Monday, 23 February 2015

CEL263 Learning Technologies Symposium 2015

On Friday afternoon, 20th February, we had a very enjoyable event here in CELT. During the afternoon, nine of our participants on the Learning Technologies module, as part of a PG Dip in Academic Practice, presented on their projects. All participants are members of academic staff at NUIG.

The project specification is quite simple:

You are asked to identify and complete a project, based on the material covered in the module, to incorporate Learning Technologies in your teaching.You are given free scope in identifying a technology or technologies and what you want to achieve. 

For the symposium itself, participants had to present for about 10 minutes and were required to use Prezi, to demonstrate competency with that tool.

During the afternoon, both I and the PG Dip Course Director, Simon Warren, tweeted about the event, and we were joined by some members of the class, and some external people using the hashtag too. See below an archive of the tweets from the event, gathered using storify.




Thursday, 12 February 2015

Academic Writing and Wikipedia

Yesterday, the Times Higher had an article called Wikipedia should be 'better integrated' into teaching, based largely on a study carried out in Australia, but largely ignoring a lot of the work being done by the Wikipedia Education community in the UK and, to a lesser extent, in Ireland.

Last November I wrote about the EduWiki 2014 event which was exactly on this topic. While integrating Wikipedia into teaching isn't widespread, there are a number of people who are doing this, and have been for a number of years.

Our first Wikimedia event at NUIG was in November 2014, when we organised an Editathon on Vicipéid (the Irish language wikipedia) and Wikipedia. This involved MA students taking Irish translation modules, with a view to providing authentic translation opportunities. The event was very successful, and you can see Oliver Moran from Wikimedia Community Ireland talking about it in the video below.


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Following the success of that first event, we are now planning further Wikipedia (and Wikimedia) projects. The next one will be in collaboration with the Academic Writing Centre at NUI Galway. Through this workshop/editathon we hope to stress the importance of research and referencing when creating or editing  Wikipedia articles, and link this to the skills required when doing academic writing for assessment or publication. Because the event will take place within the library, students will have resources immediately on hand, as well as the support of library staff.

I'll let you know how that goes!

With thanks to the Learning Technology Team in CELT (Blaneth, Fiona, Grainne and Labhaoise) for the filming and editing required to produce the video.

 

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Really Useful #EdTechBook and my small part in it

The Really Useful #EdTechBookWay back in July/August 2014, David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid) approached a number of people involved in EdTech, myself included, about an idea he had to collaboratively write a Really Useful EdTech Book. The book is now available for download and will be published on proper paper within the next couple of days.

To find out more about it, and to download your copy, visit http://bit.ly/EdTechBook. It's a fabulous collection of chapters from practitioners, researchers and professionals in the area of EdTech, and has a foreword by our own Catherine Cronin. There are some very positive reviews already on this site, including one from Steve Wheeler.

David has done an amazing job in bringing this all together. I don't know about the other authors but I don't think I met a single deadline. His patience is beyond belief, and he still seems to be talking to me!

For me, it was a great opportunity to be part of such a collaboration, which includes some people that I know quite well from twitter, one or two that I've actually met in person, and some others that I'm just getting to know.

One part of the whole process that I particularly enjoyed was being "interviewed" by David back in October. Using a google doc to support communication, David put questions to me and I responded. As it turns out, I was travelling at the time, so it was a great opportunity to really use google docs on a collaborative project. The interview was published in November.

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, quote by Sharon Flynn It also gave me a chance to reflect on the topic of my own chapter, which asks if the work of the learning technologist is having any long term effects on the culture of the university. While we can "measure" our productivity in terms of numbers of workshops, numbers of people trained, support tickets closed, projects brought to completion, etc, how do we know if we're making a longer term impact?

I'd really like to thank David Hopkins for including me in this collaboration. It has been an exciting and novel experience. I think we can all be proud of the Really Useful #EdTechBook.

 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Making CPD fun - the 12 apps of Christmas

I've just signed up for this initiative - the 12 apps of Christmas - offered by the Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre at DIT, and facilitated by Frances Boylan. Based on a similar programme led by Chris Rowell at Regent's University London, this looks like a fun approach to continuous professional development and kudos to the LTTC team for implementing it.

The video on the site gives an overview of what is going to happen. Starting on Monday 1st December, and continuing for 12 working days until Tuesday 16th December, an app will be considered each day. According to the video, there will be a short demonstration of how the app might be used in a teaching and learning context, and there will be an optional exercise.

Like an advent calendar, there is a sense of excitement about what might be behind the next door!

