Day 2 at Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference

Mobile was a big part of the discussion today, as we entered the second day of Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference. Nearly 20% of all web traffic is now generated by mobile devices and according to the mobile analytics company, Flurry, this year 86% of time spent on smartphones will be spent on apps. These are numbers that the education industry needs to take into consideration if it wants to keep up with students. Learners are becoming less and less interested in “going online.” They want immediate access to information in the palm of their hands and for higher education institutions mobile access to learning materials and campus services is becoming a requirement, not an add on.

On this matter, Blackboard’s Mobile User Group discussed the challenges universities face when they have to integrate mobile platforms into their students’ learning experience during the ‘Mobile Apps in Education’ session. The most important suggestions that came from the user group is to design the app always with students in mind and to always stay in control of the overall app strategy, as it is easy to get carried away. Also, it is important to get support from academics. As highlighted by university lecturers from University of East Anglia (UEA), Alicia McConnell and Helena Gillespie, students are eager to use their mobile devices to engage in learning activities but it is fundamental that instructors (and institutions) create opportunities for device use in the classroom, rather than prohibit it.

The second main theme of the day was big data. Big data has started to dramatically change education even though the industry hasn’t yet leveraged analytics to their full potential. Richard Burrows, Blackboard Platform Sales Director, pointed out how the definition and use of analytics are constantly changing, according to the specific industry, but that in higher education they ultimately “come down to enhancing the student experience.” The biggest challenge is unlocking the data stored in different systems and connecting the dots. Once data is unlocked, we can distil meaningful insights to make better informed decisions about how courses are designed for example or have a clearer picture of how students are learning and performing.

Probably the most inspiring story today was how one institution in Northern Ireland, South West College, is leveraging the Blackboard platform to reach struggling students in Africa. South West College was challenged to provide online learning for pupils in a developing country and Zambia’s lack of education – once children reach 16 they don’t receive any further education – coupled with the prejudice students face from employers, due to where they live, made South West College’s choice crystal clear. Started in September 2013, the college has created from scratch a facility where they now teach nine students. The feedback from students relayed in the ‘Zambia e-learning project’ session was influential; one student said education was the best thing that had happened to them, whilst another was inspired to create her own business. South West College is now looking to extend the project in the region, and thinking about including also students in primary education.
At Blackboard we are honoured to be a part of this incredible story and are moved by the impact all our clients have on the future of education.

The day was not only dense of great user cases, but also full of product development announcements. Jim Chalex, Senior Director of Product Management for Learn, revealed some exciting news about Blackboard Learn, including a fresh, modern look and feel with a responsive design; drag-and-drop functionalities; new anonymous and parallel marking features; new mobile features for academics and an updated grade centre; improved social learning capabilities; a revised student’s timeline, a better SafeAssign integration and much, much more. Taking the stage right after Jim, David Hastie, Director of Product Management for Collaborate, also revealed a new browser based version of Collaborate to eliminate the need for Java downloads.

Don’t worry if you missed Jim’s or David’s presentation: detailed information on these updates will come soon.

Among other subjects, we also discussed:
– Examples of how to use Blackboard Learn and Collaborate to do assignments on the field, such as surveys, mapping, data collection and more, using mobile devices, with Adele Gordon, University of Northampton
– The pervasive power of digital assessments delivered via Blackboard Learn, with Kurt Gammelgaard, University of South Denmark, explaining how 75,000 digital assessments are now completed each year at his institution
– How to use Blackboard Learn as a central hub and create a flexible learning environment for students with Charles Davis and Rob Higson, University of Derby. At University of Derby teachers filmed and recorded tutorials on pattern making and made them available on Blackboard Learn for fashion students to watch back. Additionally sessions between students and the teacher were also captured, and feedback was given through this recording method.

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