Monthly Archives: March 2014

Students would like to see some integration between blackboard and Google drive – so that files can be made available on Google

In the last Staff, Student Liaison Committee at my Uni students raised the issue that they would like to have the course files for units they are taking integrated with Google Drive in some way.  I thought I would blog about it because it is potentially a cultural earthquake.

This is a very interesting request in that, as a web based delivery system all the files on Blackboard are already available to all.  What this means is that student find access to the exact same files better in Google than they do in Blackboard. (all our students and staff have Google Apps accounts and Gmail is our default mail client)

There are 2 possible reasons for this

  1. Convenience – if students are already in gmail/drive working they may find it much easier to access the course related files in the area they are already in.  Similarly it may be much easier to find particular files (Google search is excellent, Blackboard does not have a search facility aimed at students)

  2. Additional functionality or benefits – If students are sharing the same single copy of Drive files they can comment/annotate/edit them as a collaborative effort.

Students are already downloading files from Blackboard and sharing them which requires a significant effort, so it is clear that they value files presented in this way.

Options to assist this

Technical integration

There is no existing project or function that pulls files out of Blackboard and automatically adds them to Google Drive.  It might be possible to design a process using the various systems APIs to design something that does, however this would require a developer to achieve.  The big concern with this would the the accidental release of a file that staff do not want students to see.  As such it would need checks that it only does this to files and folders that staff have explicitly made read to students OR via an extremely complicated set of rules determine if the file can be seen.

Conclusion technically difficult, with real risk of “hidden” files being released and not an ideal output.

Make Blackboard files easier to access for students

All students have access to the content system (see tab at top of Blackboard called “Content”) which contains an area with all of the course files for all courses.  In the default setting these files are not visible to students.  However staff can with a handful of clicks make files for a course read access to students.  Staff have control over if they share and can make a hidden area with a few more clicks.  It may have a beneficial side effect that staff use the content system to upload more efficiently and also tidy up existing files.  Students can then download all the files and upload them to Google Drive.

Conclusion technically easy, minimal effort from staff, staff retain control over what is seen.  Students may find the content system is messy/hard to sort, students still need to expend some effort to assemble materials in Drive.

Store files on Google Drive instead of in Blackboard.

This will require a change of working practice for staff.
Staff create a folder for the Unit with “anyone with link can read” (and give edit rights to co-lecturers) they create appropriate subfolders as needed (in our example they create a subfolder “Topic A”) and place links to these folders in the Blackboard course (in our example they create an item for their first topic and include the link to the “Topic A” folder).  They then either create or upload files into the folder “Topic A”

Staff will still create their courses in Blackboard but files (or at least most files) will be stored on Google Drive.  Staff will be able to create and edit files within google and they will update live on Blackboard.  Staff can also open up files for comments/editing and be part of the conversation that students have around those materials.

Conclusion technically easy, staff will need some training and help with setup.  Those staff already using BbDrive will find the workflow very similar to what they are used to. Very easy for students to see files in Google.  There will be some concerns about where the files are actually stored and things like summer rollover of courses.

Why the Earthquake?

Earthquake damage - Bridge Street

So why do I see this as a cultural earthquake?  Well I suspect we will take the second option (make files easier to find) but if we take the 3rd option (staff store files in Google Drive) (I really really hope we choose option 3)

Then we know that students are using and are used to using Google Drive, so if staff want to share a file with them or get them to do something with Google Drive then the amount of guidance will be low.

Also if students are already using the share/comment/edit on files together then they are already collaborating and cloud working.

Then when staff start to put all their files on Google Drive and work on them there (and lets not forget they can use them in non classwork, I have seen more and more meeting minutes on Google docs in the past year) they will be used to using the system and will start to encounter the share and comment buttons.

Suddenly, you are not spending your time explaining the tool and what it can do, you are simply pointing out things that are pedagogically possible in this new environment where creation/communication/collaboration are just a click away.

