Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2017

Last week was the annual Durham Blackboard Users Conference, and once again I was lucky enough to be able to attend. As it’s a conference organised by and for users, it is always a very useful and productive event and over the last few years I have brought back so many great ideas to build on.

My turn at the usergroup
Photo by Maria Tannant
On the day before the conference there are a number of parallel workshops running, and I attended
the Blackboard Mobile User Group meeting, which was both a face-to-face and video conference meeting as there were users attending from Europe as well as those unable to get to Durham. The user groups are set up and run by users (I set up and run the North England Group) so this is a chance to really engage in what other institutions are doing round the country, both in HE and FE. We got the chance to share what we are currently doing with mobile apps and Blackboard apps (MOLE runs on Blackboard Learn) and it was comforting to find out that we are all in pretty much the same place at the moment, as this gives us the chance to share and build on practice and influence the direction of app development as a whole community.

Malcolm Murray opens the conference
Photo by Paul Durston
Day one of the conference kicked off with a welcome from Durham and the usual humorous introduction to the conference theme (always decided by delegates at the end of the previous conference) from Malcolm Murray. This year the theme was Ticked Off: Towards Better Assessment and Feedback. The opening keynote was from Dr Susie Schofield of the University of Dundee, who runs the largest MMEd course in the world, largely online and delved in to translating evidence-based principles into improving feedback practices. Following on from that were sessions from Chris Slack of Leeds University who was returning with a follow on from last year regarding their implementation of the Enterprise Survey Tool. This showed real time and cost savings from moving these from alternative survey methods to the Blackboard Learn tool. The afternoon covered sessions from Content Collection usage from Derby University and an interesting delve into the world of gamification from Malcolm Murray of Durham. The day wrapped up with a look at the new accessibility tool that Blackboard have released called Ally, which looks a very powerful app that can convert content on the fly to a number differing accessible formats.

Day two started with a keynote from Alan Masson from Blackboard, discussing their take on assessment and feedback and how they are developing their approach to support us in this area. We also go to meet Phill Miller from Blackboard, who had some rather refreshing things to say about the company, the way things had developed over the last few years and how he wants to drive the company away from ‘Truthiness’. The rest of day two covered the ASR Database access (for those of us who are system admins) from John Langford of Edge Hill University and a meeting of the UK Usergroup Leaders, which is a regular meeting at Durham as most of us are usually there. This is one of the many examples of the excellent community network I have the pleasure of being part of, and something that brings many benefits to us. My last session of the conference was taking a look at Numbas, which is a maths assessment tool developed by the University of Newcastle. This was very timely for me, as we have recently been looking at how we can improve the difficulties of handling maths in an online environment. It was very useful to get to speak to Chris from Newcastle as we have actually started to consider this for testing. Having seen it and spoken to them, I hope we can get this in to testing soon as it’s looks very good indeed.

Of course, around all these sessions is the chance to meet people, both new faces and old friends and colleagues, and get a chance to talk about the issues we are facing, the ideas we have and the things we would like. I took the chance to talk to several people about how they are using Kaltura, as we are now embarking on that journey, and th support we have there if needed we certainly help us as we progress with this. We get to have a drink and some good food too, of course :) This is the most powerful part of any conference, particularly this one and it’s something that will continue to help us develop in to the future. It was, as ever, a very good conference.
First night networking - often the best place to learn stuff
Photo courtesy of Fraser McLeish

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