Friday, 9 May 2014

Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2014 (through Danny's eyes)

The conference kicks off
Last week I attended the annual Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference, this year being held in Dublin at UCD. This is the main European conference for all users of Blackboard products (MOLE runs on Blackboard Learn 9.1, in case you weren't aware) and is a great chance to see a range of quality presentations from users across the education spectrum, as well as getting more time to engage with Blackboard and other companies providing some of the systems we use daily. It’s also always a great chance to catch up with colleagues from other institutions that you usually only talk to via electronic methods!
The week opened on Tuesday 29 April with a day in the Digital Content Forum, which covered a number of areas in the world of content from electronic textbooks to video and how students want to work with this kind of material.

One particularly interesting presentation, by Kate Worlock from Outsell, presented research on what staff and students want from digital textbooks. 80% of staff and students say they preferred print to electronic textbooks, however where the student had access to digital copies in their first year as well as print versions, by the second year of their studies they had become used to working with the electronic versions and stopped using the print copies. It was not surprising to find out that buying textbooks is not a high priority for students and as over 60% of students frequently access digital content via their LMS both themselves and the institutions were keen to use digital resources. This point was also picked up by Jeni Evans from VitalSource Technologies who pointed out that, increasingly, students don’t want to be presented with a reading list as well as access to the VLE, they just want it all in the VLE ready for them. What was also apparent was it’s not about the devices - 90% of staff and 80% of students own a laptop for accessing digital content. However, for students, tablets are seen more for entertainment rather than content creation, although they do use their phones for lots of activities and as a result they get used for ‘content snacking’.

Several presentations also looked towards the future, and the common theme that emerged from the day was that this form of digital content will increasingly be available as an integration of courseware and primary text materials as we move towards more digital web based solutions.

The conference itself kicked off with a very entertaining and thought provoking opening keynote presentation from Professor Stephen Heppell. Using a slide-free presentation and just jumping into folders on his laptop’s desktop, he got me thinking about what is coming for education by claiming that the next decade will be the most exciting times for us and ‘will be the most fun you can have with or without your clothes on’! This was followed by Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt talking about the next generation of Blackboard - where they were going (and taking us with them).

When trying to pick from all the sessions running, I try to go with what interests me both personally and because there is a relevance to what we are working on at the moment. Sometime it’s a very practical session, such as the dilemmas of testing when we upgrade that Kim Comer and Paul Coulthard from the University of Manchester talked about. These can seem somewhat boring to most, however this sort of session really gives perspective on what we do and how we can change and improve things.

There were a number of session that focused on content and the quality of materials available to students and how to improve their online experience, and this is something I have a particular interest in at the moment. Elaine Tan and Malcolm Murray from Durham used the student voice very effectively in surveying what their students thought about the learning technologies available to them. They set up a student centred project employing a group of students to run focus groups that would gain feedback on the learning technologies. This gave the contributors a high level of confidence and the feedback they received was very powerful, and revealed some interesting comments:

  • the students experience of institutional technology that they are asked to use should match what they would choose to use,
  • the experience should be comparable to other institutions,
  • the technology should be fair to all students,
  • the technology should match or exceed previous educational experience,
  • staff should be aware of the technology available and it’s potential to support students as learners,
  • students saw the VLE as the core of their learning.

As those of you who saw me at our learning and teaching conference in January will know, I am working towards the creation of an exemplary course programme (ECP) for MOLE which is based on Blackboard’s own ECP, so I was very interested to attend Mary Jacobs’ (Aberystwyth) session on how they implemented just such an idea. By focusing on recognised principles of good practice and having a mechanism to show the development of good teaching practice, they recognised their outstanding courses with awards. It was good to see someone else having success with an idea you are actively working towards.

Sometimes, you find the simplest things are the most effective. Sarah Grayston from Stirling was confronted with the problem of combating plagiarism. They had created a number of resources for students however it was not that easy to judge how the students had engaged with the message, so they began to use a quiz on plagiarism that the students had to successfully complete before the assignment submission point was made available to them. They used the quiz to deliver focused feedback per question, and enhanced the quiz environment with a simple bit of HTML to make it more effective for the student. Once students got more than 80%, they could submit. So simple, but they saw a big drop from 24 instances last year to none so far this year.

It’s always good to hear from students, and Sharon Flynn from National University of Ireland, Galway was presenting a project to set up a campus mobile app that was instigated and run by students. We have a campus mobile app, so I was interested in hearing the students perspective on such a project, and found it very interesting to see how they approached the project. As with Durham, the student centred project was very effective in producing something that the students wanted. One student also gave what could be classed as the perfect answer to the question “Has the project affected your studies?’ - 'We are only first year students'.

As the conference is run by Blackboard, they obviously have a large presence there, and this does give us the chance to see some of the things that are coming up for us over the next year or so. Their roadmap session is always very popular, and there are a few new things we hope will be coming to MOLE in the summer that could be very useful:

  • Anonymous and Parallel Marking
    I was very pleased to see this in action having been very involved in the consultations that Blackboard have conducted over the last 18 months, and it looks very well implemented. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this one for some proper testing.

  • Student View
    Yes, I can already hear you saying, we’ve got this already but the one we have is an add on, rather than part of the system. What Blackboard have done is pretty much identical, except it has the nice feature that it will purge the data from the test student if you want it to, so it doesn’t clutter up the grade centre.

  • Revamped portfolio tool
    We haven’t made the tool available in MOLE, because it’s, quite frankly, not well implemented and we have Pebblepad, however the revamp of the portfolio tool now offers a quick way to create a simple portfolio that can easily include elements from the students MOLE experience, including grades and feedback. It can be exported as a web site so the student can take it away at the end of their studies.

On top of these, there were numerous other things mentioned, and we will be able to start looking at these fairly soon.

Well it was in Dublin!
After 3 days of conference, it came to an end with an interesting look at how broadcast TV is being used in Northern Ireland as part of the goal of having e-learning help to bridge the religious divide in the country. Coming from a video production background I found it heartening that there is still a real place for high quality video production within education, and coupling this with video conferencing techniques to bring children together from all areas of the world is a great example of what you can do with video.

#BBTLC2014 in Dublin was a great conference. Having come away inspired and motivated as well as more informed, now it’s time to see what we can do to help others move forward with their technology based learning and teaching.


1 comment:

  1. There are more benefits going to be extracted from various technology like Video Conferencing Software which on an implementation results in a collaboration across huge locations with the best quality visual experience which cannot be avoided for today's business scenarios.



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