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.

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