On Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th January 2019 I attended the 19th Annual Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference. This event is organized by Malcolm Murray and his team of Learning Technologists at the Durham Centre for Academic Development (DCAD) each year. This year’s theme was “Fail, Fad or Future”.
The main conference was on 8th and 9th, but I missed the final day because of travel logistics. The pre-conference events took place on Monday 7th, and I’ll write about that in a separate post.
My goal in attending this year was to find out as much as possible about the experience of moving to SaaS (which we are planning to do at NUI Galway in June) and ultimately to Ultra – Blackboard’s Next Generation VLE.
Keynote: playful learning
The opening keynote was Rosie Jones, Director of Library Services and Open Learn at the Open University. The topic was Playful Learning. Rosie spoke about a number of projects she has been involved in, and also got us to play some games. Some of these involved drawing pigs! She linked playfulness within an organization to willingness to innovate, and argued that playing gives permission to fail.
She highlighted the recently published report on Innovating Pedagogy 2019 from the Open University, which includes a section on playful learning, and is available from http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/innovating/
It’s all about the Base (Navigation)
During the rest of the day I attended a number of talks, focusing mainly on those describing a move to SaaS or Ultra. I got a lot of value, in particular, from the presentation about Northumbria’s move to SaaS with Ultra Base Navigation, given by Kristen McCartney-Bulmer, Lee Hall & Harriet Walshaw.
This was a very interesting and relevant session describing Northumbria’s intended move from Managed Hosted Blackboard Learn 9.1 (where we are at NUI Galway) all the way to Ultra. The original objectives included: move to SaaS, move all courses to Ultra, introduce new minimal standards for all courses, new data integrations, rollout of Ally across the university, development of a “transition” module for new students, along with a training and support for all staff
They carried out a detailed functional analysis of Ultra, including 3rd party building blocks. It was at this stage they realized that because of a lack of parity in functionality, and issues with LTI integrations, a full move to Ultra wasn’t possible. They decided to go with Plan B (see below) – the move to SaaS with Ultra Base Navigation and Original Course View. They felt that this was a good compromise and a more measured approach.
Harriet Walshaw gave an overview and recommendations on What Worked for the project:
- Had to be ambitious (in keeping with Strategy of the University)
- Executive Support and Leadership
- Going incremental
- Communication and Engagement plan
- Working with Students Union
- Working with Blackboard
- Understand (and clean up) your data
They now have a small number of courses in Ultra and are testing these.
What is the Ultra Base Navigation?
It is a modern, intuitive navigation menu that lives outside of courses. It includes links to new pages such as the Activity Stream, Calendar, Messages, etc. that provide quick access to the most critical information consolidated from all your courses. [Blackboard]
Ultra Experience for Learn
The final session of the day was a presentation from Richard Gibbons, Ashley Wright and Dom Gore, all from Blackboard, on the next generation Ultra experience on Blackboard. The focus is on Learner Engagement (the Amazon experience), Academic Effectiveness (make things as easy as possible for instructors, and Insights (analytics). Richard and Ashleyy gave a brief demo of some of the new workflows. They look very nice, but clearly the functionality isn’t there yet.
Note that Blackboard are making available a number of information/training opportunities for those moving to SaaS/Ultra over the coming months. These include:
- SaaS Planning Virtual Workshop (3 sessions over 3 days in February) https://go.blackboard.com/saas-planning-virtual-workshop
- Blackboard Learn with the Ultra Experience Cohort programme (1 hr per week, 8 weeks) https://go.blackboard.com/LearnUltraCohort
Anyone can sign up.