Blackboard. Again

It feels like I’ve come full circle, that the last four years didn’t happen, but I’m back as a Blackboard (Bb) user again. 

My new role with Keypath Education, an online program management partner, has me working as an Instructional Designer in their course design and development team on programs for their partners. Specifically I’ll be working on the Aston University projects, and that means Blackboard. Again.

So. what’s changed? Well, I’ve obviously heard of some developments through my networks on Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as a visit (or two) to the Durham Blackboard Users Conference. My last real ‘user’ experience of Bb was at Leicester, who are still Bb users as far as I know, and it was a confusion of templates, webdav folders, Institutional vs faculty vs module vs school content, tool availability, library services. I still can’t believe the opening page a student sees is, more often than not, an empty screen of possibility – such as wasted opportunity (yes, I know you can change the opening page for a module, but so many didn’t and still don’t). And don’t get me started on the grade centre or course calendar or announcements! Or those discussion fora/forums.

So, is it any different now? I think it’s too early to tell but the interface hasn’t changed, the underlying infrastructure is the same, the method for displaying and cataloging the courses and content is still not very user friendly, error messages are still not informative or helpful. Yes, I am a little critical, but it’s only through highlighting these issues or opinions can providers such as Bb take on board the view of the user or administrator and work to fix or improve their product.

I apologise in advance, I will become a Blackboard bore again, I will ask lots of questions, and I will pester you all with Bb tales, tips and hints. And I hope to see some of you at Bb events again soon (I missed you)!

More again soon.

Image source: Aileen G S (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Progress …

It’s useful to reflect on progress, or projects, or my work in general. Seeing as this is my 6th (or 7th – see I’ve lost count already) week in my new role at Warwick Business School (WBS) I thought I’d reflect on my ‘general’ duties as a(nother) newbie … how do my new days at WBS compare with my old days at Leicester and Bournemouth?

  • Blackboard.

No more Blackboard! Well, that’s not entirely true as I’m now using Bb Collaborate to support core WBS activity and DL programmes. I’ve been learning the subtleties of how WBS work with and run Bb Collaborate sessions and how it integrates with the VLE (myWBS).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … I like(d) Blackboard and will kind of miss it. Once you understand the subtleties of what it is and how it works you can do what you want, most of the time. In my experience people who moan about it the most have spent less time trying to work with it, almost fighting against it.

  • New VLE

I’ve been using Bb for seven years, so to use a different VLE (myWBS), and see it working well, is an eye-opener. I hadn’t realised how dependent on my prior knowledge of Bb I was, and the comfort this can give when attending training, meeting, etc., so this is an amazing opportunity to (re)open my eyes and to apply seven years experience and knowledge to a different environment. Can I actually do it? Learning resources, materials, links, structures, etc. are easy to replicate across different systems, but making them look or work or act like they ‘belong’ isn’t. Having the ability to impact on development of the system is a new experience for me in HE, and not having to wait for release and updates to filter through the upgrade cycle is frustrating at the best of times. No more.

  • Lists

Lists scare me – I make them, nothing gets crossed off, more gets added. It’s even worse when you’re new and learning the environment, the people, the culture, the systems, etc. but they are so very useful. The trick is making them work. I haven’t got there yet. Any suggestions are more than welcome.

  • Preconceptions

It wouldn’t be fair to either Warwick or Leicester to compare them to each other - I started at Leicester with no pre-conceived ideas of what it would be like, what people I would meet, what issues I might encounter, and I intend to do the same here at Warwick. Approaching it this way means I am more flexible to react to, and engage with, people and circumstances that come my way. It worked at Bournemouth, it worked at Leicester, and it’s working here at Warwick too.

  • Organisation

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much you know. Building names, room numbers, nicknames, references to offices and officers who have come and gone. It can be hard walking around with a map (remember your first day of term?). But it can also be exciting finding your own shortcut or route through the maze of new buildings and a new campus. The same is also true for new systems, new techniques, new culture, new colleagues, etc. Change is good for all sorts of reasons, but for me it’s been about seeing how my ideas, interests, passions, and approaches are mirrored in the people I work with, at Bournemouth, Leicester, and now at Warwick.

Key to being new is to listen – listen to how things work, listen to how people work, listen to ideas from experienced colleagues, listen to the team and the team dynamics. From this will come a deeper understanding of how the different elements fit together and what kind of efficiencies can be made. And where. Then you have a better understanding of what you should be asking, of whom, and when, and why. That is how you develop personally and within the role.

