Tag Archives: eDelivery

Blackboard Essentials for Teachers

Book Review: “Blackboard Essentials for Teachers”

Blackboard Essentials for TeachersBlackboard Essentials for Teachers” is new book written by William Rice for teachers and educators who use Blackboard. By following the examples in the book you will be guided through the process of creating your own Blackboard course, adding static material for students to view (such as pages, links, and media), adding interaction to your courses (discussion boards, blogs,  wikis, etc) and using interactions to engage students in the course through the communication channels.

Scroll down to find out how you can win a complementary copy of the paper or eBook edition of the book from the publishers …

What the book hopes to do is to get a novice or first-time Blackboard user familiar with the interface and features in a manner that they can (a) understand, and (b) use in relation to a taught course site. With the help of the book the reader should be able to:

  • create web pages using Blackboard’s test editor (note: the new content editor is not featured, therefore the book is already a little out of date),
  • organise courses using pages and modules,
  • upload files and learning materials
  • set up discussion boards, blogs, and wikis for student engagement and interaction
  • build and administer online tests
  • online assignment submission
  • manage groups
  • use announcements effectively for student information

I was one of the technical reviewers of the book while it was being written by the author, and provided feedback on the content as well as the presentation style. I’ll say now that I received a complimentary copy of the book for my time and trouble in reviewing the submitted chapters, but received no other payment for my work on the book (i.e. I don’t have to do this review, I wanted to). There, now that’s out of the way.

This review is as much about the book as the process of being involved in the reviewing process, one that I enjoyed and would happily be involved in again (given the chance).

What do I think of the book?
It’s a basic introduction to Blackboard that non-Blackboard users will welcome. There is enough here for more advanced users too but it lacks explanation (for my liking) of the more pedagogical implications and applications of the tools and features of Blackboard. I do, however, agree that the approach used in the book is appropriate for the target audience. The book is effective in its approach and the way it introduces the various features and tools, and goes further than other guides I have read on the administration tools that can help academic and support staff engage the students online.

The downside of the paper book is, as ever, the black-and-white images. I am a very visual learner and like to see examples of what the author was trying to explain – so why not put more images in? Trying to describe a web page is best done with an image of the web page (in colour)! This kind of book subject would do well in an expanded eBook format with more dynamic images (video even) showing in much more detail the process or pages in question. Even if the paper copy is black and white, could they not have created the eBook with colour images?

How is the book structured?
Each chapter is well structured and written from the authors experience, but is based on the open CourseSites and may be subject to discrepancies if the Blackboard installation you have is set up differently from the one described in the book.

With different elements of Blackboard highlighted in the book it’s easy to find your way around the often complicated processes for creating materials or assessments, bold text boxes break the content up and bring new terms, features, or ‘quick tips’ to the fore make it a good reference book.

The structure is good, starting with the basics of organising your Blackboard course and setting up/loading materials before getting into the newer tools like wikis or blogs. My personal preference would have been to leave these kinds of tools until later (after handling the assignments, tests, groups, and Grade Centre) as wikis and blogs are good collaborative and reflective tools that are underpinned from concepts dealt with in those (earlier) chapters. Putting the Announcements and communication chapter so late in the book is a mistake, and I would have this nearer the front and this is still the more underutilised area of Blackboard I see on a regular basis.

One aspect of Blackboard that the book did not cover in enough detail for me is a ‘good’ structure for a Blackboard course site – I know this will always be subjective to the individual or Institution where we/you work but a demonstration of a good structure (and why it’s good) could have made it easier to explain why some of the other features are used, when, and where (contextual).

Did my revisions/suggestions make the final edition?
I think there are a few instances where I can see my comments had an influence on the final edit, but it could easily have been a comment made by the other reviewers too. The difficulty when reviewing a book (I have done a couple now) is that I only see one-chapter-at-a-time, and not always in the order they appear in the final edition. I also had no knowledge of the chapter list so therefore no knowledge of where the chapter I was reading would appear, and what came before or was to come after it. This made it difficult to review as much of what I wanted to know in each chapter may be dealt with later, or not, I didn’t know.

