Category Archives: Uncategorized

Assessment at Blackboard Europe

I recently gave a presentation with my colleague Roger Gardner at the annual Blackboard conference – session blurb and slides are below

This session explores work implemented over several years at the University of Bristol to develop a scalable workflow for coursework assessment and feedback online.

The workflow combines technical and pedagogic planning to support lasting cultural change.  This uses Blackboard packages, which can also support consistent provision of other activities across multiple courses.

This work was done to address key challenges in this area, including:

-meeting complex requirements in a consistent way

-needing a standard approach which is scalable across multiple courses

-ownership of the process by Schools to ensure sustainability

-easily updating content across many courses with minimum editing


Session covers policy, pedagogic approaches, engaging academic & administrative leads, and the process

The best (virtual) learning environment

Educators find that providing a varied educational experience is better for student attention, the idea of students having differing “learning styles” has been with us for a while (although it is contested theory and its worth looking at the research before making decisions).

Most would say that varying the learning method and the learning environment (class, labwork, fieldtrips) improve the learning experience.  However when it comes to the online world we are often persuaded by the convenience of having all our students automatically added to limit our environment to the VLE and when we need more functions to add tools to the VLE.  Indeed some institutions reinforce this either by policy (you can only use approved tools) or by funding (only approved tools have training and support).

Now all 3 of those are good reasons for using the VLE, – you and your students are automatically added and can find it easily, you are not going to accidentally break any rules (mainly data protection laws – something Universities should and do take very seriously) and if something does go wrong then there are people who know the system who can help you.

There are also good reasons for looking beyond the VLE, the online world is moving faster and if a new cloud tool does appear will probably be 2-3 years before you see it in your VLE on your campus (assuming development cycles and upgrades – there are faster ways for example you can use LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) to plug tools into your VLE and this can be done with a couple of weeks testing) also VLEs tend to suffer from having to be all things to all people so the tool list grows making it harder to find the things you want. Continue reading

Nuts and bolts of running a Peer Review Market

First off for those of you who just want to use it link is here.

When you take a copy it will ask if it can send emails using your account – if you want it to email students when things happen you need to say yes to this.

When you take a copy of the spreadsheet you will also get 4 Forms – you need to find a way to provide all 4 forms to your students and give them access to view the published spreadsheet (for forms File send form or File embed for spreadsheet click file, publish to web – then use the link or embed code).  I like embedding them into a webpage/vle but you can simply put up the links if you find that easier.

Alanya Market 50

You also need somewhere students can add files and get links – Google Drive is good, dropbox is another good alternative – for both if you want anonymity you will have to set it so anyone with the link can edit/upload.

Returning to the spreadsheet – there are a number of hidden sheets, you need to click view hidden sheets, “Username and Anonymous name

Continue reading

#Octel Deep, Surface or Strategic learning

This week looking at the 3 different approaches to learning we had to consider the following

    • Have you seen these different approaches in technology-enhanced courses you teach? How did these differences manifest themselves in terms of online learning behaviour?
    • What approach are you taking in ocTEL, and if so why might that be?
    • Are learners who tend to take a ‘surface’ approach likely to learn more or less effectively online versus face-to-face?
    • How might we encourage ‘deep learning’ in online contexts?


Interestingly I have seen the different approaches in the different subjects that I have taught.  When I taught basic maths to adults (these were people who hadn’t enjoyed maths at school) a number of them exhibited a surface approach particularly at the start of the course.  By contrast in a lot of the learning technology training I deliver I get staff who are taking a strategic approach (show me the buttons I need to press so that I have “done” elearning).  Deep learning tends to occur when I get students to discuss or explain something with each other.

I also spoke briefly to someone doing an online course and found that he was great with the deep learning but not really taking a strategic approach to the assessment – which is to be expected because the student took the course to expand his knowledge not necessarily for the qualification.  The discussion was in the pub so I wrote it up using storybuilder

My approach in #OcTEL is deep and selective.  I started trying to get badges but as soon as I realised I wouldnt have the time to properly study the class I stopped bothering with badges/qualifications.  I am trying to do the only one thing, however I took the course last year so I am sometimes doing something different and sometimes just choosing and activity that interests me.  Same thing with the readings, I chose a few that interest me and I read a few blog posts of other class members and sometimes comment.  I then try to pull all the thoughts together into a blog post (this for me is the deep bit, taking what I have learned and organising it into something that makes sense).

I would suggest the surface approach (which is the weakest approach) is probably even worse online because there is so much you can read and engage with, it is likely that your attention will just skitter around with very little actually going in.

How might we encourage deep learning online?  Well I am writing in one solution now 🙂 getting students to blog about their course means they have to make sense of the information they are consuming and there is evidence that writing for an audience make them consider more carefully what they write.  An extension of this idea is asking students to comment on each others work, if this takes off you will find them having interesting discussions online about the course materials and the posts about the materials.


#Octel – my practice, shifting dimensions

Our first Mooc task this week….

First, think about a learning activity and think about which quadrant these activities would lie on the matrix.

Now imagine how you might shift the activities into another quadrant and what other factors would be affected if you did so




I decided to look at my training course “Supporting collaborative learning through technology” because I am running it again next week.  There is group work and individual work and overall it is fairly directed (I go through the various collaborative options).

So I am going to look at what happens if I make it more Autonomous, allowing the students to look at the various tools and choose which ones they want to explore and give them the opportunity to include things they like to use or have heard about.

In order to do this I am going to have to move things a bit more online and get them to do various bits of work prior to the session.

I will send out a google form listing the tools inside the VLE and the tools outside and get them to fill in what they are interested in looking at.  I will also give them the opportunity to write in a text box what tool they have come across that they would like to use.

Then in the F2F session I will spend less time explaining and contrasting the tools and give them more time to explore them themselves.

#OcTEL Big question – What could learning be if we embrace technology?

I am doing the #OcTEL mooc and the first task is to think about what our big question is that we might answer by doing the mooc.  This year mine is “What could learning be if we embrace technology?”

When I did the first version of #OcTEL, I asked a question about changing cultures to get staff to use TEL.  Although I hadn’t answered the question by the end of the course (its the kind of question you can spend a lifetime answering) I have been giving it a lot of thought since  and I think I have enough to be working on for now.

So in this version I am going to be looking at what happens to teaching and learning when you use tech creatively.  This blog post by Mark Johnstone started me thinking, technology has totally changed how he teaches, so then I asked my PLN and it has changed teaching for them as well.  One nice comment was about how by trying to replicate online what we already do in the classroom, we can miss out on the potentials that technology might provide.

So technology has changed and shaped the world, it will change and shape the lecture/classroom as well even if we fight against it (in the past the most knowledgeable thing in the room was the teacher, now its your phone/laptop/tablet).  So what happens when we stop thinking in terms of control and start thinking of facilitating communities of learning?  What if we embrace the reach and sharing potentials of technology and use it to fan the flames of our students thinking?  What if we give our students the tools, support and peers to enable them to have brighter thoughts than any generation before?

Glühwendel brennt durch

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.