ALT-C Conference 2015: Some things to consider

ALT-CALT-C is the main annual conference for the Association for Learning Technology. It is a great environment in which to see what others are doing, and to think about some of the big ideas that affect education.

In this post I’ll share some of the messages from the conference that I personally would like to consider further.

Keynote: Steve Wheeler
Key Message – Students could help us think in different ways.

Steve Wheeler from Plymouth University explored how learning is changing, and how we may need the help of students to help us think in new ways.

It can be difficult for us to notice the opportunities that new technology offers us; things change fast and we have little time. I was reminded that in around 2008 there was a short time when students often complained that they couldn’t get on campus computers to do work, because almost every computer was logged into Facebook. It was the consequence of a time just after the growth and adoption of social media, but just before everyone had smartphones that could be used to access the social media tools. These sort of odd things happen, and almost before we can react properly they’ve changed again. If these situations (both opportunities and challenges) are difficult to predict in the short term, then in the long term it is impossible to think what might change and how the collection of those changes working together might affect our context.

We could learn from each year’s intake of students about how technology could be used. Steve used the example of interactive whiteboards where early users just used them like blackboards, but someone without the experience of using blackboards who was given time to explore, might discover the possibilities.

In the past the learning technologies we had such as videos, and TVs, were primarily transmission tools, but now networked technologies can help move us towards student centered learning.

Teachers are often nervous about using technology, because there can be aspects of technology use that they think the students understand better than them. Even Steve’s students reported feeling like this when they went into school to do teaching practice and became the teacher, so the nervousness doesn’t seem to be related to age and experience with the technology. Personally I feel the same in induction sessions with the students when you advise a student to solve an issue one way, and other students come with other (sometimes better) solutions. I feel like I’m losing the position of ‘expert’, but as Steve is saying, perhaps we have to accept that in a complex changing environment there is no alternative.

On the topic of where the technological expertise lies, Steve pointed out that the ‘Visitors’ and ‘Residents’ theory is better than the much criticised ‘Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants’ theory if we are going to understand the way staff and students approach technological tools and spaces.

Keynote: Phillip Long
Key Messages – Cognitive Science can tell us a lot about learning. Performance and learning are not the same.

Phillip Long from the University of Texas at Austin spoke about the importance of using what we know from cognitive science when designing learning activities and environments.

First he talked about Soderstrom and Bjork’s work on the difference between learning and performance, where “Learning reflects the relatively permanent changes in behaviour or knowledge that support long-term retention & transfer” and performance is the “temporary fluctuations in behaviour or knowledge that can be observed and measured during or immediately after the first acquisition process”.

He discussed how there are different techniques for practicing in learning (e.g. distributed practice), and how some will work better for short term performance and some for long term learning. This can cause problems when working with students as they can really enjoy the results of short term performance gains and find aiming for these motivating. Long term learning methods with initially poor results can cause them to react badly.

He talked about EdX’s use of Cerego (see Jessie Brown’s overview) which is software that learns your personalised memory decay curve and aims to use this to optimise learning and methods of practice. Also if we want to encourage students to do important, but potentially tedious learning activities there is evidence that introducing transcendent purpose can help students, especially those with poor grades to start with.

He finished with the question “How can we bring good learning science into elegant learning environments that fit your institutional culture?”

Keynote: Laura Czeriewicz
Key Message – Online learning can play a role in reducing inequality.

Laura Czerniewicz spoke on the effects of online learning on inequality. She notes that we saw $1.87 billion (£1.22 billion) in ed tech funding in 2014, which means the effects cannot be large, including the effects on the developing world. She referred to Therborn’s 2013 book that looks at types of inequality to consider.

To face challenges in this area, she mentioned that we need to be aware of:

  • how online learning benefits some groups more than others
  • how learners need help so that they are prepared to learn in the online environment
  • how access to electricity and the internet affects any strategy
  • how mobile may be the answer if the price of data can be reduced
  • how verification of learning rather than learning alone is required for people to get jobs
  • how colonial attitudes need to be avoided and pluralistic epistemologies considered

Other Things of Interest
Key Message – Technology is not neutral.

The work P.A. Danaher was presenting was based on Affordance Theory (Gibson, 1979) via Actor-Network Theory (Wright & Parchoma, 2011). He mentioned how these theories say that technology is not neutral but shapes and is shaped by its users and occupants, and how effective research needs to respect that.

Key Message – Learning Technologists should be agents of change.

Peter Bryant from London School of Economics talked about the ‘Middle Out’ approach to institutional change. This was a concept taken from politics about the importance of creating growth through the middle classes, but in his focus on institutional change he says that there is a problem when Learning Technologists end up just maintaining the status quo by just supporting existing practices and not innovating new ones.

Peter argued that Learning Technologists should see themselves as agents and leaders of change at a strategic level and that we should aim for “a role where the learning technologist argues, lobbies, supports and resources change and where they work to break down functional barriers and silos between academic and professional services, in order to seek change through the development and celebration of a collective identity”.

Key Message – Technology affects power dynamics between teachers and learners.

