Interaction in e-learning: An instructors’ perspective [1776]” (University of Liverpool). It showed a study of dimension of interactions that proves students using discussion board get better grades if they are encouraged to participate in a way that (1) having questions lead to common interested topics, (2) having questions that bring different views to debate, or (3) having questions students link to their own experience and stories.

I was particularly interested in Vicki Holmes and Adam Bailey’s (University of Reading) presentation of “Right Here! Right Now! Placing pedagogy at the heart of web-conferencing [1783]” as I have been involved in the Blackboard Collaborate project in Cardiff University. It will be good to compare how they have supported the technology from early adoption stage to business as usual. They had a 2-year project and chose the early adopters who had impact on students learning experience by adopting the technology. From their online support resources, I can’t see many differences from what we have offered to our users. However, their three groups of use cases are something I can look at in depth as we didn’t list our use cases in this way. They suggested good practice from these aspects: clear purpose, design for interaction, presentation techniques and prepare students. They also shared the things they learnt from the project: the technology increased flexibility, improved communication, attendance is unaffected, positive student feedback, staff learning curve, and the importance of audio.

Redesigning the learning space seems one trend that most universities are working on. Although I didn’t intend to attend sessions about digital learning spaces, I learnt it briefly from the session of “Rethinking Lectures in Redesigned, Collaborative, Learning Environments [1784]”. Beth Snowden and Bronwen Swinnerton (University of Leeds) presented how they have designed the lecture theatre using three dimensions approach: pedagogy, space, technology and how user feedback was. Their case studies of the staff/students experience of the new lecture theatre can be seen online.

Catherine Naamani (University of South Wales) talked about a grounded theory study of students experience of digital classroom in the session of “It isn’t all about the technology: An exploration of the impact of learning space design on collaborative approaches in the digital classroom. [1803]”. I had a chance to be in the digital classroom as the part of the Digital Classroom Roadshow once. I liked the flexibility between changing groups to control presenting screens. I liked the easiness of accessing to an online group and team working. However, I dislike the fixed facilitates. It’s costy, immovable, and bonded within the space. The presentation included her findings such as staff perspective focused on technology rather than pedagogy; preparation is the key, and manage dominant groups in the classroom, technology barriers, staff development and confidence building and accessibility issues.

Afternoon sessions

In the afternoon, I attended two 1-hour workshops. I attended Thomas Cochrane’s “Mobile VR in Education Workshop [1641]” session because I am interested to see how VR can be used. I haven’t been involved in any work using mobile VR and it’s a good opportunity for me to understand its usefulness. The session details are accessible. Due to a poor WiFi connection, my experience of trying the mobile apps wasn’t as good as I expected. But I see the potential of using VR tools. I immediately thought we can use the technology to create open day virtual tour and the University maps and locations. We can also use it to create health and safety online training.

It was pity that not many people turned up in Julie Usher and Vicky Brown’s session of “EnABLing the Institution: a holistic approach to enhancing the student experience [1677]”. I quite like the activity in the session. Their work has been recognised and won the ALT team award this year. The session details are below.

More useful resources and tools I learnt in the day:

ABL
10 top tips for A.B.L. [Active Blended Learning], University of Nottingham

The first day note of #ALTC 2017

It’s the second time I attended the ALT conference since the one in 2014. I’m glad to have the opportunity to join again.

Keynote speech

In Bonnie Stewart’s keynote speech, the most interesting norm for me is “adaptive change”, which was originally defined by Ronald Heifetz (1998). He stated that change has technical and adaptive elements. Technical challenges require changes in our skill sets. The current knowledge, expertise and resources are enough to deal effectively. Adaptive challenges require changes our mindsets. The problem is not clearly defined, and there are no clear answers. The current knowledge and expertise cannot solve the problem, but require risk taking, creativity and the ability to use “failures” as learning opportunities. (Jillian Lohndorf and Patrick Sanaghan). This may be the reason why we are unable to resolve the challenges, as we keep using technical means in adaptive challenges.

Another interesting term is “Cyborg”, which Donna Haraway used as a metaphor in her essay “A Cyborg Manifesto”. Without knowing the background of Haraway and her feminism opinions, it’s hard for me to fully understand her essay. However, I have been fascinated to find the “Life with extra Senses – How to become a Cyborg” presentation. It makes a lot of sense for me to understand where Cyborg is from and why it is a norm. It opened my eyes up to accessibility. How amazing it would be if I could sense the nature as other creatures do? I will explore the cyborgfundation later. Right now, the colours on the website is a kind of harsh for me eyes. I don’t know if this is because I’m sensitive to certain colours.

It’s a busy day. I used twitter, offline Word document, and web browser bookmark to quickly make notes. The WiFi wasn’t good, so I switched from using Google doc to an offline Word document.

Morning sessions

In Cardiff University, we provide Staff induction module and Students induction module about Learning Central (our VLE platform). However, it is open only to the University users. What I like about the York TEL Handbook from Richard Walker and Wayne Britcliffe’s session “Facilitating student-led teaching and content creation through technology: Use cases, instructional design & delivery responsibilities [1623]” is that it has embedded in their University learning and teaching strategy, and the handbook is almost completely open to public. The session resources are accessible from http://bit.ly/uoyaltc2017.

