Thursday, 19 May 2016

#BbTLC16 Report - Blackboard product updates

I've been very remiss in my reports from #BbTLC16, which happened at the beginning of April. But I still have my notes from the sessions, intending to write them up.

On Tuesday I sat in on the Blackboard International Product Update Webinar - which covered similar ground to the product update sessions at #BbTLC16 - so I thought I'd take the opportunity to put a few sentences together.

The webinar covered three main products: Blackboard Learn, Collaborate Ultra, and mobile solutions Bb Student and Bb Instructor.

Blackboard Learn

Wade Weichel gave a presentation (at both #BbTLC16 and on the webinar) about the roadmap for the classic VLE. Apparently the focus is to make the learner's experience "more delightful".

flickr photo by Pleuntje shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Blackboard are moving to a regular update schedule, with two major releases each year, and cumulative updates in-between. Q2 2016 was released last month, and brings increased stability to the system - which is good news. There was a lot of talk about infrastructure and authentication, which went over my head, but one piece of advice is to test all (non Blackboard) building blocks (for example, Turnitin), on a test environment, to ensure that they work properly, prior to upgrade on a production environment.

The old chat and virtual classrooms are being discontinued - although we disabled these on our system some time ago. Otherwise, there are some accessibility improvements and a reply capability on emails.

The Ultra experience for Learn, which was touted at BbWorld in 2014 and again at the Education on Tour event in Dublin that year, was not mentioned at all. Instead we heard about a new theme for 9.1, which would include some responsive design features. Last month I wondered if this would be ready in time to test and apply before our new academic year (starting in early September). However, from today's webinar it seems that this is still in development, and updates will be provided in future webinars.

Finally, admin-level course activity overview reports, which sound really useful, are also still in development.

Collaborate Ultra

Like many institutions, we are currently running both versions of Collaborate (classic and Ultra), but haven't made the switch to Ultra from within the VLE yet. This is because the functionality within Ultra does not yet match that of the classic version (see my notes on this from #durbbu). However, it's clear that Collab Ultra is being developed quickly, with updates being released regularly.

A view of Collab Ultra, taken at #BbTLC16

Carl Marelli gave an update on Collaborate Ultra. The biggest advantage of Ultra is the lack of a Java download - anybody can participate directly in the browser (preferably Chrome). Ultra is described as "delightful and modern". Other features that have been recently added include:
  • the maximum number of participants has increased to 100, and will further increase to 250;
  • uploaded files (powerpoint, pdf etc) now persist within a Collab room
  • increased video and audio quality
  • accessibility features
  • MP4 recordings
  • integration with Bb student
Coming soon will be breakout groups and group chats, while polling features are still in development.

An improved integration with Learn is also being developed, so that instructors can choose whether to switch to Ultra or stay with the classic version (depending on their use case).


Dan Loury gave an update on the mobile strategy for Blackboard. The original mobile app, Blackboard Mobile Learn, is being replaced by two persona driven apps - one for students and one for instructors. Bb Student was launched in the UK and Ireland in January, and I wrote about it at the time. We've since had some limited feedback from students on the app, but for the most part I suspect students at NUIG are still using Mobile Learn.

Since January, development has continued on the app, and it now includes notifications - which is a feature much in demand from students.

Future releases will include discussion boards and the ability to join a Collaborate Ultra session from the app - these features are currently in beta. In development is the ability for app-to-app launches, which will mean that we can embed Bb Student in our NUIG Mosaic app.

A little further away is the launch of a Bb Instructor app, which will replace the current Bb Grader. This will be available for tablets only, initially.

Keeping Informed

It is good to see Blackboard continue to develop the various tools, but sometimes important new features become available without us being aware of them. The events can be useful to find out about these, but often we are too caught up in the general day-to-day activities to realise that there is something new to think about.

The webinars are good opportunities for a quick overview of developments. One tip is to always sign up for the webinar; even if you can't make it at the time, you will receive a link to the recording.

Another relatively new initiative is the Innovate&Educate monthly newsletter, for which you can sign up here.