What would I include that the author didn’t?
I have already said, for me, it’s the presentation of the book that is mainly at fault, and to this I can’t blame the author – he’s only working according to the publisher guidelines and requirements. When dealing with a visual topic and/or software that needs explaining and demonstrating why try and describe or explain it in words when an image or video is far easier to understand?

The use of links (even QR Codes?) could have directed the reader off to a YouTube channel with supporting screencasts of some of the more trickier set up tools ro techniques, which would have helped with explanations.

Would I buy the book?
The book is impressive and a comprehensive guide to using Blackboard, and there is something for everyone here, even advanced users.

I can see there will need to be some fairly( major?) revisions in future, or indeed another book, when Blackboard has another update or new release, but the majority of the elementary features (Announcements, Groups, etc) have not changed over the last release or so, much!

Book Review: Blackboard Essentials for Teachers

The book is available in either paper or eBook format, ‘Blackboard Essentials for Teachers’ is available online from PacktPub.

Book Give Away!

The publishers are kind enough to let me copies of the book to give away – two paper and two electronic editions. All you have to do is leave a comment below about how the book will change how you work with Blackboard (and your preference of paper or eBook).

Only comments made to this blog – www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk – will count as an entry to the raffle and my decision on the winners is final. I will contact the winners and get the required details from you and pass these across to PacktPub where you receive your prize. Please note that paper copies can only be sent to UK, US, and European addresses.


Familiarisation is key #eLearning #edtech

So, we’ve moved! We have our lives in boxes all over the house, someone else’s wallpaper and really strange built-in furniture in every room – it’s worse than a holiday cottage! Thankfully we’ll be ripping all that out and decorating and furnishing it with our tastes and ‘stuff’ in due course.

This post is part 7 in my series of ‘What is a Learning Technologist’. Read the others in the series on my blogs ‘about’ page.

But this is why I’m writing … we did our first weekly big shop at the weekend, in a different and much larger supermarket than we’re used to (Asda, not Tesco). We all know that different stores of the same company use roughly the same layout, but changing store means a different ‘thinking’ to presenting the aisles and products – I’m used to walking up and down each aisle and knowing what I need based on where I am in the store. The trolley fills up in a certain order so when I get to the checkout I unload and then bag, in another order which makes the unloading and shelving at home easy.

I have become familiar (stale?) in my shopping habits based on my ‘usual’weekkly visit. Here are the ‘issues’ I encountered at the weekend, and I’ll relate them to what a student may feel when accessing learning materials online, becoming too familiar with a structure or approach, and how change can be positive or negative experience for them.

  • The way I shop dictates the way I bag the items at the till – different layout meant different (confusing?) bagging technique needed, less logical presentation considering habit and background,
  • Price tickets are harder to understand, based on only being in a different presentation style and position,
  • Smaller trolleys,
  • Smaller bags,
  • Wider aisles,
  • The till was smaller and therefore I had to bag quicker than I’m used to to keep up with the much faster processing of items,
  • The till didn’t show the tally of purchase … so a shop I was expecting of about £80-£90 stunned me when it came in at over £120!
  • I’m not going to mention the car park and other people’s parking habits … !

All of this is enough to throw you off balance and disorientate you, and can be very disconcerting in an unfamiliar environment (even worse with two ‘noisy’ children in tow).

So here’s the rub … how do you think a student feels when they access one Unit/Course and one style of presentation to then start another with a whole new set of design, structure, navigation, etc? It’s even worse if there are several of one style (therefore they’ve gotten used to it) and some more with completely different and individual approaches. This is not about the tools used, as these should be used appropriately and only if they meet the learning outcome and/or need of the subject. This is about how the learning materials are presented in the VLE, this is about having a ‘template’ (whether defined or as a ‘guide’) for the main headings so the student:

  • can easily find the Course and tutor/admin contact details – if they’re in the same place in each Course then the student will not have to hunt for them,
  • can easily find announcements and important course information (handbook, forms, time table, events diary, etc),
  • knows where to look for assignment details, past papers, submission boxes, etc,
  • knows which area to ook in for which topic or activity or week’s reading materials,
  • knows how to access gradesor online(audio?) feedback,

I know not everyone agrees with a formulated structure, and I am open to criticism about this – I am happy to agree that there should be flexibility in presentation and structure of learning materials (comments welcome). But the students, especially online and distance learners, need to have a sense of familiarity for the basic information in order to gain confidence in working in a digital world. Especially if they’re not all that comfortable, and thefore confident, in the first place.

