Interview with a College Principal
CE: How did the introduction of Blackboard fit into City of Sunderland's curriculum strategy?
IT: When City of Sunderland College was formed in 1996 by the merger of two medium-sized FE Colleges it established a commitment to give its full-time students a 30 hours per week curriculum entitlement. To support this, the College implemented a resource-based learning strategy for course delivery which involved major investment in learning centres and ILT. The introduction of Blackboard in 2001 was an extension of this strategy, as it allowed greater access to learning resources for students.
CE: How did you encourage and support tutors to introduce Blackboard into their courses?
IT: This has been managed via a number of different strategies. Firstly, a number of teaching staff were given time on their timetable to develop Blackboard course sites for their curriculum areas. This was funded out of the Standards Fund. Secondly, in 2002 we established an e-Learning team consisting of 2.5 posts to support staff in the development of the use of Blackboard. Thirdly, in July – September 2003 a TPI enhancement was made available to all teaching staff who achieved certain criteria related to posting of content to and use of assessment via Blackboard. This resulted in a major increase in the use of Blackboard. Between March 2001 and June 2003 we recorded over 2.75 million hits on the system. Today that figure is in excess of 7.66 million hits.
CE: What impact has Blackboard had on the student experience at City of Sunderland College?
IT: A recent survey of student attitudes to the use of ILT in the college was very favourable. Students commented, for example that they believed the use of ILT would enhance their ability to achieve the examination grades that they would need to progress to higher education. There is also evidence of students putting pressure on staff to utilise Blackboard more than they have been doing.
CE: What role does Blackboard have in the college's strategic plan over the next 3-5 years?
IT: It is envisaged that the use of a vle will continue to become embedded within the culture of the college. Blackboard is now being used to support not just the academic curriculum, but also additional college services such as educational guidance/careers advice and the work of learning centre staff. The Blackboard portal software that we also have will allow the College to more effectively target information to different communities of learners and so enhance the services we provide.
CE: If you were to advise another college about introducing a VLE what would you say were the three most important things to get right?
- It should be introduced as part of a coherent learning strategy
- Time has to be allowed for its use to develop
- Appropriate support for teaching staff should be put in place from the beginning