Already there is an active twitter stream using the hashtag #12appsDIT, and numbers signed up for the event have reached 260. No doubt there'll be many more by the start of the course.
I'm hoping to find out about some new, useful apps and to learn more about embedding them in teaching practice.

12 Days. 12 Apps. 10 minutes per day.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Blackboard Education on Tour comes to Dublin


This is a brief report from the Blackboard Education on Tour event which took place in Dublin last week, on Tuesday 4th November. First of all, I'd like to mention that the Irish user community really appreciated that Blackboard included Dublin in its tour, making it so much easier for us to attend. It was good to see such a great turnout from various Irish Institutions.

The programme for the day included 2 tracks: Product Discussion and Professional Development. I'd have loved to get to some of the Professional Development sessions, but because I was the only one from NUIG, I decided to stay in the Product Discussion track.

The event was opened by Demetra Katsifli who welcomed everybody to the event and spoke about Blackboard's development priorities for the EMEA region and some specific examples of where Irish/UK requests have influenced product design. The big one here is delegated and anonymous marking, which is starting to be addressed in the April 2014 release. She also mentioned the particular problem that we've experienced, the Irish language character set and how it works in Collaborate (hint: not very well). The good news is that they've fixed the issue for á, but we're still waiting for ú to be addressed.

Leading the evolution of learning delivery
Demetra then introduced the keynote for the morning, Brad Koch, Vice President for Product Management. Brad spoke about Blackboard's Vision (a world inspired to learn) and Mission (to reimagine education). His talk was very much in keeping with the message that Blackboard has been developing and communicating for the last year, and clearly influenced by Jay Bhatt, Blackboard CEO. See my notes from BbWorld14 and the Blackboard Teaching and Learning conference in Dublin earlier this year for more on this message.



Rather than go through each session in detail, I'll give an overview from my notes on each development/innovation.

Blackboard Learn SaaS
During his keynote at BbWorld14, Jay Bhatt announced that Blackboard is moving into the cloud. This means that Blackboard Learn can be implemented on one of three platforms: self hosted; managed hosted (in Amsterdam for us); or in the cloud SaaS. For cloud installations there are some specific advantages, including zero downtime for upgrades, scalable resource allocation, and protection from Denial of Services attacks. It appears that all managed hosted environments will eventually be moved into the cloud, but it's not clear what are the cost implications for an institution.

Support for MOOCs
Blackboard's open education platform openeducation.blackboard.com is now available and can be used at no charge by any Blackboard institution. It uses the SaaS platform. An institution can request an institutional account through their client manager.

Mobile
A new Mobile Learn for students is in design and will be available for iOS, Android and Windows. Functionality for instructors has never been supported in the app, so two separate apps will be developed, one for students and one for instructors, reflecting different workflows.

Blackboard's first app aimed at instructors is now available and works with any Learn installation running the April 2014 release (or higher). It is currently being localised from the US version to one that is more consistent with Irish/UK terminology.

The app (available for iPad only) will allow instructors to grade student assignment submissions using rubrics, and facilitates voice and video feedback. It also includes an individual risk profile for each student, which can be customised. Students at risk can be emailed from directly within the app.

Unfortunately it requires a data connection. Otherwise it looks like it will be a useful tool for instructors, as long as they have decent wifi.

November Release
On Tuesday we were told that the November 2014 release was due to launch next day (this was the October 2014 release). While the April 2014 release fixed about 400 bugs in the system, the November release addresses a further 560 bugs.

A roadmap for the March 2015 release will be available in December.

Collaborate
A new Collaborate app will be released at the end of the month and will include live video, web tour, private and group chat.

A new, Java-free, Collaborate experience will be in-browser, making it easier for students and instructors to join a Collaborate session. We should expect improved quality in both audio and video.

The new Collaborate experience will be available in the later half of 2015, though there may be some early availability to some institutions in Q2.

Blackboard Offline
This seems to be a facility that will allow students download their course content in context for easy access when not connected to a network. This could be useful for students in transit.

A building block will be released later this month. For students it requires a one-time download of an app to a laptop.

ULTRA - the new user experience
I first heard about the new user experience, under development, a year ago at the Eduction on Tour event in London, 2013. Stephanie Weeks gave a presentation at the time, and she gave another presentation on the same topic (though further developed) at BbWorld14.

In Dublin, we had some more demonstrations of the new design, which does look very nice indeed, and quite different from the current, now-outdated, user experience. The new "restful" API involves a much simpler navigation, with easy transition from the top level into courses and elements within courses. There will be a simple x button to close windows - instead of the dreaded OK button hidden at the bottom right of pages in the current design.