Image source: Violentz on Flickr

VLE – the discussion continues #VLE

The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a system/tool that sparks a fair bit of controversy when you mention it in any education setting. Whether you like it or not, use it or not, you will no doubt be involved in one, to some degree.

Last month I posted the poll to this blog about what name or label you have for your ‘student-centred’ learning environment (I know, that in itself is ripe for a huge discussion about whether a VLE or CMS could validly be called ‘student centred’ or even a ‘learning environment’):

Update, March 2012 – due to performance issues with the blog and the hosting company I use I have had to delete the poll plugin to reduce the load on the server. Apologies for this.

I am not surprised with the results as the VLE is deemed the most popular one I observe in discussions. Whether it is the right classification for the tool is also up for discussion but the results show the term VLE as the one we use.

However, Steve Wheeler got me thinking (again!) when he tweeted during last months eAssessment Scotland Conference:

The institutional VLE is where content goes to die #eas11
Steve Wheeler

Now, while Steve is somewhat known for sparking ‘heated’ discussion he has a point here, even if it’s one we don’t want to like it. I have constant battles when I see PDF and PowerPoint files being uploaded to the VLE, with no explanation on what they are or how/why the students should use them, and to then see them called ‘eLearning’. Arghh! That is barely even eDelivery and certainly not eLearning. In this day and age there is no reason why we can’t develop decent learning packages for the students, or arrange for appropriate explanation of what they are expected to do with the materials we provide for them … right?

However, from Steve’s post above I then saw the following tweet from Matt Northam, a colleague at Bournemouth University:

Why is it that students will happily talk about course stuff and whatnot on Facebook/twitter/etc but not in designated VLE's(?) #mes11
matt northam ™

Indeed, why do students not interact wit us or each other in the Institutional VLE? I’ve searched around on this topic and haven’t really found any definitive research or evidence that I’m happy with. I retweeted Matt’s post and received some welcome replies, which I’m sure Matt is also appreciative of too. The following are a selection of the replies, so I apologise if your’s is not included and commented on – you might have something similar to another reply?

  • Tim Dalton: “Feeling that the VLE is part of the assessment process so I filter what I write there?”

Indeed I have heard similar feelings from students at BU, but if introduced and explained properly then any form of required interaction (group based, personal, journal, informal/formal, etc) should negate these feelings? The VLE is not, to my knowledge, intended or even used to replicate or replace existing communication channels, but rather to enhance a particular section or activity. For me what you post to the Institutional VLE is always considered confidential.

  • Ben Bull: “Because your VLE isn’t as good and isn’t as socially relevant to them?”

Certainly the VLE is not as ‘socially’ relevant to the, but it’s not supposed to be, is it? As far as the statement that it isn’t “as good” really depends again on how you use it, and which one you have. I would say that from my experience most VLE systems are not developing as fast as the world of social media/networks.

  • Jon Scott: “VLEs outdated. Need to improve + integrate with workable pedagogy which encourages online communication and collab.”  and “hard to achieve- need to show a requirement for it. how do you demo requirement without a system to try pedagogy on?” (2 tweets)

Jon echo’s my sentiment from Ben’s tweet, VLE systems are slowly catching up to online behaviour in social networks, but unless they make radical changes they will always be playing catch-up. More importantly is that there needs to be a reason to have the VLE, and any changes within it, that must be relevant to the pedagogic need for the technology, and how we use it.

  • Doug Belshaw: “Discussions on SoMe instead of VLE because of ownership of space? Identity?”

I’ve blogged about this before too, but the ‘safety’ of activity within the Institutional VLE is something we can and should advocate. When we or the students take the work/assignment/conversation/etc out of this environment we lose control, they lose security, and we and them are open to external influences and activity/exposure that, for me, we ought to prevent. While I’m sure someone will argue that we should not have control over the conversation, I am merely stating here that we should be ‘controlling’ the technical infrastructure to provide a safe online environment for course-based student activity.

