Monday, 13 March 2017

Making Connections - Computers in Education Society of Ireland

On Saturday the 4th of March 2017, I had the good fortune to travel to the 2017 annual conference of the Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) at the St. Patrick’s Campus of Dublin City University.

The theme of this year's event was on "Making Connections: Transformation through technology and teamwork", inspired in part from two recent policy documents. Firstly, the Department of Education and Skills have published their Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 report, setting out a vision
clear vision that is focussed on realising the potential of digital technologies to transform the learning experiences of students b - See more at:
focussed on realising the potential of digital technologies to transform the learning experiences of students - See more at:
focused on realising the potential of digital technologies for enhancing student learning, and secondly, the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning’s Roadmap For Enhancement In A Digital World 2015-2017 that recommends:
 “a multi-level approach to foster digital literacy, skills and confidence among students at all levels of education needs to be developed”.
Against this policy backdrop, the focus in two of the keynote sessions was on mainstreaming technology in education, with inspiring keynotes from Brendan Tangney, Bridge 21, Trinity College Dublin (see slides), and Anne Looney, Interim CEO of the Higher Education Authority in Dublin.

Both the venue, the organisers (including my colleague Kate Molloy), and the conference team conspired to showcase the best use of technology in action by streaming, captioning and tweeting events as they unfolded. The Youth Media Team interviewed several of conference speakers and have made podcast recordings available. Other slide resources were shared by the PDST on and more individual links to follow up were also posted to Twitter (Iain MacLabhrainn's presentation on All Aboard included).

The flagship Lego® Education Innovation Studio (LEIS), was a particular highlight, with Deirdre Butler of DCU giving us a tour of the facilities, and the inspiration behind allowing students a space to create, make, and build.
Lego® Education Innovation Studio in DCU

In the sessions I attended, innovation was clearly evident - in using educational mobile apps, animations, minecraft, iPad coding, digital storytelling, and more. A summary Storify of tweets is here (note this isn't a comprehensive catalog of the conference hashtag tweets), and a link to all the conference abstracts is available online.
@Seomraranga - a whirlwind tour of the best educational apps   

@michaeliteach using the iPad to make a drone fly   
The All Aboard digital skills map on display (developed by colleagues in CELT)
Many presentations were informed by action research and displayed considered pedagogic reflection on their use. Several presenters were researching practice at masters or PhD level, whilst others were deeply involved in enhancing their classroom practice in a variety of educational contexts. It was the first CESI event I had the opportunity to attend, and look forward to connecting again in future. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Reflections on Visitors and Residents as CPD in Learning Technologies module

The metaphor of the Digital Native is still very much used in academic circles - perhaps because it is easy to understand. Many academic staff feel comfortable to describe themselves as digital dinosaurs (or immigrants), separated from their students' apparent ease with technology by a gulf so fundamental that it cannot be bridged. When pushed, they do accept that students are ill-prepared to use tech in their educational lives - unable to navigate the VLE, not aware of file types, completely fazed when faced with a zip file. But still, the Digital Natives narrative persists and is accepted as a truth, an excuse.

Read Donna Lanclos on The Death of the Digital Native.

At the outset of my module on Learning Technologies (#cel263 on Twitter) I ask my group of participants - all academic staff - to reflect on their comfort in using new technologies for teaching1, by writing a group blog post. Despite including works by Donna Lanclos and David White in the readings for the module, still the Digital Native rears his head in these reflections, every year. This last month, a number of staff quite happily identified themselves as Digital Immigrants, describing their discomfort with technologies that are effortless for their students. 

I think this is a good start. By explicitly articulating this in the group, in writing, it gives me a chance to gently challenge the position. 

The Digital Visitors and Residents metaphor, approached through a 90 minute workshop derived from David White and Donna Lanclos excellent guidelines, allows my module participants to focus, not on the technology they use, but on how they use the technologies. By working through the mapping process, creating their own maps while working and discussing in small groups, they get to explore their own interactions and purposes. The maps themselves aren't so important, but rather the follow up questions "so what?" and "what next?" By reflecting on their own maps, each participant can take ownership of their own technology use, and purposely determine what they want to do with it. 

How we did it

The guide produced by Donna and David is for a full day workshop, with a second day for more strategic use within an institution. Having participated in such a workshop, run by Donna and David last year, I found this a very valuable experience. But I only have 90 minutes, as part of the second workshop (of 7) in my module. 