Nodal University – where your learning evolves around you! #FutureEd

So the final task for the #FutureEd mooc made you the Vice Chancellor for a new educational establishment and you had to write the mission statement design the structure and decide what you institution was for.  Below is my attempt, I would be very interested in what others think of it

 (please watch video for Vice Chancellors welcome speech: I deliberately made it using only free technology – youtube – as a contrast to the professionally produced videos that most VCs have done for them)

Create, Share, Collaborate – are the 3 pillars on which our university stands

We want creators, of Art, of Science, of Humanities.  Making objects, thoughts, reports, procedures and performances

Share is about more than the “share button” its about how, what and to who and what not to share.  Our sharers are digitally literate students experimenting with different mediums and methods of sharing what they create or curate

Collaborate – working together, learning together, helping each other.  We help our students to be both leaders and followers the kind of person you would follow anywhere and the kind you can rely on to use their intelligence to make your project succeed.

There were some buzzwords, but I think a place where you create wonderful things share them with the world and work with interesting people on things that excite them – is a place I would like to learn at.

Our Academic staff – we recruit the best we can find, but only those who are happy with our way of working.  How do we work? well it will be a limited form of “Open Allocation” more on this later.

Who are the students? Much like how we recruit our staff the students we admit will be the best we can find who want to learn and study in our environment.  Because a diverse group of students provides a richer learning environment the recruitment process will favor selecting students from a variety of backgrounds so we select the best student cohort rather than just the best individual students.

Our admissions criteria: For a degree excellent a level results, however we have a foundation year for those with lower grades or non-traditional and mature students

Who pays and how much £9000 by students via student loans, this is pretty much standard in the UK (although in an ideal world Government would pay a significant % via general taxation)

How do the courses meet? Varies

What are the assessments? Projects will make up the majority of assessments, it will vary depending on the units that you select but you will be marked on what you produce and what your contribution was to the groups that you worked with. ePortfolios and personal blogs will contribute to overall grades.

What constitutes mastery of content? Performance and understanding of concepts as evidenced through personal blogs.  Exams will be uncommon and only used for Units where there is no practical alternative.

Are there diplomas? Yes! Most students will be aiming for a 3 year bachelor’s degree although we do aim to offer some postgraduate qualifications

With the invention of the internet education changed, it is no longer necessary to memorise facts and it is possible to communicate with experts around the world.  To take advantage of this all staff and students should have an internet enabled device with them most of the time (and there will be bursaries as part of the hardship fund for those students unable to afford them).

Staff design and chose the units they want to teach (with a few compulsory units always running). Students chose which units they want to study (in addition to the compulsory units they have to take).  Every unit will have a core of material/skills that staff feel is essential the students learn, beyond that the information and learning will be curated and created by the student cohort with students taking a lead in their education.  A large part of each unit will be project based with students working to make (in its widest sense) something that contributes to their subject.  Students will be responsible for creating and maintaining ePortfolios of their work and publishing a personal blog throughout their degree – it is important that our learners both evidence and reflect on their learning.

All learning materials will be online (with exceptions for disabled students who need alternative arrangements) and the content of a unit will be delivered via video, readings and other online materials.  Contact time with staff will not be in lecture format but will be devoted to seminar and project work – staff will record short videos to cover key points for students (see flipped classroom for details).  Staff will be encouraged to involve students with their research to both increase their productivity and to give students a deeper understanding of the subject.

Learning with loose boundaries – we wish to encourage cross disciplinary work and wide collaboration between students (and staff) as such working with students who are not studying the same unit as you will be supported and you can include evidence of what you have achieved with others in your portfolio of work for the Units you are taking along with explanations of why it is relevant.  Similarly students will be allowed to take units from other disciplines if they have the preliminary skills required by the Unit.

Teaching with loose boundaries – as part of our open allocation policy for staff, staff will be hired to work in their specific discipline and will chose the majority of their work within this area.  They will however be encouraged to work with and co teach with staff from other disciplines.  Career progression will be

  • “Mentee Lecturer” – new lecturer who is helped and supported in their teaching and research by experienced staff
  • “Lecturer”  – member of staff fully responsible for own workload who works with other staff
  • “Mentor Lecturer” – responsible for own workload and guiding a number of Mentee Lecturers with theirs.

Support staff will be hired to support various essential functions but will also be encouraged to work across boundaries and will have a similar career structure to academics.

Alumni and the wider world – students and staff will be encouraged to take advantage of the internet to extend the boundaries of the classroom and work with people from around the world.  Our alumni will be a key resource in this with students being strongly encouraged to connect with alumni, and alumni encouraged to pass real world problems to staff for students to solve as part of their units.  Alumni will also have the option to enrol on individual units to keep their skills current.