A recent Edudemic post addresses the non-use of teaching technology. The reference to teachers who are ‘not comfortable with technology’ resonated. They may be more of them than is often realised. Change is always a challenge and adoption of technology for teaching requires major shifts in practice. Support for the process is essential, either through staff development or teacher education. The Edudemic post claims the amount spent on technology for schools in the US is rising while professional development budgets are decreasing or non-existent. Here in the UK, it can sometimes seem resourcing for staff engagement with technology is not sufficiently prioritised. Competition for funds has never been greater yet digital literacy has not only become plural it’s become complicated. Keeping up to date with is hard enough when you work with the technology. For those at the far end of the digital spectrum, it can seem impossible to even know where to begin.
There is a growing need to support staff to use technology effectively. Without investing in resources to bridge the divide between teaching and technology, staff cannot develop the prerequisite confidence with virtual learning environments. Embedding OER Practice at Lincoln, now in its final weeks, showed how staff engagement with the internet for teaching and learning doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens with appropriate targeted support, customised to suit individual disciplines and personalities. It works best within small groups of shared practice and requires initial scaffolding which can be withdrawn for use elsewhere as the affordances of being online are realised and the necessary skills and competencies embedded into day to day practices. The review into the future of the institutional VLE offers an appropriate opportunity to also review the way in which digital literacies are defined and resourced across the university. The internet and all its associated tools for learning are not going away any time soon. The more we invest in their use the better that use will be.
Blackboard is now marketing itself as a multiple learning platform, one which supports both commercial software and open source content. Blackboard CourseSites, launched in 2011, is a free, cloud-based opportunity for releasing teaching and learning courses as OER. Register for free at https://www.coursesites.com/webapps/Bb-sites-course-creation-BBLEARN/pages/index.html and start building your course. Alternatively try a free course. Blackboard is promoting CourseSites with Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success led by Dr. Curtis Bonk http://travelinedman.blogspot.co.uk/ which focuses on successful strategies and approaches to online learning, course design and facilitation.
Making education ‘open’ is a current trend and the release of OER under a Creative Commons licence takes full advantage of the affordances of the Internet to offer any-time any-place access to information and knowledge. Blackboard is a corporate giant in the world of commercial education and its not immediately clear if this move into the ‘free’ world is an example of genuine altruism or if there is a hidden agenda. On the surface it looks good. Instructors can post course materials, communicate with students and manage grades, but what are the disadvantages?
You are restricted to five ‘live’ courses although if you need more, then old ones can be hidden creating space for additional new ones. CourseSites cannot be integrated with existing systems and it isn’t clear how you would package up your course and export it somewhere else. Looking at the available literature online it seems the best way to find out the pros and cons is to use CourseSites to create a course so I’m experimenting with making some of the Getting Started transition materials available as OER in this way.
There is mention of a planned Blackboard Building Block to enable institutions to showcase courses that are open for learning. Instructors will apparently be able to share OER courses via Facebook and Twitter, but whether or not this Building Block has been released is unclear. For now you can use the Publish Open Resource link in Packages and Utilities which offers space for keywords and gives you the course URL with a BY Creative Commons licence attached.
‘Attribution CC BY: this license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
Blackboard meets open education – this could be an interesting space to watch…
Getting Started is an initiative which supports students new to higher education. Access to Blackboard (BB) is given prior to enrolment where there are materials about getting organised for coming to university and an introduction to academic practices. This year, Getting Started is bigger than ever. All undergraduates who have accepted an offer of a place have been invited and there are also Faculty Sites with welcome messages and subject specific information.
The rationale for Getting Started is indisputable. Research into the reasons first year students withdraw cites lack of preparation, in particular for the academic side of university life. Getting Started began prior to this. It was originally set up as a support mechanism for mature students who had been out of education for some time and had concerns about returning to learning. Getting Started offered communication channels alongside preparatory materials. Feedback showed this was much appreciated. Students reported they felt better able to cope with the new challenges which lay ahead.
We know transition support is valuable and it works. We know non-Getting Started students have said – with the benefit of hindsight – how useful it would have been for them. The HE experience, with its emphasis on critical thinking and reflective practice, is a pivotal point in anyone’s life. It offers the potential for change through new experiences but these can be daunting if you don’t know what to expect. Coming to university is a bit like running a marathon; the more you train the better you’ll perform on the day. Higher education is a challenge especially if you are unprepared for the reality of becoming an independent learner. Introducing the some of the principles of academic practices before arrival seems to be one of the best ways of offering new students the opportunity to hit the ground running and get off to the best possible start.
For more information about Getting Started, or to access the transition materials, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yorke, M. and Longden, B. (2008) The First Year Experience of Higher Education in the UK. HEA.
As a BB system administrator I’m used to being on the receiving end of perceived problems rather than lavish praise. After all, it’s only when something doesn’t work that it gets attention – which is then usually from a negative point of view. You don’t praise a tool when it lets you down. But in all fairness, many criticisms of BB do turn out to be explainable errors. As a VLE it’s well embedded across the institution with the majority of courses having a presence and plenty of innovative online collaborative learning experiences.
