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
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)
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
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?
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.