Sign up for the newsletter

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Video Solutions at NUIG

We were excited today to see that NUI Galway features in the April edition of Tech & Learning UK (pages 27 and 28). Based on the talk I gave at the Kaltura Education Summit last year, the article describes our deployment and use of the Kaltura building block in our Blackboard VLE, and how staff and students are making good use of video for learning.

Thanks to Lisa Bennett of Kaltura Marketing for putting the article together.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

LIT's #ictedu 2016 - "Students as Co-Creators"

On Saturday the 23rd of April I attended the #ictedu conference at Limerick Institute of Technology, Tipperary for the first time.  I had booked the conference before, but it had always fallen at such a stressful time in the secondary school year that by the time that Saturday rolled around, I didn't have enough steam left in me.  This year left me with a bit more freedom to attend, so naturally I signed up.
A sunny April morning in Thurles
The conference theme hinged upon the student as co-creator and attendees stemmed from across the sectors.  I knew many faces on a professional basis and from CESI events, so it was useful to be at a more intimate conference where there was time to catch up properly. 

The event began with a keynote by Steve Wheeler from Plymouth University.  I've seen Steve give a keynote before and followed him for a long time online, so I was excited to hear him again as I've found his work to be both insightful and practical.  His presentation, "Digital Learning Futures: Learners as co-creators of knowledge", set the tone for the entire conference.  Steve steered clear over the over-used and disproved "digital native" theory in order to focus on the digital visitor and resident:

 Steve also highlighted the benefits of using rhizomatic tools like Wikipedia in order to foster the concept of community and creativity in students, and even hone their digital literacy skills.

Steve Wheeler discussing "desire lines"
As always, Steve highlighted the intrinsic nature of students to pave their own path toward learning and the necessity for us to give them the freedom, and tools, to do so. In this slide, he illustrates the concept of "desire lines" and how it applies to the student experience.

Dr. Barry Ryan assesses the digital skills present
and acquired throughout the project

The next presentation relevant to this blog came from Dr. Barry Ryan from DIT. His presentation, "Doing it for themselves (and others): Students producing reusable learning resources for peers and community partners" followed the trajectory of his plan to implement a video project in his second year Biochemistry module in lieu of the traditional essay.  The aim was not only to engage the students, but also to use the created content to teach each other and a community partner.  The feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive, and they also indicated that they learned some digital skills along the way. Students became researchers of the content, peer reviewers and ultimately creators.  Students were happy to engage more effectively with the content and learn throughout the process.  During a shoot, a group of students somehow crossed paths with Brendan Gleeson on a movie set, and he actually shot some footage for them.  However, his digital skills were left to be desired as the focus was blurry throughout the scene!

The capstone talk, "Stepping in. Stepping out. Standing back. The student as co-creator", came from NUI Galway's own Mary Carty, the Executive Director of the new new Blackstone Launchpad here on campus. I look forward to getting to know Mary, not only because we are just across the concourse from each other, but also because of her impassioned speech about her previous project, the Outbox Incubator. The project is available to young women interested in STEM and its tagline is: "6 weeks, 45 girls at a time, all under 1 roof". Mary spoke with vigor about how the project raised opportunities for the girls that participated, but changed their outlook as women in STEM. Mary believes that ideas can turn into realities.  I have no doubt that Mary's passion will resonate with young people at NUI Galway.

Mary Carty speaking about Outbox Incubator and Blackstone Launchpad
Having known the organizers of this conference for some time, I feel like my attendance was well overdue.  I thoroughly enjoyed the day and I was able to take away some very positive conversations with like minded people. Many thanks to Pamela O'Brien, Conor Galvin and Bernie Goldbach for a wonderful conference.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Gamification at #BbTLC16

Earlier this month I was at #BbTLC16 - the annual Blackboard Teaching & Learning conference, which took place in Groningen this year. I've been meaning to write a couple of blog posts about it, and what I learned there, but have been so busy since I got back! That's the downside of being at a conference, work just piles up and waits for you to return.

One of the interesting features of the conference this year was the use of the mobile app, which we were encouraged to download prior to the event.

