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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Blended Learning Course week 3

This week focused on three topics: VLE, Open tools and open educational resources (OER), and there were some interesting activities to help us learn the topics.

The first activity I’d like to highlight is giving an example of my learning activities through VLE tools and describing the impact it had on learners, and sharing the example on the VLE padlet wall; then critique another participant’s example from my perspective. This activity required us to practise many skills:

  • Reflective thinking on my own practice and pick a proper example.
  • Making online presentation. I decided to make a PowerPoint presentation through video as it is easy for people to follow my example. I could practise my presentation skills.
  • Publishing a post on Padlet, which is an easy-access open collaborative tool.
  • Awareness of public presentation and writing.
  • Critical thinking on my understanding of a topic.

Combining with some case studies, the exercise of selecting open tools to support learners helped me to rethink why adopt a tool. We encounter this kind of question a lot. People often ask us why we can’t use A, why we have to use B, Is B better than A, I cannot see B is better than A, etc. Apart from the elements of the service situation, it has to benefit users (especially learners) in the specific context. I need to help users to see the choices based on a thoroughly understanding of their use case. There are many open tools for different purposes (e.g., presentation, reflection, collaborative writing), personally I like Google tools, Vimeo, Audacity, Prezi, and WordPressSocrative as an interactive tool that allows users to answer questions, is new to me. I will have a look at it and learn the differences between it and Xerte Online Toolkits.

The third activity is that we had an online Q&A session on YouTube. It’s a good opportunity for us to interact with the educators, which reduced the learners’ isolated feeling when took an online course. It’s an excellent example that shows how technology is used to engage learners. Although I was late to join the session, I could read the chat history and watch the part I missed easily. One thing I noticed is that I couldn’t see how many other peers were watching it and on the Chat during the YouTube Live streaming. I learned a bit of how to broadcast with YouTube Live after the session.

I have a page in my blog which lists free online resources for educators. I haven’t updated it for a few years. The study in this week reminded me to keep such information up-to-date. They are on my to-do list now. I’m glad to refresh my knowledge about OER, and particularly like Neil‘s clarification about OERs and Open Access resources.

OERs should not be confused with Open Access resources: the latter also includes e-resources available on websites, but for these resources copyright and permitted usage is either unclear or not defined at all.

Like previous weeks, I enjoy reading comments, organising my thoughts and writing down, and learning from others. A few interesting conversations called my attention:

  • using Facebook in teaching and the inclusive issues for Chinese students in such scenarios;
  • discussions through forum in VLE or Whatsup, the differences?
  • advantages and disadvantages of OERs.

Blended Learning Course week 2

This week Neil Morris encouraged us to reflect on what we have learned and check #FLBLE1 on Twitter. Comparing to last week, I spent more time on reading comments,  responding some, exploring the resources shared in the sessions, and digesting the topic.

The focus in this week is to help us to get ready for blended learning: (1) understanding pedagogy (2) understanding a wide range of technologies (3) gaining digital literacy skills, and (4) knowing context/environment.

Firstly, the key learning for me is the pedagogy for using technology for learning and the impact of technology on pedagogy. Among the highlighted pedagogical approaches: ConstructivismSocial constructivism and Problem-based learning, social constructivism approach definitely is used in my practice, though I do not often talk about pedagogy when support users. It makes a lot of sense when I think why we support tools such as Yammer, discussion forum, Xerte Online Toolkits, Mahara, Panopto, blogs, and so on.

The problem-based learning is an approach that challenges students to learn through engagement in a real problem. I thought it is to help students understand a topic through developing students self-directed learning. However, I forgot it is most commonly group-based. The quiz exercise helped me to reinforce my learning of pedagogy. I also found an introduction of problem-based learning from HEA.

Secondly, being able to understand technologies and know what they are designed for is my area. I’ve learned more new applications this week, which I may be review or introduce to my colleagues later:

  • iObserve is a video and audio recording app that allows allows you to record observations, time stamp criteria, give instant feedback and create a signed declaration.
  • DREAMS LMS is a remote e-learning and marking system. I wonder if it is like the FutureLearn platform, but provides more interactive content creation functionalities.
  • NearPod is an interactive classroom tool to create, engage and assess. I wonder what are the differences between this tool and the VLE platform like Blackboard. A video introduction about this tool can be seen in the HCUK resources below.
  • The TAGSExplorer (developed by Martin Hawksey) is a very useful tool for visualising a tweet hashtag and its activities. It’s a good way to see what’s going on with the Blended Learning course tweets through a dynamic map. (below is a screenshot)

Thirdly, the discussion about digital literacy skills is not new for me. Although it is still at an early stage of development in our institution, I have been learning it for a few years now. I have shared our University materials in the discussion. As I think they are so useful, I’d like to share them again:

Fourthly, the big environment of my work context is not easy to change. In the case study when Borders College said that it took them 5 years to implement blended learning, I accepted that. Changing is slow in big universities. It took us two-three years to adopt a new technology university-wide. Still I am struggling how to help people get ready for adopting technologies in their practice. I may not be able to change the environment much, but I can make myself up-to-date of the new approaches and skills. Reading the comments in 2.8, I agree that the common barriers for people to embed blended learning within their environment include: unrobust infrastructure for adopting technology; limited finance, and a lack of visionary leaders to lead the transformation.

