Future Gazing: Exploring Tomorrow’s Technologies Today

I’ve been working at Edge Hill for 10 years and in that time we’ve seen major developments in the use of technology in Higher Education. For example mobile technologies have become mainstream, and online services have developed massively. Remember that YouTube only started in 2005, and Twitter in 2006, but they are widely used by educators today.

nmc_itunesu.HR2013_2_0The NMC Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition is an annual publication which presents six areas of technology that a collection of experts in the field see as likely to see mainstream adoption in Higher Education over the next five years. The aim is that this will give “campus leaders and practitioners a valuable guide for strategic technology planning”, and it is also an interesting read.

This year’s report covers:

<1 year to adoption

  • Massive Open Online Courses
  • Tablet Computing

2-3 years to adoption

  • Games and Gamification
  • Learning Analytics

4-5 years to adoption

  • 3D Printing
  • Wearable Technology

We’ll be running a session led by Peter Beaumont and David Callaghan on Thursday 23rd May 2013 from 12:00-1:00PM, where we will briefly present on these six areas of technology and aim to start some ongoing conversations around them.

We’d love it if you could join us. If you can make it, please book on through the session page on the Human Resources wiki.

Picture of the author

Peter Beaumont
Learning Technologist

Blackboard 9.1 Journal Tool – Reflections in Writing.

Girl taking notes in class

Communication – Blackboard 9.1 offers new opportunities for using social communication tools including Journals, blogs and wikis.  The main difference between a blog and a journal is that blogs tend to be used for group debate and to comment, and the Journal tool for individual reflection.  Journals offer a personal writing space for self-reflection and private communication with the instructor, whereas blogs and wikis tend to be used as collaborative and social tools.

Private Journal – The Journal’s uses include reflection on personal growth throughout the semester, record things learned on a field trip, a place for expressing yourself, documenting clinical experiences, and points that are private.

Public Journal –Although journals offer a private place of communication between student and instructor, they can also be made for sharing with the rest of the group so that others in the group are able to read the journal, but they cannot comment on it.

Click on the video link for help creating a Journal link in Blackboard 9.1                    Video Guide – Creating a Journal for staff

Want to findout more about the Journal tool?  Contact the Learning Technology Development Team on: 01695 650 754 (or internal 7754)

Martin Baxter (Learning Technology Development)

LTD’s Good Practice Guides

Over 30 years of combined experience working with academic and administrative staff have been distilled into the many Learning Technology guides and other resources that now reside in the Learning Services Wiki.  These guides are aimed at saving you time and enhancing the student experience – ensuring a consistent quality and making your courses more engaging.  The wiki uses calendars accessed via the Administration and Building & Teaching tabs that detail what you may be working on at the various parts of the course lifecycle.

Here are three that have had the most impact on the staff and student experience:

Learning Edge: Good Practice in Building and Teaching your Course

This document contains some suggestions on how to enhance the educational value of your course, based on existing good practice and feedback from our Student eLearning Surveys.



Quick guide: Enrolling Staff from within a Course

Did you know that you can enroll colleagues as instructors into any course that you are an instructor on?  This single sheet guide shows you how this is done.

Quick Guide: Diagnosing Student Access Issues

This guide looks at some of the common problems that students may report when trying to access Learning Edge for the first time (or as a returning student).


The three documents above form part of a wealth of guides and resources accessed via calendars of activities.  We invite you to spend a few minutes browsing these calendars (from the Administration and Building & Teaching tabs), perhaps looking at the entries for this time of year – all focusing on enhancing the student experience.

David Callaghan
Learning Technologist
Katherine Richardson
LTD Operations Co-ordinator




What’s on your Learning Edge wish list? Extending the functionality of Blackboard with Building Blocks

There are a vast number of tools and features available in Blackboard, but I’m sure you will agree, there are some things you can’t do, at least not yet! The great thing though about Blackboard is that through Building Blocks we can build more functionality into the system.

Perhaps you would like new features which help you manage your course, such as a way to quickly check all web links in a module or a way to maintain an online attendance register. Maybe there are features which you know would help your students, such as a tutorial sign-up sheet or a way for them to send files to their eReader. What other features would appear on your ‘wish list’?

Building the Blocks

To help you come up with some ideas, let’s talk a little bit more about what Building Blocks are and how they work.

