Author:  Jan Thomson

Blackboard European Teaching and Learning Conference

Tuesday 10th April – Thursday 12th April 2018

Jan and Neil from the Blackboard Support team attended this year’s Blackboard European Teaching and Learning conference (#BbTLC18 / http://bbtlceurope.com ) which was hosted by the University of Manchester.

The event was represented by over 100 institutions, with over 400 participants (across the 4 days) and represented by 22 countries.

Each day started and ended with a general session that all participants attended in the main conference lecture theatre, these were predominantly presented by Blackboard leads around the new developments with SAAS (software as a service), the new developments and pathways for Blackboard Learn Ultra (new design platform) or Blackboard Ally (making digital course content more accessible).  In between the general session there were over 50 break-out sessions to attend across each of the days, mostly facilitated by other institutions.

We arrived on Day 2, following the DevCon (technical) Pre-conference, in time to attend the Welcome by Jeremy Cooper, Vice President Europe and the External Keynote by Volker Hirsch whose presentation was around data, A.I. and the future of work, fascinating if not mind blowing!

Breakout Sessions

We attended a number of the breakout sessions over the 3 days. They were all really good, excellently presented, varied and very valuable.   It was really reassuring to see that other institutions are on a similar journey to UCLan in looking at how they have, or are currently managing centralised online assessments, working towards full electronic management of assessment (EMA) or how they have successfully implemented positive institutional changes in their VLE processes.

The sessions that for us gave the most inspiration included:-

The Keyboard is mightier than the pen; delivering secure online exams Claire Irving, Newcastle University

From a small scale pilot in 2010, their provision of secure online exams delivered through Blackboard tests had grown rapidly. The OLAF (Online Assessment and Feedback) service works with 18 academic units and hosts 20000 student exam sittings each year. In 2016-17 almost 10% of all summative exams were run online and we are yet to meet the full demand.  The session showed how secure online exams can be run at scale through Blackboard. Covering the pedagogical, technical and practical decisions that had been taken, and the collaboration between academic, IT, Exams Office and eLearning development colleagues that is needed to run a large number of high stakes online exams smoothly.

Growing a University’s VLE Awards Scheme Tamsyn Smith, University of Southampton

Initially, the Awards were about celebrating success and good practice with the VLE, but the influence of the awards became much wider reaching, with impact being achieved at individual, faculty and University-wide levels.

An Ally for Inclusive Derby Claire Gardener, University of Derby

This session outlined the challenges the TEL team faced to raise awareness of how technology supports inclusive learning and teaching practices, as well as how they tried to move the dialogue beyond changes to DSA funding to all areas of inclusive practice.

Exhibit Stands

In between attending the breakout sessions, we also had the chance to visit some of the exhibitors such as Turnitin, Eesy Soft and Examity to have an informal chat with them about their software and how it can be used to enhance the Blackboard experience for users or what their planned roadmap for the future was.

Community Knowledge Bar

We seized the opportunity to visit the Community Knowledge Bar and have a 1:1 with the Blackboard Ally experts.  We were really impressed with this software, both from an instructor and student perspective.   As an instructor, Ally automatically checks and facilitates the creation of accessible content directly within Blackboard and as a student it will provide alternative accessible formats that users can download including Semantic HTML, audio, ePub, and electronic braille, available currently in 16 languages. This is something we most definitely want to pursue further for our UCLan users.

We also attended a lightning talk on Blackboard Learn Ultra.  For the first time since its’ unveiling in 2015, the Blackboard Learn Ultra experience is looking interesting.  There is a choice of pathway combinations, including a dual approach of using Learn 9.1 original course views and the new Ultra course views, both working seamlessly in the user interface.  There have been some new developments such as simplified workflows for marking, attendance lists, chat facility within groups, drag and drop with immediate embed facility for images and media and the ability to connect One Drive, Google Drive and Drop Box accounts.  Its’ not quite there yet for most UK institutions, it will never be like for like (Learn 9.1 v Learn Ultra), but it should eventually be far more powerful, streamlined and agile.  Maybe something to consider in a couple of years.

The Finale

The conference finished with the presentation of the 2018 Catalyst Awards (recognising innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global community of practice) followed by the closing presentation by Professor Richards Reece, Associate Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students, University of Manchester.

Throughout the event we used a conference app called Attendee Hub.  We really liked that it enabled us to choose and manage our own schedules and breakout sessions, contact colleagues at the conference, receive updates and messages regarding the event, view the social network event feed and so much more. This may be something we want to investigate further for future UCLan conferences and events.


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