Within a course, there is a search function! There is a simple lock icon on a main course page to indicate (and toggle) availability. The email system will be properly integrated so that replies will come back into Blackboard.

All of this will take some getting used to, for many of our users. And so it was a relief to know that the new interface can be enabled at institution or course level. An instructor will be able to decide if and when they want to convert older courses.

However, it will be some time before this lovely new experience can be available to us all. It will be available for pilots and first tries towards the end of 2015. We should not expect to be fully migrated as an institution for 2 or 3 years!

The new interface requires the SaaS infrastructure.

Analytics

There was a session on the Blackboard Analytics product, which was described as more of a service than a system. This requires integration with various data sources on campus and produces analytics and reports at the student, instructor, course, sys admin and strategic level.

My impression is that it looks great at a strategic, institutional level. But it may be too much for individuals, students and staff.

Integrated Packages??

During his keynote, Brad mentioned that Blackboard will not be selling the Content and Community systems separately in the future, echoing the comment made by Jay Bhatt in Las Vegas at BbWorld14. It is still not clear what this means for costs for licensing institutions. The question was raised last week, but the response was very vague - in 2015 Blackboard will look at the "bundling situation".

This "brief report" has gone on a little longer than intended, and I haven't mentioned the newly resurrected Irish Blackboard User Group (BUG). I'll leave that for another day.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Editathon on Vicipéid and Wikipedia

An Editathon on Vicipéid (the Irish-language wikipedia) and Wikipedia is being organised on Friday, November 7 from 09:00 to 13:00 in the computer lab in the S Block, NUI Galway. This collaboration was initally proposed by members of the Wikimedia Ireland Community and three of their members (Shannon Eichelberger, Eugene Eichelberger and Oliver Moran) have kindly offered to supervise the training and support of participants.

The aim is to highlight the value of An Vicipéid/Wikipedia as a learning resource and to improve its quality by encouraging Irish traslation students to participate in the event. The event’s theme is The National Monuments of Ireland. This was chosen on account of the Wikimedia Ireland Community’s previous collaboration with the international photography competition Wiki Loves Monuments.

Members of staff from Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge will also be present during the event both to support students and participate themselves. Training and support will be provided throughout the morning and certificates recognising their participation will be presented to all students. Refreshments will be available during the event.

There are 20 workstations in the lab and therefore 20 official places at the event. 8 places are being reserved for MA students taking Irish translation modules. The remaining 12 places are available to other students or interested members of staff.

Schedule:
09:00 – 09:15 Welcoming Address from Dónall Ó Braonáin, Príomhfheidhmeannach an Acadaimh
09:15 – 10:15 Initial Training
10:15 – 10:30 Tea/Coffee in Room 106, Áras na Gaeilge
10:30 – 13:00 Editing your choice of page on the theme of The National Monuments of Ireland
Please note: If you have appointments/classes during the morning, please call in for any part of the Editathon - even if you miss the training (support will be available throughout the morning)

Preparation
1.    To assist in the smooth running of the Editathon, you are asked to reserve a place by ordering a ticket (Ticéad MA for MA students or Ticéad Mac Léinn/Ball Foirne for all other participants)

Please note: As places are limited, you are encouraged to bring your own laptop and connect via WiFi. In this case, there is no need to order a ticket – please just show up when you can.

2.    You are also asked to create a Vicipéid/Wikipedia account in advance at http://ga.wikipedia.org and if possible, choose a national monument that you wish to work on and register your interest at
o    here  (Gaeilge)
o    or here  (English)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Wikipedia Belongs in Education

St Leonard's Hall
The EduWiki 2014 event was held on Friday 31st October in the stunning St Leonard's Hall at the University of Edinburgh. Ever since I heard Toni Sant (Education Organiser with wikimedia UK) speak at the International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference (see previous post), which led me to join the Wikimedia Ireland Community working group, I have been fascinated at the potential of using Wikipedia (and other Wikimedia projects) to support student development in higher education. So, I was thrilled to be at the one day event in Edinburgh to find out more about the Wikimedia UK education projects.

This was always going to be a different crowd from my usual conference network, and there wasn't much tweeting in advance of the event, so I was a little nervous when I turned up at the social event on the evening before the conference. I needn't have worried, the small group that had gathered were as welcoming as could be, including a nacho-eating dog, and several wikipedians. A collection of tweets from the conference and the lead-up was captured using storify by Brian Kelly, who spoke at the event.

