Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference 2015

I attended the Blackboard conference which took place in Liverpool in April. Most of the sessions had a practical rather than theoretical focus, and many were about projects similar to ones we had been running. This meant that the experience of attending this conference was very different to a conference like ALT-C, as it was more about reflecting on what we had done, than exploring new areas or thinking about ideas that were new to me.

In this post I'll try and present an overview of some of the sessions that I found useful, or which got me thinking.

Graham Brown-Martin - Learning Re-imagined

Graham Brown-Martin was talking about findings from his Learning Reimagined project, which asked the question "What is school for?". They started by asking famous thinkers for their opinions. Seth Godin took the controversial view that schools were set up to train factory workers and so we need something different now. Noam Chomsky talked about the possibility of "searching the riches of the past" to create something new and exciting and referenced Ivan Illich's book 'Deschooling Society' where he talked about learning webs and networks.

In his project, Graham went on to explore educational institutions around the world, and came away with six 'learnings':

  • Context
  • Environment
    • The benefits of problem based curricula and de-siloed subjects.
  • Engagement 
    • Teaching is not a delivery system for content.
  • Technology
    • There is a choice between aiming for the 'same system but faster' vs. transformation
  • Assessment
    • Parents get focussed on grades as the thing that will make their kids successful. We need to focus on skills as the thing that will make the difference.
  • The Future
    • There is a choice between treating GDP as a KPI vs. encouraging the next generation to re-imagine society.


Anne Campbell - How do we develop part-time distance teaching staff in best practices for using Blackboard Collaborate with student groups

Anne from the Open University shared what they had learned when teaching their geographically widely distributed staff to use Collaborate. As most staff development is informal and situated in the workplace, they considered how to create opportunities at a distance.

They had two routes, basic and next steps. The basics were covered with a self-study week, and the next steps involved a two week moderated route where staff needed to commit 14-15 hours (attendees are salaried staff, so there are no issues with them needing to be paid hourly). The next steps route included online synchronous activities which included pastoral support, and gave an experience of being a student online. There were also forums, a peer support group, events at weekends, and a good practice wiki.

Anne advised demonstrating how Collaborate is used in different disciplines, and to avoid getting stuck precisely replicating classroom experiences.

Myles Blaney - Learning Analytics: Exposing Student Data [slides]

The University of Edinburgh are developing a building block to give themselves better access to data in Blackboard. They will make the building block available on OSCELOT. Have a look at their slides for the details, but I took two things from this presentation. Firstly not all students want to be given data about their learning, and there are a wide range of reactions to being made aware that data is being collected and used. Secondly, there is no need to buy an expensive system to access data for use in Learning Analytics. Start off with what is freely available, and see how you can use that, and if you have the need for anything else.


So that's just a short overview. It was an interesting conference, and I appreciated everyone sharing their experiences.