As well as easy access to the programme, and the ability to build up a personal agenda, there were a couple of other features that added to conference experience (positive and negative) and ultimately had an affect on my behaviour as part of the backchannel, as well as others.

Mobile Agenda

There was (initially) no printed programme available at the conference. The online programme was a little tricky to navigate, with up to 6 parallel sessions each day, and I certainly didn't pay it much attention before travelling. So it was extremely useful to be able to browse the programme using the app. Each session had a very short description, or you could browse by speaker, and add talks of interest to a personal agenda. If you allowed notifications, you would even get a reminder when a particular talk was about to start. With my increasing reliance on online calendars, this proved to be a very useful feature.

This is where the gamification starts. Once in a particular session, you then had an option to "check-in", allowing you to collect points. When a session finished, you were presented with an option to rate (out of 5) and make comments on the talk. Each of these activities allowed you to collect further points. It's not entirely clear where the ratings and comments went - but presumably the conference organisers are using them in some way. As a speaker, I certainly have not seen any feedback on our presentation.


On first accessing the app, I was encouraged to create a profile, linking it to my LinkedIn, twitter and/or Facebook accounts. I used the opportunity to link to LinkedIn and twitter, but my Facebook activity is much more personal.

Within the app, it was possible to browse all Attendees (and separately all Speakers), including Blackboard personel and other sponsors, thus finding out a little more about them, and also see what networks they had shared. This was very useful for following up on new acquaintances, leading to some new LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers.


Now things start getting interesting! One of the main features, once the conference started, was the activity feed. Like a conference twitter feed, users of the app could post updates, with links, pictures and videos. We could also "like" posts and even comment on them. Before long, we realised that we could earn badges by posting, commenting, rating, checking-in. I managed to get 22 out of 27 possible badges!

Posting to the activity feed became an obsession. While it should have been possible to send everything to Twitter as well, this didn't really happen. I had no success posting to Twitter at all, while photos were missing from other people's tweets. This meant that the (public) activity using the #BbTLC16 hashtag was not particularly active. For my part, I did try to tweet some of the announcements that were made, but it was awkward to keep the activity going in two places, as well as trying to take notes. The very active backchannel that was happening around the conference was enclosed within the app, behind closed doors.

As with most conference backchannels, it was very useful to find out what was going on in another parallel session. Images, updates and comments, especially those from particular individuals, could really give a sense of what was being discussed, and it was possible to join in a conversation from another room, or to follow up with particular speakers or attendees during the networking breaks.

The LeaderBoard

While we were all very busy earning badges, posting pictures of the same powerpoint slide from different angles and distances, we were also earning points. Every activity had an associated point value, though exactly how these were calculated is not clear. Moreover, it was possible to check out the LeaderBoard from within the app. Initially, some of the attendees of DevCon (a pre-conference for developers) were at the top of the board, but before long some of the more competitive types (myself included) started making our way up the board.

It was all a bit of fun. Wasn't it? Until we realised that the activity of "Liking" posts clearly resulted in more points - even Liking your own posts! Something was clearly amiss here. You could barely post anything before it received half a dozen "likes".

At this stage I will state very clearly - I did not start Liking my own updates. Competitition was fierce, though, and it soon became clear that it would not be possible to catch up with the frontrunners.

In the end, I finished a respectable 5th, and I'd like to give a shout out for the two leaders Klazine and Marja who played a very strong game - they left us behind for dust. Kudos also to Pete, Alicia and Sandra - the latter sneaked ahead of me on the last day. What does it say that 13 of the top 20 positions were taken by women?

Final Comments

Certainly the app was useful and fun, and the gamification brought a new community experience to the conference - though possibly not what was intended. It was a shame that the backchannel was closed, but I think this could be easily remedied by improving the ability to publish to twitter at the same time.

