Friday, 13 April 2018

Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2018

I've just got back from this year's Blackboard Teaching and Learning conference (#BbTLC18). It's always a good conference, and this year it was right on our doorstep in Manchester, which is great because it's not a lot of travelling, but it does take away the opportunity to visit an institution for the first time which I always enjoy. As ever, it had a packed agenda and the presentations were very good. I've presented at the last two conferences, and this year I was sharing that with Farzana. More about that shortly. With such a full schedule, I'm just going to take a quick run through the days and briefly mention the sessions I attended.

The conference started for me on Tuesday afternoon (Monday was the academic adoption day that Simon attended, and the DevCon for those with a more technical role than me). First up was the Opening keynote from Volker Hirsch which was a fascinating dive into data and what it means to us.

Me and Farzana just about to start
Our presentation was in the first parallel sessions track straight after, which I think is the best time to be given. We were talking about the changes we’ve made over the last year, and how the student voice drove that. The room was packed, with people carrying chairs in with a few minutes to go and we had too many questions for the time at the end. It’s always good to get a response like that, and many people came up to us after giving us positive feedback, which was very welcome.

The theme of the rest of the day for me was exam orientated. I've presented about our online exams previously, and I like to keep up with what other are doing, so I went along next to see Chris Moore from UWE talk about how he'd introduced final year open book essay based exams in his teaching. Then it was off to hear Claire Iving from Newcastle talk about their online exam approach, which is very similar to ours in many ways.

The afternoon finished with the Blackboard keynote speak, with senior Bb leaders talking about their vision for the company. It was also good to hear them acknowledge some things that hadn't gone to plan, in this case the change from Crocodoc to Box View.

As I'm the usergroup leader for NEBUG, I got to spend the evening with other usergroup leaders from Europe and Blackboard people, which is a great chance to hear more about what they are doing in their groups, meet some face to face for the first time and catch up with those I've known for a while, and also to meet some senior Blackboard staff including the CEO Bill Ballhaus and CPO Tim Tomlinson.

Wednesday kicked off with the Blackboard product keynote, which gives a good insight into what is coming to all the products we use. My first pick of the sessions was Malcolm Murray from Durham talking about a gamified course they had done. He's written a extra bit of code to create a really good interface to a standard course that has improved student engagement. Next up was a quick 20 min introduction to ReadSpeaker from Sandra Stevenson-Revill at Derby, which looks an interested tool for all users to allow course content to be read to them. Next was Lisa Fishburn from Newcastle talking about how to deal with a course that hasn't been refreshed for about 10 years - how do you go about dealing with 1500+ folders worth of content! I also won a Kinder egg from Lisa as well 😁 The last session of the morning was another quick 20 min session by Tamsyn Smith and Matt Diprose from Southampton about their VLE awards.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Luca Bordogna from Bocconi University in Milan over lunch. He had seen my presentation there last year and wanted to talk some more about what we were doing with online exams and assessment. After lunch, I opted to miss the panel discussion and instead spend time with Jan Thomson and Neil Carroll from UCLan, talking to them about how I manage a lot of the back end admin side of running Blackboard Learn. I find these times at conferences the most valuable, sharing knowledge with colleagues from other institutions. I finished the day in another Sandra Stevenson-Revill session, taking a look at some of the extra features that Derby have created to make things work more easily.

The evening was a chance to spend time over dinner with a group of people from a number of institutions, and get to know some I'd not met before.

The final day of the conference (Thursday in case you've lost track) started for me with Bobbi Moore from Reading talking about the online course for staff development they've created to support their users. Next up was Joe Currie from QM Edinburgh talking about their move to the new Blackboard SaaS platform, something that is of particular interest to me currently. The penultimate session for me was listening to David Pike from Bedfordshire talking about how they exploring and quantifying TEL usage and how that can focus approaches that support the TEF. This years conference concluded for me with Peter Rayment from Cardiff talking about how they have used Eesysoft to produce focused support for their users, and generate course usage data for staff to access.

Fun in the party photo booth
Lots of really good thought provoking presentations, great feedback on our session, and quality time spent talking to lots of people have made this years TLC a very good one, and the final night party is the perfect way to finish things off - to have a bit of fun with some new colleagues and friends.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Digifest 2018 highlights

I've just got back from a trip to Birmingham for Jisc's Digifest 2018, two days of ed-tech talk and exhibitions at the International Conference Centre.

