Old and New: Highlights from the Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2017 #DURBBU

Total Architecture

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m no stranger to the Durham Blackboard Users Conference (now in its 17th year!) having attended and presented on number of occasions. However, this was my first visit in my new role at University of Liverpool and also the first visit to the new location at the Durham Business School. Very impressive venue located a little further out of town but close to the excellent Oriental Museum.  The conference began with a warm welcome from the new VC Professor Stuart Corbridge. Then we were back on familiar ground with Malcolm Murray introducing us to the conference theme (Better Assessment & Feedback) and using the Lego figures to settle us into a great couple of days.

The Keynote was delivered by Dr Susie J Schofield from the University of Dundee. Translating evidence-based principles to improved feedback practices” using the “interACT” study she co-authored. The main focus of the presentation was a review of the literature on a range of feedback models and principles (Gibbs, Nicol, Carless, Barton) and draw out some commonality. She shared the view that students can avoid bad teaching but they cannot avoid bad assessment. Stating how a shared understanding of assessment criteria is crucial to student success. I wonder how often there is the time and space in the curriculum to allow students to get a real grasp of this.  Sounds like a good opportunity for students to get involved and co-create their own assessments and criteria.

Wayne Britcliffe presented us with a useful overview of the breadth of tools being used at the University of York, to support assessment and feedback. Many of which are familiar to Blackboard users, although it was interesting to hear that they are a Google University He also shared some useful tips in and a few ‘gotchas’ This was a thought provoking and refreshing topic as it sums up the learning technologist experience at the moment. We are all dealing with similar issues and complexities of electronic assessment. This has certainly been the case for me. A deeper understanding of electronic submission and e-marking approaches have been at the centre of my working practice particularly as these methods gain wider adoption within institutions.

Patrick Viney from University of Northumbria presented a novel approach to using PebblePad V5. Not as an ePortfolio but to manage the dissertation proposal process for over 800 undergraduate students. A common problem to many institutions. The process was based on the workbook functionality in Pebblepad. This allowed students to submit proposals electronically and and select keywords to identify the topic and allow it to matched to an appropriate supervisor.  The effect of this change resulted in a speedier matching of supervisors to students. Reducing time taken from 2 weeks to 1 day! As well as time saving befits, this approach is paper free and auditable. Non submitters can easily be identified and contacted. I’m sure this process could be adapted to support a range of subjects at our insitution, and perhaps lead to greater adoption of the system.  Kudos to Partick for going live into the Pebblepad to demonstrate it. Always valuable to see it live if possible.
I’ve always been a big fan of screen-capture and I use screencast-o-matic a lot these days, since Screenr passed away a few years ago. I’m also very interested in visual learning, so I was keen to hear how University of Reading Lecturer, Emma Mayhew, used this technology to enhance student assessment.  Using Camtasia she developed a range of study support videos which quickly gained popularity, so she ended up creating more and using other tools such as Powtoon to get the message across.  Then applied this to her feedback on assessment. The video feedback reminded me of the useful qualities of audio feedback. Students get more feedback – quantity and detail, but also feed-forward suggestions about what can be done better next time. Staff demonstrate empathy and encouragement more clearly, but also visually identify issues where the student needs help. The process is necessarily efficient for the lecturer but is overwhelmingly receives positive responses from the students. An excellent presentation from an enthusiastic academic making positive changes.

Finally,  it has always been a bit of a tradition for Blackboard to share new advances in their technology at Durham. Nicholas Matthij was excited to share the work he’s been doing on a new product called Ally. This is another Blackboard acquisition and looks to be platform agnostic. The functionality that Ally provides is to make  course content within the VLE more accessible. The tool guides academic staff on how they can make their content more accessible and offers alternatives while keeping the original files. Clever eh? In addition it also has an interesting analytics dashboard that could make it easier for staff to recogise popular content and patterns of use. Developed in part as a response to the changes in legal requirements,  Blackboard will make this service available in Q2 2017. Sadly this will not be appearing in the product as standard but can be purchased separately.

Anyone that is using Blackboard or its associated products would be well served in attending this conference. I know I always have been. Its not just because I keep winning prizes (iPad mini in 2012, £50 amazon voucher this year), although that helps! The community is the crucial element of the conference. Enthusiastic people presenting, sharing and openly talking about issues they care about to help change and make things better. Now that sentiment never gets old.