The gamification was interesting. How points were allocated is not clear, but it seems that the allocation needs to be rebalanced a little bit, to encourage more activity with added value.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Lauching into the deep

The School of Nursing and Midwifery at NUI Galway are always up to good things when it comes to prioritising the student learning experience. Recently, we spoke to John Quinlivan about a key initiative they undertook to help incoming students. Each year, new students face major challenges in getting to grips with the abundance of information available online relating to their studies. The School of Nursing and Midwifery thought long and hard, and came up with the idea of creating a Student Launchpad - a central resource to find out about referencing, timetables, course resources, online services, and more.

In this short interview, John Quinlivan discusses the benefits of the Student Launchpad. It was designed with a first year student in mind but also aimed to be useful to all students for the duration of their studies. The team encompassed Block 5 Design, and faculty of the School of Nursing and Midwifery including Dr. Adeline Cooney, Damien Devane, Prof. Declan Devane and John Quinlivan.

The team spent many long hours story boarding the concept, and they identified the tools and information essential for Nursing & Midwifery students. The site acted as a one-stop shop for students across the school, where they could access key, relevant information. Thankfully their efforts with the site has proven a huge success, with regular visits of between one and four hundred unique accesses a day during term. Students report on the importance of being able to easily find everything they need in one location, and improved communication within the school.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Preparing for #BbTLC16

Tomorrow I am heading over to Groningen, in The Netherlands, for the annual Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference. I was last at this conference in Dublin in 2014, when I presented with two students who were developing the NUIG campus app. We won best paper at the event, and went on to present at the Blackboard World Conference in Las Vegas. I have no such ambitions this year - one visit to Las Vegas is more than enough for me!

This year I am travelling a day early, so that I can go along to the Academic Adoption Day on Tuesday, led by Alan Masson. I'm not really sure what to expect, but will blog my experiences.

At the main conference, I'll be presenting, along with Caroline Horan (IT Services at NUIG) about our current Online Results Entry (ORE) project using the Blackboard Grades Journey Tool. For a sneak preview, our prezi is available, though still in development.
RijksUniversiteit Groningen - University of Groningen
 The conference programme is big, with many parallel sessions. I haven't decided which ones to go to, yet. But I will be interested in some of the roadmap talks, and also to meet the new Blackboard CEO Bill Ballhaus. There is a Mobile User Group meeting, also on Thursday. Mostly I'll be interested in finding out about others' use of Blackboard, and picking up some new ideas.

And, of course, I'm looking forward to seeing Groningen, the city, which I've never visited before. The University, where the conference is located, was established in 1614, is part of the Coimbra Group (along with NUI Galway) and graduated Aletta Jacobs the first female to officially attend a Dutch university.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Blogging as a form of Digital Scholarship

Last year we spoke with Dr. Eilís Ní Dhúill about the Thesis Talk ( blog at NUI Galway. The blog is written by PhD candidates from the College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies. Chronicling the varying experiences of the College's research students, it provides a platform to describe and share PhD experiences, research, feedback from conferences attended, and to ask the community questions or give tips and advice. 

Her account of Thesis Talk is well worth a listen. She outlines how openness and sharing of knowledge are manifested through scholarly blogging. The benefits include connecting with a community of peers, developing writing skills, and engaging in open knowledge production and sharing.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Call for abstracts | EDTECH 2016: ReConstituting TEL - Rising to the Challenge

Date: 26 – 27 May 2016
Venue: Law Society of Ireland, Education Centre, Blackhall Place, Dublin, Ireland

The events of Easter 1916 are of seminal importance in Irish history. What began as a small uprising in the centre of Dublin on Easter Monday set in motion a series of developments which ultimately led to Irish independence in 1922. The Government of Ireland has launched national and international program of events to reflect on the past 100 years, and to re-imagine our future under the following themes: remembering the past; reconciling and respecting all traditions; presenting Ireland to the world; imagining our future; and celebrating our achievements (
The EdTech2016 theme ‘ReConstituting TEL: Rising to the Challenge’ affords us the opportunity to: reflect on the current state of TEL in Ireland in 2016; celebrate our achievements to this point; and consider the opportunities and challenges presented within an increasingly globalised, and uncertain world.
We invite you to contribute to this discourse from a range of local and international perspectives - pedagogical, research, innovation, policy and organisational - at EdTech2016 on May 26-27 at the Law Society of Ireland, Dublin (

