Monday, 22 September 2014

CEL263: an emerging community

On a Friday afternoon, just over a week ago, I started with a new group of participants on our Learning Technologies module, CEL263, part of the PG Diploma in Academic Practice offered at CELT. During  the module, we explore various technologies for teaching and learning.

For the last number of years I've introduced twitter as a tool for communication as part of the course. Every year we have a few people who user twitter, some who have twitter accounts (but little more) and some who have never explored twitter at all. To motivate, participants can earn a Twitter Novice badge, awarded for completing a twitter profile and tweeting a few things using the #cel263 hashtag.

I also maintain a twitter list, which includes all the people who have been enrolled on the module in the last 5 years - currently 61 people. They are not all active, but those who keep tweeting make a great contribution to the CEL263 weekly newsletter, which is full of news and articles all year round.

So, that Friday afternoon, just before class, I posted a tweet to my followers asking them to help demonstrate the power of twitter, confident that I would get a good response:
A number of people responded, mostly from Ireland and the UK, and one from Canada (thanks if you were one of those people).

During the afternoon, my new fledgling group began creating their first few tweets, some with confidence, and others with great trepidation. They began to follow each other and build a small twitter community. We projected a twitter search onto the board in the room, and tracked progress.

But the real magic happened later that evening, long after the class had finished. Sitting back relaxing at home, I kept a watch out for anybody in the class dipping into twitter and sending some tweets of encouragement. To my surprise, previous members of the group (some who had never tweeted before CEL263) began to tweets words of welcome and encouragement:

 And when one student expressed doubts:
How wonderful to see such a community emerging. It has taken some time, but communities can't be engineered. They take time and need nurturing. But the fruits, when they appear, are very rewarding.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Wikimedia Ireland and Wiki Loves Monuments

Wikimedia Ireland CommunityIn my role, I wear a number of different hats. Sometimes they are distinct, but often they overlap.

Apart from the use of technologies for learning, one of my major interests is in supporting academic integrity - not just plagiarism detection, but the creation of an environment where scholarly work can flourish. At the 6th International Integrity & Plagiarism conference this summer, I found these two interests overlapping in a new way (for me) in Toni Sant's keynote talk.

For a long time, I have been trying to persuade academic staff that Wikipedia is not necessarily the work of the devil. I argued that it can be a useful place for students to start researching a topic and can direct them towards more authentic and useful resources. I'd even heard of student assignments based on editing wikipedia, but I hadn't really thought too much about it.

Toni Sant is the Education Organiser for wikimedia UK. I won't give a synopsis of his talk here, but suffice to say that I was impressed by the 5 pillars of wikipedia (which include a statement about openness) and especially excited about the Wikipedia Education Program. Who knew there was a whole bank of resources for educators and students?

At the time of the conference, I knew that I wanted to know more and to get involved. Following a twitter conversation with Toni, he put me in touch with the Wikimedia Ireland Community, a small and very new group of people interested in promoting open, wiki-based activities in Ireland. Before long, I found myself part of the group and participating in (almost) weekly meetings via skype. Moreover, I am now the proud owner of a wikimedia account, have edited a wiki and even uploaded a photo to Wikimedia Commons (of the Sage in Gateshead, where the conference took place).

I have a couple of projects in mind, based around the Wikipedia Education Program and have been talking to some people locally in NUIG about these. The Wikimedia Ireland group is very supportive, and refreshing in their enthusiasm. Next month I'll be attending the EduWiki Conference in Edinburgh, where I'm sure I'll learn lots more. I'll report back on that on this blog.

The current project that Wikimedia Ireland is promoting is Wiki Loves Monuments. This is a global photo contest, and Ireland is involved for the first time this year. The group have put a lot of effort into listing monuments, by county, on the competition page. Anybody can submit a photo (as long as it's of one of the monuments listed) during the month of September. Winners will be announced at the end of October, with an awards ceremony in mid-November.