  • Natalie Lafferty: “Usability, interaction design, ownership maybe why students prefer talking about course stuff on FB rather than VLE”

Interesting point here: while I talk about (our) ‘ownership’ of the Institution system the idea that the students want their own ownership of the system they use is not one I had thought of until now. However, their data, details, communication, etc, in external systems are at the mercy of those T&Cs .. and we all know how unreliable and changeable Facebook has been in the past about that. The question of ‘ownership’ is one we ought to take seriously.

  • Sue Beckingham: “SoMe v VLE – interface more intuitive & visually pleasing + can easy communicate with chosen connections.”

If we can get the issues surrounding data security sorted then a ‘system’ or set of tools that utilises the best of both worlds could be on the cards, yes?

  • Shirley Pickford: “A student said its because the VLE doesn’t look/feel like FB/twitter/etc. Design tweaks coming up when I have time.”

I’d like to know more about this as the question for me here is whether it is purely the design of the two systems or do they mean the practical aspects of the way the two different systems work? I can see potential in this approach, certainly in finding out whether the students actually understand what each system can offer.

  • David Walker: “Perhaps because fear of being monitored? Or less fear of being shown up among immediate friends (Fb) rather than whole class?”

I’m not sure how other people use their VLE but for ‘my’ online students the conversation is about being monitored so we can gauge their progress and direct them to additional resources in case they start to lag behind, or even worse, get the wrong idea? Key here is that the conversation we expect/hope/plan for IS centred around their study, so this is obviously aimed at them using the VLE.

Is this question about the use of the VLE more about the basic fundamentals of each system rather than their merits? If we had a VLE that mimicked the buttons and function of the social network tool would the  students be more inclined to use it, or will they still use the external system because of the issue or ownership or the link to assessment?

This tweet from Carl Morris simply says “Ownership, familiarity and habit?. it simply covers the main topics. Is it more about familiarity and habit or is it about how WE introduce the VLE to them, explain what it is we will do and actually do it, as well as explain what we expect from them?

I saw a report recently (unfortunately I can’t find the  link now!) that highlighted what the students liked and disliked about their VLE. The aspects the students were positive about were orientated towards what the VLE did and how it did it, but the negativity surrounding the VLE was centred around how it was used. Therefore we are the problem, not the VLE?

This says a lot. Is the question about the success or failure of the VLE actually our fault, even though we pin it on the system or the students for not using it properly?

I don’t see the VLE as a place for conversation, I see it as somewhere the students ‘should’ be interacting with for the purpose of their studies. Yes, use Facebook and other websites to chat about housing, drinking, sport, etc but for your course studies they will benefit from using the VLE as we, the educators and facilitators, are present and able to join in when they ask us. If the students take everything outside of the space we provide then we can’t be expected to join them, or even know where they are. Can they?

I think this whole exercise has produced more questions for me than provided possible answers. What do you think? Do you have any research to add here that will help us all form a better understanding of what/where/how we need to develop our use and uses of the VLE? Please leave your comments below.

Image from CoolJinny

Presentation to eAssessment Scotland (@eassessscotland) #eas11

Today I confirmed the abstract of my presentation to the eAssessment Scotland Conference, hosted by the  University of Dundee, on August 25/26, 2011 – www.e-assessment-scotland.org.

Here is what I will be delivering to the distinguished delegates:

Title: “24-hour Papers: the Open-Book Alternative to Exams for Online Assessment”

Abstract: “Common unit specifications covering delivery of subject-identical units across different courses, often with different delivery methods, are increasingly being implemented. The inclusion of a ‘coursework’ element of assessment allows for flexibility. This is different when an ‘exam’ is required; with students on a fully-online course, unable to attend an exam centre, due to differences in time zones and/or locations, the concept of an open-book exam is used. The exam paper is released to students through our VLE (Blackboard) at a time that is agreed and broadcast to students in advance. Submission of their work is required within a 24-hour window via an upload of their files to the VLE (using either the standard submission tool or Turnitin).”

“This presentation will draw upon the Bournemouth University’s substantial experience of presenting ‘Time-Constrained Papers’ to students studying at a distance and will consider the issues surrounding this approach. Particular consideration will be given to the importance of question design to limit scope for academic dishonesty and the University’s plans to modify this approach in the forthcoming academic year.”

