TELEDA has reached its half way point. I hope colleagues are getting as much from the experience as I am. TELEDA is unique. It works on so many different levels. As much as colleagues write how it helps them understand their student use – and non-use – of Blackboard, it also offers a privileged insight into staff attitudes and behaviours around the institutional VLE.
Poor Blackboard has an identity problem. It’s going to be a challenge to overcome this but underneath its plain exterior is a powerful digital technology for supporting teaching and learning. We need to rethink Blackboard. I’m starting a ♥ I love Blackboard ♥ campaign #iloveblackboard. It’s not that bad. Try it and see. Look beyond the appearance to its affordances and use. Think in terms of pedagogy. Compare sharing thoughts and practice through discussions and wikis with reading a plain text document. Explore the addition of images, sound and video. Try the quizzes (the word Tests needs to go), get students signing up for groups with tools like group email and file exchange.
I don’t think all the antipathy is directly related to Blackboard. Sometimes it’s what it represents. Teaching is traditionally a face-to-face occupation. A virtual learning environment comes with connotations about the automation of teaching and replacement of teachers. VLEs have not been helped by the early rhetorical promise of elearning to cut costs and be more efficient when the reality is a steep learning curve and never, ever enough time to engage fully with the shift from class-room to online-room. Then there’s the increasing problem of digital literacies – the issue everyone is aware of but no one wants to take on. How do you manage ‘teaching’ good online practice; like appropriate file names and formats, document management, best use of Outlook, Word Tables of Content, Footnotes, References, Excel basics….the list goes on and on…… but back to the VLE whose case is not helped by the nature of Blackboard Inc; a multinational US corporate mega business which people object to on principle but in doing so exclude themselves from the day to day reality of the majority of staff and students on and off campus. Sometimes we need to be pragmatic. I try to get a sense of perspective by thinking of the first year students, many away from home, in the UK and from across the world, for the first time, paying for a higher education experience hoping for a helping hand into the work place, to get into or upwards in their chosen subject or profession. Anything which enhances this must be worth consideration and the flexibility of a vle is a bonus when you’re juggling and balancing multiple commitments and busy lives.
My ♥ I love Blackboard ♥ campaign will look at the positives and raise awareness of successful practice. In the year ahead, with implementation of the Digital Education Plan and new Blackboard software such as Collaborate and Mobile, I look forward to the essential additional resources needed to promote and support our vle. We need to focus on the pedagogy rather than the technology in order to truly enhance the student experience and make Lincoln proud to be first and foremost an effective digital university.
After all, 9 out of ten cats – when asked – said they prefer Blackboard.