You can follow Wikimedia Ireland on Facebook and on Twitter (@wikimediaIE). Expect to hear more from me about this new adventure. It's always good to try something new.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

BbWorld14 Day 2, Part 2

I wrote this post a week after BbWorld14, while still on holiday, but I never got around to publishing it. So, here it is - just a month later.


BBWorld14 seems like a distant memory to me now, a week later. All the people, the excitement, the bling of Las Vegas - it's all a little bit vague. But the time has given me a chance to reflect and consider the experience.

Before I get to the reflection, I will put together a few words on the parallel sessions I attended on the second day. Again, at times I felt that I should have gone to something else, some other part of the programme, but I will get back to that later, too. 

I went to a session on Outcomes Assessment in Blackboard, where some users from Syracuse University and Western Kentucky University spoke about their experiences. Outcomes Assessment sounds like a tool that could be useful, particularly for programme accreditation, where programme level learning outcomes can be measured and tracked. I remember playing around with them (possibly an earlier version) on our test environment in the past. My impression was that there is a lot of manual admin work to be done, by a Bb administrator, and also by a committed programme co-ordinator. From the session at BbWorld14, I don't think the situation has changed. The panel spoke about the need for training, consultation and support from Blackboard, having local champions and obtaining faculty buy-in. This doesn't sound like a project I want to get involved in anytime soon. Perhaps sometime in the future, when the tool is easier and less manual to use!

Total Working Hours for ERAU MOOC
Two sessions on the general theme of teaching online, one from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on their development and delivery of MOOCs, and one from Columbia College about supporting staff, were interesting, but on familiar territory for me. I was impressed by the team from Embry-Riddle, who seemed to do everything right. The team of instructional designers supported staff to develop the first MOOC, on "The Human Factor in Aviation", they used social media for student engagement, they closely monitored student activity, they used badges to celebrate achievements, and put a huge amount of time and effort into the MOOC to ensure its success. Between developing, facilitating and maintaining the MOOC, 2,105 staff hours were invested. What's not clear is the business model - what does Embry-Riddle get out of investing this amount of staff time, to the detriment of other activities? From the first MOOC, four participants have since become students at the University. Perhaps, in the US system, that's enough. 

Leslie Buckalew, VP for Student Learning at Columbia College, and Melissa Colon, Distance Education Co-ordinator, gave a very comprehensive account of the systems they have in place for the training and support of staff who are teaching online. Their ethos is that, if faculty feel supported, then they are more willing to try, which is true. It doesn't hurt, though, that they can offer stipends to staff as an incentive. What I liked about both the Columbia College and Embry-Riddle presentations was that the student was at the heart of both; staff are being supported to provide the best possible experience to students. 

My last parallel session was one given by Respondus, a Blackboard partner company, because I wanted to learn more about their lock-down browser. Ok, yes, I was also attracted by the offer of a free webcam! While the session was very professionally given, and I learned everything I needed to know, I didn't like the starting point of the presentation. The very first phrase was "Digital Cheating" and we seemed to start from the assumption that our students are dishonest. This made me uncomfortable. But the tool is certainly impressive and I'll be looking at it for use at NUIG soon.

I also spent quite a bit of time that day with the guys from Kaltura. Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm already a huge fan of their system. They have been doing some great work with their product in the last while and I'm very much looking forward to the new player (Java-free) and lecture capture system.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

BbWorld14 Day 2, Part 1

Leaving Las Vegas
I am currently sitting in an aeroplane, high above Arizona (I suspect) looking back over day 2 at BbWorld14. I had to miss the third day, which is unfortunate, but unavoidable.

Yesterday started with our own session, and I was joined by Darren and Fionn in Murano 3205, where we gave our presentation to a fairly full room. It was a very different audience to Dublin, but a good one all the same. Thanks to everyone who came along. We know you could have picked up a free webcam at the Respondus session, but we had no freebies to give, so we particularly appreciate your support. 

