15th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference

The 15th Durham Blackboard Users Conference took place on the 6th and 7th of January. This year’s theme differed from the past in that it had a greater emphasis on students. Aptly titled ‘Students as Partners’, the aim was to question the rationale and mechanisms used in involving students, establish what impact this has and see how this potentially mutually beneficial relationship impacts both the institutions and the students.

The following links provide more information about the conference:



Keynote 1

Engagement Through Partnership

Dr Abbi Flint is a Consultant in Academic Practice at the Higher Education Academy. Abbi has 11 years’ experience of educational development and pedagogic research at both institutional and national level.

Abbi’s presentation focused on the recently developed HEA ‘Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education’.

The ‘Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education’ is trying to address how the wider HE community work more closely with students in the pursuit of a more cohesive and inclusive environment for engagement.

“The Higher Education Academy’s (HEA’s) Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education has been developed in response to the need identified in the sector for greater clarity and focus in broader discussions of student engagement and partnership.”

Neatly packaged into a circular diagram, it can be used to plan, review and encourage debate and discourse around curriculum design, validation, community feel etc…


Keynote 2

Doug is the Web Literacy Lead for the Mozilla Foundation, an ex teacher living in the NE of England. He was heavily involved in making Open Badges a reality and is enthusiastic about all things related to education, technology and productivity.

An engaging presentation which Doug challenged the audience to define their organisations ‘mission’, its ‘architecture of participation’ and what might be hindering ‘radical participation’. He asked the audience to write their thoughts down on index cards that were provided – you can see a collection of them on his flickr account.  Doug’s parting blow was to encourage bolder ‘radical participation’ and change within our institutions, rather than through the more systematic minute ones.


Rosie Hare (University of York) has written a nice summary of both keynotes.


Partnership: The Blackboard Perspective

Blackboards presentation was split into two parts, the first was given by Alan Masson who spoke about the challenges Blackboard faces, how it can empower its users and utilise its users (including students) as change agents.

The second part was a presentation was geared towards the future direction of Blackboard and its products – effectively their roadmap. The main changes on the horizon are significant user interface changes to the Learn platform. Project named ‘Ultra’ seeks to provide a responsive design User Interface in which users are never more than 3 layers deep. Incorporated into this will be a profile for each student which is integrated with MyEdu and Mozilla Open Badges.

The company has also recently purchased a specialist WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) company and have built the new version of Blackboard Collaborate (online classroom) with this technology. This now allows students to access the classroom directly from their browsers with no need for extra plugins (specifically this removes the Java reliance).

On the mobile front, Blackboard have taken the decision to split their mobile app into two separate mobile apps, one focused on the Student and the other on the Instructor. The rationale behind this is to provide a more tailored experience to the two main Blackboard Learn roles.

Other interesting presentations:

Solutions for Detecting & Preventing Plagiarism. A community session: SafeAssign and Turnitin – Discussion

This was an interesting discussion around eSubmission and the possible direction of the wider sector.

There seemed to be a general feeling that the sector would like to move away from Turnitin due to the downtime that most institutions experience during peak demand. The main issue with a move away from Turnitin to SafeAssign appeared to be with the plagiarism checkers and the feeling that Turnitin still have the edge in this regard. Further to this the audience felt that the Blackboard Grading App is not up to the standard of the Turnitin Grading App.

Student/staff Collaboration in the Production of an Official University App for Students

The National University of Ireland (NUI), Galway provides an initiative for project collaboration and offers a budget of 1000 euro. Two students Darren Kelly and Fionn Delahunty applied for this funding and decided that there was a need to provide a University mobile app that was student centric which solved lots of small annoying issues that students were experiencing. They did this in partnership with the ‘Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching’, in particular Sharon Flynn.

The project was built using the mymosaic https://mymosaic.com/ platform which allows for rapid cross platform development of mobile applications. Students were surveyed about what were the most pressing issues they faced and this then informed what content and resources were to be within the app. The resulting application was available for iOS and Android and has been a success with the student community.

Using Open Badges to Encourage Student Participation in Class Rep Activities

A fairly innovative approach, using Mozilla Open Badges, was taken by Edinburgh University Sudents’ Association (EUSA) for encouraging participation in Class Rep activities. Used as an incentive to recognise the good work that the Class Reps achieve across the University, Reps are asked to evidence their work. This then allows them to earn ‘badges’ as recognition for this work, it also provides the EUSA with valuable information on what Reps have been up to during the course of the year and evaluate the approaches that work the best.

Open Badges could be used in numerous ways at the institution to encourage Student and Staff participation with the incentive of a tangible award to add to their career portfolio.

More information about the Open Badges can be found at http://openbadges.org/

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