I will be following Dr. Sharon Flynn on Friday morning (Parallel session A), where I will also talk about the use of Turnitin with distant learners within the scope of Time-Constrained Papers. I hope you can join us there.

Building Educational Confidence and Affinity Through Online Induction Activities

Poster: Building Educational Confidence and Affinity Through Online Induction Activities

Today I am presenting the following poster at the Bournemouth University Enhancing Education 2011 Conference “Excellent education: the heart of the student experience” with two colleagues from the Business School, and wanted to share our work.

The poster, titled “Building Educational Confidence and Affinity Through Online Induction Activities” builds on previous work by the team to introduce and encourage our online an distant learners to engage with their studies, with us, and with each other.

The poster;

“… demonstrates the development and support taken throughout a week-long online Induction for geographically-disparate Business School students studying the fully-online BA (Hons) International Business & Management degree.

“From application through to enrolment and becoming an online student our students are likely to experience many emotions over this period. We recognise the different key foundation areas required to strengthen personal confidence and determination as an individual remote student. The intention is to help students overcome their initial personal apprehension by building intrinsic trust in the capabilities of the Business School from all standpoints including technical, educational and pastoral.

“By the end of this induction week students have the opportunity to formulate a clear picture of the environment in which they will be learning, establish an initial impression of degree level study, recognise the levels of support available to them, and begin to identify their own personal resolve and how to make this work for them whilst studying from a remote location.

“Through the induction programme we firmly believe that building strong roots empowers students to maximise their potential during the full course of their study.”

You can view and download the poster, in full, from SlideShare: Building Educational Confidence and Affinity Through Online Induction Activities.

If you are going to quote or cite this in any work please use the following details (in the style of Harvard Referencing):

Hopkins, D., Wincott, M. and Hutchings, L., 2011. Building educational confidence and affinity through Online Induction Activities. In: Bournemouth University Education Enhancement Conference 2011, 4 May 2011, Bournemouth University, Poole, England. Available from: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/17715/

Infographic: Technology Enhances Learning #eLearning

Many thanks to Brian Knotts (@briankotts) for linking to this Infographic on “how teachers think technology works best in the classroom”.

“Todays students are technologically savvy and spend hours a day online. Why are we still trying to teach them with textbooks when we have a wealth of digital options? These are teachers’ responses after being asked to gauge the effectiveness of various forms of education materials.”

Click to view full version


The Horizon Report 2011 – ‘eBooks’ #eBooks #mLearning #eLearning

I’ve been wading through the 2011 Horizon Report and find it fascinating reading and quite a thrill to realise that some of my thoughts are not too far off the mark with what other people /organisations are thinking, saying, or planning.

Here are few passages that caught my attention – mind you most of the report did this too!

“As the electronic book moves further from a digital reproduction of a printed piece, some writers are seeing it become something far richer, allowing journeys through worlds real and imagined, undertaken not alone but in company with other readers. The gestural interfaces of new electronic devices enhance the intellectual experience of reading with tactile interactions. Electronic books have the potential to transform the way we interact with reading material of all kinds, from popular titles to scholarly works”

This is something I have touched on in a previous post on January 17th, 2011 “The Future of eBooks … my vision“, and the video below is referred to in the report after the passage above;

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

“Despite their obvious advantages of size and weight, electronic books are not as established among scholarly readers as they are among the general public. Several obstacles have stood in the way of general adoption among academic institutions: scarcity of academic titles, lack of necessary features in electronic readers to support scholarly work, a restrictive publishing model, and digital rights management (DRM) issues Despite their obvious advantages of size and weight, electronic books are not as established among scholarly readers as they are among the general public. Several obstacles have stood in the way of general adoption among academic institutions: scarcity of academic titles, lack of necessary features in electronic readers to support scholarly work, a restrictive publishing model, and digital rights management (DRM) issues”

“Until electronic textbooks are divorced from reader-dependent formats, broad adoption will continue to be problematic for universities. Nonetheless, the promise offered by the technology is such that electronic books are being explored in virtually every discipline.  Clear advantages for students (e.g., price and portability) are other factors that make this technology worth pursuing.”

