Being my first DevCon, I was eager to soak it all in, then report from the front lines. I arrived early Sunday and made my way down to Oscelot Open Source Day. There is something energizing about a bunch of developers coding in a room – this is really where ideas become reality. It wasn’t just coding that I was witnessing, it was a fervent group of some of the best and brightest minds in the Blackboard development community interacting and developing solutions.

Blackboard’s Developers Conference (DevCon) kicked off yesterday and the only thing hotter than the Vegas summer was the morning keynote session. John Fontaine started the conference by talking about the past decade of Blackboard Building BlocksTM development and encouraging the developer community with stories about new developments and exciting things happening with the Learn platform. John called Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn, to talk about the future of the industry and how the development community fits into Blackboard’s strategy. Ray commented on the importance of community in the software landscape when he said, “People are looking even more to community and not products,” and with events like DevCon and community engagement programs like TechBUG happening Tuesday evening, Blackboard is continually providing outlets to help empower the Blackboard LearnTM platform.

After the keynote I attended Mike Fudge’s “Tales of a Newbie Building Blocks Developer” presentation. He garnered interest in his presentation by creating a movie trailer. Synced to dramatic music, his trailer generated a loud applause from the audience as he played it before the presentation. Mike’s goal was to lower the barrier to entry for developers hoping to get into Building Blocks development. During his presentation Mike noted that he was, “Eager that [Blackboard is] moving the platform forward.”

Lunch is always a good time to take a pulse of the conference. I did my best to be a fly on the wall and let the conversation happen around me. The developers and system administrators that I sat with noted the difficulty Blackboard has in creating up-to-date documentation, but that documentation for developers is moving in the right direction. They were eager to share their solutions with one another and quickly offered advice to others that were struggling to find answers to a problem. It was an enlightening experience.

In the afternoon keynote, John Fritz provided a fascinating look into the relationship between student interaction with a learning management system and their performance in a course. He opened by posing the same question that was asked of his university’s provost in 2008, “Is Blackboard making a difference?” He confessed that at the time, the data that he reported to his provost was “less than satisfying,” so he dug for more. Throughout his research he found that the amount of interaction a student has with the LMS, the better they tend to do in a course. While he was quick to deny any causal relationship between activity and course performance, he built a dashboard allowing students to monitor their activity in Learn. He provided several other research examples that showed a similar relationship and gave the audience a great deal to consider when thinking about how the LMS can help drive student performance.

After my first day in Vegas at DevCon, I’m in awe of the community that Blackboard has been able to generate around its developers and system administrators. Given this year’s record attendance, the community is stronger than ever and I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m definitely looking forward to what tomorrow’s sessions and BbWorld® have in store.

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