Monthly Archives: January 2011

Durham Day 3

Final day.

Senior VP product management

Bbeyond (Bb, LMS and bbeyond the lms).

Blackboard itself is now scattered accross the world with a number of offices – colleagues no longer always work along the corridor from each other.  New office in Bulgaria (idea is support calls will follow the sun so there is always someone working on your problem).

Lots of investment currently in Bb mobile.

Location Based Examples from Blackboard

Tulane – after hurricane katrina.  Closed campus but used Bb to support distance learning for a semester (students also attended other uni’s campuses).  They held onto 87% of their students.

Northumberland college – had rapidly reached 90% course uptake.  Then in cold weather the Bb activity contined even when college was closed.  Now have a formal policy based on Bb use when staff/students cant physically attend.

Collumbian goverment workforce training is hosted by Blackboard.  3.3 million people trained in 2009.  Coaches with pc and wifi visit remote areas.

Location – software, example linking in google functionality to Blackboard courses.

Link with McGraw Hill materials – allow staff to link their blackboard course to subject specific interactive materials.

Plans for Bb mobile to allow direct upload of pictures from a mobile to the Bb course (currently on discussion boards – later to other areas).

NG Status

Check out maintenance blog – they are currently looking at course files issues.

Bug squad – look at bugs and direct Bb as to what they should fix next (worth checking out?).

Course files issues & Course copy – really big team working on this.

9.1 SP4 fixes a lot of the course copy permissions issues.

SP5 fixes all outstanding issues and will allow the “move course files” to properly move files from legacy to the course content area.

Cohorts – this groups a bunch of clients that are all on similar release and planning to move to a new similar release at a similar time.  There is a spring cohort for move to 9.1 starting soon.

Things to come (possibly)

Basic LTI (in SP4).

SP6 gets better rubrics.

SP8 will have the learning object repository.  So wiki’s, tests etc can be shared across courses.

SP6 has a decent scorm player.  SP6 has xythos webdav!!

So for me what I took from the talk was – by Summer (service pack 6) the problems around course content and moving course content will have been dealt with and the Xythos bit will mean that you can interact with your files on the web(in content system) as if they were part of your “my documents” and unlike webdav it will work everywhere.

Keynote2 – (dis)location

Mobile phones have had a radical effect on the locations of learning particularly where mobile learning is designed as part of the learning process.

Use of mobiles to induct students to your uni (using them to successfully move students into your location).

Exploiting location – record and process your data where you are – field trip (rather than sticking on paper and adding to system later when back at uni and on computer).

Not just where you are but also where you have been can be tracked and this data can link to what you might like to see.  (ie visit several of one kind of painting and it tells you when you pass a gallery with a painting by same author).

Mobiles allow us to exploit time better as we can contact people anywhere pushing meetings around and doing stuff when waiting rather than just waiting.


Location as a tag rather than a folder structure.  Was a lot of maths and graphs in this presentation – which I am sure are interesting to Maths Academics but were less so to eLearners and made it a bit more difficult to understand (I spent 1/2 the presentation thinking that the tag clouds changed in size based on how far away you were from where they were tagged – in fact each wifi spot had its own tag cloud and you only saw the tags of the cloud you were in).

Interestingly the groups idea of what was relevant was more personally helpful to students than their own personal rating (slightly).

Idea – if student could rate content in a course (or student pulled in content to a course) then the ranking system would be helpful to all students even those that hadn’t rated (and following years could benefit from original years ranking).

Has education changed in the digital age

Has teacher training and what teachers do changed.

Took a survey of 75 staff (out of potential 500).  He then talked us through the various result sets.  Ive viewed much larger surveys on similar topic and so this was of little interest to me – interesting from the point of view of seeing what the staff in their institution do/think of eLearning.  Sample size was further reduced by eliminating all staff who answered “No” to the first question (do you use digital communication) from answering the following questions.  So effective sample size was 35.

Also the College the eLearner came from seems to be significantly behind the eLearning curve, they were still wondering if web2.0 had the potential to change learning in any way – I think that question was answered a number of years ago.

Upgrade discussion

9.1 with no or few SP has major issues with file permissions.  Also has a habit of logging you out when trying to view some files/pictures etc.

Really this session was less useful as all the horror stories were about problems that are either already fixed in service packs OR are due to be fixed in the next one.

Durham Day 2

This was the first day of the conference for most, but as I had been there the day before for the content meeting, this was my day 2.

Keynote 1.  Augmented spaces

An at times fascinating keynote but tended to jump around a bit and so could be confusing.