Jonathon Worth spoke about his experiences as a photographer, how he learned to take advantage of the open nature of the web, and the resulting open course he ran. He discussed ethics around loss of privacy, changes to power within a class, cultural and technological barriers that might emerge, and how technology might affect trust. The idea that students should be asked to give informed consent around their use of ‘the digital’ is a challenge.

Key Message – Virtual field trips are possible, but require a lot of initial development.

Work from the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds was presented, where they had created a field trip environment (works best in Firefox) using the Unity game engine. This allowed field trip activities to be undertaken without the travelling, and allowed disabled students to participate more fully in them. The level of detail was only really suitable for undergraduate study, and they are looking at the possibilities of developing it in more detail for post-graduate learners. Adding hand drawn field sketches to the simulation alone took 80 hours work, which indicates the time taken up by the project.


Peter Beaumont
Learning Technology Development Officer

Blackboard Collaborate Video Case Study 3 of 3

Third and final case study in the series (part 1 and part 2)

Caroline Galon, Graduate Teaching Assistant, in Performing Arts, explains the importance of mastering any new technology and how Blackboard Collaborate provides her with the most stable and reliable platform from which to conduct her research interviews. Caroline tell us how Person looking at image of people-overlay and world map.crucial it is for her research that she has confidence using the technology, especially as her research involves meeting online with extremely busy people, experts from around the world.

On attending training and after talking to her Faculty Learning Technologist, Caroline explains why she continued using Blackboard Collaborate and how she felt it offered her the complete and robust solution she needed.  It was also important to Caroline, that the web conferencing tool used is widely supported in terms of providing best practice resources, guidance and buddy support, particularly as a first time user.

Caroline Galon - youtube playerCaroline describes her own experience of interviewing participants, all of whom are external to Edge Hill University with no previous experience of Blackboard Collaborate and the challenges she faced along the way.  She continues to compare Blackboard Collaborate with Skype, which she feels is more user friendly.

The next release of Collaborate, ‘Ultra’, is currently being evaluated by LTD with internal stakeholders and external colleagues.  It has the potential to offer significant benefits over the current version, such as ease of entry and a more attractive and intuitive interface.

Blog 3 Bb Collab Case StudyBlackboard’s release notes will tell you more about the < The Ultra Experience > and < The Ultra Changes

If you feel inspired by this and other videos in the series and want to learn more about web conferencing (Blackboard Collaborate) and other technologies, your Learning Technologist can help.

In addition, you can access to Blackboard Collaborate training session, talk to your Learning Technologist or book onto a session via the Staff Learning and Development Programme:  Developing Digital Excellence

Martin Baxter
Martin Baxter
Learning Technology Development Officer

Summer’s over… Let’s welcome the new term!

We wave goodbye to the long days, sunshine(?!) and quiet campus but instead we greet our new students and all the fun – and challenges – that the new term brings!

So what’s been happening lately in the world of learning technology? Well, possibly not much that you can actually see but plenty has been going on behind the scenes as well as enhancements to what was already there.

LEHomeYou may have firstly noticed that we’ve gone purple! Yes, in keeping with the Learning Services chosen corporate colour we have matched this in the Learning Edge look.  We think it looks rather smart – let us know what you think…

Momentum has picked up in our Faculty Resources areas in Learning Edge (you will see these as ‘Your FoE Resources‘, ‘Your FoHSC Resources‘ or ‘Your FAS Resources‘, with new ‘panels’ being created all the time to host useful information for students including job updates, events on campus and pinpointing handy learning resources.  Lots of departments have asked for their Twitter feeds to be added to the Learning Edge Homepage too.  If you want yours on there get in touch with LTD to find out how!

Possibly for the first in quite some time we didn’t apply a major update to Learning Edge.  We still carried out an update to the system to ensure it’s as robust and reliable as possible for this coming year.  The update fixed a number of ‘bugs’ and also streamlined some of the processes to hopefully make everything work faster.

Qwickly continues to be a popular tool for staff to ‘qwickly’ make their courses available.  Don’t forget to do this so your new students can see their modules or programme areas! You can find it at the bottom of your Course list on the Learning Edge Home page.

With any luck before Christmas we will welcome the new Learning Edge/Blackboard Mobile App for students.  This will bring an updated and improved experience to students who prefer to use their mobiles for their learning.  Watch this space for further information! We may also soon see a Blackboard Mobile App specifically for Instructors! Again watch this space for further information.  (If you are using the Learning Edge/Blackboard Assignment tool for submissions don’t forget you can download the ‘Grader‘ app to mark students’ work on your tablet) or for iPad users, you can get the Turnitin marking app.

The new BOS (Bristol Online Surveys) interface came in before summer and we hope that you’re enjoying using the additional functionality it came with, the easy to use face-lift and mobile friendliness!  If you aren’t currently using BOS – you might wish to take a closer look at what it can do for you here: BOS Help & Support.
Get in touch with LTD to get a free account to use for whatever you need it for – student surveys, evaluations, research, opinion gathering and much more!