The conference started with an impressive demonstration of the Janet Network, with a live orchestra on stage joined virtually by a projected video stream of an accompanying trio in Edinburgh. Jisc chief executive Paul Feldman opened proceedings, before introducing National Union of Students president Shakira Martin. Shakira gave an impassioned call-to-arms on how technology should remove barriers for students, but not be seen as a replacement for face-to-face studies, and ended with the message that we need an education system that's adaptable and flexible for all students, no matter their background.

In the first session I attended, ALT's Maren Deepwell spoke of development of CMALT, which included two new pathways being piloted for new career staff and managers, and emphasis on the scheme mapping onto other professional qualifications such as UKPSF. She was joined by Edinburgh's Susan Greig, who spoke of a 'Zumba class' approach to CMALT, that is peer support (and peer pressure) to complete CMALT in small cohorts.

This was followed by a session by Jonathan Rhodes, Gemma Wilton and Elnora Marston of Wolverhampton, who gave details of their SEDA- and HEA-accredited courses, 'Learning to Tutor Online' and 'Digital Transformations'. It was emphasised that these courses, delivered on the university's VLE, would give teachers a vital experience of being a student which would influence their own practice - as pointed out: "You can't learn to swim by watching YouTube videos".

A lightning session by Sarah Fielding and Anna Ruff of the University of Southampton gave details of their institution's VLE award schemes, which sounded like an excellent way to reward staff for creating quality learning materials online. The system allows students to nominate courses they feel have been excellent in their online delivery, and staff to nominate themselves for courses they are particularly proud of.

Jisc's Chris Thomson and Sheffield Hallam's Liz Austen delivered a great workshop on 'Going dragon-hunting' - using digital storytelling in higher education. Liz told of how getting students to use Adobe Spark to tell their stories visually allowed the voices of "hard-to-reach" groups of learners to be heard.

Paul Waterworth of Calderdale College gave a talk on TEL's role in supporting students with mental health difficulties. While acknowledging technology such as social media can have a negative impact on mental health, and screen use can lead to insomnia, technology has a role to play in helping students. This includes apps for help for anxiety, such as Elefriends and Anxious Minds, mindfulness apps such as Calm, Wellmind and Happier, and mental health awareness apps such as PTSD Coach and RCPsych.

Jisc's Andy McGregor led a session introducing the 'Co-design Playdeck', a set of cards (inspired by Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies cards) that give strategies for collaborative innovation. The cards give a series of techniques for understanding, imagining and building a project, and provides a simple way to break down the practicalities and process of making an idea into a reality. A really useful tool - the printable 'Playbook' version can be found here.

Sadly I missed the final keynote, which was a talk on VR/AR in medical education by Shafi Ahmed, but the Twitter responses suggest I missed out on a great presentation!

A great couple of days in Birmingham, with some great examples of digital innovation in the sector.

Pete Mella.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

TELFest 2018 - It's on its way!

It doesn't seem long since the last one, but plans are well afoot for TELFest 2018, which will be running between 25th-28th June.

2017 saw our biggest and most successful TELFest yet, which was recognised as a key factor in the TEL Team's award of Learning Technologist Team of the year at the Association for Learning Technology's 2017 conference.

This year we're building on this success, opening TELFest out widely to delegates and participants from other HE institutions for the first time. In another change, we will be running the festival over three days, preceded by a pre-conference practical skills day for University of Sheffield staff. There will be the usual mix of workshops, case studies, panel discussions, debates and exhibitions, with some more unusual sessions planned that we're keeping under wraps for now!

The call for submissions is now open, and we'd love to hear your ideas. Please also share widely with colleagues - from the University of Sheffield or further afield - if you think they may be interested. For details of how to submit, and more information about TELFest, please see the TELFest Website.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference at Sheffield Hallam University.

The Conference has run for a few years but was announced it would be the last time it would be run in this format. A new format will be announced sometime in early 2018.

The morning consisted of an approach called Build your own Conference (BYOC). The idea of this was that delegates could suggest an idea for a session or better still lead it. At the beginning of the day these were assigned to group common themes and allocate rooms.

The first session we attended was around an app swap of learning and teaching. A number of apps were suggested including:
  • Padlet
  • Wunderlist
  • Trello
  • Metaverse
There was a short introduction to Raspberry PI computers and suggested that Code Club was a good place to learn more about coding for a Raspberry Pi.