Closing date for abstracts
11th April 2016 to

Conference topics
Submission of abstracts are accepted at for inclusion within 3 presentation formats (i) Research (ii) Practitioner and (iii) *Gasta (brief rapid-fire micro presentations). Conference topics include the following:
  • Online Education (teaching, learning & assessment)
  • Blended Learning
  • Further Education and Training
  • Digital Literacies for All Stakeholders – students, staff, institutions and governments
  • Evaluation for impact  - contributing to the evidence-base
  • Learning trends & technologies
  • Digital & identities, competencies & literacies
  • Digital Identity
  • Data Analytics
To submit an abstract
  1. Visit
  2. Create an account / login by entering your email, name and a password
  3. Click submit paper
  4. Follow the steps as prompted.

Key Dates

14th March 2016
Call for abstracts -
registration open -
11th April 2016
Closing date for abstract submissions
22nd April 2016
Notification of Authors
29th April 2016
Early bird offer closes
6th May 2015
Final versions of accepted abstracts accepted for inclusion to Conference Programme
25th May 2015
Closing date for presentation submissioms
26th – 27th May 2015
EdTech 2016 Conference, Law Society of Ireland

Thursday, 10 March 2016

CEL263 Learning Technologies Symposium 2016

The annual CEL263 symposium for 2016 took place almost 2 weeks ago on Monday 29th February. This year, seven participants from the PG Dip Learning Technologies module gave short presentations on their project for the module.

The project brief is:

You are asked to identify and complete a project, based on the material covered in the module, to incorporate Learning Technologies in your teaching.You are given free scope in identifying a technology or technologies and what you want to achieve. The technology does not have to be something that we are covering during the module, and could be something specific to your discipline.

The participants were asked to give a 10 minute presentation to the group (which included module participants and members of CELT) on their project, whether it's complete, in early stages, or halfway through.

As in previous years, I took notes by tweeting. The following is a collection of tweets from the event, using Storify.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

"Our Digital Strategy - making IT matter" at #cesicon 2016

I have attended the annual CESI conference for the past five years and it's now become an integral part of my personal CPD. As someone that spent ten years teaching at second level, the event helped me to build my personal learning network (PLN) at a level only matched by participating in CESI's #edchatie Twitter chat session on Monday evenings. Having moved on to NUI Galway, I did ponder how the event I had grown so accustomed to might feel different for me this year.  As more of an observer than a participant, I further shook things up by submitting a presentation.

The conference theme was rooted upon the new "Digital Strategy for Schools 2015 - 2020" document released by the Department of Education.  The document aims to "embed ICT more deeply across the system to enhance the overall quality of Irish education".  This is essentially the same ethos that fuels CESI. Though I've only skimmed the document at this stage, but I can see parallels between it and the National Forum's "Teaching and Learning in Irish Higher Education: A Roadmap for Enhancement in a Digital World 2015-2017".

Professor Mark Brown kick started the morning at DCU with a keynote insisting that we continue to make change and expressing exasperation at the stunted progress on technological innovation in education.  One can only hope the new strategy will address these issues.  He also received resounding applause when he called for coding to become a Leaving Certificate subject.

Professor Mark Brown's Keynote Address

Professor Mark Brown's Keynote Address
Next up was a presentation by Colman Noctor  entitled "Why do we share what we share?" that focused on the purpose of disclosure on social networking sites.  Colman's talk provided food for thought in terms of how young people are affected by the digital world they live in and the expectations of living up to our ideal (online) selves. 

