LTT at the Blackboard Roadshow

London is known for its glitz and glamour, its 24/7 party ethos, its plentiful food and drink. …And its thoughtful approach to Technology Enhanced Learning.

One Friday, the LTT decided they were done with partying, and ventured instead to a Blackboard Product roadshow. Here’s what happened…

Early November, Blackboard hosted a series of five events, running one ‘roadshow’ a day in a different venue, across Europe and the UK. Surprisingly, the Learning Technology Team decided against a trip to Amsterdam and opted to head for the London event.

Between 50 and 70 representatives of HE institutions were present (including academics, learning technologists, system administrators, and more), alongside a sizeable contingent of Blackboard staff to maintain order. This took place in the wonderful buildings of the Law Society on Chancery Lane.

The day itself, after an introductory session, was split into two ‘tracks’. The first focused on the development of Blackboard Learn and aspects of its Mobile, Collaborate and Analytics components. The second dealt with good practice in the areas of professional development and training; looking at how to ensure that staff at an institution are as equipped as they can be to handle a range of technologies to support face-to-face learning.

The ‘product development’ track featured some exciting new developments in the VLE and its additional components.

Broadly, these included:

  • Better handling of UK-specific practices in assessment (moderation, double-blind marking, etc.)
  • A new grading app for iOS
  • Better integration between the student records system (in our case, SITS) and the Grade Centre
  • ‘Blackboard offline’ – the ability for students to download entire courses, ensuring they have all the learning materials to hand
  • Removal of Java from Blackboard and the Collaborate conferencing system, improving compatibility on mobile devices
  • Additional MOOC support and capabilities
  • ‘Blackboard Ultra’; an overhauled user interface, hugely improving navigation, accessibility, and collaboration
  • An examination of Blackboard Analytics, the data-warehousing and reporting add-on for Blackboard, which is seeing a boost in UK take-up

The professional development track focused on:

  • Ways to develop ‘positive learning habits’ using tools like Achievements and Portfolios
  • Fostering student-led learning; giving students a sense of ownership of their progress
  • Making the most of digital assessment and feedback

Overall, we came away with some great ideas about the positive direction in which we can take TEL at Brunel. We also got a chance to see the excellent developments that Learn itself will undergo as it becomes a genuinely up-to-date piece of software. That said, it will take some time to implement properly, as the new tools and interface will require a substantive training effort to bring students and staff up-to-date.

As usual at events like this, the chance to network with staff from nearly all of Blackboard’s different departments, and with the people like us from other institutions, was excellent. One of the Blackboard presenters had attended every single event over the 5 days, having flown from the US for the first one, and was flying back to Washington that same last evening. And she was still going strong! I don’t know what Blackboard put in their coffee…

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