In the fourth in the series of webinars that highlight the achievements of the winners of the Blackboard Catalyst Awards, Edge Hill University revealed how they transformed staff development by using a blended learning approach.

Access the recording here.

With 3,432 employees for 22,352 students, the West Lancashire-based university has an excellent reputation for learning and has been shortlisted for Times Higher Education UK University of the Year in 2014. Some 2,000 staff members work on campus but others work in cities and towns close by, placing a hurdle on those attending face-to-face training. There was little content or pre-course material available and the intranet was not particularly user-friendly or inspiring. Time also was a big barrier: staff often found themselves on the wrong site at the time of training, or changes to their lesson schedule restricted their availability.

In September 2012, in a move to engage staff in different ways, the Learning Technology Team embarked on a programme to update and enhance opportunities for staff development utilising Blackboard Learn™, Blackboard Collaborate™ and Blackboard Mobile™ solutions. Blackboard solutions were selected to explore the flexibility of online delivery, provide and promote e-learning options to all the Edge Hill University staff, measure participation and model the learning experience around synchronous and asynchronous tools.

The programme incorporated four strands: The Digital Classroom, The Digital Office, The Digital Researcher and The Digital Practictioner, bringing together resources that included PowerPoint, teaching and learning research material, videos and content created through Blackboard.

As a first step, the university created “Developing Digital Excellence” (also known as DDE), a dedicated area in Blackboard with information about training, pre-course material and links to streamed courses. The interface was familiar to all staff already using Blackboard for their lectures; navigation was easy and was also mobile friendly (for those using Blackboard Mobile Learn).

The university used flyers, splash screens and plasma screens across the campus to publicise the initiative and explain staff how to access training for themselves. Interesting course titles also helped hook interest.

In 2013 the university introduced web conference sessions using Blackboard Collaborate. The consistent and mobile-friendly design was welcomed and the ability to archive live sessions helped extend the usefulness of each training session.

Attendance of all courses was good, even during the summer holidays when use of the mobile and off campus logins soared. Excellent feedback was given, and the consensus from all participants was that this was a very positive move and helped encourage the use of technology in their own teaching and learning programmes. Moreover, staff were able to see from a student’s point of view and they were inspired to replicate some of the activities in their own areas on Blackboard.

The university’s Learning and Technology Officers, Mark Wilcock and Carol Chatten, gave some useful insight:

  • Open courses (when using Blackboard Collaborate) as early as possible – it can take a while to get everyone familiar with the interface and
    get their audio setup and this can interupt teaching time if left too late
  • Use the announcement tool to share information on new sessions, reminders and cancellations
  • As a large amount of content is created over time, it is useful to hide and reveal some sessions and material (using adaptive release) so that visitors only see three or four things on screen and don’t get overwhelmed and lost
  • Ensure you have the right kit – virtual desktops without Flash, headphones or microphones may not work as you need them to
  • Online evaluation at the end of session is vital and helps you adjust the service as needed

The long-term aims to professionalise the whole programme include the use of badges for participant’s achievement. Investigation is underway to assess the savings made by the project – the biggest to date has been time. Over this coming year, the university plans to repeat the model and build on its success, incorporating new tools and getting the best out of technology to improve the quality of teaching.

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