Building Blocks essentially allow third-party developers to create customisations and extensions for Blackboard Learn through open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and web services. The types of building block that can be developed are:

  • Course Tool
  • Course Control
  • Group Tool
  • System Tool
  • User Tool
  • Content Type
  • Module

There are already a range of third party extensions available through Blackboard Extensions that we can try, including tools developed by other HE institutions. Also, we can now explore the viability of new in-house custom developments too!

One such development I recently started was the ‘Course Availability Per User’ system tool – Edge Hill University’s first Building Block! The aim of this Building Block is to assist administration of Blackboard by detailing a selected user’s course enrolments and respective availability.

Building Blocks can be as simple as querying data or as complex as connectors for synchronising data to externally hosted services e.g. Campus Pack. They are developed using a combination of the JDK (Java Development Kit), Building Block APIs and an IDE (Integrated Development Environment).

Developers use IDEs such as Eclipse and NetBeans to assist with the creation of Dynamic Web Applications. A Building Block is a Dynamic Web Application with the addition of one specific file: bb-manifest.xml. This file sets the properties that determine how the Building Block will behave and interact with the Blackboard 9.1 environment. Once the development of the building block is complete it is exported as a .WAR (Web Archive File) file and uploaded into Blackboard.

Community Resources

Edugarage provides a wealth of developer documentation, sample code/tools and user discussion to assist developers with creating building blocks.

Oscelot Projects is another great resource for open source eLearning solutions, developer related collaboration and code/tools.  Take a look at their web pages to see what others are currently developing.

Have your say

So, have you got any ideas? What course tools are missing? What functionality would be really useful for online group work? What could improve your course management or administration?

We’ve already added Building Blocks such as ‘Add Test Student’ and the ‘Paste from Word Mashup’ in response to requests from staff and we’d like to know what you would most value next. Feel free to suggest ideas and leave a comment. We can’t promise to add it all but we can certainly try!





John Langford
Learning Technology Systems Officer

What technologies did you get for Christmas?

Many of you lucky folks will have been fortunate enough to have received amazing new personal technologies or tools this Christmas and we’d love to hear about what you’ve got and how you’re using them in your studies, or for your teaching. You can use the comments box below to tell us all about how you’re using your iPods and Kindles, your digital recorders, tablets and favourite apps!

For those of us (myself included) that didn’t get a shiny new iPad2, I thought I’d highlight some of the great technologies we’ve now all got access to through Learning Edge. After all, Learning Edge got lots of really exciting new tools from Santa too!

Learning Edge is more than just Blackboard; it includes a whole range of teaching and learning systems. The list is long and it’s growing … this Guide to Learning Edge gives you a quick overview of all the facilities that are currently included, and remember, this lists only the core online technologies you have at your disposal – we’ll talk about classroom technologies, portable devices, web tools and apps another time!

Just before the New Year we introduced a number of new features to Learning Edge when we updated Blackboard Learn 9.1 to Service Pack 7, including enhancements to the Grade Centre, Interactive Rubrics and Timed Assessments.  A student Blog now, for instance, might be set to only appear in ‘Needs Grading’ status after a student has made three posts, rather than with each individual post.

We’ve also added additional functionality with Building Blocks such as, ‘Blackboard Mobile Learn’, ‘Paste From Word’ and ‘Add Test Student’.

The Mobile Learn app provides quick and easy access to courses in Learning Edge.

For staff and student guides on getting the most from the Blackboard Mobile Learn app, visit the eShare Mobile Collection.  Here, you will find information on downloading the app to your device, setting the course notifications you want to recieve on the go and, for teaching staff, information about building mobile friendly courses.


The Paste From Word mashup is another useful enhancment for both staff and students as it helps overcome formatting problems when copying and pasting text from Microsoft Word into the Blackboard visual textbox editor (VTBE). For a guide on using this functionality visit the eShare Learning Edge: Paste From Word Guide.

For staff wanting to  view their courses as their students see them, the Add Test Student enhancment is perfect. To learn more about using this functionality visit the eShare Learning Edge: Add Test Student Guide.

Campus Pack Tools ScreenshotCAMPUS PACK
Finally, in addition to all this, we’ve got a brand new ePortfolio system called Campus Pack!

