Blackboard World Conference – Part 3

Washington DC – National Harbour Conference Centre, 20th-23rd July

Final day!
The conference has been interesting but in particular our colleagues from across the globe have been wonderful.  We’re still getting people coming up to us saying “your session was great” and “so cool what you guys are doing”.  This is fantastic feedback to receive.  When meeting various reps and peers many of them have said as soon as they hear the accent “Where are you from?” and as soon as we tell them they respond with “Oh wow – I’ve heard of you guys!”  So we really are making a name for ourselves! Well done the EHU Learning Technology team!

Keeping Peace in the House: Best Practices for Ensuring Faculty & Institutional Adoption of Technology – Harriette L. Spiegel, Instructional Specialist, University of Tennessee at Martin
The first session of the day was around how to get everyone on board with technology changes, developments or additions.  There was quite a bit of audience participation to discover how other institutions handle technology adoption.  The methods are all very similar.  There seemed to be quite some emphasis on using video technologies (Collaborate, Skype, Zoom, WebEx) to provide support.  I suppose this is mainly as US Institutions can be quite large or very spread out.  We’re very lucky in Edge Hill to be able to pop and see someone personally relatively easily! Even so, we could investigate more screen sharing to provide support in a timely and efficient way – especially if needed urgently!

Customising the User Experience, One Tab at a Time – Robert Torres, Blackboard Administrator, Berkeley College
A great session where Robert showed some of the fantastic work he’d been doing on the Berkeley Blackboard Community pages.  He has heavily modified the entry page with lots of great ideas on where to place social media icons and also (because they are self hosted) app server checks for help desks to use for troubleshooting.  He talked through the rationale of the tabs and contents and also some of the code that had been used to combine lists into menus.  Take a look below (apologies about the ‘phone’ picture quality!)

P_20150723_112207 P_20150723_114238

Increasing Student Engagement with Digital Badges – Melissa Stange, Lord Fairfax Community College; Richard Shelton & Dr Donna Shelton, Northeastern State University; Megan Cole – Badge Labs
An informative session about using badges in education.  They’re still building their evidence but early signs shows it works – mainly playing on competition between peers to encourage everyone to get involved! They are also working with external agencies to recognise the badges and awards to be used as evidence in CVs or in particular for specialist skills that certain companies require.  There are a number of organisations out there who are taking badges seriously and supporting creation and use, so hopefully this will be something fun for us to consider in the near future!

Product Innovations for International Clients in 2015 and Beyond – an overview
This session was much of the same that we’ve already heard.  Blackboard are trying hard to include all customers in their decisions – not just the US – and we have seen this effort in the development of some new features (although none that are particularly useful at the moment but hopefully could hold some potential in the future).  UK versions of Mobile for example come a little later than for the US but this has been explained that it is to ensure that localisation is done properly.  Good job we are a patient lot!

Overall, the conference was a fantastic experience.  We are doing lots of great work and will continue to do so so that the student experience is the best we can possibly offer when it comes to technology in education.

If you wish for any further information about what we saw, then please get in touch!




Carol Chatten
Learning Technology Development Officer





John Langford
Learning Technology Development Systems Officer

Blackboard World Conference – Part 2

Part 2 of the Blackboard World 2015 conference in Washington DC – National Harbour Conference Centre, 20th-23rd July

Product Roadmap – Jim Chalex, Director of Product Management (Blackboard)
This morning (or afternoon in BST!) we heard from Jim Chalex, Director of Product Management at Blackboard. He outlined the product roadmap for Blackboard Learn 9.1, in particular the next generation ULTRA interface.  This was heavily Tweeted by a number of people in the room as they gave details of how long 9.1 will be supported (or at least the service packs) and also which features of ULTRA are available now, which are in development and which were in ‘Research’.  It was particularly reassuring that Tabs and Modules – the focus of our presentation – will be included in ULTRA in the future as this is currently in ‘Research’. More to come on that shortly…

ULTRA sees a big change in the way users will interact with Blackboard Learn, with anticipated improved workflows and navigation.  If you want an early sneak-peek and a chance to evaluate the new interface, take a look at

Collaborate ULTRA
Our colleague David Callaghan is currently looking in to the new aspects of this revamped product.  The main change is the move away from having to install any Java applets before launching a session. There is also a ‘swishier’ minimalist interface, with easy access tools. The whole product has been rebuilt and quite frankly looks great, although some features are currently missing such as break-out rooms and polls.  These are promised soon!

The Collaborate ULTRA Building Block (B2B) was released last Friday (17th) which is great news as this was holding up our testing.  We look forward to incorporating it soon.