Colman Noctor made us reflect on our online identities

After addressing some technical issues I was having, it was on to Leigh Graves Wolf's  spotlight session on Design Thinking.  Some might know Leigh from her participation in #edchatie and annual GREAT conference at NUI Galway with the Masters in Educational Technology (MAET) at Michigan State University.  Leigh has recently moved into the role of Assistant Director of the MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. Leigh's workshop aligned Our Digital Strategy to Design Thinking and had participants brainstorm and tweet/share their thoughts on questions that followed the first two steps of Design Thinking - empathize and define.  If one of the theory's aims is to "make the invisible, visible", then there is no better place to trial it than in front of large group of engaged educators eager to ensure the success of a new Digital Strategy. If we are to ensure the success of such a strategy, we must carefully implement it from the theoretical stages to the beta stages through to the finalized product. In a whirlwind session, Leigh was able to pique participant interest in Design Thinking as well as facilitate a vibrant discussion on the new Digital Strategy.

Leigh Graves Wolf discusses the TPACK model
After lunch it was my turn to present on "Bridging the Gap - Preparing Students for the Expectations of Higher Education".  Like Leigh, I was focusing on current strategies and policies in second level and third level education and aligning the technologies available (and popular) in both sectors that could facilitate an easier transition between the sectors.  In hindsight, it might have been too large a topic for the twenty five minute session, but it certainly helped me to reflect more carefully on an area that I have a vested interest in.

After presenting, I took the time to reconnect with CESI friends from over the years and didn't attend anything else until the National Executive meeting. The most refreshing aspect of CESIcon is the camaraderie and collaboration between the sectors.  It proves that new innovations are adaptable in any educational setting if you maintain an open mind.  If you are interested at all in CESI, I would strongly advise following the #edchatie hashtag on Twitter. Over time, it's easy to build up a strong personal learning network, and you might even be enticed to meet them in person at next year's CESIcon.

You can read about our experience at CESIcon last year on the blog as well.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

PebblePad Irish Users’ Group Meeting Notes


The first PebblePad Irish User Group meeting took place in the RCSI on Wednesday 10 February. It was hosted by John Couperthwaite and Debbie Holmes from PebblePad, and featured colleagues from TCD, DCU, UCC, GMIT, WIT, and NUIG; some of which are currently using PebblePad alongside others looking to keep a watching brief on ePortfolio developments and uses in higher education.

NUI Galway Context

Following the cessation of the Learning Objects suite of tools in NUIG, a number of professional-based functions (e.g. Nursing and Midwifery, Engineering, Adult Education) have spoken to me about their interest in pan-programme ePorfolio solutions; and specifically those with post-graduate access options. We do not have access to BB-native portfolios as this requires the Community System which comes with a considerable price tag. I attended this session to gauge the current state of play from PebblePad and the wider user group and found it extremely useful.

Key Features of PebblePad

  • This ePortfolio solution is branded as an ‘Award-winning ePortfolio, assessment and metering technology’
  • It is being widely used in the UK and is gaining some traction in Ireland (see below)
  • PebblePad is utilised primarily with:
    Applied curricula such as Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery, Teacher Education (i.e. those with work placement requirements);
    Competency-based domains (i.e. those with professional body dual accreditation requirements such as Accountancy and  Pharmacology); and
    For wider institutional functions such as careers, alumni and disability services
  • It is a cloud-based service and can be used as a stand-alone system or integrated through VLEs via a building block (e.g. BB, Moodle, Canvas etc)
  • The building block allows institutions to nominate the specific modules where the ePorfolio can be deployed. This means that it is possible to arrange a licensing model for 100 users which can be administered locally. 
  • The building block facilitates single sign-on via VLE
  • In line with other learning technologies (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate) PebblePad is moving away from Flash and Java-based infrastructure(V3 of PebblePad) towards HTML5-based technology (V5 of PebblePad) which will facilitate an improved use experience on a range of devices.
  • USABILITY:  it is easy to populate ePortfolios through drag and drop and it looks very professional (different themes etc)
  • PRIVACY: students manage their own assets and permissions (which allows them to invite/disseminate their ePortfolios - full or partial - to specific internal or external audiences)
    (1) PebblePad access across an entire programme cycle allows students and instructors continuous access to all students’ work, thereby circumventing VLE annual roll-over restrictions.
    (2) Graduate students have lifelong access to their assets (e.g. workbooks,ePortfolios)
  • MOBILE: Pebblepad has an app for IoS and Android devices  
  • SUPPORT: Individual users commented on the high quality of PebblePad initial training and suppo

User Group Presentations


Programme Coordinator and Lecturer
Noreen described how GMIT were using PebblePad with a group of BSc Digital Media and Society students. The first rollout of the BSc was in 2013 with the final 4th year being delivered in 2016-17.
The use of PebblePad has developed over the first three years from digital asset creation/management, towards submission of portfolios for academic assessment (using templates with pre-populated questions), and now onto student industry placement. The year 4 emphasis will be towards developing projects that can be showcased to multiple audiences during both the programme schedule and following graduation from the BSc programme.


