Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Blackboard Course Template - Designed by Students

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a workshop in the School of Medicine, involving a small but dedicated group of staff and students. Earlier this year, the Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Working Group (UGTLG) of the School conducted a review of students' perspectives on using Blackboard and compiled a comprehensive report. The report highlights a number of issues relating to how the VLE is being used, and it was clear that a more consistent approach to using Blackboard within the School is needed. A survey on staff use was also carried out.

The purpose of yesterday's workshop was twofold. First, the students were asked to design a template that could be used/adapted for all undergraduate modules in the School of Medicine, based on how they would like to access resources. Second, and deriving from the discussion, the UGTLG would like to write up a set of guidelines/policies for staff on good practice in using Blackboard, particular to the School of Medicine.

Dr Rosemary Geoghegan leading one group of students
In two groups, the staff and student participants got working with flipcharts, pens and post-its, to design a template that suits them. I flitted between the two groups, taking notes and explaining some of the functionality that might support their requirements. Very quickly we found the same issues and question emerging. Although the two designs differed in structure, there was also a lot in common.

A second year Health and Disease course design
The situation within an undergraduate medical degree is not standard, in that each Blackboard course will have a large number of teachers/instructors all uploading materials; more than 20 instructors on a course would not be unusual. So, it's not surprising that students found their Blackboard courses disorganised.

Some of the common themes that came up were:
  • Students don't want large PDFs of course handbooks, that are also distributed in hard copy. Forget the hard copy completely. Instead, put the information into easy-to-browse format within Blackboard.
  • Organise materials by theme, and not by type of material. This is how students approach their study, and they want the Blackboard course to reflect that.
  • Do include staff details - names and email addresses. Include a link to the person's website, if it exists. No more information is required. When I asked if a photo would be useful, one young man replied "If I know his name and how to contact him - why do I need to know what he looks like?"
  • Have a policy about announcements, particularly regarding changes to the schedule. A live schedule would be ideal. (I'm hoping the new Calendar functionality in SP12 will help here)
Once the students had some time to design their ideal course, we quickly mocked up one design on our Blackboard test environment. Seeing it on the big screen, we were able to discuss organisation and tools in more depth and started to make changes and move things around. After three hours, the workshop came to an end.

While the work of the UGTLG is not finished and there is a lot more to do, I thought that the involvement of the students at this stage was invaluable. I was very impressed with their engagement and willingness to discuss the issues as they saw them. While the outcomes of this particular workshop are not generalisable, the workshop format and aims could be very usefully repeated in other disciplines.


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