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.

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