The new student version of Mobile Learn (UK) has been promised by Q3 (although we suspect we may not actually see it until the end of the year).  The very final session we’ll be attending is the International Product update, so more to come on our final post.

The new Instructor app is ‘coming soon’.  This will be a dedicated app to support academic staff in using Blackboard on their mobile device.  There is currently available a Bb Grader app for iOS but this is purely to mark papers.  The new Instructor app will incorporate most tools but specifically for Instructor use with Instructor functions.  There will also be an Android version.

Respondus Lockdown Browser

While looking round the exhibition hall, we took some time to speak to vendors of proctor (or invidulator) free testing environments. One that stood out was Respondus Lockdown Browser and Respondus Monitor and it’s something we will be feeding back to our colleague Martin Baxter who is working with the Business department to evaluate online testing environments.

And finally…  “They Loved The Tabs!”

Well that was the feedback from colleagues in the audience, following our presentation. Carol and myself presented on the customisations Edge Hill University had implemented to Blackboard Community Engagement over the past 24 months.

The presentation was well received and many institutions both applauded the customisations we had delivered and empathised with the challenges we faced; from Tab and Module administration/management to the particulars of sourcing reliable accurate data for staff secondary institutional roles.

One particular section of the presentation that stood out was our implementation of the NEW_STARTER role for new students joining the institution. Colleagues were fascinated to find out how the data was sourced to facilitate this role. We also suggested alternatives, such as an adaptive release for those who didn’t have technical support readily available, to implement a data feed.

During our Q&A session, a discussion took place surrounding the future of Tabs and Modules and how they will fit in following the announcement of ULTRA. Fortunately, Matt Franks From Blackboard was able to provide some guidance on the UX in the next version of Blackboard.

After the discusion he asked for our feedback on a beta design of Tabs and Modules. As we have extensively customised our environment.  Matt asked if we would like to be part of the client consultation process so we exchanged contact details and will now be feeding directly in to the research and development of the new Blackboard user interface, in particular Tabs and Modules!

Our final post from the conference will be coming soon!




John Langford
Learning Technology Development Systems Officer

Blackboard World Conference – Part 1

Washington DC – National Harbour Conference Centre, 20th-23rd July

John Langford and myself were invited to present at the Bb World Conference this year, demonstrating all the good work that Learning Services have been doing to customise and target content for our students by Faculty and Department.

We thought it would be a good idea to blog whilst attending the conference so as to ensure we keep in touch with our keen blog readers and also report back whilst very much fresh on our minds!

We’ve seen a number of great presentations today;

Using Template Variables and Creating Your Own – Brett Stephens, Systems Analyst, University of Miami
Brett demonstrated ‘template variables’ which are included in the main Blackboard platform and how he created a script that allowed the Institution to target a specific, unique to each user URL to complete a national student survey just to the students that it concerned.  This then also linked into a building block that could be deployed on Blackboard to activate or deactivate it.
This rings with what we are aiming to achieve with our own tabs and panels.  Being able to target content to unique users is a very powerful feature and one which I hope we can investigate further.

Leveraging Web Analytics in Blackboard Learn – Terry Patterson, LMS Application Administrator, University of Missouri
Terry is a highly entertaining Technologist with enthusiasm for analytics.  He has deployed a piece of software called Piwik to help gather useful statistics and data on student use of Blackboard including (but not limited to): Visitor barometer, Real-time map, real-time visitor count, visits over time, browser use, visitor platform and browser, track users flow of page clicks (so from which internal pages to other internal pages), hot spots on pages and also break this down into the tabs and tools used.
We would need to work out if it offers more than what Google Analytics currently offers us, but the dashboard looks really good and so could be a powerful tool to help educate others on the trends and habits of our users to help inform us to enhance their experience.

Best Practices for Implementing Blackboard Communities – Adam Voyton, Instructional Technology Project Specialist, Wilmington University
Adam gave a demonstration of their Communities integration covering how the Institution has developed and organised their tabs and modules (panels) and also how they handle Organisations.  Wilmington, interestingly enough, uses entire webpages for some of their tabs so as not to duplicate content.  It would be interesting to see what our students thought of that approach and whether it would work!  Overall, it was great to see very similar practice to our own occurring ‘across the Atlantic’ and we’ve picked up a few ideas that we’ll be bringing back to improve our own management and development.