The first reflection, about comfort in using new technologies, is an outcome of workshop 1. And without any encouragement on my part, the Digital Natives narrative always comes up. Though commenting on the reflections, I can begin to suggest that the Natives theory doesn't work, and maybe there's an alternative. 

Before the face-to-face 2nd workshop, I ask participants to watch David's short video explaining the V&R theory, as preparation. By the time I meet them, it's clear that at least some of them have watched it, and nobody admits otherwise. So, my intro can be short, referring to the video and also to their reflections. There is great hilarity as they Google each other - some definitely more discoverable than others - but everybody with a trace.

I spend some time working though the drawing of my own map, deliberately leaving out Wikipedia initially. This brings up various questions, which we discuss a little. But my intention is to get them working on their own maps as quickly as possible. They do this in small groups of just 2 or 3. Initially quiet, within 5 minutes the room is full of the sounds of discussion. I circulate, commenting and asking questions. 

One observation is about whether somebody's name, in the case where it might be unusual or unique, might have an effect on how comfortably open they might be. Anything on the open web would be immediately associated with that person. Somebody with a common name might find it easier to hide. 

Another group had quite a discussion around e-commerce apps and tools. While not discoverable, there was some anguish about online security of data. 

After a while, we stop and discuss a little. I draw Wikipedia onto my map, still a little to the Visitors side of the axis. We talk, in general, about the clustering or spread of activities on the maps, and what it might mean. We talk about a third dimension, which some have identified, and how they have use colours or shapes to represent this on their two dimensional grid. They spend another few minutes considering the So What?

In the last 15 minutes of the workshop we start to think about What Next? I explain my relationship with Wikipedia as a fledgling editor and how I am deliberately trying to move that block to the right of the V&R axis. I leave them contemplating the What Next question on their maps. Before they leave the room, we have a quick gallery walk. 

In the 2 weeks between each workshop, each member of the class writes a workshop report as a post on the group blog. This week the report is to include an image of the map with some explanation and a consideration of the So What? question. It takes some time for these posts to start appearing - which may be a good sign. Either they are still reflecting, or just too busy to get around to the report. 

Suddenly, a week after our workshop, there is a deluge of reports. Almost everybody indicates that the activity was of value and that they have learned something new about themselves and their technology use. Each person has identified some direction they want to take, either by eliminating some aspects or changing others. 

With a group of academics who are now more self-aware and purposeful, I now have a solid base to begin exploring the use of technology in teaching and learning. I look forward to the many discussions over the next 5 workshops. 

Some Participant Comments

I have asked my group if I might share some of the comments from their workshop reports. None of the participants are identifiable from the comments.

"In order to construct the V&R map, I had a think about where I go online – and one thought usually led to another, and there's certainly some things I've left off."

"This activity was extremely useful to me in relation to getting an accurate idea of my use of online tools."

"I wasn't aware that I was consistently using so many tools and I also underestimated my visibility online."

"Upon first consideration, I foolishly thought there should be a clear divide between my personal and institutional online activities. However, as I started to give it some attention, I found that while some activities were clearly separated into different categories, there was more overlap between groups than I had expected."

"In the first report, I wrote that I consider myself a beginner in terms of using technologies in teaching. After creating the map last Friday and after a few days contemplation since then I am not so sure any longer."

"By using David White’s system of mapping ones online activities, I have been able to clearly see how I interact with the web, and the roles that my online activities play in both my personal and work life. That brings me to the stage of thinking how I might be able to use the web in more effective ways."

"I was surprised by the way this exercise helped me to articulate my feelings towards email. It is by far the biggest influence on my life and it has become almost uniquely work-related."

[1] The prompt for the first reflection is:

Write a short report (no more than 3 paragraphs) answering the following question:
How would you describe your level of confidence in using and learning new computer based technologies?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Demonstrating the power of twitter

Every year, for the last 6 or 7 years, I've started teaching my module on Learning Technologies, aimed at members of academic staff, by introducing them to twitter. We then use twitter as a tool throughout the module, sharing information and developing a community.

Each year there are always one or two participants who are already twitter users, some people who have dabbled or lurk, and always a few who have never used twitter before. It can be a challenge to convince people to give twitter a try, because the value of twitter to an academic is only realised after a period of time spent engaging. Even building up a network takes time, and often it's not clear to the academic that the time invested now will pay any dividends.

