Learners’ needs are changing; they want to be able to access course information, materials and assignments using their mobile devices, in and out of the classroom, at anytime. Personalising and mobilising the learning experience and getting students to take an active role in how education is delivered were only two of the key topics discussed during the third and final day at the Blackboard’s Teaching and Learning Conference. They were well portrayed during the closing keynote delivered by Louwarnoud van der Duim from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands.

The University has a rich academic tradition dating back to 1614. Their students are involved in the decision-making process through the use of focus groups and they are given the responsibility to help academics and peers with technology adoption. This way, students are put directly in charge of their own learning experience and working at the University helps them be better prepared for when they will be employed.

Technology, of course, plays a key role in this pioneering approach and helps both learners and instructors enhance their performances. For example, five years ago the University made a decision to move to digital examinations and Blackboard solutions immediately appeared as the perfect choice, thanks to its powerful features and flexibility. Furthermore, Blackboard Learn has been in use at the University since 1999 and both academics and students were already familiar with the virtual learning environment. As results of the move, student performance has increased and exam responses have become much stronger, not to mention academics spending less time marking assignments.

During the day we also learned more about how to improve student collaboration and interaction, with examples from institutions such as the Open University. Their business school’s programme modules are carried out using a flipped classroom methodology that moves away from traditional face-to-face lectures and leverages Blackboard Collaborate to engage online both European and international students.

Blackboard Collaborate was used as a straight swap for face-to-face teaching and it worked well especially for tutors located in remote areas and students in armed forces or rural locations. Even if some students had at the beginning some “confidence” issues with the system (they were somehow reluctant to speak online), the use of Blackboard Collaborate increased the overall interaction among learners and with tutors, and enhanced engagement thanks to its ability to fit study around the students’ busy schedules.

Another interesting story came from the University of Manchester Library that offered an overview on how they used blended learning activities to improve the first year learning experience at Manchester Business School (MBS). At MBS students are expected to develop and utilise research skills throughout their degree programme, with many course units focusing on the practical applications of theories from the outset. The main goal of this project was to provide students with a full online resource centre designed to improve the research and referencing habits of new students within the subject area of Business and Management. Through Blackboard Learn, students had access to a comprehensive suite of blended learning activities, which aided their transition to higher education learning.

This is what happened this year at our conference. We shared only few examples of the great work institutions across Europe and beyond are delivering every day, helping their students, teachers and admin staff attain educational success.

We will have a lot of interesting and exciting news and stories to share with you in the upcoming weeks and months. Stay tuned for more!

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