In addition, like most time I learned new resources:

TagsBLECourse

A glance at VLE platforms in the UK universities

In 2011, I had a quick look at the use of VLE systems (e.g., Blackboard/WebCT, Moodle and Sakai) in the UK universities. The list of universities in the UK referred to a resource from Wikipedia. The list has been changing since then.

In 2011, among the 140 universities:

  • 25 universities used WebCT as their key VLE platform;
  • 67 universities had Blackboard as their key VLE platform;
  • 25 universities used Moodle;
  • 2 universities used Microsoft SharePoint;
  • 1 university used Sakai;
  • 1 university used Tulip, and
  • 19 universities either didn’t present their VLE systems on their websites or it’s developed by themselves. It’s not searchable.

2011list

Using my spare time, I had a quick look at this list again. You can access the file here. Based on it, I searched the use of the key VLE platforms on the university websites. In 2014, among the 149 UK Universities, the changes of VLE platforms between 2011 and 2014 are shown as follows:

  • 12 universities used Blackboard built on previous WebCT system;
  • 10 universities shifted from WebCT to Moodle;
  • 1 university shifted from WebCT to SharePoint;
  • 1 university shifted from WebCT to Canvas;
  • 14 universities shifted from Blackboard to Moodle;
  • 1 university shifted from SharePoint to Moodle;
  • 1 university shifted from Tulip to Moodle.

A general view of VLE platforms used in the 149 universities (2014 September) is below:

  • 70 universities have Blackboard as their key VLE platform;
  • 68 universities use Moodle as their key VLE platform;
  • 2 universities use Sakai,
  • 2 universities use Microsoft SharePoint;
  • 1 university uses Desire2Learn,
  • 1 university uses Canvas; and
  • 5 universities either don’t present their VLE systems on their websites or it’s developed by themselves. It’s not searchable.

2014list

Please note, this is not an accurate statistical research results, rather it gives us a roughly idea of what VLE systems have been used and how it has changed over the last three years. The data were collected by simply visiting the university website and search their VLE(e-learning) platform. I didn’t ask the university to confirm it.

After I updated my list, I also found the HE Systems Review created by the Higher Education Library Technology. I’m not sure how new the resource is.

Learning Technology tools

I come across this source “50 Education Technology Tools You Can Start Using Today“.

Although I have used applications like those to some extent, there are 40% tools I didn’t know.

  • Animoto – an online video maker that turns your photos, video clips and music into video in minutes.
  • Educreations – a global community that people can create and share video lessons online.
  • FlipSnack – allows people to turn PDF files into amazing interactive books.
  • GCFLearnFree.org® – a free online learning resources for anyone who wants to improve the technology, literacy and math skills needed to be successful in both work and life.
  • GoAnimate – allows people to create animated videos and share with others.
  • LiveBinders – a bookmarking tool  installed on browser tool bar. It allows users to add web pages directly into one of the binders or a new binder in their account by clicking on the “LiveBinder It” link.
  • Poll Everywhere – is live real time audience response voting with SMS, laptop, or twitter. It is free for audiences of 40 people or less.
  • popplet – a collaborative brainstorming tool. It allows users to visualize ideas.
  • Socrative – a smart student response system that empowers teachers by engaging their classrooms with a series of educational exercises and games.
  • Smore – allows people to design beautiful online flyers and publish instantly.
  • Thinkfinity – is the Verizon Foundation’s free online professional learning community, providing access to over 60,000 educators and experts in curriculum enhancement, along with thousands of award-winning digital resources for K-12 — aligned to state standards and the common core.
  • Weebly – a easy tool to help people create a free website and a free blog.
  • Wix – a free website builder.

Personally I feel many these applications are not for Higher Education specifically.

  • Blabberize – a free web 2.0 tool that allows people to quickly create talking photos. Simply upload a photo, select a part of the photo where  you want it speak, and record your audio. Instantly, Blabberize will compile those elements together and you’ll get a talking characters.
  • ClassDojo – a classroom tool that helps teachers improve behavior in their classrooms quickly and easily. It also captures and generates data on behavior that teachers can share with parents and administrators.
  • Edmodo – a social learning platform for teachers, students, and parents. By looking at the demo, it pretty much likes Blackboard.
  • i-SAFE – is a blended compliance enterprise solution that combines the power of technology, traditional curriculum and the influence of social media to educate and empower students through cutting-edge e-Safety education platforms.

Authoring Tools

Seven Top Authoring Tools” occurred in my search. The term “Authoring Tool” is somehow misleading as it’s not word processing software but a web content creation application. Also terms such as “web authoring tool”, “web page authoring tool”,”course authoring tool” and “e-learning authoring tool” do not help too.

Well, I prefer using “web content management tools” or “e-learning development tools”.

The definition provided by W3C  is clear,

“Authoring tools are software and services that people use to produce Web pages and Web content. “

An explanation in the article “A Review On Authoring Tools” written by Khademi, M., et al is clear too.

“… a program that helps you write using hypertext or multimedia applications and enable you to create a final application merely by linking together objects, such as a paragraph of text, an illustration, or a song….”

There are some sources listing useful authoring tools below. I won’t call them authoring tools, but put them under the LCMS.

Make learning resources accessible

More and more requirements grow in higher education: public engagement, open, free, easy, economic…  Product providers need to change…

Two pieces of news are about open educational materials: