Life of I

The 14th Durham Blackboard Users conference has drawn to a close and proved to be a very interesting event and, before you ask, not just because of the lunch-time chocolate tart being so chocolatey that it was in danger of creating a cocoa based singularity that could have potentially dragged all the attending delegates through its rich, dark event horizon!

Patrick Carmichael (University of Bedfordshire) kicked off with a keynote revolving around the use of video in educational and learning settings and touched upon the interesting topic of the illusion provided by video usage in MOOCs; that of the perceived presence of a teacher that actually was likely a lot ‘more’ present when the video was being shot (as opposed to when it is ‘consumed’).   He went on to discuss Meyer and Land’s Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge and how video can be used to address the premise of ‘learning as conceptual change’.

Matt Cornock from the Department of Social Policy  and Social Work was also at the event and has produced a blog post and podcasts summarising three of the key themes of the conference that struck him; e-portfolios, digital and academic literacies and the role of data. As ever Matt’s contributions make insightful reading and listening.

After the keynote everyone moved to attending sessions in strands.  Thursday (Day 1) was as follows:

Deeper Understanding as the Key to Deepening Digital Literacy?Sarah Horrigan & Laura Hollinshead University of Derby The main thrust of this paper was the way in which material on the institutional VLE was presented and how this can impact on the digital literacies of users. The presenters took us through their various attempts to improve the overall quality of this material for the students.
They drew up a rubric of what makes up a site focusing mainly on aspects of content and communication and then what threshold concepts would define a Poor, Below Standard, Average, Above Average and Excellent site for each area.
Member of the e-Learning team would audit a selection of sites (not from departments they supported) against this rubric to provide a score.
They included some examples on where this approach worked or why in some cases it didn’t an observations on how the stricter you made your standards the greater the number of sites that conformed to the baseline but few that were exceptional where as a looser wording provided more room for interpretation resulting in a greater number of sites scoring exceptional but fewer meeting the baseline standard.
The Blackboard Festival: Creating A Sense Of Excitement And Enthusiasm For Staff Development SessionsSharon Flynn National University of Ireland, Galway This paper presented a successful approach (at the National University of Ireland) to staff development revolving around an intensive 5-day period of workshops and drop-in sessions pitched as a ‘Festival’. In keeping with its music counterpart the idea was that people would come, see and listen to things they are particularly interested in, but also perhaps be exposed to ideas, tools or practice with which they aren’t familiar.Staff reaction was very positive and over 58 people signed up for the event.If you think this is something we should try here at York, then please do get in touch and register your interest.
Using the iPad and iTunesURalph Holland & Neil Clark South Tyneside College
Using ‘Formally’ Informal Blogs to Create Learning Communities for Student on an Introductory Teaching and Learning Programme: Peer Mentoring and Reflective SpacesElaine Tan & Eleanor Loughlin Durham University This was a very interesting paper that looked at blog use and blog engagement when being used to support an assessed portfolio intervention. A notable finding in evaluation was that all the blog posts were fitted into one of seven categories/themes. These were:

  • Description, evaluation and reflection comments and posts
  • Requests for further info : requests prompting further thought as well as asking for reflection or information. These requests also informed face to face activity
  • Challenge and disagreement : challenging practice (as opposed to personal challenge)
  • Practical advice (solicited or unsolicited) : Students advising other students but also reflecting on their own teaching experiences
  • Assessment related
  • Empathetic statements
  • Community building comments
How LTI is being Utilised outside of Higher EducationMatthew Wheeler Pebble Learning (Sponsor)
ePortfolios for Learner Engagement, Feedback, Plagiarism Detection and Electronic MarkingAndy Raistrick University of Huddersfield A brave presentation cataloguing a project that by their own admission failed, but through the process much was learned and it was an interesting presentation following them on their journey and having their insights shared.

In short engagement from all stakeholders is needed with a clear plan of what to achieve and how to get there. Consideration of how a new way of working might impact on all areas of a course and its delivery e.g. time, resourcing, assessment etc. is crucial.