Augmented realities can build in instructions to live areas (ie changing a car engine, doing a chemistry practical).  Provided a few videos of people with headsets overlaying useful info onto reality.

Overlaying 3d models onto real life movement.  best example was a skeletal & veins overlay on a live person showing how the insides move when a person moves.

Nice video on how using video headsets can make you assume you are elsewhere. (your headset shows the view from the person you are shaking hands with and so you think you are wearing their shirt).

If stuff is labeled for you then instead of having to learn then you can just see it – short cut to the deeper learning.  Ie you skip over the basics.

Mobile learning – go into a zone you get info video and tasks etc.  Example pictures of the area in the past.  A good case study done in Eden Grove in north London, nice idea looked like some interesting learning but not sure that the amount of effort involved to set it up is something that your average staff member could do.  (as smart phones become more ubiquitous the ideas around adding geolocated materials will become easier – also possibilities of students adding stuff).

Overlaying building plans on buildings (ie an old church that is semi ruined & make a full 3d model) takes a long time to build the models by scaning in real life views.

In summary there is a lot going on with Augmented reality and it is often in Education that some of the research is going on.

Session 1 – three steps to success (distance learning).  Uni of Leicester

HE is changing (brown, visas for students).

Do distance learner feel lonely and isolated.  Does a filling cabinet in the sky really provide distance learning?

Their unit provides a 3 step approach

Bb taster -> Orientation -> module one.

Taster – one access/guest access which shows them what they will be doing (a subset of the course).  Sent to students when they express interest in a course.  For us we could do this when we get their (online) UCAS application.

Orientation module – students now act as “Live Students” so they get to learn how they will be learning before they start the course proper.   Course design and development unit has designed a distance learning package that covers all the students need for distance learning (it is added into the orientation course).  Held on content system (they use plone not Bb) each support area maintains their own materials (ie library, IT, Registry) and these are all linked into the package (which then updates when support area updates it).

Module One – subject specific materials – gives students access to all the subject specific stuff they need throughout their degree (library, administration etc) this package is added to the Module one by the Teaching staff.

Written guidelines on how to setup a taster have been provided to staff who are planning to do a distance course.

Have a limited copy of the live course for the taster show potential students what they will learn and the kinds of activities they might be doing.

Important – a single taster will not do for all courses (as they are different and may use different tools etc).  So each Program that is involved with distance learning has to create their own taster.

Marketing (and course design and development  unit) have a sign off on taster courses before they go live.

Session 2 – 7 course design models London knowledge lab

Pedagogical templates

These models were drawn from the existing practice at the institution.

Useful if you need models, took them about 1 months worth of staff time to create.  They tend to bring the models to staff to give a starting point to conversations about what type of course the staff member wants to create.

Campus classroom Co-operation Teesside Uni

Teeside wanted to create a Distance course.

Teaching staff had a 1 day training/support/planning session.

Some staff powerpoint with audio over the top.  Made a lot of stuff using softchalk.

Ran into major problems as the responsibility for making the course fell on the elearners rather than the Teaching staff.

Basically this illustrated what can go wrong when there is no clear idea of what is planned.  eLearning staff were seconded to the project to assist and facilitate the lecturing staff with building/designing a distance course.  Some Lecturing staff assumed this meant they handed over their lecture notes and the eLearning staff did everything else.  In one case a Lecturer went off and did research for 4 months leaving just a few powerpoints and not responding to emails.

A course/unit/program belongs to the teaching staff and it is a live thing.  It should not be dropped onto eLearners who have no detailed understanding of the subject matter.

Dr Companion – durham

Giving healthcare students a PDA.  A chip with a bundle of appropriate resourses (3 bundles based on type of student – nurse, doctor, pharmacy)

2nd year students (5 year degree).  Did this with 2 sequential cohorts.

Students did an online evaluation survey.  Students also given a Learning Object blog (they could see each others posts).

Interesting that the 2nd cohort was worse in every trend (responded to survey less, used less, felt was less useful, didnt blog).

Some students want paper resources instead.  Battery issues with some pda’s.

Students wanted more or different resources on the PDA.

Suggested improvements – make it available on mobile phones.

Is now iphone apps (android is in production).  Have a usb version. Cost of an individual app is £25 plus so expensive for students.

For me one of the big questions/problems was that the practice was abandoned after the 2 year project.  If 70%+ of your students say that it helps their learning isnt there a requirement to at least give a reason for not rolling it out to future years?

When and Where is neither here nor there.  Reading

Video – provide to students, for feedback and feedforward etc.  Students want it and want it available in Blackboard.  It also has to be easy (for both staff and students).

