I attended my third Blackboard User Group (#LondonBUG) meeting at Bucks New University in Uxbridge on Friday. The theme was “Mobile and Multimedia” and the afternoon contained several interesting talks.
iPads to Staff Initiative (Steve Hoole, Bucks New University)
Steve spoke about the “Take a Tablet” project at the University, which trained staff to use iPads and provided an iPad to each member of FT academic staff (other staff are able to borrow an iPad from the pools at the Uxbridge and High Wycombe campuses).
Why was this done? Staff wanted to improve the quality and turnaround time of staff-student feedback, as well as increasing digital literacy – changing the disparity between staff and student abilities and knowledge. They also wanted to explore new ways of teaching, and increase the wellbeing of staff and their ability to manage their time: staff were also able to use their tablets for personal reasons.
Staff faced battles with IT over which tablets to have. IT wanted them to have Microsoft Surface tablets but Turnitin does not work on these – in addition iPad is a cooler brand and staff thought more people would be encouraged to come to the sessions if iPads were used. To be as inclusive as possible, all full-time staff were included in the scheme. Equipment issued included the 16GB WiFi enabled iPad Air and a connector for the light projector.
The aims of the training were to inspire, transform and encourage creativity. It was aimed at the lowest common denominator. The training was divided into two three-hour sessions. The first looked at how to use the iPad, connect WiFi, use email and use the calendar. It also explored the Turnitin app. The second session covered the Bb Collaborate & Learn app, as well as other apps which could be useful for teaching, such as Twitter. Staff found that as the sessions went on, the content expanded as users developed more knowledge and understanding of the iPads. The equipment was not given out until the second session, to ensure that participants returned to the training.
All tutors were added to a Bb module containing information about new and existing apps. Tutors were encouraged to “show and tell” to disseminate good practice.
The Issues – There were initial problems with MAC IDs and Apple IDs, as well as issues with staff not following instructions. In addition there are ongoing costs and issues with getting the iPad back when a staff member leaves the university. However, over time most of the problems have been or will be ironed out.
Future plans include building on the iPad technology and establishing WiFi zones in IT. There are also plans to explore Swivls and lecture capture technology as well as develop a “Bucks Store” – an app store containing potentially useful apps.
Large scale multi-media based assessments (Manuel Frutos-Perez, University of the West of England)
Manuel talked about the issues arising with getting 900 students to produce video assets as assessment tasks, along with a reflective piece, in only one week. Students spend most of their time out of class and are only taught intensively, conference-style, for a week or two; most have no technical background. Any assessment has to focus on skills development.
The project involved creating videos, and the students would be assessed not on their performance, but on their reflection. It was hoped that the students would actively participate and learn about different perspectives. The project has proven to be manageable, sustainable and academically challenging.
Video assignments via Blackboard and Helix (James Leahy, Regent's University London)
James spoke about a scheme allowing students to submit video assignments via Blackboard. This has proven largely successful, so long as the students follow the steps correctly, and the scheme has allowed files to be shared with external examiners. However, there have been a few technical issues with some students not understanding the process, and the file size of some assignments, which can take a while to upload.
Top 3 updates from the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference (Anne Cross, Blackboard)
The key themes from the conference were: embedding libraries, anon assignments, the flipped classroom, Digital Olympics, tabs and accessibility. There was lots of interest in core features that not everyone has implemented.
Blackboard Collaborate Latest Updates (Alex Ball, Blackboard)
Alex demonstrated the latest version of Collaborate, which appears fairly intuitive.
Blackboard Enhancement Requests (Workshop session facilitated by Chris Boon, City College Norwich and Danny Ball, Canterbury Christ Church University)
The top-voted choices for enhancement requests were looked at and discussed. It was decided that many “enhancement requests” were actually bug fixes:
• Issue with uploading assignments – special character in filename means that tutors cannot download
• Tighter control of grade centre
• Retention centre does not register/log mobile users
These items were set aside to be submitted separately.
The following Enhancement Requests were submitted: the ability to extend or amend assignment due dates for individual students or groups; the ability to drag and drop items into folders; the possibility of using sign-ups to allow students to choose time slots for tutorials.
Overall, I found the meeting to be useful and informative.