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.
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
- Blackboard Accessibility Checklist
- Jon Kolko‘s website of interaction design
- NSSE National Survey of Student Engagement Findings
- Octalysis, the Gamification Framework and behavioural design
- Overview on Student-Centred Learning in Higher Education in Europe
- After Dr Malcolm Murray‘s presentation about Gamification, I had a brief conversation with him as I am not sure if a student’s profile should be visible to all other users in the designed content area. He said that students asked for this feature so that they are able to compete with each other. I suppose it is related to the specific pedagogic “context”. I need to do further research on this aspect.
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.