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 Alex
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Conference report: #ALTC2012, confronting reality

Attending our annual professional conference, the Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C), was special for two reasons this year. For one, this was the first time I was involved in presenting, and secondly, I was co-presenting with Jaye McIsaac, our colleague from Educational Development (see Jaye’s blog entry of the even here).

Venue of ALT-C 2012, University of Manchester
ALT-C at University of Manchester, instagram by sarahhorrigan

Our presentations involved a student evaluation method which we have been using successfully for curriculum and module evaluation for a number of years now. The technological relevance was that we tried a number of technologies to see whether we can improve on the process, called the Nominal Group Technique. (Slideshare links here to our presentation & demonstration.)

One of the most useful aspects of the conference is to be able to chat to other institutions and see what they are up to. Having seen plenty of engaging presentations, credit must go to our academic staff at the University of Liverpool, many of whom who could have been there presenting their innovative e-learning practices at ALT-C. In fact, if you are one of them – do consider presenting at ALT-C in 2013! The eLearning Unit can support you with the process.

Eric Mazur at ALT-C 2012
Eric Mazur at ALT-C 2012

My personal highlights

My highlights included (hard to keep list short):

  • Eric Mazur on active learning – covering how to work the lectures so that they reduce gender bias, ‘confusion’ as a sign of learning (i.e. if students are confused, it is a good sign that they are learning), and the ‘usefulness’ of demonstrations in science lectures.
  • Attending and presenting together with my colleague, Jaye McIsaac, as this brought a fresh perspective on what ALT is and why it’s useful.
  • The Digital Literacies projects presentations, including a session by Helen Beetham and others on ‘Tools of the Digital Trade’.
  • Getting to know the Pecha Kucha format (at ALT, it’s 9 slides with 45 seconds each).
  • A presentation on ‘session capture‘ , with the idea that through extending the naming from ‘lecture capture’ to ‘session capture’, comes the extension possibilities of using recordings in many more settings, such as induction activities, aiding a more institution-wide take-up of the practice. (Loughbourough has Echo360.)
  • The London JISC project, Generation 4.5, which uses virtual patients through multi-branching PBL (problem-based learning) scenarios.

Tools & tips

As usual, there are always tools or tips to pick up. Just out of interest, the trendy tool of the conference was the Instagram app that everyone seem to be using (see first image of this blogpost).

  • ScoopIt – a curation service which colleates content from blogs and other web resources on a given topic, e.g. see a ScoopIt for ALTC2012.
  • Articulate Storyline – an (according to the presenters) exciting e-learning authoring software which has Flash-like capability for animations.
  • Twitter tool – which combines twitter feeds in a PowerPoint.
  • Mobile Xerte
  • Khan Academy: free videos on various topics.
  • Clapometer: a tool that measures the applause level of an audience (one lecturer uses it as a fun alternative to a clicker indicating best response from students).
  • YouTube wraps: a tool that allows you to tailor an existing YouTube resource.

and finally, the awards: 

ALT-C Gala dinner
ALT-C Gala dinner: individual and team awards

I have never made it to the ALT Gala dinner before. It was inspiring to see the best of the profession receiving awards and recognition for their work.

One of the Learning Technologist of 2012 awards went to a close neighbour, Philip Taubman, Lancaster University, for his work on Open Educational Resources and their VLE. The runner up team award (joint second place) was awarded to the SCARLET team at Manchester for ‘their excellent development and implementation of the pioneering SCARLET Augmented Reality (AR) toolkit’ – enhancing learner engagement with artefacts and bring library special collections to life – and for Skills@Library, University of Leeds, for ‘their outstanding development and implementation of internationally recognised open e-learning resources’.

At ALT-C, prizes are also awarded for the Best Proceedings papers, which for the second year in a row was given to Tom Cochrane, this time for his paper on “Secrets of mlearning failures: confronting reality“. The two best Pecha Kucha Presentations were: “Transforming Learning Technologists into Design Researchers“ by Brenda Bannan, and “Engagement by stealth: Can a PG Cert get teachers excited about tech?“ by Lindsay Jordan who dressed as a miner for this: ‘at the coalface’.

So overall, a really good conference – and here at the eLearning Unit we have hatched plans for presenting at ALT-C 2013 as a team.

Tünde (Varga-Atkins)