Thursday, 3 May 2012

Event Report: Blackboard Developer's Day and other conference highlights

The fan pattern of cobbles in Antwerp - Jo Gilham
Danny and I attended the Blackboard Learning and Teaching Conference in Antwerp last week and he has already written about the highlights in his Event report. I also attended the Developer's Day which, as always, got me all excited about the extra things we can do with MOLE (our Blackboard Learn) if, of course, we had all the time in the world. The highlights for me were the building block workshop, some of the roadmap (planned release) information and the introduction of BIRT reports (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools - see below for more).

So firstly there was the roadmap, heavy on the technical detail but one thing that came out is a new Visual Text Box Editor (VTBE) and we are hoping to get early access to it. We have a long and not always happy relationship with the Text editor in MOLE (MOLEs 1 and 2) and this new one is based on Tiny MCE and supports MathML. One of the main things that users will be delighted to learn is that the display of equations created by the Equation editor is no longer rendered using Java and so there should be no problems with students not being able to see the equations in their test questions (as there is now!).

Next was a workshop on Building Block creation. Building blocks are ways of extending the functionality of Blackboard Learn. I was lucky that they decided to use my embryonic idea for an intelligent Error/Issue reporting form as an example, so I now have the beginnings of this to work with. The idea was that the Error/Issue reporting form would collect details about the user and the course they were in, as well as their browser and operating system information and IP address so that Ian and Khalid on the MOLE helpdesk would not have to ask the user all these questions and would can concentrate on the problem itself.
A 'cabby' outside Antwerp Town Hall - Jo Gilham

Another possible enhancement is the introduction of BIRT reports. Now, before the Developer's Day I didn't know what these were and how useful they might possibly be, but it turns out that we can make customised reports by writing queries on the underlying database and then package them up as course reports which can be run by the Instructor. Not quite sure when we might get a chance to do this but that we can is a great thing!

Danny has already mentioned the enhancements to Blackboard Mobile which are very nice and the other highlights from the main part of the conference for me were the papers on eSubmission and feedback and assessment. Lots of interesting information about how people are coping with the challenges and streamlining the processes.

I did also get a chance to wander round Antwerp for an hour or so... what a lovely place... and the only other city where I have seen two Cabbies (my favourite child carrying conveyance)!


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