The big keynote of the day was from Jay Bhatt, CEO of Blackboard, in the Venetian Ballroom again. As we entered the room, music pounding, there was an air of expectation and excitement. The theme of the keynote was Reimagine. Redesign. Redefine. which was expanded to: Reimagine the education experience; Redesign our approach; Redefine the teaching and learning environment. 

We heard about how Blackboard has restructured in the last 12 months, all of which sounds very positive. We heard about the new vision and mission, which is focused on the learner, and how this is driving development, particularly in the areas of the new user interface and mobile developments. We heard about how Blackboard wants to be our partner, with a global network of support centres and a series of services solutions. I had heard much of this at BbTLC earlier this year, so it wasn't particularly new. 

We were given a look at the new user interface, using responsive design, and a radiant  Stephanie Weeks talked us through some of what we can expect. Again, it's something I have heard before, but I am looking forward to the release of this new user experience. Although it means we'll have to completely redevelop all our local user documentation, I do think that the majority of our users will be happy with it. 

What did come as a surprise to me (shock?) was the news that Blackboard is changing how it packages solutions. In future, the basic product will be called Learning Core, including the capabilities of Learn, Content, Community, Mobile and XPLOR. The next step up is Learning Essentials, which includes Collaborate. Learning Insight will extend this to Analytics. 

What exactly does this mean for an institution, and when it will happen? I don't know the answer to that. For NUI Galway, where we just have Learn, Mobile and Collaborate, does this mean that our Blackboard capabilities will be extended? Will we finally be able to use Portfolios, which belong in the Content system? Can we create communities beyond the formal module codes? And what effect will it have on our licence fee? If the answers to the first few questions are "yes", and the answer to the last one is "none", then this is good news indeed!

Another piece of the keynote that made an impact on me was the piece about Big Data. I had assumed this related to the provision of information back to admins, but in fact Blackboard want to use it to provide students and instructors with better information about their progress in a course. Assuming that the information to be made available to students is customisable (it may not always be helpful to compare themselves to fellow students) this does look like something that could help the learning experience. 

After BbTLC in Dublin, I noted a new customer focus for Blackboard as a company, and that certainly seems to be true. Jay also talked about wanting to celebrate and promote our success stories. In a section on Industry Citizenship, he indicated that Blackboard will support research and studies to inform (education) industry dialogue. This seems to be more than just wanting to sell a product, and a very welcome new direction. 

I think there are interesting times ahead with Blackboard. A lot has been done in the last 12 months, but there's plenty more to do. 

I will recap the parallel sessions in a separate post.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

BbWorld14 Day 1

The first day of BbWorld is over, and I am turning to my responsibilities as an official conference blogger. These notes will be very much from my own experience and my own point of view.

From registration it was clear that BbWorld is unlike any conference I have been to before - it is massive! There are 2500 delegates, with lots of different backgrounds. There may be 14 sessions happening in parallel at any time. The logistics involved in moving people between rooms, up and down escalators, and organising them in the large auditorium for keynotes, is an exercise in complexity. 

With all this happening, trying to find people is impossible without using electronic communication of some kind. Luckily, the conference wifi has been fairly reliable during the day. 

The twitter stream (#BbWorld14) has been constant - with some contributions from myself - and during the keynote was more like a firehose. I found it difficult to keep up - though that might have also have something to do with my jet lag.

With such a full programme, it's inevitable that you sometimes feel you should have gone to a different session, especially if the tweets from another room appear much more interesting. In almost all time slots, I can identify at least two presentations I would like to be at. But I haven't mastered bilocation yet. 

I was at 3 quite different parallel sessions this afternoon. The first, Social Media: It's not just what you had for breakfast was given by Steven Anderson, @web20classroom. Aimed at schools, Steven gave some good reasons for using social media and some great advice about how to establish a social media presence. His main message is that it's all about storytelling, and social media gives schools the opportunity to be in control of their message, to tell their own story. I have followed @web20classroom on twitter for a number of years, so it was great for me to finally hear him present. 