Video Assignments: Managing Large Submission FilesChris Boon City College Norwich This paper provided a particularly good solution to the issue of large video file summative submission (an issue for us with our TFTV department). Chris’ clever solution took advantage of their institution’s licensing of EStream and the fact that Estream provide a building block for Blackboard in the form of a mash-up.This building block ultimately allowed students to embed their submissions (previously uploaded to EStream by the students themselves) via an EStream mashup in the standard text box editor.The outcome of this is that staff can watch the video directly in the Grade Centre and enter their feedback there. The files aren’t in the Blackboard course either so there are no filestore issues within the Blackboard environment.A very neat solution indeed!
Supporting Reflective Learning through TechnologyGraeme Boxwell & Franck Michel Newcastle University Graeme and Franck covered a pilot initiative in Newcastle using blogs for E-Portfolio with a particular focus on Personal Tutoring. Franck talked specifically about his engagement with the pilot to support students who are a year abroad.In this scenario the use of the blogs proved very useful indeed for students, providing them with a sense of continutity and support from the Institution (from both tutors and peers) and also a way of ‘cataloguing’ their often life changing experiences that can otherwise be lost when back in institutional setting.It’ll be interesting to see further evaluation from the forty pilots currently under way at Newcastle.
Automating Testing – Saving Time and MoneyDavid Barrett and Blayn Parkinson University of York University
Revolutionizing education within the Blackboard platform and beyond with KalturaJeff Newman – Kaltura [Sponsor]
Self-directed/Self-Paced Learning using Course Templates and Community ModulesMaria Tannant University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Maria Tannant gave a thought provoking presentation revolving around how only two Learning Technologists can help support students across five campus locations in seven schools, offering expertise in twelve disciplines.One of the problems identified at UCA was students gettting lost in the massive amount of resources they have available to them; everything from thousands of DVDs to EStream video access. Students suggested they would get to the point where they give up (in feedback to the institution).Maria and her colleague, in conjunction with their library colleagues went about creating Blackboard templates that include a Modules Page where they place specially curated Modules (we call them portlets internally) for each of the twelve disciplines. These expose access and searches that target resources more specific to the discipline in question thus affording students an easier and more manageable route to useful materials.This is something we do do here at York but not typically in specific Blackboard sites. Something we shall be looking at to see if it could be useful here at York.
Working with the Enemy? Can we Lock Down Flexibility?Sue Lee & Nicola Randles Staffordshire University
Flexible e-Learning to Sustainably Support Laboratory Learning?Sam Nolan Foundation Centre, Durham University

Friday (Day 2)

Blackboard PresentationJim Hermens Jim departed from the traditional focus of Blackboard keynote speakers on roadmap developments to reflect on his personal journey in supporting technology innovation in the delivery of personalised tuition. Features of his experience working with New York State’s ‘School of One’ – a virtual maths tutoring initiative for individual students offered at scale across New York State  –  included support for personalised pathways through maths content, with learning objectives set on a daily basis in response to assessed performance in tests. Jim highlighted the power of designing personalised learning pathways, in which individuals control the pace of their learning, drawing on Vygotsky’s thinking on the zone of proximal development to show how expert mentoring and tuition can drive student attainment to new levels of achievement.Jim underscored the value of outcomes-based instructional models and pedagogic designs based on learner choice and learner-centred resources. Jim also made the case for achievement tracking, using performance data to help provide valuable feedback for instructors – presumably to support differentiated instructional methods for learners.Jim was quick to pick out examples of existing good practice in the UK which address this agenda. The Jisc’s ‘Making assessment count’ initiative resulted in a number of outputs, including the e-reflect survey tool, which structures student reflection on an assessed piece of work, and helps to formulate a dialogue between instructor and student. Jim noted how e-Reflect has been adapted by the University of Westminster and branded as a ‘feedback plus’ system, deployed in their Life Sciences faculty to support self-review of student work and dialogue between students and tutors.Jim closed his presentation by commenting on Blackboard’s existing commitment to personalised learning, focusing on recently released tools and services:

  1. Expert institutional models for competency-based learning: supported through badges to track competency achievements, as well as rubrics (standards and goals) to make transparent achievement criteria;
  2. Data and learning analytics – to track student achievement, specifically by offering increased performance data in courses;
  3.  Increased control and choice to learners – through the availability of personal learning spaces on the cloud (with a brief mea culpa on the poor implementation of this facility, resulting in institutions such as York not switching on this facility due to data management issues. This is the nearest Jim got to talking about quality and ensuring that releases are properly tested before they are pushed out to client institutions).

