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The Blackboard UK Community reflections on the road travelled

Celebrate the UK Blackboard community’s birthday in Durham in December! The annual Durham Blackboard conference has become a fixed event in many people’s calendars, and we hope to welcome many people (back) to Durham this year. This year’s event will be the fifth, so perhaps this is a good time to reflect back on previous events.

In October 2000, a small and select band of UK users welcomed their incoming UK Sales Manager. At a meeting in Huddersfield, courtesy of Neil Ringan, University of Huddersfield, Bas Ten Holter listened patiently to the seemingly endless irritations of the Universities of Durham, Glasgow Caledonian, Huddersfield, Hull, Newcastle, Paisley and Sheffield Hallam, suffering the vagaries of the .0 release of Blackboard 5. He introduced Carl O’Keefe, about to join Blackboard as the first UK-based employee (though we nearly changed his mind by the end of the day!). Huddersfield were to undertake a visit to the University of Groningen (NL) and we all thought that it would be a great idea to make meeting up together a regular event, perhaps termly. Durham offered to host an event in the Christmas vacation, and the rest, as they say, is history…

December 2000 saw the first Durham conference, “Successful Implementation of a Learning Environment”. After sending a message to the growing Blackboard jiscmail list, we discovered that the 90-capacity room would be over-flowing and we had to close registration. The presentations from Bath, Durham, Glasgow Caledonian, Huddersfield, Hull and Newcastle examined the decisions behind the implementation strategies each were using, and to what extent these were working. Looking back at some of the slides it is fascinating to see the currency of many of the points we were making back then. The range of delegates was enormous, with new friends even joining us from Norway. An evening in ye olde Shakespeare pub concluded the proceedings, and the birth of a tradition.

By December 2001, the Blackboard UK family had grown substantially. Links with the Netherlands continued, and Patris van Boxel from Vrije Universiteit was among the speakers. By now, we had re-defined VLE as “Valuable Learning Experience”, and the presentations looked beyond the technology, to supporting distance learners, handling accessibility issues, and educating academics to realise that pedagogy could drive the roll-out of an MLE. The growing number of UK-based Blackboard staff attended, giving a thorough overview of the release of Blackboard 5.5, and answering (m)any questions.

December 2002 saw a further shift in size for the Durham conference. Not content with being joined by colleagues from Europe, Chad Kainz , Senior Director for Academic Technologies at the University of Chicago gave one of the keynote presentations, and Blackboard brought a number of senior staff over from the US, including Steve Barnes, Director of Product Development, who introduced the forthcoming version 6. (I think they find it quite painful, but ultimately useful to both be able to address the community and to hear our opinions – at any rate, they keep coming back!) “Blackboard, 'My' Institution: sharing good practice” also saw a number of parallel sessions, and the programme included 28 presentations from learning technologists, academics and technical staff, from both Higher Education and Further Education, and also stands and demonstrations from a number of commercial partners. The 180+ delegates enjoyed a fine conference dinner with port in Durham’s second oldest College, of which there are still photographs to be had for a fee…!

2003 – the inaugural Blackboard European Users Conference. Would this spell the end for the Durham event? Apparently not, as a number of people reminded us they like to fit their Christmas shopping around the conference! Who were we to say no? Just a small event this time, about 80 people. We concentrated on “Enterprising Examples”, hearing about innovative teaching ideas and things ‘not’ to do with Blackboard, and saw some interesting extensions to the main Blackboard functionality through building blocks technologies. Keeping with tradition, this year’s overseas guests included Mark Arts, University of Maastricht, showing how they have implemented the portal, and giving us an insight into the Content System, with Blackboard continuing to support the event at the highest level. Andrew Rosen (President, Blackboard International) and Chris Etesse (Senior Director of Technology) were in attendance, along with Dennis Peper, the *nix TSM based in Amsterdam.

So here we are again. Meeting old and new friends in Durham every Christmas has been great fun, and we wouldn’t like to spoil the party. So come along and join us again this year, on the 16 th and 17 th December. The theme for this 5 th conference is “Interactive Blackboards” – now Blackboard is part of the furniture, we’d like to know how it’s really being used in the field. So we’re inviting the community to come and tell us, and to continue to share the good practice. The call for papers closes on the 15 th October, and the programme will be available on the 1 st November. Information is available at - we look forward to seeing you there.

Author: Kate Boardman

09 October 2004

VLE: Blackboard



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