My second session today was the Overview of Product Innovations for International Clients, a Blackboard led session, involving Matthew Small and Jim Hermans. In this, we were told how International clients have helped shape product development, and also how Blackboard wants to work with us as a local partner in the future. Most of the innovations I already knew about, from the Blackboard TLC in Dublin earlier this year. But I was interested to hear about the development of an app for instructors, which will include grading - I imagine a little bit like the GradeMark app. Also of interest is that Blackboard is looking at offline capabilities for mobile. Initially this will allow learners to "consume static eLearning content", but will be extended to other types of content. 

My third session was a panel session on Rethinking Student Services to meet the changing learner. This involved a distinguished panel of leaders in higher education: Scott Jaschik, founder and editor of Inside Higher Education; Joan Zanders from Northern Virginia Community College; Gloria McCall from Kentucky Community and Technical College System; and Kent Hopkins from Arizona State University. This was a tough one for me to understand without knowing the context of the US higher education system.  What is clear is that we have in common: increasing student numbers; a more diverse student population; and limited resources. 

Finally it was time for the big keynote of the conference, Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab. We were ushered into the Venetian Ballroom with loud throbbing music. I took my place at the bloggers area, next to @skyvking, where we have our own power sockets! After a short intro from Jay Bhatt, who will speak tomorrow, we were treated to a very nicely crafted, very visual, presentation from Joi. His message wasn't particularly unique: we need to change education. But he delivered it in such an interesting way, really drawing us in. I particularly enjoyed the section on synthetic biology, which illustrated nicely his point about the need for Anti Disciplinary spaces. (Although, now it has been named, is synthetic biology a new discipline?) He finished with a point about the role of serendipity, or just good luck, in innovation. If you keep meeting the same people all the time, with the same agenda, how can you hope to be creative?

With that in mind, I will conclude day 1 with the observation that my own attendance at BbWorld is serendipitous, and I am certainly not with the same group of people. In particular I had a lovely lunch with a completely new person, who was put in touch with me via a twitter connection. 

If you are in the area tomorrow morning, do join me and my student co-presenters at 8:15 in Murano 3205 to hear about student involvement in developing a campus app. I know there are 13 other sessions you could attend - but you won't regret it!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Documenting BbWorld14

I am sitting in the airport at Philadelphia, waiting for the next stage of my journey to BbWorld14 in Las Vegas. It seems a very long time since I set off, early this morning, from Galway. I got the 5:15 CityLink bus from Galway to Dublin airport, accompanied by my 12 year old daughter, who is spending a few days with family in Dublin. 

As we sat into our seats, my daughter took out her mobile phone, connected to wifi, attached her ear buds and proceeded to ignore me for the whole 3 hour journey. As we left Galway, I was surprised that she started taking photographs out the window - it was dark - and posting them on snapchat and Instagram. Then I realised that she was starting to document her visit to Dublin, which is probably almost as exciting for her as my trip to Las Vegas. Maybe she's a future blogger?

In contrast to her single device, I am travelling with at least four (five if you count my watch - which I still use to tell the time). I have my phone and my iPad, to keep me connected. But I also have my 8 year old iPod, which I use for my music, and my kindle, for proper reading. I don't like extended reading on the iPad, although the kindle app does come in handy. And I have my whole music collection on the iPod, so why would I take up extra space on my phone? Evidently it's a generational thing - or is it?

Of these, my phone and iPad will both be used to document BbWorld14, in a variety of ways. 

During the conference, I will be tweeting my most immediate thoughts and reactions, using the conference hashtag. I will also be taking photographs, with my phone, and tweeting some of these. I haven't got comfortable using the iPad for taking photographs - it just seems too big and awkward. 

While tweeting is immediate, and can be conversational, it can also provide a useful archive after the event - the nearly now. A tool like storify can be used to collect together a more permanent record of an event. For example, I created a recent archive of the twitter feed at 6IIPC. 