Opening Keynote – Jay Bhatt, Jon Kolko, Annie Chechitelli and Stephanie Weeks, Blackboard
So the sessions above were the close of DevCon and the opening of the main conference, so now was the opportunity for Blackboard to speak.  The recording will be up online soon and we’ll provide the link as soon as possible but here’s a very brief summary:
The main focus was on the idea of ‘The New Learning Experience’.  This involves; focus on the learner; connected workflow; user experience; accessible and always on environment; and data analytics.
We always strive to provide the best experience for our students and of course there’s always room for improvement but it looks like Blackboard will be providing products that will support this…watch this space!

I suppose the last thing to mention is that we filmed our session for the online conference community today.  I must say it was very odd having to have your hair and makeup done for filming (just to powder off the shine – and I don’t just mean me but John too!).  We’re so used to being the voice behind the screencasts!  Anyway, we had to trim it to keep it concise but we hope we got over what needed to be said.  See what you think once it’s available.  Again, we’ll let you know the link.  (I won’t be watching it though!)

Here’s a photo of the film set…I won’t post the photo of John having his makeup done – he might never speak to me again!


That’s it for today – off to the Welcome Party, so more to come tomorrow where we’ll be presenting!



Carol Chatten
Learning Technology Delopment Officer

Audacity: Create Professional Audio Narrations for all your Learning Resources

It’s usually around this time of the year when most of us free up some time to create or even review our learning resources for the new academic year. I know a lot of staff at Edge Hill are really starting to move away from standard PowerPoint based materials and producing some really engaging resources by embedding multimedia into materials developed on the following:


  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • iSpring
  • Microsoft Office Mix
  • Campus Pack (Podcasts)

Maybe some of you are considering trying one of these technologies (though I hope everyone uses PowerPoint as standard). Let’s face it, all we need to do is take a look around our amazing campus and witness the wide adoption of mobile devices over the recent years. With the use of mobile learning in mind, we need to understand that today’s learners will not solely consume content through the PC/Mac desktop environment. At some point, we all have to break out of our usual practices and look for an effective alternative to create rich engaging and mobile friendly materials for our modules and programmes.

So for those who are looking to take that first small step maybe consider introducing audio narration tracks to your current PowerPoint files. Audio narration can be used across all of the technologies I mentioned previously. It’ll offer you the opportunity to embed audio narration tracks to your resources by recording directly into whatever platform you wish (PowerPoint, iSpring, Podcasts etc.). For this post, I’m focussing on a video (see below) which details a specific process developed by Josh Holnagel (Instructional Designer, Techsmith). This process demonstrates how you can edit and polish a pre-recorded audio file within Audacity (an open-source audio editor). Audacity can be found on all PCs on campus and is freely available to download here.

You may want to record your audio narration first with an USB microphone, your smartphone or even your tablet. Take the recorded file and load it straight into Audacity and give this tutorial a go. The workflow shown is a series of small techniques, tips that Josh has developed from his own experience.

PlayerFor those experienced users of Audacity, a detailed table of contents follows below so you can see what‘s covered in this video.

Table of Contents

0:00 Intro
0:50 How to change the Audacity project rate
1:15 How to split a stereo track to mono
1:30 How to find and copy white noise
2:15 How to make a new track
2:25 How to paste white noise end-to-end
3:30 How to use white noise throughout a track
5:22 How to paste white noise over existing audio
6:40 How to eliminate breaths and mouth clicks
8:53 How to quiet noises in between words
10:24 How to use the Amplify effect in Audacity
10:46 How to repeat an effect
11:27 How to adjust the volume of words or phrases
13:13 How to reduce or remove white noise
14:47 How to export audio from Audacity
15:10 Outro

Below are some great guides and links on some of the technologies you can insert audio narrations into. Why not have a glance at any that appeal to you, feel free to contact your faculty LTDO if you need to know more!


Mark Wilcock
Learning Technology Development Officer



A Great Alternative to Using the YouTube Mashup Tool

I developed a great way of creating links to YouTube and similar sites that works well for desktop and mobile users. Just use a Web Link with a description.

Here are the steps:

  1. buttonGet the URL link for the video from YouTube. For example you could try it with our ‘Learning Edge Welcome Video
  2. Go to the Blackboard ‘Content area’ page that you want to add the link to
  3. Add a Web Link
  4. Paste the link in, and enter a suitable description
  5. In the description box, click the ‘Insert/Edit Embedded Media’ button (see image)
  6. Paste the URL into the File/URL box & click insert at the bottom of the page
  7. Submit

The result is that desktop users see:

Mobile users get the web link too (Learning Edge Welcome Video) but don’t see the embedded picture.  It works great – give it a go.

