All posts by acroltt

JISC ‘Digital Student’ Project Exemplars

Following a call from the Digital Student project for examples, JISC has announced the publication of 50 short case studies in ‘enhancing the student digital experience’ in HE. These are available from the Digital Student website, organised according to the main challenges they address. We believe the following list of exemplars (which can also be browsed on the site) would be really helpful, interesting and hopefully inspiring to all at Brunel!

A couple of examples from FE Colleges have also been included, and JISC expect to add more as they near completion of the Digital Student study (FE and Skills) and repeat the process of identifying best practice. JISC will also shortly be publishing an online guide to Enhancing the Student Digital Experience which draws on these examples.

We hope you enjoy these resources and the valuable insights into sector practice.

Blackboard User Group Meeting

On 5th December 2014 a couple members of the LTT attended the BUG User group meeting. Sadly, we weren’t sitting around in a circle discussing our favourite insects – BUG actually stands for the ‘Blackboard User Group’ meeting. The meetings are held twice a year and are a great opportunity for TEL employees from local colleges and Universities to meet up and discuss great, and not so great, things about Blackboard. Not to mention it’s also a great opportunity to help ourselves to a yummy selection of sandwiches and snacks throughout the day!

The meeting was held at the Blackboard London offices which, believe it or not, are located on busy Oxford Street. Whilst we were tempted to make a start on our Christmas Shopping, we decided our day would be a lot better spent getting up to date with Blackboard.

Our very own Anu Sharma presented an interesting talk on how the Enterprise Surveys tool was piloted at Brunel to disseminate the 2014 PTPS (Postgraduate Taught Programmes Survey). The response rate over 4 weeks was 32% which is a very positive response rate for this type of survey. Students were sent an email to inform them that the survey was available and were able to click on a link in the email to access the survey directly. Agreed benefits of the survey tool were the ability to send the survey link via email, the ability for students to complete surveys on mobile devices and the fact that detailed analysis of results is possible. The presentation went down very well and many at the group were keen to find out more!

There was another interesting presentation on the Blackboard Catalyst Awards, which “honor those who push the boundaries of their educational programs and technology in order to deliver innovate and effective learning experiences”. There are five different awards available and more information on everything can be found here:

Whilst the BUG meeting is a great chance to celebrate our collective successes with Blackboard, it also gave us the opportunity to have a bit of a moan and groan to Blackboard representatives on a few of the features that we don’t think are working so well in Blackboard. This also helps us to find out when bugs are due to be fixed as well as any further updates we need.

There were a few more talks, a bit of discussion, and some networking, and the day was nicely rounded up with a bit of Christmas cheer to celebrate the festive season. The LTT look forward to attending further meetings in the future to forge ties with similar institutions and share good practice…and we certainly wouldn’t turn down a few more of those yummy sandwiches as well!

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…

Updated Blackboard Learn Tools card for 2014-15

Have you ever thought that it would be really handy to have all the Blackboard Learn tools listed in a convenient one-page guide? Well, you’re in luck because that’s exactly what we’ve done! We’ve split tools into five categories – Content, Assessment, Collaboration, Information and Management – so it should be easier to see what tools you can use for which purpose. There are 53 tools in all so we’ve pretty much got everything including the kitchen sink! Tools range from the old reliable Content Folder to the new kid on the block Panopto video links.

You can find the guide here: Blackboard Learn Tools card 2014-15

ToolsScreenshotA small taster of the tools card!

Feel free to take a look and if you would like any further information on how any of the tools on the card work, please contact your liaison (details below).


College of Engineering, Design and Physical Sciences – Natalie Parnis

College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences – Louise Faux

College of Health and Life Sciences – Alastair Gemmill

Central Services – Alex Osmond

User Guides and Tracking Stats

Ever wondered if anyone clicks on your resources?

Wonder no more!

In Blackboard you can turn on Enable Tracking to show you how many people have clicked on a resource.

To do this you must go to Control Panel > Content Collection. Select the options menu for the file you want to track and click Edit Settings.

Blog post image 1

The ‘360 View’ screen then displays a list of users and times of access.

The Learning Technology Team looked to find how many staff accessed the PDF help guides on the Help for Staff tab in Blackboard since tracking was enabled over the summer.

In total, all guides received over 1200 hits.

The top 10 guides are shown in the table below.


The most popular guides during the period August-October were unsurprisingly ‘Getting Ready for 2014-15’, ‘Course Copy’ and ‘Creating Assignments’, which made up 1000 (around 85%) of those hits. It is likely these guides received significantly more hits was because they available from inside every course (via the course template).

Staff looking for other tool guides will now find them in the ‘new look’ Help for Staff tab within Blackboard.

Ready, Set, Go! New Courses Now Available

With the new academic year fast approaching, the next few weeks will see students eagerly logging in to Blackboard Learn to find out more about their new modules.

get set go

Staff will need log in to Blackboard to prepare for the influx of students by uploading content into their new course sites or copying content over from last year. Here is a handy guide if you are not sure how to do this . Don’t forget to check out the ‘Help for Staff’ tab on Blackboard for more guides like this.