But of most value, to me, and hopefully also to you, dear reader, is when I manage to reflect a little bit, and put something more connected and considered into a blog post. Sometimes this can happen quite quickly, and sometimes it takes a little longer to let the ideas take shape. But I've already had 3 hours on a bus, 7 hours on a plane, and quite a bit of time hanging round airport lounges today, so hopefully this one makes a little sense. 

In the last little while I have noticed David Hopkins, in particular, making use of sketchnotes. This is something I would love to try, and I am told you don't require artistic talents. I have gone so far as to download Mike Rohde's book The Sketchnote Handbook to my kindle, but haven't tried the techniques yet. Maybe this is the event to start. 

So, I will be interested to see the other BbWorld 14 bloggers, and what devices and techniques they use. What is your approach to documenting events?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Preparing for BbWorld14

Earlier this year I presented, with two student co-presenters, a session at the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference (BBTLC), which took place in UCD in Dublin. The presentation was based on a project that I've been involved in, along with the students, to develop a campus mobile app for students, based on the Blackboard Mosaic platform. The interesting thing about the project was that the project was entirely initiated, driven and implemented by the students.

My co-presenters, Fionn Delahunty and Darren Kelly, are both first year undergraduate students at NUI Galway. Fionn intends to major in Psychology, while Darren is a student of Biomedical Science. Neither would describe themselves as particularly technical. But they are now at the point of launching the first official mobile app for NUI Galway students.

The film crew at BBTLC
The students were excited to be going to BBTLC, which fell at an awkward time during their first year exams. Blackboard, the company, had shown some interest in the presentation, and we were able to spend some time with chatting with Alex Ackerman-Greenberg, the product manager for Mosaic. For the presentation we had a packed room, and a full film crew at the back. For two first year undergraduate students, they did amazingly well and delivered a very engaging and natural presentation. I collated the tweets from the session using storify, which give some sense of how it was received. You can find the presentation on prezi.

After the event, we got a lot of positive and useful feedback. We were very excited when we featured in a short video, embedded below, including an interview with us. From about 54 seconds in, you can see Alex Ackerman-Greenberg talking about the project.

A recording of the whole presentation then appeared on YouTube, which I still haven't managed to watch through (I hate watching myself). I am also aware that a Blackboard Whitepaper is in preparation.

But, our excitement escalated to a whole new level when we found out that our presentation received the popular vote for best session at the conference, and we were invited to take up a presentation slot at Blackboard World, to take place in Las Vegas next week. We spent some time trying to figure out if it was possible, financially, for the three of us to go. We even featured on the NUI Galway news page! But I'm really delighted to let you know that Fionn and Darren will be presenting with me next Wednesday morning at the very early hour of 8:15am in Murano 3205. If any of this blog's readers happen to be in Las Vegas, we'd love to see you there.

So, what do I hope to get out of BbWorld14? I'll only be there for a short time, and will probably be jetlagged and disorientated. From my limited knowledge, Las Vegas is a million miles from Galway (I don't mean distance, though there is a lot of travelling involved). This will be the biggest event that I have ever attended. But I do intend to make the most of every waking moment. I'm building my schedule, using the BbWorld14 app. I'm very interested to try out the new User Interface. But mostly I am looking forward to meeting a whole new set of people, including some that may already be twitter buddies.

I will certainly be tweeting lots, and also blogging about the experience - using proper English spelling, of course. Las Vegas, here we come!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Fragile Trust

At the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism conference last month there was an interesting juxtaposition of talks, some technology-related, but most not. In particular, the keynote sessions provided an array of ideas that I intend to follow up on.

Samantha Grant (right) in conversation with Teddi Fishman
Teddi Fishman (left) in conversation with Samatha Grant
On the last day of the conference, the programme opened with a keynote from Samantha Grant, a filmmaker based in San Francisco, who has made the feature length documentary A Fragile Trust, based on the serial plagiarist Jayson Blair, a journalist at the New York Times. The case, when it was discovered in 2003, was such a scandal that it brought down 2 NYT editors. The documentary features interviews with Blair, as well as with other journalists and editors who were caught up in the story.