We then attended a session which used Lego to convey how you personally felt about social media which birthed some weird and wonderful creations.
In the afternoon we attended a session with a round table discussion on the idea of whether Social Media should be used in learning and teaching and what issues should be considered when using it in a learning context. This brought in a number of viewpoints but the consensus was that whilst Social media does seem to mostly have its place you need to exercise caution when using it.

Lastly we attended the TEF Crystal Maze. This used a series of challenges (or zones) to unlock a number of codes. In Turn you gain up to 3 crystals for each task. The winning team is the one with the most crystals.This was a great way to learn a little more about a topic that otherwise can be a little heavy.

Overall the day presented some interesting discussion around social media and its use in higher education. I look forward to seeing whats next for the conference in whichever form it decides to become.

Friday, 19 January 2018

You can hide marks from Students so they can only see the feedback - MOLE Assignment Tool

Whilst looking into something in Grade Centre, I stumbled across a way of hiding the grades from a student initially, so they can only see their feedback, and then revealing the grades at a later time.

This only works using the MOLE assignment tool, and you would need to hide the rubric scores if you were using those, but it does give you a way of allowing access to feedback whilst marks are being moderated.

Click on the link below to see the full guide

Guide on how to hide marks

Friday, 12 January 2018

Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2018

The conference theme
Last week I had the pleasure of spending time in Durham for the annual Blackboard Users Conference. Now in it's 17th year, I've been lucky enough to attend over the last 7 years and it has been a great time to meet people and learn about what is happening across the UK with other Blackboard VLE institutions (MOLE runs on Blackboard Learn).

This year, I was presenting about our move to running MOLE based exams and how it has developed over the last 5 years. I got a lot of questions at the end of my session, so I'll take that as a sign that it went well :)

The conference started for me on Wednesday afternoon with the Blackboard Mobile and Collaborate User Group. This runs as a hybrid meeting, with people both in the room at Durham, and connecting in via the Blackboard Collaborate online collaborative learning platform. This gives us a chance to find out what others are doing with their mobile platforms, find out the issues and problems that arise, and how the challenges have been overcome. An update round the meeting from each institution allowed us to set the scene, and then we had members of the Blackboard Mobile team joining us from the US to present some of the new features that are coming soon, and to take feedback from us on the mobile apps. It's a good way to kick off the conference, and the discussions carried on over an meal in the evening.

Thursday morning saw the start of the conference 'properly', with a welcome from the Durham PVC for Education, and then the usual conference opening from Malcolm Murray, who heads up the Learning Technologies Team in Durham who organise and run the conference. Next up was the keynote from NUI Galway's Sharon Flynn. A long time attendee of the conference, it was great to have a keynote from the community for a change, rather than someone coming in from outside. With the conference theme of 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' (the theme is always suggested by the attendees of the previous year) Sharon wove this into her talk about where they had been and where they were heading. Sharon was the inspiration that triggered TELFest for Farzana and myself, so it was lovely to get a mention from Sharon about this during the keynote.Unfortunately illness gave me a late change for the next session, as the presenter I had earmarked to listen to had been unable to make it, so I jumped in the session Urkund were running to show how their plagiarism detection tool has been integration into Blackboard Learn. As we are a heavy user of Turnitin, I am interested to seeing what alternatives are out there, even though there is no consideration in moving away from a service. A spot of lunch is always good as it's a chance to catch up with people as well as actually eating something. I had a number of things I wanted to talk about and these contacts are invaluable in helping us improve how we do things - this year has been no exception in providing this help for me :)

After lunch I went to listen to how Edinburgh approached gathering meaningful data on their student experience. Ross Ward talked about how they had done this and gave me some food for thought on how we can continue to improve our 'UX' since the course refresh. Next up was Dave McArthur from Glasgow Caledonian, who definitely gave the most entertaining presentation of the conference, with much laughter in the room, talking about how they reworked existing content for use in a distance learning programme.The afternoon continued with Jonny Crook and Andrew Gold from Manchester Uni talking about their experiences of using standard course structure, again something that is of interest as we have just been able to introduce course templates for departments this year. Day one finished in Blackboards session on the impact of accessibility. With their new Ally tool looking very interesting, this is an area I think we need to explore in more detail, and with their research findings that around 80% of images did not contain alt descriptions and 1/3 of document had contrast issues in VLE content, it's clear work is needed.

Important networking!
The evening was more time to talk to people over the conference dinner, in the wonderful setting of the great hall in Durham castle. Having been for a few years, I know a lot of the attendees quite well and it's always good to meet up again, and have some fun as well as talk work.