For further help and support on this or any others aspect of Learning Technology, please contact your faculty Learning Technologist: Learning Technology Development Division Contacts.

Learn to produce a screencast ….. or find out how to support, tutor and teach your students online

During July, through the Digital Practitioner strand of the Developing Digital Excellence staff development programme, Learning Technology Development (LTD) are offering a range of sessions which can show you how to achieve all this and more!

For full session descriptions and to book on a session, click on the appropriate title below:

Quick and Easy Screencasting
Tuesday 30 June 2015 – 12:00 – 13:00
Screencasting has become far more accessible to everday users. You no longer need expensive software to capture your screen when doing demonstrations, inductions or in your general teaching and learning materials. This session will show you some of the tools you can download or access for free and once you’ve captured your video, where you can place the file.

Collaborate: Find Out What it is and How it Could Help You
Thursday 23 July 2015 – 12:00 – 13:00
Blackboard Collaborate is a real time (live) web conferencing platform which allows the facilitation of teaching and learning, offices, conferences and meeting spaces on the web or on mobile. This rich platform is available for all Edge Hill staff and students.

Collaborate: Online Teaching and Learning
Tuesday 28 July 2015 – 13:00 – 14:00
This online session will give you first-hand experience of being a participant on an online teaching webinar using Collaborate software. This virtual training session will give you a general overview of how a Collaborate session looks and feels. You will have the opportunity to interact in demonstrations of the essential teaching tools.

Collaborate: Online Personal Tutoring in a Private Virtual Office
Wednesday 29 July 2015 – 13:00 – 14:00
This online session will give you first-hand experience of personal tutoring in a private virtual office, using Collaborate software. You will have the opportunity to interact in demonstrations of the essential tutoring tools.

All sessions within the Developing Digital Excellence programme can be viewed and booked weeks in advance via the HR Staff Development booking system.
Most sessions are either held in the G2-ICT training room, Ground floor, LINC Building or as online webinar using Collaborate.

Can’t see what you want?
Beyond the advertised staff development programme, Learning Technology Development (LTD) can deliver fully tailored bespoke sessions on Learning Edge (including Blackboard) and other online, mobile or classroom technologies. Through discussion LTD will, in partnership with yourself, develop a session to correspond exactly to your department’s and/or programme’s needs and processes.

For further information on anything relating to learning technologies, or to arrange a consultation for a bespoke session, please contact either your faculty’s dedicated Learning Technologist or contact our (LTD) central support on / 01695  650754 (x7754).


Linked Out…

Have you ever come across a broken link to an external website? Annoying isn’t it? Especially if the content you want to access has moved to a different location, requiring you to start searching all over again.

Fortunately in Blackboard this is now a thing of the past!

As a tutor you can check the validity of your external web links in your Blackboard course area.bb_link_checker

The External Links Validator lists all your course content links to external sites and displays whether they are valid or not.

The Link Checker can be launched from the Course Tools section under the Control Panel, on the left hand side of the course page.

Once the Link Checker is selected the tool will load all the external links contained in the course area.



You can then easily see which links are valid or not. There’s also the option to hide invalid links, to instantly remove them from your course and improve the student experience.

Learning technology Development (LTD) are always looking at ways to add functionality and improve the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Blackboard 9.1.

Please contact us if you have any comments or suggestions:


John Langford

Learning Technology Development Systems Officer

Blackboard 9.1 summer upgrade 2015

The 2015 Blackboard upgrade will commence from 7:30 pm, 12th July (Sunday) to 7:30 am, 13th July (Monday). Blackboard will be unavailable during this period.

This upgrade will provide the annual updates to back-end functionality and security and ensure an even better stability of the system and its components.

Blackboard will be available from 13th July, 7:30 am, but will be deemed ‘at risk’ whilst we verify the functionalities of the upgraded features. This has been decided with the view of minimising disruption and enabling our users to access Learning Edge with the minimal interruption window.

If you have any enquiries relating to this, please email us at

Finally, the last date for your diary is the 22nd June, when the LTD team will be undertaking the ‘closed doors’ testing to prepare for the system update and to ensure all the features fulfil their functionality ahead of the live upgrade.

If you have any queries regarding this, please don’t hesitate to contact the Learning Technology Development team on 01695 650754 or via

Nina Unsworth

Learning Technology Development Operations Coordinator.

NU 2

LTD on Location – English and History

Recently, I popped into the Department of English and History to discuss the upcoming academic year (Yes! we really do start that early!) and as a result of a brief conversation about what the department needs from Learning Technology, we came up with a great idea for me to be based in the department for portions of time through the two upcoming busy marking weeks.