Campus Pack will provide students and staff with their own personal online portfolio space within Learning Edge, with facilities such as blogs, journals, podcasts and wikis as well as PDP, CV and other portfolio template solutions. Tutors will also be able to embed Campus Pack content within Blackboard course areas.

We’ll be blogging about Campus Pack a lot more in the coming weeks but if you are interested in learning more about this tool, there is an online webinar running on Monday 16th January at 3pm 2:30-3:30pm. The webinar is aimed at staff involved in Campus Pack projects this term and next, but this is an open session, and anyone (staff or student) who is interested is welcome to join.

Email ltdsupport@edgehill.ac.uk and the webinar joining instructions will be provided.

I hope you’re making the most of all these fantasic technologies at your finger tips – remember if you need any help at all, Learning Technology Development are here to help.

Megan Juss Profile Picture

Meg Juss
Learning Technology Development Divisional Co-ordinator

Students – keep telling us what you think!

There is still time to win one of our prizes (£50 Amazon vouchers, 2 x £25 Amazon vouchers or a 1GB USB wristband) by completing the fourth Students eLearning Survey. We have now had 327 responses to our survey so a big thank you to all those who have completed it so far, but we need as many more as possible to give a truly representative picture.

We’ve had a look at the results to date and thought we would share some early feedback with you. We’re delighted to see that a high percentage of students (79.2%) feel that Learning Edge enhances the knowledge and understanding that they get from lectures and tutorials. Last year this figure was 75.2% so it’s great to see that this has increased. Similarly 88.1% of students agree that Learning Edge enables them to learn at a place and time of their choosing; this has increased from last years figure of 83.4%.

Another positive finding is that technical difficulties experienced when using Blackboard (now Learning Edge) have decreased. Last year, 60.7% of students had problems off campus compared with 43.5% this year. 45.9% of students had problems when on campus last year, but this has reduced to 38%. This hasn’t happened by accident; Learning Edge is a more robust and reliable system, underpinned by high quality technical and learner support. We’ve also created lots of new guides for students so we hope this has contributed to the reduction in problems!

We know how important it is to many students to be able to submit assignments online (84.7% said so this year and 82.7% last year) and we’re pleased to report that there are developments underway to improve this process and to offer more options to both students and tutors….so watch this space!

If you are a frequent viewer of our blog you will have seen previous posts about Mobile Learn, the mobile app for Learning Edge. Many students have already downloaded the app which is great news, and we’re keen for more students to make use of the app. The results of the survey show that last year 36.1% of students had an internet enabled mobile phone, but according to this year’s results so far this has increased to 78%. The launch of our mobile app was obviously very timely! For more information about the app have a look at this post.

The results mentioned above are based on the responses so far, so if you’ve not already completed the survey please do so and contribute to our findings for this year. Remember, as an added incentive, we are offering a grand prize of £50 Amazon vouchers and two runner up prizes of £25 Amazon vouchers to the lucky winners of our prize draw. We are also giving away one of our very exclusive Learning Services 1GB USB wristbands for every 20th response. We’ve already given away 16 of our wristbands – complete the survey now for your chance to be the next winner!

Current EHU students can access the survey from Learning Edge, the GO portal, your email or from http://surveys.edgehill.ac.uk/elearning_survey_2011/.

Katherine Richardson
LTD Operations Co-ordinator

You’ve got to be in it to win it …

Our fourth Students eLearning Survey has only been open for a week and we’ve already had 180 responses – thank you to everyone who has completed it so far!

As you know we are giving away one of our Learning Services USB wristbands for every 20th response so this means we have given 9 away already – check your student email to see if you’re one of the lucky winners.

Have a look at the picture below to see what these exclusive wristbands look like and complete the survey quickly so you don’t miss out on your chance to win one!

Don’t forget that the main prize draw will take place when the survey closes at the end of January 2012, with a grand prize of £50 Amazon vouchers and two runner up prizes of £25 Amazon vouchers!

On a more serious note, the survey really does help to inform developments and in fact one of the main drivers for moving to Learning Edge was the feedback from last years survey that told us you wanted a more reliable, stable and professional system. We think Learning Edge has provided these but want to hear your views .

Current EHU students can access the survey from Learning Edge, the GO portal, your email or from http://surveys.edgehill.ac.uk/elearning_survey_2011/.