  • iMac

Yes, my desk has a truly awesome piece of kit in the form of an iMac which I’m using properly for the first tim. While I’m not using it ‘in anger’ yet I am loving it (keyboard, screen, quality, speed, etc.). Learning the differences of keyboard shortcuts and open/close programmes, installation, etc. is not always easy, but isn’t that what Google and YouTube are for? ;-) The only downside is that it makes anything other than a perfectly clear desk look down right messy.

  • Box of Broadcasts

Always good to see this available at any institution. Even better to see it being used, and used well. I wasn’t able to use and instruct or train anyone at Leicester on the benefits of it’s use, as it was still being evaluated when I left (I’m pleased to hear it’s available now). Nearly everyone knows it at WBS, even if they’re not using it yet (the key word here is ‘yet’). The interface has changed since I last used it in teaching and training at Bournemouth, so I’ve been familiarising myself with the new features (and re-creating playlists again for demonstration). Everyone I’ve spoken to here is keen to implement BoB, if they haven’t already done so, and if they have then they want to do more with it – teaching, training, careers, demonstrations, etc.


  • MOOCs

Warwick have produced two very successful MOOCs so far – The Mind is Flat and Shakespeare and his World. Both are set to re-run in the next few months, and I’ll be overseeing both of these (rolling over materials, checking processes and and alterations, managing progress, etc.). Further MOOCs are being investigated and planned so there is scope for further involvement and management.

  • AppSwap, Twitter, Open Badges, etc.

Conversations I had at Leicester around Twitter (and social media), the AppSwap Breakfast idea, and Open Badges have also been happening here, and I’m pleased I can offer a new or different perspective to the mix. Implementation will always be the stumbling block, but finding academics interested in trying these things out is not. There is scope and interest to develop new tools and techniques at WBS, and I am lucky to be here at a time when many are crying out for this kind of support.

  • Refreshments

It is not handy having a Costa Coffee directly opposite my office. It’s expensive and just too easy to slip across the corridor for a cuppa or cake. It is, however, really handy to have so close for meetings and the like, but we tend to use the staffroom upstairs (unless it’s used for events or other bigger meetings).

  • Burning bus

Yes, we even had a burning bus a few weeks ago to provide a talking point –  as reported in the Coventry Telegraph - that’s me in the picture, taking a picture of the fire. There wasn’t much left of it about 10 minutes later bar the basic shell (and no upper deck – and I wasn’t that close in reality, it just looks like it from the angle in the photo)!

Image source: Chairs (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Day 3: Blackboard T&L Conference #BbTLC2014

Day 3 and the final day of the 2014 Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference in Dublin. A few more sessions to keep us amused and awake, a few more strong cups of tea, and a fond farewell to Dublin & Blackboard.

Only a few sessions this morning, but a great opportunity for a few more sketchnotes.

Dan Hewes: Developing an exemplary course for Bb Mobile Learn

Dan Hewes #BbTLC2014

Sharon Flynn: Student as producer, developing a campus mobile App for students by students using Mosaic

Sharon Flynn #BbTLC2014

Sharon Flynn #BbTLC2014

Congratulations Sharon, your session was the first where I needed to use more than 2 pages!

If you’ve any comments, additions, or amendments then please leave a comment below.

If you want to use the sketchnotes then please remember to use the Creative Commons attribution to this blog entry and David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 3.0).

I’d also like to thank Blackboard and University College Dublin for organising such an excellent event, in a wonderful location and city. I also have to thank Blackboard for choosing me as the ‘creative selfie’ iPad winner! It’s all just a little laugh but still, thank you.

David Hopkins #BbTLC2014

David Hopkins #BbTLC2014

Day 2: Blackboard T&L Conference #BbTLC2014

Day 2 of the 2014 Blackboard T&L Conference started with the usual Bb roadmap, which I’ll leave for others to cover.

As with the sessions I followed yesterday I’ve continued to sketchnote my way through them, making notes of the ideas and concepts rather than the specifics of the detail and data. Here are my day two sketches:

Dan Hewes: Flip your class with Blackboard Learn

Dan Hewes #BbTLC2014

Jan Snijders: The Matrix, connecting worlds

Jan Snijders #BbTLC2014

Ted Hopper: Bridging the gap to the future of learning content

Ted Hopper #BbTLC2014

Sara Preston: Embedding Blackboard Collaborate in academic practice

Sara Preston #BbTLC2014

If you’ve any comments, additions, or amendments then please leave a comment below.

If you want to use the sketchnotes then please remember to use the Creative Commons attribution to this blog entry and David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 3.0).

Day 1: Blackboard T&L Conference #BbTLC2014

At the first day of the 2014 Blackboard T&L Conference I made a decision – tweet less, listen more, take/make meaningful notes, and enjoy the sessions for what they are, not what I wanted them to be.