During her keynote, Samantha played a number of clips from the film, which gave a great insight into the approach she has taken, and raises plenty of questions about ethics in journalism. I now am very keen to watch the full-length version, which may be coming to Netflix in the future.

At the very least, this documentary should be required viewing for all students of journalism. As part of the overall project, the company has also developed an online game Decisions on Deadline for journalism students, to teach ethical decision making. Lesson plans to accompany the game are coming soon.

But I think there are lessons to be learned for all of us involved in academic integrity when watching this film. The short clip below describes a scenario we are all familiar with.

I'm making a transition from the world of journalism to the world of academic, where some students use exactly the same approach as Blair. This points to a culture where we permit (perhaps even encourage) academic dishonesty. If the system does not have integrity, how can we expect it of our students?


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Good news for Turnitin and GradeMark users

The Sage, GatesheadEarlier this week I was at the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference (#6iipc) at the Sage in Newcastle/Gateshead. As a pre-conference activity, the Turnitin International User Group took place, where we got an opportunity to hear about the product roadmap and plans for the future. In the light of the recent acquisition of iParadigms by Insight Venture Partners, I was certainly interested in how this will affect us users of the Turnitin suite of products.

It seems the effect is that there will be increased investment in the product. This is a good thing, since apart from the iPad app (which I love) the products have not really been updated much in the last couple of years. Sure, students can now submit more file types, and rubrics can be imported from Excel, but the basic interface hasn't changed in a while.

Enter the new, Next Generation Document Viewer (DV for short). From what we saw, this looks like it will be a very nice improvment on the current one. For a start, the student paper will take up most of the screen space, allowing improved readability and better use of space. Other features of the new DV are:
  • All the tools will appear in a menu on the right, which can collapse when you are not using it.
  • Turnitin and GradeMark can be displayed within the single view in the DV, so you can grade while still having full colour similarities displayed.
  • Thumbnails on the left will allow you to navigate more easily, while providing some context about where exactly you are in the document.
  • There will be improvements to using rubrics, selecting rubrics and grading using rubrics.
  • It will be possible to add inline voice comments (not just a single overall voice comment) which can be played back by the student in context.
  • Some limited formatting of text comments will be available, including bolding, underlining and hyperlinks.
Apart from the Next Generation Document Viewer, other things we can look forward to are:
  • Multiple marking - allowing two or more markers to grade and give feedback on a piece of work. This gives an opportunity for a moderator (for example) to determine which feedback is seen by the student and which overall grade is returned.
  • It will be possible to create groups, supporting delegated marking (one marker allocated to a particular group of students), which will be very useful for large classes.
  • A student will be able to submit multiple drafts for an assignment, which won't overwrite previous versions, each of which can be marked. This will provide students and instructors with a history of feedback on each draft.
  • It will be possible to submit multiple documents for a single assignment.
  • It will be possible to give letter grades, and decimal grades.
When can we expect all this at NUI Galway? Probably not until Summer 2015. Although some users will be able to see changes from later this year, because we access Turnitin through a Blackboard Integration, it won't be available to us until early in 2015. Not wanting to make any major changes to the teaching environment during the teaching semester, this means we can't plan on upgrading the Integration until the send of semester 2.

But at least we know there's something to look forward to!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Discover, Explore, Create 2014

Last Friday, June 6th, we held our annual CELT Symposium. This year's theme was "Discover, Explore, Create" and it really was a very interesting and eye-opening event. After our keynotes and parallel sessions we rounded off the day with a whistle stop tour of our campus which meant making our way around campus guided by a map, stopping off at organised locations and meeting with interesting and enthusiastic colleagues who filled us in on what is going on in their specific area. It is amazing how little we sometimes know about all the different and exciting things that are happening in our University. Our videos from the event will be available shortly but in the meantime here is a little photo montage of the day:

Update: the videos from the day are now available and can be found on the CELT website.