The personalised learning theme will also drive future product developments (at last – the roadmap!) – specifically around portfolio capabilities, with a stronger relationship made between course assignments and portfolio development (students being able to draw on course artefacts such as their discussion board postings and contributions in other parts of a module site), and there will also be a stronger relationship between portfolios and assessment through the Grade Centre.

Blackboard will also be looking at responsive design in future development activities, to ensure that users have greater control over their screen – getting Blackboard content and tools to match their device.

The Life of ‘e’: First dialogue, then Design , now dataKeynote – Robin Goodfellow Robin charted his personal career in e-learning at the Open University, identifying three phases of instructional practice, namely:

  1. Tutoring focusing on textual dialogue: textual dialogue in discussion forums as the principal mode of participation for learners, with his focus as a tutor on making sense of what students were thinking and saying in these asynchronous discussions.
  2. Design for self-management of learning: pedagogic (participatory) design with the focus on user ownership and openness, based on active student engagement with learning tools (e.g. designing tools for reflection and creative learning e.g. portfolio development and supporting students’ learning development through these media);
  3. Data for personalisation (learning analytics): tracking of students as system users, analysing their progression and achievement – using data to inform curriculum design, guidance / support provision to students, and to judge the validity of assessments. Robin bemoaned the fact that this new phase might well ignore the collaborative dimensions of learning, focusing too much on individual data and not the interactions which drive the learning experience. An exclusive focus on analytics runs the risk of ignoring social interactions, which are at the heart of the learning experience. A cautionary note to Blackboard when pushing learner analytics solutions as the great panacea for learner engagement and achievement.
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age; The Myth of Digital CompetenceSue Watling – University of Lincoln Sue highlighted the work of Neil Selwyn in debunking Prensky’s digital native thesis on students’ digital literacies. She noted from her own experience that students’ digital competencies are assumed rather than proven and a similar picture is true too for academic staff. The difference for staff is that there is no framework for developing their digital literacies ‘in service’ and academics tend instead to rely on a DIY model to acquire these skills. Typically from her experience those that can do, and those that can’t, don’t. Herein lies the challenge for our generation of digital immigrant instructors, who need to acquire literacies in digital scholarship and pedagogy. Can research literacies (digital scholarship) act as a driver for the acquisition of pedagogic literacies? Yes –  up to a point in experiencing how to use tools (create blog posts…), but does this really address new modes of teaching delivery and pedagogic design?For this to happen, we need to look at a competency framework for teaching staff, working at developing capabilities from the bottom up (e.g. discussion board and wiki management; design and technical skills).Selwyn, N. (2009). The digital native – myth and reality. Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives, 61 (4), pp. 364-379.http://tinyurl.com/pxedt3w
Coursework Submission: Theory vs RealityBryony Bramer & James Leahy – Regent’s University, London  
ReallyManaging Assessment / My ProgressSteve Sidaway – MyKnowlegeMap [Sponsor]  
Negative Experiences of some Mature Students with TechnologyNick Pearce – Foundation Centre, Durham University  
Ombea: Engage, Analyse, ThriveMitt Nathwani & Paul Jenner – Ombea / Reivo [Sponsor]  
Enterprise Survey ToolMalcolm Murray, Julie Mulvey, Stephen Applegarth – Durham University Durham University have learned the hard way that there are a lot of rough edges to Blackboard’s survey tool, which count against it as an institutional solution.Survey creation and ownership is linked to a specific user ID, not tagged to a department or custom system role. This means that locating surveys and accessing data across an institution or department is extremely complicated, although Durham have used the institutional hierarchy feature to group surveys.The way the tool is designed though, you only have viewing rights to the surveys that you have created. The xPlore repository may offer better scope for sharing question-sets, if not the data arising from surveys, in the future.And to compound the search problem with the current tool-set, you can’t sort surveys by the year that they were created or by theme, so the greater the number of surveys you create, the bigger the challenge in locating the right one in the future, if you wish to re-use questions etc.The reporting tools are also not all that they seem. The colour schemes for results are not consistent across questions, so a particular colour (depicting for example the number of agree responses) could mean something completely different in the next question. The survey tool automatically calculates average percentage scores in the results, but these are based on its own logic (e.g. strongly agree 100%; agree 75%; neutral 50%…) and this is hard coded in to the system. If you don’t agree with the way that the average percentage scores per item are calculated, then you will need to manually recalculate scores, which is the position that Durham have found themselves in. Not great!

