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David Bowie was ... Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference in Groningen

Date:28 April 2016
Author:Sake Jager
David Bowie is
David Bowie is

From 6 to 8 April, the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2016 (#BbTLC16) was hosted by the University of Groningen. Over 400 participants from across Europe had registered to learn about good practices and innovations supported by Blackboard and other technology partners.

The Faculty of Arts was well represented with a team consisting of teachers (Juan Alba Duran, Jeroen van Engen, Judith Jansma, Tim Kassenberg, Gerdientje Oggel, Jorn Seubers, Christine Vidon) and education technology supporters (Herman van Calker, Peter de Groot, Sake Jager, André Rosendaal).

Here is a brief wrap up of Blackboard innovations which our team considered most relevant to teaching and learning in the Faculty of Arts in the next few years, based on reports and personal communications:

  • Badges: Badges are a visual representation of a skill or achievement. They are a recognition for the things learned and tell the story of a student journey through a curriculum. They can act as a motivator for students and can be used as a gamification element in learning. Badges are integrated in Blackboard (Nestor). After attending the workshop on badges, some teachers are planning experiments to see how badges can be used for learning.
  • Blackboard Collaborate: Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, the new web conferencing and collaboration tool, holds great promise as a tool for supporting teachers and students in online teaching and learning. It was demonstrated in several sessions by the Blackboard team, but it was also used in a number of ‘live’ sessions where one or more presenters were giving their talks from a distance. Both the sound and video quality and the ease of use, particularly compared to the old Java version, make it an excellent candidate for online teaching in the University of Groningen. It may be turned on as part of any Blackboard course, so that teachers may use it for webinars or online instruction with their own students.
  • Learning analytics: An area that is currently attracting a lot of attention as ‘big data’ for education is learning analytics. Universities around the world are beginning to explore how they may use learning analytics as a tool to 1) support student retention, progression and attainment, 2) provide enhanced reporting to management, e.g. about the performance of specific courses, and 3) enhance the learning experience for students. The universities of Derby, Leeds, and Edinburgh reported on how they are beginning to implement learning analytics for each of these areas, supported by the technology-support organisation JISC. The University of Groningen will start pilots in 2016-2017 to investigate how learning analytics may be used to identify at-risk students. A kick-off meeting for this will take place on 23 May next.
  • Other innovations: Blackboard has completely revised delivery on mobile devices. The new BB Student app, which is already available in the app stores, has a different look-and-feel and integrates Blackboard Collaborate, turning it into a tool where student activities and communication are central to the learning experience. By contrast, the instructor version will be optimised for tablets, making it easier to give feedback and assessment from mobile devices. Also of interest is the new student profile, which students can share on social media such as LinkedIn. Finally, in the sponsor area at the conference, Kaltura demonstrated how the Blackboard environment may be enhanced with advanced video support, TurnitIn showed an integrated, time-saving solution for handing in student work, doing originality checks and providing peer and instructor feedback, and IADLearning demoed their solution for creating  truly adaptive, individualized learning paths in Blackboard.

Although primarily technology-oriented, the conference had several sessions in which innovative pedagogies and new approaches to learning were central. Jeroen van Engen gave a presentation on how the Language Centre, following the great success of the Intro to Dutch MOOC, is now offering fully online courses of Dutch to participants all over the world, using Blackboard Learn (Nestor) as the instrument of delivery. Gerdientje Oggel presented on how European Languages and Cultures had been using Blackboard Collaborate to support Spanish students in learning together online with trainee teachers of Spanish from the University of Barcelona as part of an ongoing telecollaboration project. Other teachers from the University of Groningen reported on introducing the flipped classroom model for instruction (experiences were mixed), administering digital tests through Blackboard and using peer feedback  (among other things as a way to reduce teacher time needed for assessment). Presentations on similar topics were given by delegates from other institutions.

Inevitably, such greater reliance on technology to support teaching and learning requires careful consideration of how digital learning environments are actually used in this process. Which components are standardly provided (sometimes prescribed by institutions) and how are they being used? Interesting work in this area was presented by Sheffield Hallam University where all Blackboard courses had been screened to examine how they were used, and advice would be available for teachers who were interested in how they could optimise their course design to better meet the programme requirements. Similar projects were under way in other universities in the UK. This is definitely an initiative that could be followed up in our university.

Finally, in an inspiring keynote, David Price made it clear that universities still have a long way to go to meet the requirements of modern learners and the contemporary labour market where the large majority of jobs have existed for less than 5 years. They find themselves hard put to it to provide the autonomy, collaboration, openness and engagement that should be part and parcel of modern education.

On the social side, a comfortable mix of BbTLC regulars and newbies (like ourselves) made for a nice atmosphere during the entire conference. The Academiegebouw, with its narrow corridors, cozy classrooms, “nooks and crannies”, was a great venue for socializing and networking, which - as testified by many pictures on the conference app - continued well into the small hours of the night. A real climax was the social event in the Groninger Museum. Participants were granted free access to the David Bowie is exhibition, which thanks to the great artist’s untimely death in January had been extended to the time of the conference. David Bowie was ... London, Toronto, São Paulo, Berlin, Chicago, Paris, Melbourne, and Groningen - but no doubt for many delegates, David Bowie was and will be: Blackboard TLC 2016 Groningen.

Presentations from the conference (Slideshare)

Related links (in order of text):                                                                                                                                              

Open Badges                                                                                                        

Bb Achievements

Blackboard Collaborate

Blackboard Learning analytics

Blackboard Mobile




Online Dutch

Telecollaboration Spanish (pp. 10-11)

Minimum standards for VLE (Overview UK):

David Price (OBE) / Innovation Unit


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