Last year, students nominated certain courses for good, effective practice. One of the things many of these courses did was to clearly introduce topics and resources. They were also structured in a clear, accessible way; your course menu, on the left-hand side of the screen, is a good place to highlight your structure.

Staff looking to get to grips with Blackboard should sign up for staff development training or if you have an idea you would like to discuss with your new College-based LTT liaison, please email with details of what you want to do.


If you do not yet have access to a particular module, particularly if it has a new module code or if your network account has changed during TxP, please email the Learning Technology Team with your access request.

Build your 2014-15 modules now!

We’re pleased to let you know that the majority of Blackboard Courses (that is, modules) that’ll run in 2014/15 are now available in the VLE. Similarly, most members of staff will have access to these modules from today; they’ll show up with the rest of your enrolments in the ‘My Blackboard’ widget.

As such, many of you will be able to get started on building your Courses. Alternatively, we realise many of you will want to copy last year’s content – or portions of it – into the  new module area.

There is an exception to the above: we are still handling Merged Courses. We have emailed key contacts across campus to verify which Courses are to be merged this year – the sooner we receive this information, the sooner we can create the Courses, and group them as requested.

If, then, you don’t see an up-to-date list when you log into Blackboard, it’s likely because some of your content consists of some Merged Courses. Feel free to enquire about this, but we are aiming to have the work completed by the end of August.

If you need reminding about how to copy existing content into a new module, take a look at our guide to this procedure: 

Questions as always to

Student Expectations of the VLE Blackboard Learn


A recent end-of-year survey asked students what areas of Brunel’s virtual learning environment they found most useful, with the aim to identify, promote and guide staff using Blackboard Learn with ‘good practice’ examples.

The survey appeared to students on the front page of Blackboard during a 2 week period in April 2014, and received 450 responses.

This Learning Technology Team initiative discovered the following areas of good practice that students are finding useful in support of their studies.

  • 25% of votes related to finding things easily
  • 20% of votes were related to clear guidance and ease to use resources
  • 18% of votes related to having a range of content including extra resources (e.g. past papers) and extra reading
  • 12% of votes related to having content that was made available in a timely and up to date manner (e.g. resources that relate to weekly themes of study were uploaded

The remaining 25% of votes related to specific types of content that was well received by students, such as:

  • Having a range of multi-media content such as audio, video and lecture capture resources
  • regular communication from tutors via Blackboard announcements and email tools
  • online discussion boards
  • self-tests and quizzes
  • online assignment submission
  • online assignment grading and feedback

One of the students surveyed said:

“I really liked the use of Blackboard for this course. Lecture notes were uploaded every week. They were absolutely clear and well prepared. There were even some extra notes every now and then. For the communications part, we submitted our assignments online which is so much better than handing in pieces of paper and is more environmentally friendly also. Handing in assignments online was easy and just intuitive. The way we received our grades as well was a lot nicer. The module leader delivered the grades using the Blackboard interface (the tab in the menu that was designed for grades). That way, you could only see your grade and couldn’t see others which is great for privacy.”

The Learning Technology Team then put together the best examples of each of these areas of good practice to showcase and demonstrate real-life uses of the technology, along with a ‘how do I do it?’ poster display. This poster presentation showcased the good practice at the Learning and Teaching Symposium 1st May 2014 as part of the Technologies Zone.

The full presentation including all 10 areas of good practice is now located here. You may find it useful to refer to when considering how to improve you Blackboard module site for students for the upcoming academic year.

The LTT are on hand to support your VLE requirements so if you have any new ideas, or if you want clearer guidance on how to implement some of these ones, please do not hesitate to contact the Learning Technology Team [part of the new Brunel Educational Excellence Centre] on

Blackboard Upgrade – New Features in Service Pack 14

During the week 14th-18th July 2014 Blackboard Learn will be unavailable whilst the system is upgraded to Service Pack 14. This post will briefly highlight a selection of the main features included* in the upgrade (*subject to testing). Click on each feature title to find out more information:


The Achievements tool allows instructors and course designers to designate criteria for issuing rewards to students in the form of both Badges and Certificates.

Course Messages Notifications

The Course Message Notifications tool gives each course a private and secure system for communication that functions similar to email.

Date Management

Date Management gives instructors the ability to have the system automatically “shift” content and tool dates in a course in a highly efficient way.


Student Preview

With the Student Preview feature, instructors can see their courses and interact with them exactly how students do.

Explorance bluepulse

Bluepulse allows students the opportunity to make daily suggestions about what can be improved in the classroom.


Grade Centre Improvements

Improvements include: improved workflow for setting anonymous and delegated grading on assignments, the ‘My Grades’ page order of display matches the Grade Centre column order, improved workflow for Tests settings, & Grading Schemas can now go over 100%.

Groups Management 

The new Group Management page provides a single page to: manage tool access for all groups, sort columns, perform bulk actions for deleting groups, and create Grade Centre smart views for one or more groups.


Inline Grading 

Instructors can view student-submitted files “inline,” meaning in the web browser.  Annotations tools are available as part of the inline viewer, enabling instructors to provide [electronically written] feedback — comments, highlights, and drawing/annotation — directly on the inline view of the document.


Any staff interested in utilising some of these new features are welcome to contact the Learning Technology Team for further information and support.