There is also a twitter archive from the day, based on the #celt14 hashtag, which can be found on storify.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2014

UntitledA few weeks ago I attended the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference, which took place at University College Dublin. Both David Hopkins (day1, day2 and day3) and Sheila MacNeill (here and here) have already blogged about the event. I know I'm quite late, but I thought I'd get a few thoughts down before I forget altogether.

This was the first Blackboard Europe event that I have attended in some time. In general, I find the Durham Blackboard Users' Conference more useful and better value. This year I decided to go, for a couple of reasons:
  • It took place in University College Dublin (where I studied Science as an undergrad many years ago), which made travelling so much easier. Also, I could stay with my Mum and have a little quality time with her.
  • I had been encouraged to submit a proposal on our Explore project with Mosaic, which was accepted. So I was able to present with my two (undergraduate student) co-presenters, Fionn Delahunty and Darren Kelly. More on this soon. Take a look at our prezi for an idea of the project.
  • It was a good opportunity to network and connect with other Blackboard customers from across Europe, and also to hear from Blackboard about where the products are going. It was really good to catch up with friends, and especially to meet twitter buddy @sheilmcn for the first time.
So, what were my takeaways? New product developments, new customer focus and a few things to think about over the next couple of months.

What's new and what's in the roadmap?

UntitledThe latest Learn release (known as the April Release) contains some features that will be of immediate use to us. On day 1 of the conference, Jim Chalex spoke about the new Delegated Marking feature, which will support the common activities of double and blind marking, where an instructor can also reconcile grades and feedback over a number of markers. A lead instructor can enable delegated marking for an assessment, and choose markers from list. He/she will then have an overview of marking as it progresses.

Even more exciting, the April release finally includes a Student Preview feature. This is something that our Blackboard instructors ask about constantly, particularly when it comes to assessment and grading. I've written a short overview, including the Blackboard Quick Hit Video, over on our Blackboard blog.

Further down the line, included in the product roadmap, is the improved user interface, using responsive design. From the demos and screenshots, this looks very nice, and will definitely enhance the user experience.

Looking at Blackboard Collaborate, I was certainly happy to hear that the Irish character problem (experienced when trying to use the Irish characters á and ú) will soon be fixed. While it doesn't affect many people, the impact is significant for those it does. Even better is the news that, sometime in the future, Collaborate will be completely browser-based, and users will no longer have to download java files.

A new version of the Collaborate app (version 2.0) will be launched sometime in the summer. Version 3.0, some time away, will include moderator controls.

Finally, the Blackboard Mobile app is also being developed, to be more consistent with Learn. Hopefully this includes features for instructors.

New Customer Focus

On day 1, just before Stephen Heppell gave his wonderful keynote, Matthew Small welcomed us to the conference. He said that the conference was about sharing best practices and advised us to take time to get to know the team, and to give feedback. This appears to signal a new approach by Blackboard, which was backed up during Jay Bhatt's session later that day.

Although I was uncomfortable with some of the language used ("student as customer/consumer", "content delivery", "countrification") there was definitely a sense that the company is interested in becoming a partner, rather than simply a provider of products. Jay spoke about wanting to offer solutions, rather than just a suite of products.

Over the three days, there was also a feeling that Blackboard staff wanted to talk with us, to find out about our experiences and to get feedback on the products and how we are using them.

User Experiences

During the conference I went to a number of talks from people using Blackboard products to do various things. Among my highlights were:

UntitledTransforming Science Higher Education into Active, Blended and Online Learning: a presentation of 3 case studies from Aarhus University. Based on the SAMR model for technology integration, they demonstrated 3 levels of transformation: augmentation, modification and redefinition of courses.

Mobile in the Field: Adel Gordon from the University of Northampton spoke about an award-winning project using mobile technology to enhance the experience of students of Geography in fieldwork. I'm really pleased that Adel will be joining us for the CELT Galway Symposium next month, when she will be talking about this particular project.

