Durham BlackBoard Users Conference 2013 round up

Durham University once again organised and hosted the annual magnet for BlackBoard users and once again York was represented throughout the two days. Much of the activity was reported live on the twitter tag #durbbu and slides etc will be posted as they are received on the user conference website: http://www.dur.ac.uk/lt.team/conference/?page_id=2 The theme throughout the conference was Make do or spend? though we noticed a number of topics that surfaced repeatedly throughout:

Standardisation of VLE modules

Leicester and Newcastle have both moved towards the standardisation of VLE module offerings, in a bid to establish a threshold (minimum) standard for all online learning. Leicester has devised a default module template, with checklist and notes to instructors built in to the template, explaining how to build out the template with module information. This will ensure that there are shared / common features in the way that module sites are presented (particularly left-hand menu structure and language for menu items) across disciplinary boundaries. Newcastle has identified key pieces of information which all module sites should contain as part of their threshold definition, which is set out at: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/quilt/assets/documents/qsh-vlethresholdstandard.pdf  This includes a VLE presence for all modules with key module information, recommended readings, key teaching materials and links to past exam papers all made available via a module overview page, which appears as a bottom menu item on the home page of each module site. Newcastle are also recording all lectures and have established an opt-out policy, so that staff have to declare that they wish their lectures to be excluded from this service. Students are invited to feedback to central services (Academic support) if this module information is not available or kept up-to-date. Some of this information may be pulled in to module overview sites by automated data feeds – e.g. the reading list information is associated with a module code and drawn into the module site. Durham are recording video / audio introductions to modules and study programmes by course convenors – no more than 5 minutes in length. Although this is aimed at Foundation Year students to help them become accustomed to HE study, the approach is transferable to undergraduate and postgraduate taught courses and could be an effective way of informing module choices.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Allison Littlejohn (Glasgow Caledonian University) and Jeremy Knox (Edinburgh University) delivered 2 keynote presentations on MOOCs. What were the key messages? MOOCS are an evolving course delivery mode. They offer an opportunity to explore new pedagogic models – course delivery can offer more than current MOOC offerings – we shouldn’t be limited in our thinking by the current provision. Note current binary division between x (structured sequential learning activities –characterised by expert talking head video – e.g. Coursera model) and c-type MOOCs (connectivist learning – old style MOOCs) – there is an opportunity to explore different course delivery models and forms of learning. According to Allison Littlejohn, HE sector needs to unlearn teaching modes and focus on developing self-regulatory skills for students, immersing students in unstructured learning environments and giving students the opportunity to interact in learning problems with students from different disciplinary backgrounds. Learners with high self-regulatory skills set clear study goals and can adapt better to different learning scenarios – based on her Shell research. Is this an argument for MOOCs or for the embedding of academic skills development across the curriculum, with scope for learner-centred design?

BB roadmap

Blackboard have made available a series of online resources which may be of interest to staff:

Blackboard announced a number of new features which they will be releasing:

Service pack 10:

  • new textbox editor – you can paste from Word successfully
  • new lightweight item analysis tool to evaluate cohort performance in assessments
  • Scope for mobile access to survey tool and scope for longitudinal analysis of survey data

Service pack 12:

  • new inline annotation tool, enabling instructors to mark up students’ assignments working within the web browser while logged in to Blackboard.
  • new cross-platform repository for shared content, including third party content from the Khan academy (recorded lectures), which can be imported into a Blackboard module.
  • Cleaner interface (home page) with notifications exposed for all module sites that you are enrolled on.
  • Video capture everywhere – enabling the recording and seamless storing of videos within Youtube.
  • Rewriting of discussion board interface.

Service Pack 10 features will most likely be incorporated in the summer upgrade. It is unclear whether we will have time to review and test SP12 features in time for our summer upgrade, but there are a number of compelling features worth exploring.


As you might expect e-assessment was as hot a topic at the conference as it is here at York. While there does not seem to be any complete solution for supporting online submission, marking and return of feedback for anonymous work, it is nice to know that we are not the only people looking for this and we actually seem to be quite far ahead of lots of institutions with the facility currently offered through our own anonymous assignment tool and particularly in light of the revisions being considered by the e-assignment project.

One initiative that did catch my eye was the way that Newcastle have been using Blackboard’s own testing tools for high stakes closed exams. They mitigated or developed contingencies for many of the risks and addressed potential security holes such as browser lock down and had successfully run 90 exams with 10,000 sittings. Could potentially pave the way for others adopting this approach?

What makes a 21st century teacher?

Rather than try to report on this myself I will defer to the excellent write up from SPSW’s Matt Cornock: http://www.mattcornock.co.uk/blog/matt/durbbu/what-makes-a-21st-century-teacher

Presentations from York

We were well represented at the conference, delivering a number of papers and leading a panel discussion on the content collection. Highlights include:

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