“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (Churchill, 1942)

The hard work of Learning Technology Development and Faculty of Education teams begins to pay off this week as the end of the first phase of staff development workshops draws to a close. So far, over fifty two hour workshops have taken place to help Education Programme teams prepare for the September launch of their courses in the new and updated virtual learning environment (VLE), (Blackboard Learn version 9.1,) now branded Learning Edge. There is still work to be done and additional ‘drop in’ and bespoke sessions will be available to support ongoing developments, but we are now in a position to see how the new VLE is going to bring real benefits to both staff and students.

Here are just a few of the features which have been causing excitement in the staff development workshops:

“Drag and drop file upload is going to be a fantastic time saver!”
Now you can upload whole folder directories into your Course Files by dragging a folder from a location on your computer or pen drive and dropping it straight into the Blackboard course file manager. This drag and drop functionality is also available to organise the course menu and page layout within course areas.

“Integrating multimedia content into my course is so easy.”
Finding and adding video clips, photos and presentations into your course is even easier with the Youtube, Flicker and Slideshare Mashup tools. Students can also make the most of the mashup tools because multimedia content can be embedded into wiki pages, blog entries and discussion board posts. One course area already using the new VLE have been enhancing the aesthetics of their announcements with images.

“This Early Warning alerts tool is going to be really useful for contacting students who have not been accessing Blackboard regularly enough.”

Monitoring student activity using the Early Warning System helps tutors identify potential problems. Alerts are triggered when students meet specified criteria enabling tutors to take early action. If a student doesn’t log in for two weeks you can ask why and if a student doesn’t submit an assignment on time you can contact them about it. The tool can also be useful for providing positive feedback to students who have, for example, done particularly well on an assessment. One programme team are going to explore the potential of the tool for monitoring attendance.

“The course reports are good and being able to view statistics about individual files might be really revealing.”
You can now see how many students have viewed specific files or content areas in your course by enabling additional tracking statistics. If you want to know when the course handbook is being accessed or whether the essential readings have been viewed switch on Tracking Statistics.

“The What’s New panel on the Course Updates page is a great way to see what’s happened since you last logged in.”
Students can see an overview of recent course activity at a glance with the ‘What’s New’ panel on a Course Notifications page. New announcements, assignments, content and discussions are all highlighted, helping students keep up to date with the latest course information and activity.

We will write about more new features in later posts but for now we hope this little list has sparked some interest and encouraged you to log in and start using Learning Edge. We would also love to hear about the features you are using or looking forward to using – so please leave us a comment and share your favourites.

Meg Juss
Learning Technologist