UntitledUsing Blackboard to create an open, online course: Rob Farmer and Kate Littlemore (also from Northampton) spoke about the development of an open online course, entitled Study Skills for Academic Success. From a 100% face-to-face course, this was developed over about 18 months to a fully online version. The MOOC version of the course started on 5th May and can be found at

Successfully Delivering Large Scale Online Summative Assessments: Ashley Wright from Newcastle University gave a very comprehensive overview of how Blackboard can be used for summative assessments. For more about OLAF (Online Assessment and Feedback) see the OLAF FAQ blog.

UntitledSo, overall, a useful event, and a good opportunity to connect. UCD was a great venue and it was lovely to be back again. Although the weather wasn't great, the view from the O'Reilly Hall across the lake to the Library was stunning, and brought back some great memories.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

NUI Galway Blackboard Collaborate April Series

CELT is delighted to invite you to participant in the NUI Galway Blackboard Collaborate April Showcase presentation series.

About the April Showcase Series

The series will feature live online presentations from NUI Galway colleagues who have utilised Blackboard Collaborate live meeting rooms to engage with their students during this academic year.

The presentations will address pedagogical, practical and logistical considerations when engaging in live synchronous teaching and learning sessions, and will offer useful advice and recommendations to colleagues interested in adopting this approach in their own practice.

These presentations will be of interest to colleagues currently using, intending to use, or wish to have an awareness of the potential of the Blackboard Collaborate platform to support live online teaching and learning.

About Blackboard Collaborate at NUI Galway

Blackboard Collaborate provides a real-time bridge to geographically distributed students and staff through online meeting rooms which can be used in a variety of ways (e.g. webinars, online tutorials, student project work, project meetings and facilitating expert presentations with live Q and A sessions).  Blackboard Collaborate sessions can be recorded for archiving and reviewing purposes.

Blackboard Collaborate is integrated into the Blackboard Learn VLE platform at NUI Galway. Meeting rooms can be created by all Blackboard instructors from within their modules for student access. It is also possible to request that the creation of non-Blackboard based meeting rooms for wider institutional or external collaboration (e.g. for international project teams) from CELT.

NUI Galway is the only higher education institution in Ireland that has invested in campus-wide access to Blackboard Collaborate for all students and staff.

The April Showcase Schedule

Using Blackboard Collaborate with Nursing & Midwifery Post-Graduate Students
Presenter            Siobhan Smyth, School of Nursing and Midwifery
Date                   Tuesday 22 April 1:00 – 2:00

Using Blackboard Collaborate in Online Italian Courses
Presenter            Laura McLoughlin, Italian Studies; Schools of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Date                   Wednesday 23 April 1:00 – 2:00

Using Blackboard Collaborate with Advanced Language Learners
Presenters            Dorothy Ní Uigín & Éamon Ó Cofaigh, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge
Date                   Tuesday 29 April 1:00 – 2:00

Implementing Blackboard Collaborate at NUI Galway: 2013-14 Review, Supports and Future Plans
Presenter            Paul Gormley, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT)
Date                   Wednesday 30 April 1:00 – 2:00

Booking Your Place

Please sign-up to your preferred presentations via the following Google form:


Accessing the Presentation Meeting Room

All presentations will be delivered via a Blackboard Collaborate live meeting room. Please click on the following link (or paste it into your browser address box) to access the meeting room:

Preparing for Your Session

We advise that you access the meeting room 10 minutes before the official start time in order to check your audio set-up. You can do this by selecting the Blackboard Collaborate Tools menu > Audio > Audio Wizard

Technical Support

If you have any difficulties please email before the start time of your session.

Blackboard Collaborate Information and Resources at NUI Galway

Please access the CELT Blackboard resource site for further information, videos, walkthrough guides and case studies at:

We look forward to your presence at the Blackboard Collaborate April Showcase series.