Students said that they were getting much more feedback (staff said they were not giving any more than when they typed it – said it took very slightly longer).  Fail rate of the modules dropped when staff started using video feedback.

Feedback was generally for whole class – some did for individuals.  For whole class was much quicker.

Advised staff not to spend any time on editing. (some staff said after a while they were doing faster than typed feedback).

Used an area where staff could drop their videos and have them processed and a url produced they could then stick in their course.

Built a block so the converting area appears in Blackboard.

Portfolio and other widgets

One to help with structure , one to allow people to comment on particular bits (rather than just on whole thing), one to allow export to other ePortfolios systems.

Planning to build blocks for tagging and recommending content on the content system.

Blackboard Users Conference – Content meeting

The first day of Durham Blackboard users conference was on the Wednesday and involved a meeting of the Content System users.

The Content System is Blackboard’s file repository – it provides smarter storage and sharing of files that can be linked into Blackboard courses.

We started off discussing the ways various Uni/Colleges use the content system and I will summarise that here (occasionally I didnt get the name of the Uni someone came from so apologies if I attribute the activity to the wrong institution).

Durham – has had the Content System for a number of years, they rolled it out department by department.  First department scanned everything they held on paper and put it in content system – all users can access these files as department didnt want the admin overhead of assigning permissions etc. Their Medical department used it heavily and have been put off due to issues with course rollover this summer (Blackboard 9.0 and 9.1 have real problems with copying content materials from one course to another – say these are/will be fixed in service pack 4 and 5).

Durham also use eReserves extensively and Dr Malcolm Murray has written a building block to support this.

(Unknown Uni) They have had considerable success training their admin staff to use content system to provide central documents (however admin staff not confident setting permissions etc).  They have also been using the Community System to provide intranets for departments and the files for these intranets are held in the content system.

Leeds (on 7.3 about to move to 9.1) Every module (would be Unit at Bristol) has a space on the Institution area.  Little uptake so far (2 1/2 years) staff find it cumbersome to upload materials to content system and then link into course.

Birmingham – looking to save time and improve collaboration.  Had content system for a long time but previously haven’t pushed it.  Also want to store their extensive collection of flash learning objects.

Liverpool.  Had content since 2006.  Initial enthusiasm from staff but didn’t convert into use.  Mainly use it for ePortfolios.

Reading – had for a few years.  Used for course content and to support department. webpages.

Group Concerns

We then fed back to Blackboard our concerns/gripes about the content system.  These boiled down to 2 areas

Closer links to learning system – for something that is meant to be part of Blackboard the content system sometimes seems to not understand the Learning part of it, as illustrated by Adaptive release release – should affect the files that are attached to items that are hidden by adaptive release (it currently doesnt so Lecturers think they have hidden files but students can find them using search (will be changing this in an upcoming release – summer? For service pack 9.1.?))

Archiving and copy into
They are aware and are looking into it.  Watch upcoming service packs.  I outlined our issues with Archiving for legal reasons (ie you need to have a copy of everything in the course not just the bits stored in course content but also the bits in my content and institutional content).  Also explained the process of summer rollover where we will want to copy materials from this years courses into next years courses.

Most useful part of this was that most of the institutions around the table agreed with me and we are going to form an online group and plan out exactly how we need the processes to behave.

There are various ways that Uni’s do their course rollover (archive/import, copy_into, blank course and staff do copy). Sheffield Hallam offer staff the choice, new blank copy yourself OR we copy it for you.

Durham leave all the Units visible to students until they finish their course.  Staff are removed from courses when a unit finishes.

Bb workplan (upcoming things)

Desktop integration – ie webdav.  A xythos integration branded for blackboard that would basically be a webdav that works.  With much closer integration between desktop and web interface.

Using content system to support sharing learning objects (ie tests and assignments) which can then be shared.  IE test updated centrally and it will update in all the courses it is deployed in.

Planning to update their txt editor to a decent one (ePorts will get this) – end of year on this.

Content alignment – allows you to stick in info about level of content and objectives.

Better search ie on content type (question pools?).

Making it easier for staff to share stuff – ie when something added to a course an easy way to say how you want it shared (rather than having to put it in a particular folder).


I spoke to a number of eLearners about this as we are very keen that our shared content has metadata to support decent searching.  The feedback was that in most institutions Metadata is not popular with staff.  Where uni’s have insisted on tagging staff have just stopped adding materials to the system.  So I need to think of some (meta)carrot to entice staff to do it.