The first day of the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference really set the tone for the entire event.

Our own Matt Small, Blackboard Senior Vice President and Managing Director International, welcomed over 200 international delegates with a greeting speech, followed by the opening keynote from Stephen Heppell, Professor at Bournemouth University.

In his challenging and thought provoking presentation, Professor Heppell pointed out that we’ve seen a rapid shift in education in the last few years, from a traditional approach towards a learner-driven education model where institutions need to take into account students’ learning preferences, and adapt accordingly. He also praised the knowledge and drive of students highlighting how they can be protagonists in building better learning experiences and better spaces to learn. To sum it up in his own words: “You need to give your students the chance to be noticed, to be stars for their learning.”

Later in the afternoon Jay Bhatt, our CEO, delivered a truly inspiring keynote, talking about the company, the education industry and where we are heading in the next 10 years.

One of the key trends he discussed, which also stood out from Professor Heppell’s presentation, is learner centricity. Student engagement, social learning, peer assessments, and personalised courses and portfolios are all parts of this new approach. How are institutions catching up with this? Here are a few examples of the great stories that have been discussed during the afternoon’s session breakout.

‘ The Culture of ‘Always On’ – How not to disengage in the age of engagement
We heard from Brian Hipkin, Dean of Students at Regent’s University London, who called for universities and institutions to be more disruptive. In a world where technology and social media are so embedded in our lives, especially for students, this can’t be ignored. Institutions and academics need to engage and stay engaged or they will lose their students. How to do that? Brian provided a few useful tips:

– Use the right info at the right time (which is most of the time “right now”)
– QR codes, use them to the rescue
– Shift from a text environment to a visual one
– Mobile is key in communicating
– Switch off emails and use more SMS when engaging students

What is involved in Self and peer assessment?
Klazine Verdonschot, from The Hague University of Applied Sciences, and Jiska Bomans-Memelink, from Leiden University, discussed the value of self and peer assessment and presented the results of a study they conducted with 500 students on a psychology BA course.

Students were presented a set of evaluating criteria and asked to mark up to two papers of their colleagues. Their own essays were also reviewed twice and they had to submit a final version of the paper based on the feedback received.
Peer assessment proved to be a true learning enhancer. Students showed a greater desire to know more and get a deeper understanding of the subject matter in order to receive high quality grades and feedback from peers. Moreover, they became more conscious about their own mistakes.

Transforming Science Higher Education into Active, Blended and Online Learning using Blackboard, Webcasts and Learning Design
Aarhus University in Denmark is aiming to rethink up to 60% of their courses in the Science and Technology department in the next year. Being on a very limited budget, they adopted a systematic approach, course by course.

During today’s session they presented three case studies of courses which had already been rethought using webcasts, active learning, peer instructions and flipped classrooms. The example that jumped out was the “augmented teaching” with the Astrophysics course. Students were given influence over what was covered during lectures, allowing them to go over complicated material more than once. The teacher recorded webcasts on difficult subjects and made them available for additional out of class activity. After watching these webcasts, students were asked to take tests and quizzes to assess their learning levels.

The results? 70% of students preferred lectures supplemented by online videos and tests, with just 14% preferring a more traditional approach.

Among other subjects, today we also discussed:

– How institutions can maintain online examination integrity, with Don Kassner from ProctorU
– How to use Blackboard Collaborate to improve students’ soft skills with a peer assisted learning project, with Manuel Frutos-Perez, University of the West of England. At the University of the West of England, year 2 students are supporting through Collaborate small groups of year 1 students. This helps them develop group-leading, remote-working and time management skills.
– How to optimise the course creation process and the integration with Blackboard SIS, with Arald Den Braber, Avans University
– New ways to use Blackboard Collaborate, such as for tutoring activities, with Gillian Fielding, University of Salford

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