It’s not all bad news though. One of the strengths of the tool is that you can reuse the question-set for a survey multiple times. Be careful though not to tick the anonymous response box, which enforces anonymity and prevents you from tracking who hasn’t responded.

Durham have also written their own BIRT reports to provide a breakdown of survey report per academic, and they are achieving very high response rates from their students. Part of the reason for this is that the tool has its own access control features, which means that you can email out a link to the survey and students can just click on the link to complete the survey, and do not need to log in to Blackboard first to access the survey. It is also mobile friendly, so students could complete a survey using their own devices in class, if you wanted instant paperless responses.

In summary, it’s simple to create survey questions, Durham have been getting excellent response rates from their students, but the overall interface is fiddly and the ownership issues need resolving. Maybe good for ad hoc surveying conducted by individual academics, but not a mature tool which could be adopted by a department or by the university as a whole.

Personalised Feedback vs ConsistencyMaureen Readle & Jak Radice – University of Bradford  
Pefecting the Interplay between Traditional and Technology-Based Teaching to Enhance Learning MathematicsJinhua Mathias – Foundation Centre, Durham University  
The Framework-based Staff Development Approach for Embedding Contenxtualised Digital Literacies at NUI GalwayPaul Gormley – National University of Ireland, Galway Building on Sue Watling’s earlier presentation, Paul observed that students’ self-reported digital literacies do not naturally translate to academic literacies. He also noted the deficiency in the way that digital literacies are fostered at higher education institutions, most commonly in a decontextualized fashion through generic programmes such as ECDL. We need to draw relationships between technology usage and the teaching / learning context for literacies to flourish. This requires a curriculum-based approach (threshold standards) with frameworks for contextualising digital literacies across study programmes. Paul illustrated how this could be done, picking out Leeds Metropolitan University and its approach to curriculum design, where learning outcomes have been rewritten to reflect technical / multimedia formats for the performance of specific learning activities, skills etc.NUI does not yet have an institutional competency framework for academic staff, but Paul has sought to promote digital competencies for teaching through his own undergraduate BA Education & Training course for trainee teachers. It is run over 8 weeks and is modelled on the DigEULit framework, mapping literacies to key learning outcomes. It follows a ‘learning by doing’ design, with participants challenged to take an existing face-to-face course and convert it to a blended format. They are expected to develop a strong business case for the blended delivery mode, as well as to focus on the design features through a design portfolio and prototype development on NUI’s Blackboard test server.Whilst the scenario of building a course from scratch or converting an existing face-to-face version to a blended design may not be that common, the ‘learning by doing’ approach could be fruitful in staff development at York, looking at adjustments to existing blended courses, notably by exploring activity designs and their relationship to learning outcomes.This could touch on a number of areas, such as:

  1. Tools and their affordances – which tools are right for specific aspects of learning;
  2. Design for effective student engagement – drivers for participation and adoption of the tools and activity design
  3. Technical competencies in deploying tools to support specific learning activities.

Paul reported that trainees who had successfully embedded learning technologies within their curriculum design felt that this enhanced their professionalism and impacted positively on their confidence as instructors. Food for thought!

A Tale of Two ExpectationsElaine Tan – Durham University  
Administrating on the MoveSandra Stevenson-Revill – University of Derby  

One response to “Life of I

  1. Pingback: OU Report: Innovating Pedagogy 2014 | E-Learning Development Team·

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