Turnitin, Grade Mark, Grade Centre and Learning Edge can become a little overwhelming when all those submissions land.  So the best way to support academics was for me (as the Learning Technology Development Officer for English & History) to be stationed in the department during certain times.

Quite often a problem or question can be solved so easily by simply saying – “could you just take a look at this?”  Usually at the end of a phone or email it seems like it’s a game of 20 questions just to get to the beginning so that you’re both at the some point.  Being able to quickly pop into a tutor’s office or to quickly bring it up on a PC together cuts out so much description time!

I also had the chance to meet some colleagues who I’ve never had the pleasure to meet before.  We worked through lots of interesting ideas and Learning Edge ‘wish lists’, tackled some little (and some bigger!) problems that staff had had and all in a very timely manner and no hot ear from being on the phone for 20 minutes!

I had the company of Sheila Lewis in the admin department and the staff made me feel very welcome while I was there. I was even treated to a home-made custard cream!  (Thanks Andy!)

As a result I now know the department even better than before!  They know the areas I can help them with and hopefully the marking regime was a little easy.  In addition, I’ve committed myself to a game of ‘Marrying Mr Darcy’ one lunchtime at the end of June!

If you have a particular interest in having a member of LTD stationed in your department at key times during the year, speak to your departmental LTDO (listed below) and find out if they can be on location for you to help ease any technology woes!

David Callaghan
Mark Wilcock
Education CPD and Health PPE
Peter Beaumont
Martin Baxter
Media, Geography, Biology, Business, Social Sciences, Psychology, Law & Criminology
Carol Chatten
Computing, English and History, Sports, Performing Arts, Clinical Education



Carol Chatten
Learning Technology Development Officer

More peer review = More feedback. What’s not to love?

A SOLSTICE discussion and webinar with Sarah Honeychurch and Gill Ferrell this Friday at 12pm.

Nicol-et-al-2013“Peer review is an important alternative to teacher feedback, as research indicates that both the production and the receipt of feedback reviews can enhance students’ learning without necessarily increasing teacher workload.” (Nicol, 2013:103).

A wealth of literature supports Nicol’s assertion: Zingaro & Porter, 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012; Nicol, 2010; Crouch, et al, 2007; Mitra, 2003 as well as experiences documented at Edge Hill (Juss et al., 2010).

Further, Nicol says peer review ‘ … should receive much greater attention in higher education curricula’ (ibid:102).  Hence, I’ve organised an online and face-to-face event at the SOLSTICE conference, where external experts will attend to discuss the technique and illustrate how technology can facilitate peer review.

Please come along to this event – either face-to-face in B004 at 12pm this Friday (please ensure you register for SOLSTICE):

… or to join us online, following this link:

The session will discuss some of the barriers to adoption, such as students’ lack of confidence giving feedback and concern about plagiarisism between students; to tutors disquiet about the quality of peer feedback provided.  The idea is to explore how insurmountable these barriers are and how we might overcome them.

Note that we’d be very interested in hearing from colleagues who are using the technique, especially online, exploring their drivers, approach and outcomes.

So – please come along, either in B004 or online.  Further thoughts sought too (leave a comment at the bottom).

Here’s my SOLSTICE abstract that gives further details:

Kindest regards to all, David



Crouch, H., Watkins, J. Fagen, A.P., Mazur, E. (2007) Peer Instruction: Engaging students one-on-one, all at once in Reviews in Physics Education Research, Ed. E.F. Redish and P. Cooney, pp. 1-1 (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007). Available from [Accessed 13th May 2015]

Juss, M., Chamberlain, V. and Callaghan, D. (2010) Moving Assessed Student Presentations Online: How a Change in Practice Brought “…a breath of fresh air” to the Student Experience SOLSTICE Conference 2010, Edge Hill University, ORMSKIRK, 3rd June 2010 [] last accessed 1st June 2015

Mitra, S. (2003). “Minimally Invasive Education: A progress report on the “Hole-in-the-wall” experiments”. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 367-371.

Mostert, M.; Snowball , J. (2012) Where angels fear to tread: online peer-assessment in a large first-year class Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 38, Iss. 6, 2013 [Accessed 13trh May 2015]

Nicol, D. (2010) The foundation for graduate attributes: Developing self-regulation through self and peer assessment. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.Scotland,

Nicol, D., Thomson, A, and Breslin, C. (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment and evaluation in higher education. 39(1),  102-122.

Zingaro, D., & Porter, L. (2014) Peer instruction in computing: The value of instructor intervention. Computers & Education, 71 , 87–96.