It takes time to embed change. The move from the Virtual Campus involved a different way of working with different systems integration – it wasn’t going to happen overnight and it didn’t. But we’re getting there and the majority of staff now use BB on a regular basis.
I feel the need to defend BB from its critics. Yes – it’s a corporate behemoth of VLE but we don’t use it to its full capacity. Yes – it’s not the most visually exciting of environments but it isn’t meant to be, it’s a means to an end, not the end itself – that comes from the ways in which it is used. And yes, it may look like a repository of digital documents, but that shouldn’t be used against it. The recent JISC 3 R’s report Recruitment Retention Results supports the provision of electronic information saying
‘Resources in digital format (even simply class lecture notes) are inherently more flexible and accessible than paper-based resources, supporting differentiation and a range of learning styles.’
So uploading documents to BB is good practice, it’s supporting diversity and enabling users to take advantage of the inherent flexibility of digital data to be customised and personalised to suit individual preferences.
We should be proud of BB. There are a great team of people supporting it and we should take advantage of its affordances rather than being overly critical. At the end of the day it does what it’s meant to do and talking to staff and students across the university shows that – it does it quite well.
The Student Rep’s Conference (2nd March) provided space for students and staff to talk to each other. I hope there’ll be lots of dissemination in online/offline student/staff publications because it was worth it. It’s not that students and staff don’t talk to each other – they do – in lots of different ways – but this event raised the quality of those conversations.
In the afternoon students talked about Student as Producer; the Lincoln led, cross-institutional, project which looks to redesign the curriculum along the lines of research engaged teaching. It’s like UROS has become infectious and spread across the university. Under Student as Producer, the opportunity to apply for a bursary to undertake a UROS project has been reintroduced (closing date 11 March see http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk/funding for details) but the real value lies in plans for restructuring teaching and learning. This is less radical than the language used to describe it. Teaching informed by and engaged with research is not new. The only difference is Student as Producer raises its profile and emphasises research as the primary organising principle of practice.
I’m reminded of a parallel movement across the sector a decade ago; the push for embedding virtual learning environments. It reminds me because Student as Producer can appear on first encounter as something new and radical, almost verging on unsafe because of the revolutionary language it inspires. But looking back over the history of technology in education, you see a similar mixture of adoption of new ways of working. Before Dearing, people were already engaging with digital environments, in the way that teaching already engages with research. What’s needed is time. Adoption of innovation is often less about changing practice and more a shift in emphasis on what people are already doing.
Using Roger’s model of diffusions of innovation, Student As Producer is currently with the innovators and early adopters. As it spreads out across the university via events like the Student Reps Conference, and the Festival of Learning planned for the end of March (details here http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk/events) it will pick up more interest from whose practice already aligns with its organising principles. It’s ‘stickiness’ will increase until the tipping point is reached. You can see this with technology enhanced learning. At Lincoln, the push towards adopting the institutional VLE has finally got there. Recent surveys conducted by the Student Union and CERD suggest a high level of embedding of Blackboard into daily practice. This has taken time but the shift has happened. Student as Producer is in its early days but given time it will become as ubiquitous as Blackboard has done alongside all its potential opportunities for enhancing the experience of teaching and learning across the whole institution.
I agree with its detractors that Blackboard is in the money making business. Like the publishers of educational journals, access is restricted through prohibitively expensive licences. But I also don’t agree that Blackboard is dead so to paraphase Julian’s comment here’s a scratch. While the Web 2.0 revolutionaries are plotting on one corner of the square then those getting on with daily life have to make the best of it. Educational opportunities shouldn’t be denied on the grounds of cost but the reality for many educators is they are caught in the middle. If Blackboard is the tool of choice of your institution then knocking it vociferously doesn’t help. If the future of higher education is digital then we should be encouraging engagement and there are worse places than Blackboard for the cutting of technical teeth. It’s easy to be critical about Blackboard; it may well be closed rather than open, be clunky and not visually appealing but it’s a tool and if it’s the only one you have then it’s what you do with it that counts. Better to have active engagement with Blackboard than no engagement with digital learning at all.
At the moment it’s difficult to think about anything other than being in a consultation period for redundancy. This is underpinned by knowing that across the sector Teaching and Learning Development Units/Offices are being devolved into faculties and libraries or dissolved as the reality of the end of the TQEF means there is no longer a ring fenced budget to support the enhancement of Teaching and Learning. Does teaching and learning suddenly not matter anymore? Why isn’t the Teaching Enhancement and Student Success (TESS) fund not ring fenced in a similar way? Teaching and learning is integral to the future of higher education, to student success, to widening participation and to retention.
At a time where there is recognition across the sector of the changing nature of higher education and student demographics, the need to ensure that virtual learning is not seen as a quick fix, cheap solution has never been more crucial. In my department we support the use of educational technology to enable and enhance the delivery of high quality, interactive online content and have extensive experience of supporting successful distance learning provision. There are substantial costs involved with the development of effective virtual learning and we believe we are well placed to offer appropriate and meaningful advice. Redundancy may represent a threat to the teaching and learning development work we carry out across the university and in particular the pedagogical support of Blackboard, our virtual learning environment. Feeling at risk is a scary and lonely place to be.