December 16th and 17th 2004 saw over a hundred and forty delegates attend the Blackboard UK Users conference for the fifth year running at Durham. The conference began with a short retrospective of previous conferences, highlighting some themes which have remained current over the years. Many delegates were now familiar faces – “I have had the pleasure of attending all 5 conferences and this ranks as one of the best and most comprehensive in its coverage of academic and practical matters” – but the number of new delegates was encouraging. It seems a number of institutions have been expanding their elearning teams. We were delighted to welcome newly-appointed staff to their first BbUK event, and hope they all enjoyed it as much as this delegate – “ an excellent event - good blend of practice developments, software and opportunity for networking”!
The conference covered a number of topics, concentrating on the embedded use of Blackboard within institutions around the country – particularly highlighting the opportunities for staff and students to interact with each other and with the technology in order to enhance the learning process. Some presentations also examined the integration of Blackboard with other software products to produce powerful and flexible cross-campus solutions. Thirty speakers were chosen representing HE, FE and Library staff from across the UK and two from the Netherlands. Resources from the parallel strands will be available later in the spring.
Programme strands were as follows:
Strategy: A range of presentations examining the methods of implementing e-learning and Blackboard in FE, HE and the movement of students between them. There was also a round-table discussion on the resourcing issues of maintaining supported e-learning systems beyond the implementation phase. Presenters: Gary Clay (Staffordshire), Gerard Elder ( City Sunderland College), Matthew Andrews ( Durham), Nicole Kipar ( Canterbury)
Getting Started: Papers in this section covered the induction of staff and students (on-campus and distance), resources for academics new to e-learning and making the most of the library staff as e-resource experts. Presenters: Alan White ( Northumbria), Moira Bent/Sophie Brettell ( Newcastle), Ian Gadd ( Bath Spa), Austin McCarthy/Ian Winship ( Northumbria), Stuart Hepplestone ( Sheffield Hallam)
Interactive Content: Papers here examined different software for the production of exciting learning content. There were also presentations here on the development of industry standards to ensure portability of content between and outside of virtual learning environments. Presenters: Zach Johnson (Cranfield), Anthony Doyle (Middlesbrough College), John Byrne (Liverpool John Moores), Martin Ralph (Liverpool), Mike Hudgell (Impatica), Clive Richards (Swansea), Arthur Loughran (Paisley), Richard Standen (courseGenie)
Assessment: In this strand, there were case studies and evaluations of using Blackboard for formative and summative assessment, and the potential benefits of electronic plagiarism detection. Presenters: Sandra Windeatt ( Northumbria), Esther Jubb/Simon Lightfoot ( Liverpool John Moores), Spencer Jordan (UWIC), Fiona Duggan (JISC Plagiarism).
Extending Interactivity A number of institutions have staff who have built specific tools to service particular needs of staff or students. Malcolm Murray of the LTT launched a new JISCmail list for fellow developers to share best practice in this area and extend the functionality available to everyone. Presenters: John Beaumont Kerridge (Luton), Antoinette Vesseur ( Maastricht), Malcolm Murray ( Durham).
Blackboard Content System: These papers looked at the potential for Personal Development Planning (PDPs) to be undertaken in Blackboard and compared example portfolios that can be produced, not only for a student’s own learning log, but to offer a space for content creation, group work and peer review. Presenters: Mark Arts ( Maastricht), Richard Parsons (Dundee), Kate Boardman ( Durham)
Adrian Alleyne from Blackboard introduced a new community initiative (communities.blackboard.com) and funding opportunities for case studies of e-learning excellence in the Bbionic Course Contest and for fostering ongoing dialogue around elearning via the Greenhouse project.
A general session on Friday 17th showcased some Durham practice, firstly with a general overview of duo following four years of evaluation by Hetty Pavey (UoD Learning Technologies Team). This led into a presentation on the introductory use of interactive whiteboards in History tutorials and how they link into the encouragement of extended student discussions via the asynchronous tools in Blackboard. A case study of an LTSN funded project examining the implementation of a VLE across a number of modules in the English department finished this session.
The conference closed with a thought-provoking and fascinating keynote by Lord Dearing on the future of the university, entitled “The role of the University: Serving the Student and Society, and ‘Truth speaking to Power’”. Over the next ten years, Lord Dearing sees that “life will become tougher and, with that, the role of the university will change, and in doing so, become even more central to national well being than it is today”. Amongst other things, he hopes that “the university will … enlarge its definition of what it seeks to achieve for the student, to embrace more fully than in the past the development of the whole human being; his/her adaptability; and individual student’s perception of him/herself as an initiator and shaper rather than as a functionary. According to one delegate, “Lord Dearing’s contribution was worth coming on its own”. Unfortunately, due to his diary constraints, the keynote had to be the last item of the conference, so a handful of people had to miss it. Apologies to those concerned!
The 2004 conference was sponsored by courseGenie, Impatica, QuestionMark and an introductory lunch for new attendees was hosted by Blackboard. Other exhibitors included JISC Infonet, JISC Plagiarism Service and VLE Genius, and an internet café was provided by Northumbria Learning.