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.