Day two began with the Blackboard keynote from Katie Blot, who gave us an insight into her time with the company and where things are heading. Next up was an interesting presentation from Candice Nolan-Grant from Durham about how then have used a course within Blackboard to offer new users self-guided training. This is something I've been considering, so it was good to see how they had done it, and be able to ask some questions about their successes and failures. Watch this space!Next up was Derby talking about their academic led EMA project, and it was amazing to see how big a project it was. Over lunch I had a Blackboard Usergroup Leaders meeting, which is a very useful time to get together face to face and discuss some of the things we have been trying to do over the previous year, and where we would like to be heading. I run the North England usergroup (NEBUG), which has been around for a few years now and is a very useful addition to the conferences throughout the year. After lunch I was up at the front. The final sessions were a useful insight into the tendering process from John Usher of Blackboard and Jonathan Knight from Keele talking about something we've just begun to implement, and that is the devolving of administration access using hierarchies, which is getting very system admin technical, so I'll not go into any more detail.

Home time
As ever, an excellent conference. I always come away feeling inspired by what others are doing, confident we are working hard to make things better and amazed by the generosity and camaraderie of the Blackboard community in the UK and Europe... Also very tired!!!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A change to the Editing Tools in Kaltura

On Sunday 14th January there will be a change in the way that we access the editing (trim and clip) tools within Kaltura

The new editor consolidates the 'Trim Video' and 'Create Clip' tools within an easy to use interface. To access the new editor, click on My Media and navigate to a media item. Click on the Edit button, and click Launch Editor.

The new editor interface will allow you to trim the start and end of a video, as well as saving a copy of media item. For instance, this could be useful if you wanted to share a specific section of a video with others.

Image showing how the Actions menu will change

The Interactive Video Quiz editor will also move to the new editing interface. Quizzes can be created by clicking Add New > Video Quiz, and questions are added using the new editor. 

New Quiz Editor view with the timeline zoom controls highlighted

The new editing interface will make it easier to be more precise when trimming videos and adding questions due to the ability to zoom in on the timeline - the zoom handle is circled red in the above image. 

For more information, please have a look at our updated Quick Start Guides

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Changes to MOLE Assignment Tool

NOTE: If you are providing marking and feedback using the MOLE assignment tool around the date of the upgrade (Saturday 16th December), please be aware of the below changes as the switchover could cause inconsistency in functionality and cause any feedback prior to upgrade to be permanently attached to the document.

Currently the MOLE assignment tool works in conjunction with a tool provider called Crocodoc. It works by embedding the crocodoc tool within MOLE.
The tool provides a document viewer (see below), showing the work student has submitted when accessing it in the grade centre, allowing it to be read online. It also allows you to annotate the document to give the feedback on the student's work.
The crocodoc tool is being discontinued in January so as part of the December upgrade (Taking place on Saturday 16th December) we will be moving to the new Box View. Box is the company that has acquired the crocodoc tool and will be the provider for Blackboard (MOLE). This date is something we cannot control as the tool will expire in early January.
This will bring about a few changes to the online feedback tool, these are:

The tools that surround the document viewer i.e the right hand panel (in green on the above image) will not change.

More of the functionality changes can be seen in the below presentation:

The main functionality changes are:
  • Range of file types that can be submitted and displayed has increased
  • Less annotation options available
  • Print functionality added
  • No longer able to download with annotations
Once we move over to the Box View, you will still be able to access the documents and feedback but the feedback will be ‘burnt in’ to the document i.e. it will no longer be editable or deletable.

The new Box View grading functionality is due to be added to the Blackboard Instructor App in early 2018.
More information on the changes can be found on the Blackboard website.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Retirement of MOLE File tools in upgrade

If you've been on MOLE this week, you won't help but have noticed we have a brand new design with the most recent update. This new look and feel not only gives cleaner, more modern visuals to courses, but also adds some new features such as drag and drop of files, and a responsive design making it easier to view MOLE courses on a range of mobile devices.

You may also have noticed we have retired the 'File', 'Audio' and 'Video' tools. These tools were historic from older versions of Blackboard, and have been superseded with superior ways of doing the same jobs.

The File tool was very limited in the sense it gave a link to files with no ability to add descriptions, or even indication of file size or extension. This often led to poor course design and navigation, with a list of file names without explanation. The example below is an example of a link created using the File tool.

