This case study reviews the impact of Blackboard on teaching and learning
at Kingston College, and describes the development of a model for applying
the VLE in different curriculum areas. Read more…
This case study focuses on the application of Blackboard in post-16
education and training provided at Kingston College. Two years after
adoption, the College has reviewed the impact of Blackboard software
on learning and teaching. A key finding has been that the diverse nature
of the College’s curriculum and associated learner needs must be
reflected in a variety of approaches in the use of VLE technology. The
College is now seeking to identify the most effective and pragmatic ways
of developing and deploying VLE resources to address the needs of learners
across the range of its curriculum contexts.
Kingston College is a medium-sized college of further, higher and adult
education, occupying a dual site in the heart of Kingston-upon-Thames
and located within the London South sub-region of the Learning and Skills
Council. The college delivers a wide range of academic, vocational and
professional education and training programmes to around 3000 full-time
and a similar number of part-time students. This provision is at all
levels from entry-level, basic-skills courses to BSc degree programmes
(delivered in association with the neighbouring Kingston and Thames Valley
Blackboard at Kingston College
Blackboard was adopted as the VLE at Kingston College in January 2002.
The software was installed as part of a strategy to enhance the quality,
range and reach of curriculum delivery in the College and to improve
the productivity of teaching staff. The College Academic Network IT Support
and ILT Curriculum Development teams jointly manage the Blackboard roll-out
in the College.
Content within Blackboard, is organised into courses, which correspond
to sections of the curriculum (for example, AVCE Travel and Tourism or
A-level Geography). Each course provides access to a range of learning
materials, which are controlled by teachers responsible for that programme
area. A customisable menu in each provides access to the learning materials,
which have been assembled by the tutor. The software is now widely used
to support curriculum delivery in programme areas across all six of the
College Faculties and a growing proportion of staff and students use
the software on a regular basis. On the majority of programme areas at
the College, Blackboard is used as a supplement to traditional face to
face teaching methods, although on a growing number of programmes it
provides a significant element of course delivery, where access to the
software is a strict requirement for the students.
Reviewing the impact of Blackboard in the curriculum
During the 2003-4 session, the ILT Curriculum Development team at the
College sought to review the impact that Blackboard was having at the
College. The team consisted of the Head of ILT, E-Learning Coordinators
in each of the College’s six faculties and the E-Learning Developer
in the College’s Learning Resources Centre. This process consisted
of a formal student survey, informal discussions with groups of students
(focus-group style sessions) and interviews with teaching staff using
The review was prompted by observations that some Blackboard courses
were being used far more than others. There clearly could be many factors
behind this, not least the time and energy staff had to develop the course.
However, there was a growing awareness that the effectiveness of a Blackboard
course bore less of a relation to the amount of content contained within
it but to the type of content and to how this was integrated with traditional
classroom-based teaching and learning activities.
Some of the main findings of the review are outlined below:
• Many Blackboard courses had unused elements in them such as empty content
areas and discussion boards, which were off-putting to students.
Attempts to require students to interact with each other or the teaching
staff through the VLE, for example through the discussion boards or “live” virtual
classroom facility were often unsuccessful, especially on lower level
• Students often found navigating around Blackboard courses more problematic
than had been assumed, especially where multiple routes to the same
resources had been provided.
• Despite the provision of dedicated hands-on training in the use of Blackboard,
many staff felt ill-equipped to apply Blackboard effectively in a learning
and teaching context.
• Staff were unsure about the extent to which they could incorporate Blackboard
as a vehicle for delivering for their programmes.
• Many students commented on the problems they experienced accessing file
attachments delivered through Blackboard due to long download times
or incompatibilities with the file format at the software on their home
• Whilst some students appreciated multimedia resources, such as those
provided by the National Learning Network, other students commented
on the superficial nature of these materials
• Many students commented positively on the use of short self-marking tests
and quizzes incorporated within their Blackboard course. These were
useful for checking their progress in a subject.
• Other functions that were generally liked were the Announcements tool
to issue news and course information, the Calendar for key dates, the
Assignment function for submitting work online and the Groups facility
for sharing work-in-progress with their peers.
Developing a model for pedagogic differentiation in the application of
Through a combination of feedback from students, discussion with teaching
staff using the software and analysis of the content and access rates
to various Blackboard courses a framework has emerged for applying
Blackboard in different curriculum contexts.