Lecturer in Organic and Pharmaceutical Chemistry
UCC, UL, TCD, UCD,  IT Tralee and NUIG are part of the ePrePP consortium, an eLearning Platform in Preparation for Professional Practice. This initiative is partly funded by the National Forum.
The focus of Eileen’s presentation was how UCC used PebblePad to mimic the 147 professional competencies required by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Core competencies framework IIoP. The competencies had to be mimicked due to copyright restrictions of the actual framework.  They used PebblePad as a CPD tracking system by exposing all students to the same resources (i.e. they had better control via the PebblePad rather than through a range of modules in Blackboard).
Eileen and her team were drawn to PebblePad due to (1) the inbuilt tracking  (i.e. student activity is date/time stamped therefore UCC can track activity hours and run learning analytics);  and (2) the reporting outputs that they could use for professional accreditation/certification. They use workbooks (customised for assessment/placement etc) which are employed as a competency self assessment tool.


Occupational Therapist, TCD Disability Services
Kieran works on the TCD Career Pathways Project (transition to employment project for students with disabilities) as part of their Student Ambassador Programme.
This project is run directly with PebblePad, rather via the VLE. Disability services work closely with the 74 students to develop their portfolios towards career progression and have created a wide range of ‘template’-type activities for students to complete.

Further Information

There are a number of National Forum seminars looking at ePorfolios in Feb-March. See:

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Learning from Failure at #durbbu

Earlier this month I made my annual pilgrimmage to Durham to attend the 16th Durham Blackboard Users' Conference. I've been attending this event every January for the last number of years and can honestly say that it's a highlight in my calendar. Even better that it's at the very, very start of the year, meaning I'm not missing too much activity at work, and I can focus my mind completely on the theme of the conference.

Moreover, the annual Durham event is one of the best organised, consistently enjoyable and useful, and the friendliest Ed Tech conference. If Carlsberg did conferences! This is mostly down to the amazing team behind it all, including Malcolm Murray, Julie Mulvey and the Learning Technologies Team at Durham University.

If you are a Blackboard customer in the UK or Ireland (or considering becoming one), you should not miss this annual event. Because it's a Users' conference, it does not have the corporate feel of, say, the Blackboard Teaching and Learning conference. Instead you have the opportunity to hear about and share the real-life experience of fellow Blackboard customers, warts and all. There is also a good representation of staff from Blackboard, giving you great access to raise issues, ask questions and find out about new developments.

Learning from Failure

This year's conference theme was Learning from Failure. It was an excellent theme because this is how most of us learn. It's normal for our efforts to go wrong, but the important thing is to learn from that failure and try again. Even better if we can learn from others' failure, and avoid making the same mistakes ourselves.

We don't often talk about our failures, so I felt privileged to hear about how other people have overcome problems to achieve goals in the use of technologies for teaching and learning.
My notes from the conference extend to several pages. Here I just describe some of the more relevant learnings for me. I did also create a storify from all the tweets from the event, using hastag #durbbu. Some other attendees have written excellent blog posts from the event, which I list at the end of this post.


Bb Student app

I was particularly interested in the launch, in the UK and Ireland, of the new Bb Student mobile app. This is because we've had some particular problems with the current Blackboard Learn mobile app, related to a current (major) project concerning release of grades. The new app, which I write about here, is slicker and more student focused, but unfortunately doesn't solve our problems. This was good for me to learn, if not entirely satisfying.

