The Blackboard regional user groups are hugely useful for learning technology staff to meet on a regular basis, find out what we are all up to, discuss common concerns, and to catch up on the latest developments with the range of Blackboard products. Attended by representatives from Blackboard (Dom Gore and John Usher at this session) the group also has the chance to have an open discussion with the company and to feed back ideas and enhancements to the future shape of the Blackboard range.
Our day, hosted by the University of Huddersfield, kicked off with a free group discussion the focus of which was, inevitably at this time of year, upgrades and testing of the new version. As many institutions present on the day are moving to the same service pack version this summer the group moved to try sharing our key findings from our individual testing efforts, a great idea and we’re looking forward to contributing to this.
Part of the event always includes a couple of presentations and this time we heard from Huddersfield and UCLAN about their experiences of implementing a set of standard expectations for modules in the VLE. Particularly interesting was how Huddersfield have linked this set of threshold standards with their staff digital literacies project which itself has been formalised through the annual appraisal process. Also interesting was a discussion following both presentations on the extent and desirability of measuring the reach of these standards. This was useful in the light of Liverpool’s current project developing and implementing the VITAL Baseline set of standard expectations for all VITAL modules. I was also able to talk with a number of other people from other institutions who have taken this journey and get their experiences and advice.
After lunch the Blackboard team highlighted the new features in the next releases of Blackboard, of which the workflows around anonymous and team marking of assignments look really appealing (and if we could top these with an assignment receipting system for the students this would be great!) and some of the work going on for the new ‘responsive design’ for Blackboard we should get a first sight of in the new academic year. It was reassuring to hear the message that Blackboard have taken seriously the feedback around the release of multiple service packs over the year and slowed this to return to a system of two service packs per year, focussing on the quality of the releases. It was also good news to hear just how much attention is now being paid to UK clients and our requirements for our teaching and learning activities.
Finally we usually end the day with a question and answers session with the Blackboard team and thanks to Dom and John for a very constructive conversation here. They had lots to take back to the office as did we!
All this and I came away with a University of Huddersfield mug and pen too!
Our next North England Usergroup meeting is pencilled in to take place in Manchester.