A key outcome of the review has been the recognition that one size
does not fit all! It is clear that the broad spectrum of programme
associated learner needs at the College must be reflected in a variety
of approaches in the use of Blackboard. Furthermore, given that Blackboard
is typically utilised as part of a blended approach, styles of e-learning
need to correlate with the methods adopted in face to face (classroom)
provision. This awareness has lead us to question the applicability
of much of the rhetoric associated with e-learning (generally emerging
authors based in higher education), which talks of the emergence of
a new learning paradigm; construction of online learning “communities” and
the fostering of highly autonomous constructivist learning approaches.
Although on certain programmes these aspirations are appropriate, they
do not correspond to the bulk of the curriculum at Kingston College!
Based on this notion that the style of Blackboard integration in curriculum
delivery needs to match the needs of the students and appropriately
supplement the classroom-based approaches to teaching learning for
a model has emerged that highlights the various ways Blackboard can
be used with different groups of students. Central to this is the distinction
that is made at the College between programmes at different attainment
levels. To put this into practice, three broad categories of Blackboard
application have been identified for programmes at Levels 1 – 3
(entry-level, GCSE, Intermediate GNVQ, AVCE AS); 3 – 4 (A2, later
stages of an AVCE, NVQ Level 4, BTEC HNC) and 4 – 5 (HND, BA,
BSc, professional and management training programmes).
In distinguishing between the type of learning and teaching being used
in each broad area of the curriculum, it has been helpful to consider
three forms of pedagogy: transmission, transaction and transformation.
Transmission-based teaching dominates on lower-level courses where
students possess limited autonomy and the emphasis is on factual recall,
of repetitive tasks, shallow learning and strongly-directed teaching.
Our experience is that this form of pedagogy will be the dominant mode
even on the early stages of Level 3 courses (AVCEs, AS qualifications).
Transaction-based teaching and learning involves a greater balance
between the input of the learner and the teacher. Here, the emphasis
is on the
provision of skeleton outlines, or scaffolding, with a greater degree
of responsibility for investigation and application on behalf of the
learning. Students possess a greater degree of autonomy and may be
motivated by strategic goals such as the progression the qualification
to. Transaction-based teaching will be used in many A-level and Higher
Level (e.g. BTEC HNC) courses.
Transformation-based pedagogy involves the teacher stepping back and
facilitating – rather than imparting or scaffolding - learning
amongst the students. Students will generally have a high degree of
intrinsic motivation, be self-starting and autonomous learners and
achieve a deep
and lasting level of learning. This form of learning is sometimes described
as constructivist and involves students creating knowledge by reflecting
on their own experiences and through collaboration with their peers.
This form of learning and teaching is certainly the dominant model
on courses run by the Kingston Management Centre at the College.
Approaches in the classroom for these three different levels of course
will differ. We now recognise that the way in which e-learning is utilised
must also differ. Emerging from the review process has been a simple
model, which maps out the key functions in Blackboard, that appear
to be most productive for each form of pedagogy. This is shown in the
The table in Appendix
1 exemplifies the application of this model
with different programmes from the curriculum provision at Kingston
Moving forwards with Blackboard at Kingston College
This case study has highlighted the growing understanding at Kingston
College of the need to match technology closely with learner needs.
In hindsight, with respect to Blackboard, we feel that too little attention
had been given to this point in the past. The emergence of a model
distinguishing between different curriculum contexts based on the level
of learning has provided a helpful framework for planning, implementing
and evaluating VLE-supported learning and teaching strategies.
A key outcome from the development of this model has been a new approach
to providing training in the use of Blackboard. We have shifted the
balance away from instruction on technical functions towards guidance
suitability of different features and applications. Colleagues are
encouraged to remove sections of their Blackboard course that they
do not intend
to use, restrict the availability of functions to those suitable for
their learners’ needs and consider the student experience first
before embarking on any online development work.
In reality there are, of course, numerous other factors that will dictate
the precise way in which Blackboard can be most effectively used on
a particular programme. These will include subject-specific issues,
styles and the degree to which the VLE is being used as a delivery
vehicle (the type of “blend”). Nonetheless, by identifying
what we feel is the most important factor in affecting approaches to
adoption, the model does provide a starting point for thinking about
the application of VLE-based e-learning within the curriculum.