Floor Koudijs: Why Wikipedia is great for students
The event itself was opened the next morning by Peter McColl, Rector at the University of Edinburgh, and followed by a presentation from Floor Koudijs from the Wikipedia Education Program at the Wikimedia Foundation.  Her message was a simple one: Wikipedia belongs in Education. Using Wikipedia in the classroom, students will start as readers, but they are future contributors. There followed some discussion about academic staff attitudes to Wikipedia, where it is often not seen as a valid resource. But even academics will use it as a starting point for research, so the suggestion was: instead of fighting it, why not embrace it?

Wikimedia in Education

During the morning, we heard from a number of interesting speakers, including Wikimedians in Residence at various UK institutions including JISC, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the National Library of Scotland. Of particular interest to me was a presentation from Marc Haynes, former Wikipedian in Residence at Coleg Cymraeg, Wales, which enables teaching through Welsh in the universities in Wales. Marc described his role: working with academics across Welsh universities, training them in wiki editing, sourcing content that could be shared under a suitable Creative Commons licence, and building up content on the Welsh Wicipedia. Since NUIG has a particular responsibility to the Irish language, there would seem to be opportunities to do something similar for Vicipéid, the Irish language wiki. 

Also of immediate interst to me was a very accessible presentation from Martin Poulter, former Wikimedia ambassador at JISC. Martin spoke about his approach to academic staff development around using Wikipedia in education: a Wikipedia comprehension exercise. Rather than starting with how to edit, he demonstrated an approach which highlights academic qualities of Wikimedia articles - the quality scale, citation guidelines, peer review, authorship, collaboration, cultural differences and opportunities for translation projects. Coming at this from the angle of supporting academic integrity, rather than a focus on the technology, is a fantastic approach and one that I hope to use in the future. 

A presentation from Greg Singh, lecturer at the University of Stirling, showed Wikimedia projects in action. I was particularly impressed by the WikiBooks project Digital Media and Culture Yearbook 2014, where students worked in 12 groups of 6, to collaboratively produce an open publication. Marks were awarded for content, understanding and engagement. Student feedback was almost all overwhelmingly positive (11 out of 12 groups).

Beginners Workshop for New Campus Ambassadors and Educators

Instructor Basics
In the afternoon I attended the workshop delivered by Toni Sant and Martin Poulter  for people who are getting started, or thinking of getting started, with Wikipedia in their own institutions. The first part of this was based on the excellent Instructor Basics: How to Use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool publication. Based on 5 key policies (free content, reliable sources, neutral point of view, notability, good faith), we were led to consider different types of student assignments that can be used to help achieve various learning outcomes. 

Rather than create a new Wikipedia article, which could be quickly removed due to lack of "notability", we were encouraged to think about: translating an article (useful for building up content on Vicipéid, for example); copy editing to improve the grammar or readability of an article; uploading illustrations to Wikimedia Commons on a particular topic or theme; adding new content to an existing article; using Wikidata as the basis of an assignment. Wikipedia also has a number of sister projects that could be used as the basis of students work: Commons, Wikibooks, Wikidata, Wiktionary...

At all times, the importance of interacting with the existing Wikimedia community was stressed, through writing messages on a user's talk page or on an article's talk page. This allows a student to practice skills in collaboration, not just with their classmates, but with a whole world of volunteer editors. 

Of course, students are likely to make mistakes when it comes to Wikipedia etiquette and although we were assured that the majority of Wikipedians will be supportive of fledgling editors, there are also stories of less than helpful behaviours. To support students and educators, we were introduced to the Wikipedia Education Extension which allows educators to register their institution and courses, and within this, identify clearly which articles students may be working on.

There is an impressive amount of online training for educators and for students, and my next step is to become a Campus Ambassador so that I can start to roll out projects at NUI, Galway.

WikiProject Ireland/NUIG National Monuments Editathon Nov 2014 

As a first step, I'm really excited that we are hosting our first An Vicipéid/Wikipedia Editathon this Friday!

Organised by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, CELT and the Wikimedia Ireland Community, the aim is to highlight the value of An Vicipéid/Wikipedia as a learning resource and to improve its quality by encouraging Irish traslation students to participate in the event. The event’s theme is The National Monuments of Ireland. This was chosen on account of the Wikimedia Ireland Community’s previous collaboration with the international photography competition Wiki Loves Monuments.

For more information see the event invitation.

No doubt you'll be hearing more about Wikipedia projects at NUIG soon!

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.

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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!

Untitled
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

Untitled
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!