I was delighted to be invited by to talk to a department this morning about how they could be using the VLE to open up new teaching and learning possibilities as well as make life easier for staff, giving them more time to spend on the important stuff. With so many possible areas to talk about (eg e-learning to support small group teaching or tools and techniques to support quality feedback) and only about ten minutes in an already packed agenda, I made the decision to focus in on a select few underutilised or forthcoming tools in the hope that this might stimulate further conversations down the line.
Self enrol tool for staff
The department is keen on sharing practice within teaching teams but staff are understandably reluctant to be enrolled on all modules (unwanted announcement, cluttered module list etc). Hopefully York’s self enrol tool will allow them to search for the specific modules that they want to get access to and then remove themselves from modules when they no longer need access.
Although it’s been available since Sept 2012, our recent survey shows that many students are still unaware of the free Mobile Learn app and those that are using are not benefiting from its full potential. I feel this is an exciting area for growth, not just for field work or work based learning where mobile access to resources or the ability to complete activities on the move could have huge potential, but also for campus based students, who want quick easy access to resources on the devices that they carry every day.
Online assignment submission
Like many departments interest is growing in the potential of online assignment submission. The anonymous assignment submission tool is now being widely used across a number of departments to harvest student work digitally and distribute them to markers quickly. Although this process is secure and robust, we accept that its not yet “seamless” and there’s still currently quite a bit of “donkey work” to be done to monitor late submissions and return feedback to students. But we’re working on it; there’s a new utility for providing an overview of recent submissions across multiple sites (to make managing late submissions a bit easier) and we are hoping that returning feedback and integration with SITS will become much easier in the near future… (watch this space)
What’s coming? Upgrade 15th July 2013
Every year we try to upgrade the VLE to the latest “service pack” which fixes some of the bugs and hopefully brings new and exciting functionality or better ways of working. We’re still testing out some of the functionality and scratching our heads over over aspects but already it seems that there’s some good stuff coming our way. We’ll be releasing more detailed briefings nearer to the date but some of the headline grabbers include:
- Improved text box editor – one of the biggest gripes with the VLE has been its clunky text box editor which has sometimes made it difficult to format text exactly as you would like it or get content from Word to behave when you copy and paste it. The new text box editor is a major improvement, simple to use but does everything you would expect from a modern system (and a few cool things you wouldn’t expect) More information and preview video.
- Discussion board makeover – another long over due development is making BlackBoard’s discussion boards more usable and just a bit nicer to look at if we’re honest. The new look and feel will hopefully help to remove the “clunky” label and encourage more use of this still powerful tool.
- Video everywhere – allows you to record and embed webcam videos or access your YouTube collection from within the text box editor. The simple workflow means that video feedback or simple talking heads are no longer only for the tech savvy and because you can do it through blogs and discussion boards as well as content items, students can take advantage of this too (reflective video diaries anyone?)
- Inline marking and feedback – we’re still looking at this to evaluate how and indeed if it can be rolled out but the ability to highlight and comment on student work which has been submitted online and then return the annotated scripts as feedback seems remarkably powerful. More information and preview video of inline marking and feedback.
If this flurry of new and underused tools seems both exciting and a little daunting, then don’t struggle on alone. The E-Learning Development Team are keen to help departments and individuals make sense of what’s possible and best use of the tools available. Whether its through bespoke briefings for your department or teaching team, support with module design, or 1:1 consultation or support on a specific topic, just give us a shout and we’ll be do what we can.