Sunday, 13 January 2013

Notes from the Blackboard Mobile Users' Group meeting

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by sharonlflynn
The Blackboard Mobile User Group met on Monday afternoon, 7th January, as part of the 13th Durham Blackboard Users' Conference. The meeting was organised by Peter Rayment, Learning Technology Manager at Cardiff University, and attended by about 20 people from higher education around the UK. I was the only person from an Irish institution.

The meeting took place in the impressive new Palatine Centre (see picture), which houses the Law School at Durham University.

We started by going round the room, each person giving a brief introduction and describing the current status of Blackboard Mobile (Learn and/or Central) at his/her institution.

We launched Mobile Learn at NUI Galway at the end of March 2012, at the end of teaching and just 4 weeks before the start of exams. With a promising initial take-up, we were interested to monitor its use during the teaching semester starting in September 2012. Three weeks into term, the number of logins were looking good and this continued to increase over the semester. On the first day of teaching in the current semester (Monday 7th January) there were more than 2.3K logins on Mobile Learn.

Going round the room at the user group meeting, different institutions were at different stages with Mobile Learn. Only a few had more experience than NUIG, with many having just launched or about to launch. The number who have implemented Mobile Central was much lower. I was interested to hear that a couple of institutions have their students paying for the Learn app through a personal licence, rather than having an institutional licence.

Julie Usher, Solutions Engineer with Blackboard Mobile, and formerly at the University of Northampton, gave an overview of recent developments and where the products are going.
  • Blackboard Mobile is ceasing support on Blackberry devices for Mobile Central only. 
  • 14 languages are now supported within both Mobile Learn and Mobile Central. This is particularly useful for international students.
  • The Software Development Kit (SDK) for Mobile Central is now open for partner developments. More details about the SDK are available on the website.
  • New documentation is available on the Blackboard Mobile website, including a new implementation guide for mobile central, best practices for mobile friendly courses, and client case studies.
With Mobile Learn 4.0, coming soon, we can look forward to a new user interface, to be built from scratch. This will include improved content handling, and a cleaner, clutter-free interface (no more corkboard on the iPad app). It will include a better display of grades and information for instructors about item availability. It will be possible to jump to a bookmarked part of a course and the course list management will be improved. All this will be ready by summer, ready for the 2013 student intake.

Blackboard Mobile will also revisit analytics. Currently, it's possible to monitor number of logins at different times of the day, and what devices are being used, but we can't see what activities are taking place. Are students just using the app as a notification device or are they actually engaging with content? More detailed information would be very useful.

The meeting then moved on to a discussion of issues and questions from the various institutions.

Mobile Tests:  there are now two separate test editors, one specifically for Mobile Learn. Existing Blackboard tests are not necessarily suitable for Mobile, but it should be easier to identify problem questions and have an easier way to convert for Mobile.

Support for Mobile Learn:  help enquiries from Mobile Learn go directly through to Blackboard. Some members of the group expressed the preference that these should be routed through the organisation first. From the NUIG perspective, we are quite happy that requests for help with the mobile applications are handled by Blackboard, but it would be interesting to have information about the number and type of requests. In fact, I suspect these are quite low.

Engaging Staff with Mobile: in response to a questions about how we cab encourage staff to engage with Mobile Learn, and to make content more suitable for mobile delivery, we were pointed to the best practices document on the website. We also heard from Alex Spiers about staff development sessions at Liverpool John Moores University, specifically on this topic, which have been successful. This prompted me to think that we haven't really been pushing mobile at NUIG, and maybe it's time to start thinking about this.

Asking Students about their use of the Apps:  Finally, coming back to the issue of analytics, there was an observation that we don't know enough about how students are using Mobile Learn. Maybe they just use it to notify them when new content is available. If we can collect more information on this it will be possible to advocate where it is appropriate for use, or to target particular groups of students!

The next meeting of the Blackboard Mobile Users' Group will be online, with a gathering organised as part of the Blackboard Europe Conference in Birmingham in April.

[Update on 22 January 2013] We ran a quick survey on our Blackboard login page, asking students about how they use the Mobile Learn app. The survey was available for a week and we got a great response. The results are available on our dedicated blackboardnuigalway blog.

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