To that end, I was helped enormously this year by a short presentation from Jane Walsh (@DrJaneWalsh) who gave an engaging, often amusing and very persuasive talk on the value of twitter in her own research and teaching. Jane was a participant herself on the module 4 years ago, and I claim full credit for her twitter success to date.

Asking the Twitterverse for help 

Something I've always done in the past, and I see others doing from time to time, is to put out a call on twitter for help. This usually results in at least a few responses to welcome the new group to twitter, and these are often geographically dispersed, which can be quite impressive.

This year, though, I really wasn't sure what response I would get. I see fewer of this type of call, and I wondered if people might be less likely to respond. Anyway, I live in hope, so on the morning of the workshop I put out a general call:
Not feeling very confident, I also tweeted to specific people (former students in the module) to tweet a welcome.

I was pleasantly surprised to get responses, not only from former participants, but also a few from people around Ireland (Dublin and Donegal/Monaghan) and one from Melbourne, Australia. A good start! In addition, a couple of people "liked" the tweet, but didn't bother responding - hmmm.

Just before the workshop, I again sent out a call:
This time I was completely inundated with responses. It was amazing. As well as tweets from around Ireland and the UK, people also responded from France, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Finland and Israel. There was a great response from across the Atlantic - from Kentucky, Florida, Michigan, Boston and Delaware. There was even a tweet from Brazil.

To see the full collection of tweets received, you can take a look at them on Storify.

I've been a little bit quieter on twitter in the last few months, so it was really amazing to see such support from my PLN. Thank you to everyone who responded and really gave an impressive demonstration of the power of twitter.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Guest Post: Vene Vidi Recordari

My last blog post - on the Etiquette for Tweeting at Conferences - got quite a bit of attention, and a number of comments. One person who commented is Dr Andrew Flaus (@andrewflaus) who sent me a long email including a discussion on etiquette for students in lectures. I invited him to contribute a blog post on the topic.

My wife is an early childhood teacher so people sometimes ask her what she teaches to 3-4 year olds: “Everything”. Children who are new to the school environment start by learning etiquette of the classroom: How to wait in turn to answer, how to respect the efforts of others, how to share crayons.

The recent post about twitter at conferences reminded me how fresh we and our students are to the use of technology in our lecture theatres.

Whether they are “digital natives” or not, most students reflexively use smartphone technology for a variety of activities. If a student can see or hear something they have the technology to record it in their hand. They are also very savvy about the usefulness of this recording, yet many seem to be naive or oblivious to the etiquette of this copying.

Last month I presented a secondary school outreach activity in a PC Suite. Our computing support has professional security practices so I dutifully obtained temporary user IDs and passwords then distributed these to the students on a sheet of paper. Several students simply photographed the sheet and handed it on.

Very resourceful and not a big deal, but the concept of etiquette when dealing with security credentials clearly does not occur to the students.

(flickr photo by Dominique Godbout shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license)

Assume every teaching activity might be recorded 

Sit at the back of any undergraduate student lecture and you will see lots of smartphones on desks. Look carefully at the direction of those phones: At least a few will have the bottom (microphone end) facing the lecturer. If you watch as the lecture begins you might even see students turning on their audio recording apps.

I don’t have a problem with being recorded. I’ve given up caring. Anything that reduces the rate of despairing exam answers is ok with me. But I’m not sure every lecturer thinks that way. I also doubt the students are too worried about what we think.

It’s hard enough work to be interesting about protein structure and function, let alone controversial, so I doubt there is a back catalogue of Andrew’s Best Bits. And I’m not deluding myself about competing with Kanye West or Taylor Swift on my student’s smartphones. OK, I admit I’d like to be ahead of Justin Bieber ...

Who knows how the illicit audio of our lectures is subsequently shared. While I don’t mind being recorded in general, I would like to be confident that this is for personal study and revision only. Nothing else.

A handful of years ago when disabilities support issued voice recorders there was an etiquette of students asking before recording lectures, but I can’t recall anyone actually asking me this in recent years.


Be explicit about etiquette for invited speakers. 

As a research-led university we should be exposing our advanced undergraduate students to “real research”. For example, we have final year students write short summaries on a selection of departmental research talks given by invited speakers.

