Durham Blackboard Conference – Day 1

Over the years, I’d seen the Durham Blackboard conference (#durbbu) crop up a lot in Twitter in early January; though, being a Moodle user at the time, I didn’t pay too much attention.

This year, however, I got to go to it; as Dundee is a Blackboard user. As an ex-Durham student, it was also good to revisit the city.

The theme of the conference was Assessment and Feedback. What pleased me was that quite a few of the ideas I’ve tried over the years at Portsmouth as an academic, were also being tried at various other institutions, sometimes via Blackboard, sometimes via other tools. But, clearly I wasn’t totally crackers for trying them!

When Malcolm Murray opened the conference with a series of Lego minifigs, it was always going to be a good one!

We then moved to Susie’s keynote, looking at many aspects of feedback, in particular the need for it to be dialogic in nature – which raises the issue of how to achieve that, in conjunction with the NUS push towards anonymous marking.

In the next session, Sharon Flynn was looking at something I’ve encountered both here in Dundee, and previously in Portsmouth – the difficulties of getting (moderated) marks from the VLE into the student record system, with the minimum chances of error (i.e. minimise the manual aspects of the process). This was a popular session, clearly I’ve not worked at the only two UK universities that didn’t have that in place.

Of course, there were many other hurdles to get through, primarily making sure that people didn’t fiddle with columns in Blackboard, but, they now have all marks (not just marked online submissions) in Blackboard, before they end up in the main Student record system. Danny has storified her talk in more detail.

York’s elearning team gave a whistlestop tour through a range of different approaches they have for online assessment, ranging from summative, online exams (via a custom install of Blackboard) through to innovative uses of blogs. Overall, they’re all things I’ve tried with students at various points as a lecturer, albeit with a different tool set. I think the one I’m most interested in at present is the way we can get students to develop assessable work in the public space (i.e. blogs etc), however, I know that for the present, most of my time will be spent with the support for Turnitin and related tools.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we returned (briefly) to Lego, as Malcolm introduced some of the gamification he was using with students – (so I roped in one of the CameraGirlz to take a photo). It’s a fascinating area, and one that I’d like to look at more (just as I’d like to do more than dabble with Lego Serious play) – but those are two things for the future.

The evening event was held in Durham Castle – despite having been a student (rather longer ago than I care to think about!) – I’d never actually done the formal Castle tour! So, I took the opportunity, followed by Dinner in the Great Hall. My last trip to that was for my Graduation!

Durham Dinner

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Coping with outage.

Those of you who have read my blog for some time may remember that I had to move location at one point, due to an unexpected outage. That was a faculty based server – rather than a University provided one.

We’ve also had incidents when significant sections of the University system go down, either for planned maintenance, or unexpectedly. Luckily we’ve never, as far as I can remember had the whole University system down for a full weekend, as Bath are planning. I’m not sure, though, what’s better – to have all services down for the same weekend – or to have different services down at different times. Clearly, either is much better than having all services down unexpectedly, as can happen. (See Jeremy’s comment on Brian’s post). They had a couple of ways of communicating with users (not sure if it was students / staff / anyone who’d signed up to SMS / who..) – which is, of course vital. (I’ve seen the occasional moan in Twitter when Gmail has gone down…)

Posted in VLE

Happy 40th Birthday, mouse.

On 9th Dec 1968 Doug Engelbart demonstrated what was to become a mouse.
Now, as I look round my desk, I have:


A kitkat mouse (ball)


Trackerball (which I prefer)


Wacom tablet & wireless mouse (all 3 of these are connected to my PC)


Tablet – trackpad & pointer – fingers also work (it generally has a minature mouse attached, but not today)


OLPC’s track pad (not generally on my desk, but I’ve been using it recently)


OLPC’s “joystick” in reader mode.


The N85 – with a trackpad. I used the N-85 to take the rest of the photos – and am incidentally VERY impressed with their clarity!

So, what do I use the most often?

  • PC – it tends to be the trackerball
  • Tablet – mixture – the trackpad is quickest, the pointer more accurate – the miniature mouse is my preferred choice – but can’t always be bothered to get it out (e.g. today!)


Benefits of a VLE.

There has been an interesting exchange of ideas today, on one of the JISC email lists – re. the benefits of a VLE. I particularly agree with Dave Foord’s post ( Tue, 18 Nov 2008 13:37:09 -0000 ) – that good use of the communication tools is what really makes it a learning opportunity – and not just a (rather expensive) document dump. VLE Archives – November 2008

Off to China

I am in the process of getting ready for my trip to the China Agricultural University in Beijing, where I will be teaching some students who are on computing courses there – and hoping to come to the UK next year.

I am not quite sure what to expect!

Facebook, Meet Blackboard

How to put students off Facebook in one easy step?
I’ve tried to add it, but I’m told that our administrator has blocked access to it. I’m not quite sure whether I think that’s a good idea, or a bad one.

In someways it’s good, as there is the worry that Facebook may use the data inappropriately, however,

When it was still open only to college students, Facebook profiles often featured users’ course schedules with links to their classmates. Sync offers similar functionality, but within the private space of the application itself. In other words, it doesn’t show up on profiles at all.

“It’s a private application, so there’s sensitive information there that you wouldn’t want published to all your friends,” Gage said. Still, she said Blackboard hopes that students will use the application to connect with classmates and form study groups in what Michael L. Chasen, Blackboard’s president and CEO, referred to as “a new kind of social learning community” in the company’s announcement.

“Sync offers similar functionality, but within the private space of the application itself. In other words, it doesn’t show up on profiles at all” suggests to me that the data should be relatively safe; though, of course we have the issue that it’s on a US server, and we’re bound by stricter, EU regulations. So presumably that’s why they’ve blocked it.

I also wonder how much we want to encourage students to by pass Victory, it may be better to ensure that they go to it initially, and then (inevitably!) to Facebook.

The other issue is, of course, that students will start to move from Facebook to something else…

Overall, I think that blocking it was the right decision.

CMS Conversion Tools

Scott Leslie has started a useful wiki, recognising that many are tied to a CMS (i.e. VLE), but may, in the future want to get the stuff out … We’ve now got WebCT Vista (locally known as Victory), and it seems that it’s not the easiest to get material out of. Maybe it will get easier in the future.

VLE? What do you exactly mean by a VLE?

Cristina Costa has a guest posting on Graham Atwell’s blog: VLE? What do you exactly mean by a VLE? She says:

The learning environment doesn’t come with the software, that much I can assure you. The learning environment is the world the moderator creates together with the learners, while engaging (with) them in a relevant way.

How true! And, I don’t think that we really help matters by concentrating the training for both staff and students on “which button to click when”. We tend to forget “why”

Posted in VLE

Ginger: the new Netvibes

Ginger: the new Netvibes. I’d looked at Netvibes (along with PageFlakes) etc., when I first started using iGoogle. At the time, the main reason for selecting iGoogle was the fact that I could integrate existing google services easily. There was no other real reason – and from what I’ve seen, most are pretty similar.
Ginger, however, with the possibility of sharing, does seem to have some extra benefits. Jason Wekler has some good ideas about how this might be incorporated into an eLearning environment. With the “Weblinks” component of WebCT Vista, it could just be added as a weblink.