Other little goodies…
eShare continues to grow in popularity for staff to host their teaching materials.  Every member of staff has an account using their staff login details to access it.

ispringExampleiSpring for rapid e-learning content development using PowerPoint has taken off in a number of departments.  If you want to find out more contact LTD for some examples or find out if we’ve got a license we can allocate to you.  In addition to this we should hopefully be welcoming Office Mix too… again, watch this space!

In LTD we’ve got some really exciting projects already kicking off.  These include work around User Experience testing, Reading List integration with Learning Edge, Staff Knowledge Base plus much, much more (In the region of 40+ projects in fact!)
One project in particular will see the development and deployment of a TLA (Teaching Learning and Assessment) Tab that will join the others in Learning Edge.  We aim to include exciting and informative help, guidance and support in regards to all things Teaching and Learning.  We’ll be approaching as many departments as possible for their input so please share with us your ideas!

This is a really exciting year coming up and we are looking forward to working with as many of our wider colleagues as possible over the coming year.  Contact your Learning Technologist for all your Teaching and Learning with Technology needs (not just Learning Edge!) The earlier you get them involved with their skills and expertise the greater the satisfaction you will have when your ideas come to fruition!  Details of your Learning Technologist can be found by clicking here.

Have a fantastic 2015/16 academic year and keep in touch!




Carol Chatten
Learning Technology Development Officer


Blackboard Collaborate Case Study 2 of 3

Blog 2 Bb Collab Case Study cropLesley Briscoe, Senior Lecturer on the International Midwifery Programme.  Lesley explains in this the second in a series of three video case studies (click to view the first in the series), the challenges of delivering a programme aimed at both conventional students and those accessing the programme online and from overseas.

She goes on to mention the solutions Blackboard Collaborate provided her, the Midwifery Team and the students studying the programme, particularly those attending from all corners of the world.

Lesley’s video outlines her personal experience and the significance that technology can play to instil confidence in developing an online course that is able to deliver all that it promises.

Click the YouTube image below to hear more about Lesley’s experience…LB youtube_player

If you feel inspired by this and other videos in the series and want to learn more about web conferencing (Blackboard Collaborate), your Learning Technologist can help.

In addition, you can access to Blackboard Collaborate training, talk to your Learning Technologist or book onto a session via Staff Learning and Development Programme: Developing Digital Excellence

Martin Baxter
Martin Baxter
Learning Technology Development Officer

Blackboard Collaborate – Video Case Study 1 of 3

David Callaghan is a Learning Technologist and an Associate Tutor for the Faculty of Education on the Undergraduate Professional DevelopmentStudent participating in an online video conference session. Programme, a blended course – delivered mostly online – via our Blackboard VLE and the Collaborate web conferencing system, with some face to face conference days.  So, he can also practice what he preaches.

Collaborate is used by David and his colleagues for student inductions; it’s also used for tutorials giving an equivalent experience to that of distance learners. The feedback from students indicates that Collaborate has made them feel part of the University community.

David Callaghan Associate Tutor


David’s video tells us how using web conferencing can help create an equitable experience – by bringing students together online they are able to support and challenge each other and build a community of inquiry, as they would do in an on-campus classroom.

Learning Edge Blog Post – Student account:
“The experience for me was absolutely invaluable on every level and absolutely without a doubt was a contributing factor to achieving a first class honours.”

Read more in this blog post: Technologies are an “absolute lifeline” for our students!

If you feel inspired by this and other videos in the series and want to learn more about web conferencing (Blackboard Collaborate), your Learning Technologist can help.

In addition, you can access to Blackboard Collaborate training, talk to your Learning Technologist or book onto a session via Staff Learning and Development Programme: Developing Digital Excellence

Martin Baxter
Martin Baxter
Learning Technology Development Officer


How to add your Rebus List to your Blackboard course menu

As staff get ready for a new term we have produced some helpful information about how to add your online reading list to module.

1. With Edit Mode on click the add menu item button on the top left of the course menu and select Web Link.



2. Enter the link Name: ‘Reading List’ and URL you have been emailed from Learning Services: and make: ‘Available to Users’.  Then click on Submit.  You can use the title ‘Reading List’ or something which you feel your students would recognise.rl2


3. This link will appear by default at the bottom of your course menu. Click on the drop down arrow to the right of the link name and select Set Link to Open in a New Window.



4. Finally, move the link so that it appears directly below: Module Information. (Hover over the item, click and drag into position).


This post is also available as a ‘Quick Guide‘.

If you have any questions please contact your subject liaison librarian.


Rachel Bury

Academic Liaison Manager – Quality, Marketing and Communication

Get your own ‘Quick Hit’ video case study

Celebrate your success with Collaborate

We are creating a series of brief video case studies showcasing the success colleagues have been having with the Collaborate web conferencing system this year.Screen shot of YouTube video player

David Callaghan (also a member of the LTD team) is the first of a number of contributors to get involved from each Faculty (in his case Education).  Click on the YouTube image to see an example of the kind of short videos we are creating.

So, please let us know if you’d like your own case study, and watch out for the series that we’ll be launching in September. Call LTD Support on 01695 650754 or email

Martin Baxter



Martin Baxter
Learning Technology Development Officer

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