Katherine Richardson
LTD Operations Co-ordinator

Students – win £50 Amazon vouchers!

Believe it or not the time has come again for us to launch our annual students’ e-Learning survey! This is the fourth year we’ve ran this survey and it’s great that we’re able to build up a picture of our students’ experiences and expectations of technology and see trends emerging over the years.

The survey informs change and developments and we really do take on board all of your comments and suggestions. As an example, last year you told us you wanted a mobile App for Learning Edge (Blackboard 9.1)…..Mobile Learn was launched in September 2011 and as you can see from previous blog posts we have a lot of students now using the app and feedback so far has been extremely positive which we consider to be a resounding success! Keep an eye out for blog posts over the coming weeks telling you more about what changes we’ve made based on the results of last year’s survey.

Learning Edge (Blackboard 9.1) was introduced this academic year and so it’s the perfect time to have your say and tell us your experiences of using it. We know how precious your time is, especially during the assessment period, so as a thank you for completing the survey we are offering a grand prize of £50 Amazon vouchers and two runner up prizes of £25 Amazon vouchers. We are also giving away one of our very exclusive Learning Services USB wristbands for every 20th response!

Current EHU students can access the survey from Learning Edge, the GO portal, your email or from http://surveys.edgehill.ac.uk/elearning_survey_2011/. We plan to close the survey on Friday 27th January 2012.

We look forward to reading your responses!

Katherine Richardson
LTD Operations Co-ordinator

Learning Edge goes mobile!

We are pleased to announce some exciting news … Learning Edge (Blackboard 9.1) has an app!

The Blackboard Mobile Learn app can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone or tablet device (iPhone, iPod, iPad, Blackberry, Android) for easy and convenient access to courses and collaboration and communication tools whilst on the go.  The app gives you mobile ‘friendly’ access to your course dashboard, announcements, assignments, grades, discussions and handouts.  You’ll also be able to contribute to and comment on discussion and blog posts, and staff will be able to update announcements and journals and create new discussion threads.

This is a timely development for EHU as our 3rd annual Students eLearning Survey (January 2011) revealed that many of our students currently use their mobile phones to access and share information about their courses. They told us that they wanted to access Blackboard in this way too.  We anticipate student use of Blackboard Mobile via the app will really take off. There are a couple of reasons for this – firstly, national data from Ofcom suggests that smartphone ownership in the UK is growing at a rate of 70% a year, with about 45% of 16-24 year olds now having internet-enabled phones. Secondly, thanks to Google Analytics, we know that people are already accessing Blackboard 9.1 from their mobile devices.

August is traditionally our quietest month and yet we we had 598 visits to the Blackboard 9.1 site from mobile devices. This is amazing as 9.1 is not optimised for mobile use. The graph below shows the breakdown of the devices used:

As you can see, the operating systems most used were iPod/iPhone/iPad, Android and Blackberry.  Our Mobile Learn app is available for all of these devices.

You can download the app and start using it now by following these four simple steps:

1.  Search for “Blackboard Mobile Learn” in your app store.
2.  Once the app is installed, search for Edge Hill University using the search bar that automatically appears when you open the app.
3.  Select Edge Hill University.
4.  Log in using the same username and password you normally use to access Learning Edge.

You can find installation guides and helpful FAQs about Mobile Learn here –

Apple users click here
Android users click here
Blackberry users click here
Setting your Mobile Learn course notifications

The Learning Technology Development team will be offering some awareness-raising sessions throughout the coming semester for staff wanting to know more about developing mobile ‘friendly’ courses in Learning Edge, but if you would like to start sooner, contact us to find out more by emailing ltdsupport@edgehill.ac.uk

Katherine Richardson
LTD Operations Co-ordinator

Introducing eShare



eShare is a repository for managing the universities growing volume of digital teaching and learning content for its use within Blackboard.

Why use eShare?

  • a digital home for teaching and learning resources
  • enables better management of the lifecycle of teaching and learning resources
  • easily upload, download and share resources
  • store your presentations, videos, images and more
  • upload your resource once and link to it from multiple locations
  • accessible online anytime & anywhere
  • showcase your innovative and creative teaching resources

Testing is nearly completed!

Watch this space for a link to eShare.

For further information please contact the eshare team from Learning Services. eshare@edgehill.ac.uk