But real research is harder than predigested lectures, and it’s often delivered by people from research-led research institutes that have no idea about learning objectives. This places extra temptation for students to capture a recording of these research talks from invited speakers.

Recently we had a very interesting human clinical genetics speaker. I noticed one eager and ambitious student front and centre taking smartphone snaps of slides, including unpublished data and clinical cases. In fairness the cases were appropriately anonymized, but I doubt the student understood this or had thought about the sensitivity of clinical research. He had definitely not asked permission.

A couple of years ago I even saw a student bring a laptop into a research talk, dim the screen, turn it round and use the webcam to record the talk as a video.

In the days when we had smaller advanced undergraduate classes our students were more directly mentored and we could expect them to imbibe our etiquette implicitly. In the heady days before massification it wasn’t possible to record things anyway. What came on tour with the visiting speaker’s film slides stayed on tour.

Nowdays, what goes on tour ends up on Facebook.


Whose crayons are they? 

Our wonderful classroom full of learning technologies gives new and unique ways for students to engage with information to develop their understanding.

However, it’s important for them to understand that recording data inappropriately is just as improper as reproducing it inappropriately. Are we helping them to appreciate that everything they see and hear is not fair game for recording and publishing?

I came and I saw, not I went and I copied.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Etiquette for tweeting at conferences - an honest question

I've been using twitter for more than seven years, as many of my readers will already know. One of the most useful aspects of twitter, for me, involves tweeting at conferences - whether I am at the conference, or following a conference hashtag. As well as being part of the general conference discussion and backchannel, it also offers insight to an event beyond the traditional boundaries of location.

How I use twitter at conferences

If I am (physically) attending a conference, my usual style is to tweet key ideas, references, links, and photos of the speaker and his/her slides. More recently, since I'm trying to make written notes (yes - on paper) I will also tweet an image of my notes. I converse with other twitter users, who may be co-located at the conference, or not. I use my own twitter feed as a record of event, along with my notes. I often use storify to collate and share a record of all the event tweets.

In particular, I use the photographs to remember useful information that has been presented on a slide, rather than having to note it down somewhere.

As an example, see my report from the Durham Blackboard Users' Conference in January.

If I am presenting at an event, I make sure to include my twitter handle on the first slide, and will check the hashtag afterwards to see what people have tweeted. I would be most disappointed if there were no tweets!

Occasionally, and quite rarely, a speaker will ask that photographs of the presentation are not shared, perhaps because they contain sensitive information. In that case I will always respect the wishes of the speaker.

I would never take a video recording of any speaker without their permission.

Rules for Twitter Etiquette

flickr photo by duncan shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license
This morning, I followed a tweet related to the Dublin eLearning Summer School #elss16 taking place over the next 3 days related to Social Media Etiquette. The link contains some really good advice about tweeting at conferences - and could be adapted for other events - such as keeping phones on silent, using the hashtag, being respectful of speakers.

I will be ignoring this piece of advice - as I get older my eyesight is getting worse and I'll continue to sit in the front third of the room. But I am generally quite careful not to be distracting with my many devices.
  • If you are tweeting or blogging during a session, please consider sitting near the back of the room to avoid distracting presenters or other participants.

This one did surprise me though. Under DO NOT:
  • Photograph presenter’s slides and share them on social media without their permission.


My Dilemma

I do this all the time! I have assumed that, unless the speaker explicitly says not to share, then it's ok to share. As a speaker, and perhaps in aspiring to be a more open educator, I've always assumed that sharing is going to happen, if what I'm saying is interesting enough. But now it has been put to me that

presenters don't realise sometimes that pictures are being shared beyond the safe space in the physical room 

So, I'm bothered! As a self-confessed introvert who abhors rudeness, I would hate to think that I've been defying etiquette for the last 7 years. Is this a social blunder that I've been completely unaware of?
Or, might it depend on the context of the conference or event itself - whether an event is ( perhaps by its own nature, or by reason of the intended audience) more open or not? For example, in our own CELT conferences, the advice to the twitter team includes:
  • You’re encouraged to tweet some photos of the conference. Having some photos in the Twitter steam makes the conference experience more concrete for folks not there.
So, I'm asking you - dear readers - what do you think? Answers in the comments, or via Twitter, would be greatly appreciated.

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.