To this end I am Sketchnoting my way through the sessions, and here are my sketchnotes for Day 1.

Keynote: Prof Stephen Heppell 

Prof Stephen Heppell #BbTLC2014

Brian Hipkin: The culture of ‘always on’ – how not to disengage in the age of engagement

Brian Hipkin #BbTLC2014

Gillian Fielding: ‘A room with a view’ for virtually anyone

Gillian Fielding #BbTLC2014

Kate Wright: Making more mobile – Aberystwyth University’s experience of implementing Mobile Learn

Kate Wright #BbTLC2014

If you want to use the sketchnotes then please remember to use the Creative Commons attribution to this blog entry and David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 3.0).

Blackboard T&L Conference, Dublin #BbTLC2014

Next week is the 2014 Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference in Dublin. The programme looks very comprehensive and has 6 streams in motion, which means it’s going to be very difficult to attend and cover all the sessions I want to attend – which means I’m going to have to be very selective about what, and who, I see.

Here’s my first impressions of what I will try and see -

Wednesday, April 30.

  • Keynote / Prof Stephen Heppell. I have met and talked with Prof Heppell on numerous occasions (at Learning Without Frontiers in 2011 and during my time working at Bournemouth University) and know that his unique perspective and style will make this keynote both interesting and hugely profound on the issues affecting education today. This is one session you do not want to miss. 
  • Track 3 / Brian Hipkin – ‘The Culture of ‘Always On – How not to disengage in the age of engagement’. If we’re to engage and keep the attention of the ‘always on’ student, then understanding them and their needs is important. This session will look at society’s use of social media and the challenges of using it.
  • Track 4 / Gillian Fielding – ‘Collaborate: “A room with a view” for virtually anyone’. Case studies are always more interesting and relevant to how I think, so this one from Salford should be good, looking at the strategic embedding of Collaborate across the institution.
  • Track 5 / Kate Wright – ‘Making More Mobile – Aberystwyth University’s Experience of Implementing Mobile Learn’. I’ve been trying to find examples of Bb Mobile Learn in use for a while (December 2013) and this might be the first time I see it in action and get to find out how & why they did it, as well as what the students think about it.

Thursday, May 1.

  • Track 2 / Jan Snijders – ‘The Matrix, connecting worlds’. Bb Implementation and use across a whole institution is never easy, so it’ll be interesting to hear how Avans University have achieved this, and how they’re taking it forward and integrating it into more than just the basic ‘file store/dump’ mentality.
  • Track 2 / Sara Preston – ‘Embedding Blackboard Collaborate in Academic Practice’. Using Bb Collaborate for more than just the basic ‘online presentation’ is key to utilising it’s vast capabilities, so hopefully the University of Aberdeen can share some practices (good and bad) at how to meet these challenges.
  • Track 3 / Lloyd Dean – ‘Using BlackBoard to Flip the classroom’. I have had conversations at Leicester about the flipped classroom, as well as delivering a workshop, so this will be interesting to hear how others are using and implementing the flipped approach, and whether the techniques can be replicated at Leicester.
  • Track 4 / Malcolm Murray – ‘Student voice: is honesty the best policy? Giving students control of TEL evaluations’. I met Malcolm for the first time at the 2013 Durham Bb Users Conference, so know this session will be informative and relevant, as well as being very pertinent to the conversations I’ve had around the issue of module and learning evaluations.

Friday, May 2.

  • Track 1 / Louise Thorpe – ‘Flipped, flexible and feedback: Blackboard client community group piloting Blackboard Collaborate to provide more engaging and innovative learning activities for on-campus students’. Collaboration for both campus and distance learning students is one everyone’s mind at the moment, with Bb Collaborate a solution being considered and investigated. This session will hopefully provide some insight into successful implementation both technically and pedagogically.
  • Track 3 / Sharon Flynn – ‘Student as Producer: Developing a campus mobile app for students by students using Mosaic’. I’ve followed Sharon’s work at Galway for a number of years, and enjoyed conversations in Twitter and in real life too, so I know this session will be informative, well presented, and very useful for any organisation looking to, or has already, implemented a campus App.
  • Track 1 / Jan-Willem van der Zalm – ‘Moving Your Mission-Critical Services to the Cloud’. Cloud services are becoming a big thing. Will this session address some of the issues and concerns universities have with this (including data protection?) or just be another sales pitch … ?

There are many more sessions I am interested in, but most are scheduled for the same time. I can only hope that bloggers like me will write up their notes and/or Bb will archive the presentations .. and maybe even record them too?

Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference 2014 BbTLC2014