“Mobile applications add easy social interaction around electronic books that could be marshaled in support of group study and focused teacher-student interaction at any point in the text. Electronic texts can be linked to a myriad of supporting materials that can extend and enrich them.”

I am still reading my way through the list of resources and links in the report, but there are some good ones there.

Induction Activities: Some good examples using video …

As some of you may know I am working towards a post-graduate certificate qualification in Education Practice at Bournemouth University. I’ve spent most of my Christmas break (when the family and kids allowed) working on my first assignment for the ‘Introduction to Education Practice’ unit. I am basing this on my work in developing and delivering the Induction Programme for the fully-online International Business and Management under-graduate degree, and how it can be improved/updated to suit the possible changing student profile in the anticipated future economic climate.

While searching and researching the various methods of induction for students I cam across these videos and explanations on the IMU eLearning blog, a few I’ll show here, but please view the original post to view them all.

  • What happens next?

Ask the students to watch the video below and be prepared to discuss a ‘what happens next’ situation. Play the video and pause it when the cat reaches the fishbowl, then ask your students to discuss what happens next. Most likely you will stimulate their minds to think creatively about what happens next in a competitive but enjoyable way. Did you guess what happened next … ?

  • Awareness test

Tell the students you are looking for them to be observant, and to count how many passes of the ball the White team makes. Play the video below and pause it when the teams have stopped passing the ball between them. Ask for the answers … and then ask them if anyone saw the moonwalking bear? When they’ve stopped gasping or laughing continue the video.

  • Language Skills

This is a good example of the importance of language skills, which can often be a sensitive subject for some students who have poor english – use this light-hearted example to break the barrier and raise a laugh or two.

Do you use any video clips in your induction? If so please share with us all and leave a comment.

PS. I used the Smart YouTube WordPress plugin to embed these YouTube videos, try it out on your own WordPress blog too, it’s so very easy!

What’s Black & White and scanned all over? #QRCode

Slightly different version of the children’s joke “What’s Black & White and … ” but this is a good YouTube video on one School’s experiment with QR Codes;

I like the PC-based “QR Code Station” (using Quickmark I see) they created so students can scan the codes in the books/library and watch or listen to a podcast or vodcast of a book review, but this could easily be scanned by a students smart phone and watched/listened to anywhere (and saved for later).

It’s ‘snow’ joke, eLearning works (reflection)

Snow Landscape #HDR #photogWell, here we are again. The UK has ground to a halt, it’s covered in quite a thick blanket of snow (for the UK in November/December), and most people can’t get where they ought to be; work, family, study, etc.

However, it didn’t bother me too much. I have broadband at home, I have a laptop and can connect to the majority of Uni systems online that I need to do my job, Intranet, personal drives, VLE, email, etc. As the Learning Technologist working on the fully online under-graduate International Business & Management degree at Bournemouth University I am privileged with the people I work with, and the students I help support.

With so much of the population prevented from doing what they wanted to today, it is another example of the advantage of working and studying online – I could carry on;

  • I was able to answer student queries on access issues to the VLE.
  • I could access the various personal and network drives to get information I needed, remotely.
  • I could update and repair permission issues for students accessing some files in the VLE.
  • I was able to communicate, by email and skype, with my colleagues and team members – who were also working at home.
  • I could update the VLE remotely, inform the students about the situation, engage in their Units, and show that, for them anyway, we are able to continue supporting them even in such adverse weather conditions.

So, for me, this is another HUGE kick in the right direction for all of us looking at the Browne Report and Spending Review, and the reduction in Government funding for the UK HE industry (and increase in student tuition fees) … we can get students studying with us part-time online, they can continue to work/earn while they get their degree and qualification (“Learn while you Earn”, has anyone trademarked that yet? If not, it’s mine!). This mode of study is not always the first choice for the typical school leaver, but if we can get ourselves organised and marketed now, we could capture quite a few of these school leavers who might ordinarily opt out of higher education completely due to the costs involved.

The only thing I couldn’t do … mark some papers (an Excel exercise) I have to do; the marking guidelines are on my desk, on paper!

Image Source

PS. Sorry for the lame snow joke in the title.