Thursday, 8 May 2014

Blackboard Learning and Teaching Conference 2014 - Farzana's Review




Last week I attended Blackboard’s Teaching and Learning Conference held in Dublin, this is the largest Blackboard user conference held outside of the USA. If you’re reading this post and work at the University of Sheffield, I should add that Blackboard is the technology that we use for MOLE. This was the first time that I have attended the conference and I was not left disappointed. Institutions from across the UK and Europe were well represented and the presentations delivered by colleagues from other institutions were varied, they included: frameworks/taxonomies to consider when designing learning activities, case studies and evaluations describing how tools have been implemented, technical sessions describing how institutions test Blackboard before new features go live. The event also offered an opportunity to learn more about the developments that Blackboard intend to release and during the conference Blackboard arranged a number of listening events for institutions, offering an opportunity to feedback ways in which the product could be enhanced to meet institutional needs.

What to look forward to – some of the new features coming to Blackboard
  • Ability to login as a test student. At the moment, instructors can switch to student view, this gives you an idea of what a module will look like as you develop it, it doesn't let you test everything though. The new and improved student view automatically creates a test student and allows you to check that some of the advanced features (such as groups, tests,  blogs and selective release) have been set up properly.
  • Anonymous Marking, Double Marking and the ability to moderate marks online is something that UK institutions have said they want more of. Responding to our needs, these are all new features that we hope to see in place soon.
  • E-portfolio tool, we currently don’t have the e-portfolio tool switched on at the University of Sheffield, as we have the dedicated portfolio tool, PebblePad. The new portfolio tool, will allow students to create a record of their learning during their time at the institution. The tool is not module specific and students will be able to import grades and assignment details from any of their modules. We will be consulting with staff within the institution as to whether or not this is a tool we should look at switching on.
  • Group attempt and submission results.
  • Ability to add calculated questions to tests.
Over the next few years Blackboard intends to focus on: user experience, supporting mobile learning and students in the employability agenda. They are currently working on a mobile app, to support online marking.

A few sessions that stood out for me.
Peer Feedback

Kalzine Verdenschot and Jiska Bomas-Memlink, described how they have implemented Peer Review with a group of 500 students. They highlighted that it was important to consider why you are implementing peer review.
Are you reviewing a student’s ability to review or is it to improve their paper? (or both?)

After going through a couple of iterations to improve the peer assessment process, they ended up using the Turnitin integration within Blackboard:
  • Student submitted a first draft
  • Instructor checked to see if the student was on track
  • Students review 2 or 3 papers
  • Student submits final version
  • Instructor marks final version of essay

The presenters emphasised the importance of planning the process and found peer review helped students to: learn the process of reviewing, remove obvious mistakes from their work and improve their referencing.
Mobile

Kate Wright from Aberystwyth University spoke about a project that they have worked on to better understand students attitudes towards mobile devices. They found that students didn’t feel that there was a boundary between using their mobile device for learning or for personal use.  This work/social distinction appeared to come more from staff than students. You can find out more about the projects and their findings here: http://nexus.aber.ac.uk/xwiki/bin/view/Main/Making+More+Mobile
Kate also mentioned that they have been delivering some Blackboard mobile focused staff training sessions to academic staff. These 50-minute sessions focus on how to make Blackboard courses mobile friendly (and covered: announcements, course structure, descriptions, discussions and tests).
Blackboard also delivered a session that focused on how to redesign a module within Bb, using the kit that the have developed: Best Practices for building Mobile-Friendly Courseshttps://www.blackboard.com/Platforms/Mobile/Resources/Blackboard-Mobile-Learn-Adoption-Kit.aspx
Taxonomy and Frameworks
Blackboard has an exemplary course framework, which has been developed with institutions across the globe. The framework can be applied to any online course (regardless of the technology) and is based on pedagogical principles such as constructive alignment, active learning and Bloom’s taxonomy. Marc Jacob from Aberystwyth University explained how their institution have been using the framework with academic staff within their institution. Introducing this framework has had backing the institution's Pro Vice Chancellor and many have incorporated the framework into their delivery of on-line courses, find out more.
All in all it was a good few days!

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