The Item tool allows for a much more flexible approach, as multiple files (displaying file extension and size) can be attached to an Item as below.

Alternatively links to files in the Content Collection can be linked in the Item text.

Both methods allow for files to be delivered with explanation and a context of their use.

Similarly, the Audio and Video tools were not recommended to be used, as these led to large files requiring download, or the use of media players that were dependant on the students' web browser settings. These were also incompatible with mobile browsing. Now we would recommend using Kaltura or YouTube to supply streamed content, either using the Mashup tools in the Text Editor, or pasting embed codes into the HTML of an Item.

Existing content using the tools remain, and can be copied in the Refresh process, although we would recommend ultimately these are replaced using the Item tool in one of the methods above.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Playful Learning Conference 2017

The arrival instructions from the organisers of this years Playful Learning Conference started off as expected - details about accessing the venue by public transport and what time registration began. But things then took a more 'playful' turn:
'This year the toys want in on the action at the conference.  They’re refusing to allow entry unless you bring one of their kind.  As organisers we are not prepared to face the toys’ wrath so we need you to do the following in preparation:

  • Find, beg, borrow or steal a cuddly toy companion to accompany you to the conference
  • Give your toy a creative name
  • Create a twitter profile for your toy'

With my soft toy packed, I set off to Manchester with a certain amount of trepidation! However -  I need not have worried. This was only the second Playful Learning conference, but as an attendee everything felt remarkably well organised and they managed to put together a really wide and exciting range of sessions. 

A particular highlight for me were the sessions exploring Escape Games / Escape Rooms. There are thousands of Escape Rooms worldwide; and whilst they will all have their own unique theming and 'back story' elements, they are all based around the premise of groups solving puzzles to escape an enclosed space. I wasn't aware of these games being used in HE, but actually the concept of an escape game, with students solving puzzles relating to their subject area is a great example of active learning. 

Daryl Peel from the University of Southampton presented at the conference, and has written about creating Escape Games on this blog post

learning how to create an escape room @playlearnconf with @glubsohiunicorn #playlearn17 #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Prototyping our escape game

Liz Cable from Leeds Trinity University facilitated an excellent session at the conference, which started off with delegates trying to complete her escape game in a box called 'The Case of the Rocketman'. The game has been played with over 1000 students at Leeds Trinity, and is used as a team building exercise. It develops critical thinking skills, and encourages students to work together to solve problems. I really enjoyed playing the game, and it not only worked well as an icebreaker activity, but also found it really mentally stimulating. It was the perfect way to start a busy day of sessions. 

One great thing about this escape game is that it is relatively portable - there are four boxes of various sizes to unlock and they would all fit in a small suitcase. This means the game could be played anywhere - you don't have to make players come to a specific escape room. It would have been great to play an escape game that perhaps had some subject specific learning outcomes, but I could certainly see how powerful this concept is. One inherent problem with these types of games is that there is very limited replay potential once you have played the scenario, and as I understand it this is something that commercial escape room operators are finding challenging. 

Simon Warwick and myself presented our 'Crys-Tel Maze' session at the conference - we were pleasantly surprised with the amount of people that wanted to come to our session, and we received some good feedback. Our colleagues Bryony Olney & Dr Bobby Nisha from the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at Sheffield presented about their DDCF project. It was great to find out about how students are using 3D Pens to help them visualise structures - and I discovered that I'm as bad as drawing with a 3D pen as I am with a normal biro! These are the 3D Pens that we used

Another highlight was playtesting a Research Methods Game, which was developed by the Centre for Excellence in Learning & Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University. The game is designed to teach students about different research methods, and requires you to work in pairs to design research methods for a fictional research project. I didn't really know anything about theoretical perspectives or epistemologies before playing (!), so I found it very useful and it certainly gave me a good understanding of the theories involved.

Luckily for the community, the creators have released the game under a Creative Commons licence, so you can download the game for free and adapt it for your own learning and teaching requirements. 

You can see more from the conference on the following Storify pages: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

So, how did I feel about bringing a soft toy with me to an academic conference? Well, it was quite odd having to first register my toy as a delegate before being able to enter, but it soon became normal seeing people walking around with their teddy bears. It actually provided a really good reason to approach people and start a conversation with them, as everyone had something in common!

Also, people I spoke to about tweeting from their toy account rather than their personal profile also spoke positively about it. It enabled them to be playful and fully join in with the activities, something that they may have not otherwise have done from their personal, professional Twitter handles.


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