I was pleased to sit next to Fiona Handley (University of Brighton) at lunch time after attended her session of “Student technology ambassadors schemes: their impact on roles, relationships and digital skills training in UK higher education [1698]”. One unexpected finding from her research was students talked digital skills as general; they often relate to specific technology/tool, but they do not see knowing of using a technology/tool as gaining digital skills.

The findings from the Student digital experience tracker definitely help me to see the differences between students’ perception and my perceptions about students using technology and is useful for me to refer to when support staff to adopt a new technology in their teaching and learning activities. For example, we should be careful of giving suggestions when staff said almost all my students use their own devices according to the finding of 88% HE students are using personal laptops and 66% HE students are using institutional desktops.

Afternoon sessions

Daniel Roberts and Tünde Varga-Atkins from the University of Liverpool presented how they bench-marked the VLE baseline in their presentation “Are we serving from the baseline? Student and staff perspectives on an Institutional VLE Baseline requirement. [1637]”. We have released the minimum standards for Learning Central this year, and this is the University of Liverpool’s core VLE baseline. Aha, this video shows we were discussing our own practice about VEL minimum standards in the session.

My colleague Simon Wood was mentioned by Lawrie Phipps and Simon Thomson in their presentation of “VLE to PLE – The next generation of digital learning environment. [1678]”. Personalised User Learning Social Environment (PULSE) is a HEFCE funded project being led by the Centre for Learning & Teaching at Leeds Beckett University. I like the idea of changing “the ownership model of educational technology from predominantly being institutionally owned systems to ones which are personally owned by the student”. However, I think it challenges us to question how active and self–actualisation the students are to be able to take the ownership. The session polling results can be seen in the open document, and their findings from student feedback of VLE is very useful for other universities. For me, PLE is much wider than VLE which we seem to construct students’ learning in certain structure. PLE doesn’t need to be formal like the VLE which most universities are offering. It has been created informally and are changing of its forms with the learner tailors what are the most efficient ways for themselves.

I attended Peter Bryant, David White, and Donna Lanclos’ (The London School of Economics and Political Science) workshop of “Be in the conversation, not just the room – Hack your way to influencing pedagogical and technological strategy [1644]”. In the session, I learnt that Future Happens can be a practical method for helping learning technologists to propose changing solutions to steering groups and respond to questions from senior managers. I haven’t fully worked out how we can use it in our work, but I like it’s rules, such as “We are here to build not smash”.

More useful resources and tools I learnt in the day:

Good and bad:

  • I know it’s impossible to attend all sessions. The good thing is some session videos or slides are available soon, and I can view them after the conference.
  • I wonder if it’s just me who think there is little time for reflecting on each session I attended. Four sessions in an hour are a lot to take on. I would prefer to see more in-depth discussions/debate between similar work from different universities and hand-on workshops. I also wish the programme instruction provides the author’s institution.
  • The WiFi keeps disconnecting. Eduroam should work in most universities, unfortunately it isn’t. I have been in sessions required a quick online poll and Google doc group writing. No good Internet connection interrupted people. The lesson I learnt is to always prepare a Plan B of non-online activity to quickly resolve the problem of being unable to take online activity that is caused by poor WiFi.
  • Funny enough, we thought people have mobile phone or watch to check time. The reality is, people including presenters do look for a clock in the room to check time. Must be something psychological relating to this behaviour.

Notes from the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

The three days Teaching and Learning Conference by Blackboard was over. I wrote down some important notes based on the sessions I had attended.

  • Graham Brown-Martin’s keynote speech are based on his past two years work. He interviewed those educational leading thinkers, such as Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson, Keri Facer and so on. You may have a look at his website and his speech (which has similar ideas) on TED before it’s available on the Blackboard website. His new book Learning {Re}imagined is available now.
  • Dr Anne Campbell and Graham Storey from the Open University shared their course design for staff development training on Blackboard Collaborate, which is a good practice example.
  • The University of York (presented by Simon Davis) has developed their own Anonymous Assignment feature in Blackboard according to the user requirements. However, I don’t think we will do it. I would prefer to support staff by providing clear policies and demonstrating good practices. The session activity is available here.
  • The speech of Valerie Schreiner shows the focus of the Blackboard products. It includes portfolio, peer-to-peer assessment, calendar, LIS 2.0 standards, SIS (Students information systems) and grades, Blackboard Offline, Blackboard Analytics, Blackboard Grade App, Blackboard Student App. I like her emphasis on course design should consider four aspects: simple, continuous, mobile, and engagement.
  • Gilliam Fielding’s presentation shows the UCISA Digital Capabilities survey 2014. She pointed out that digital capability is role-based rather than technology-based. The executive summary was published in April 2015 and the full report will be issued in Spring 2015. You may also have a look at the results of UCISA Survey of technology enhanced learning 2014 that was published in September 2014.
  • The Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Rubric helps instructors and course designers to recognise best practices by considering four aspects: course design, interaction & collaboration, assessment, and learner support. The Blackboard exemplary course past winners are viewable here.
  • Calum Thomson presented Dr Rod Cullen and his research on webinars. We used kahoot.it to vote and see the vote results in the session activity. You may have a look at his presentation at the MELSIG event (which has the similar information) before it is available on the Blackboard website.