Collaborate Ultra

We've been hearing about the new Collaborate Ultra product, which will eventually replace the current Collaborate, with the dreaded java download. We have done some testing at NUI Galway, but haven't made the switch, due to limitations in functionality.

However, I was very lucky to hear from Kelly Hall of Edinburgh University about Stepping into the unknown with Collaborate Ultra. Kelly gave a very engaging and informative presentation where she described how 3 groups at Edinburgh have piloted the new system. She was able to identify exactly the limitations and difficulties experienced, but concluded that the groups were overall very happy with Collab Ultra. The main loss of functionality is the ability to create break-out groups, but Blackboard is working on this.

Based on the experience of the pilot, Edinburgh is looking to rollout to Ultra during the summer of 2016. She suggested that case studies, based on the pilot groups, are being compiled and may be made available to those interested.

Enterprise Surveys

I've never really considered Blackboard Enterprise Surveys functionality, because I was under the impression that it was only available as part of the Community System licence. It turns out - I was wrong! After putting the question to twitter, I soon got the response that it is available in the basic, vanilla Learn licence - though clearly turned off in ours.

A presentation from Chris Slack and Adam Tuncay described how they have deployed module quality surveys using different approaches: OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) forms, Blackboard tests, and finally Enterprise Surveys. While there are clearly a lot of challenges in using the Enterprise Survey tool (59 known issues, 3 critical issues) the increase in response rates and the reduction in labour costs were particularly impressive.
Hearing about this project (and its many set-backs) has encouraged me to take a look at Enterprise Surveys on our own environment, some day in the future when I have a bit of time!

Blackboard Updates

The Durham conference always includes a keynote from Blackboard itself, where we can learn something about the current direction and future roadmap for the company. This year, Alan Masson (Head of International Customer Success) gave an engaging keynote reflecting on our shared journey (Blackboard + customers) and what has been learned along the way.

Just two days before the conference, Blackboard had announced that Bill Ballhaus was to succeed Jay Bhatt as CEO.With a new CEO, the focus of the company is likely to shift, so Alan couldn't really say anything about current direction. However, he did speak about some upcoming Roadmap Webinars for the International market. These webinars are a good opportunity to find out more about product strategy, developments and releases.

Alan also pointed us to a new Technology Adoption Guide - 6 Characteristics To Increase Technology Adoption.

Grades Journey Tool

We are currently, at NUI Galway, in the middle of a major institutional project which involves the use of Blackboard's new Grades Journey tool. At the time of the conference, we were on the cusp of rolling out, using a big-bang approach, new grade centre columns to all modules, in all Schools and Colleges, across the University. So, I was particularly interested to hear from Jim Emery from Glasgow Caledonian about his experience of the Grades Journey tool.

Glasgow Caledonian's context is slightly different from ours, albeit with similar goals ultimately. Perhaps very sensibly, GCU is about to commence a pilot of the system, rather than our all-or-nothing approach. His description of the endeavour as a "series of small battles rather than a long war" rang true for me, although I currently feel like I'm involved in a very long war!

Jim's presentation was very honest, as he described his learnings from the project so far. We also spent some time comparing notes on our experiences, which was extremely valuable for me. Jim has written about  Marks Integration, framing it in the context of the Digital University.

Digital Badges

I enjoyed Graham Redshaw-Boxwell's talk about digital badges at Newcastle University and beyond. I think there are plenty of links with the All Aboard project in Ireland, especially the digital badges component of this.


I realise that I'm writing this post three weeks after the conference took place, and I've focused only on those talks that made the most impression on me, in terms of my own learning. I also very much enjoyed Eric Stoller's keynote, about academics and social media.
Unusually for a conference, any of the talks I went to were of high quality, and I learned something new in each one.

Other blog posts about this event include (apologies if I missed any - let me know in the comments):

Learning from Failure – The 16th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference- Rosie Hare
Reflections on Day 2 of the Blackboard Users’ Conference- Richard Walker
Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference 2016: A Few Reflections - Danny Ball
Learning from Failure…- Maria Tannant
Durbbu - multiple posts by Matt Cornock