Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

A number of staff from Learning Enhancement, ITS and UDOL attended Blackboard’s annual Innovate & Educate: Teaching & Learning Conference which took place at the University of Liverpool. The conference gave delegates a chance to network with peers, but perhaps more significantly with the Blackboard team itself.

The following links provide more information about the conference:

Brief video highlights from both days can be found courtesy of Blackboard’s YouTube channel.

Keynote 1

Learning {Re}imagined (Graham Brown-Martin)

Graham Brown-Martin travelled the world in an attempt to investigate the challenges that today’s educators face, he has since put his experiences into the book “Learning {Re}imagined” –

Graham’s keynote was an insight into his travels, experiences, opinions and the pressing questions that he feels society as a whole need to answer. A provocative speaker, he challenged the idea that technology has yet to cause the revolution that it has threatened, arguing that we are still living in a Victorian like education system where the retention of facts takes precedence over problem solving, work skills and life skills. The culmination of this culture is the alphanumeric profile used to judge a student, forcing them, and their parents (he alluded to his own experiences with his children) to “chase the grade”. This is further compounded by the fact that grades are still mainly awarded via a memory intense exam that does not reflect the “real world” where information is freely and instantaneously available.

Keynote 2

Jay Bhatt (President and CEO)

Jay’s keynote was focused on the current strategic positioning of Blackboard as a company, it’s collaborative partners and how the company is trying deal with the challenges posed by different markets and locales.

Over the last few years Blackboard have strived to pull together the wide range of products within their portfolio into one ecosystem. The focal point being the student journey and what they require from a digital ecosystem.

It was evident from Jay’s keynote that they had made a real effort to understand their customer base (this includes their international market) and provide localisations to their products and to their customer service. There has also been a huge shift in the marketing strategy which has seen a major change in the companies “brand” and the look and feel of the products, there is now a real drive towards a holistic approach to product design.

It is also worth noting that the University got a mention in relation to it’s future use of analytics!

Keynote 3

Valerie Schreiner

The main focus of this presentation was the Blackboard Roadmap, showcasing some of the new products and their aesthetic/usability enhancements. Three of the key products where Blackboard Ultra, the new Blackboard Collaborate and the new mobile apps.

Blackboard Ultra

‘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. Ultra is not an upgrade to the current version of Blackboard, 9.1, but is a separate streamlined product using cloud based technology. Blackboard 9.1 will continue to be supported as a separate product, with the long term goal being to migrate institutions over to Ultra during the next few years.

Blackboard Collaborate

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). This will be available around the end of May 2015

Blackboard Mobile Apps

On the mobile front, Blackboard have taken the decision to split their mobile Learn 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. There is also a mobile version of the blackboard grading tool called BB Grader. BB Grader is already available, the new mobile apps will be available this summer.

Keynote 4

Louwarnoud van der Duim

All the way from the University of Groningen (Netherlands), Louwarnoud leads a team responsible for educational support and innovation. Louwarnoud’s keynote covered three things that had been implemented during his time in this role:

  • e-Assessment – The institution equipped the main exam halls with Ethernet points and then used laptops to delivery examinations via Blackboard Tests.
  • Help Desk for Blackboard – This was an initiative led by student volunteers that proved incredibly popular and helpful for the staff at the institution, it also gave the students valuable work and customer experience.
  • Bespoke Student Portal – The University created a portal to collate all the various digital services that Staff and Students use at the institution. This was found to not be used extensively as people tended to go directly to the various websites/applications.

Digital Capabilities

Gillian Fielding

University of Salford/UCISA User Skills Group

Gillian Fielding from University of Salford and the UCISA User Skills Group presented the results of Digital Capabilities Survey (  The survey was looking at trends in digital capabilities across the HE sector (63/156 HE institutions in the UK and Ireland responded).

Key findings and recommendations of the survey include definitions of what digital capabilities means, internal and external strategies driving or enabling the development of staff and student digital capabilities, the types of training, support, development and accreditation that was being offered across the sector. The executive summary is available here: ( which includes an outline the key findings from across the sector and draw together recommendations and conclusions.

Overall recommendations included establishing more effective mechanisms for sharing good practice within institutions, clearer descriptions of skills and competencies required for roles and disciplines, and more importantly looking at implementing institution led projects to embed digital capabilities into curricula or job roles.

Forward thinking feedback

Helena Gillespie

Helen described how UEA were working with their student officers to improve the uptake of technology enhanced learning, in particular assessment and feedback. Working with the NUS Assessment and Feedback benchmarking toolkit ( they began to build up a framework to enrich the feedback process at UEA through digitization.

The project outlines some key areas including:

  • Giving academics great control over assessment process, enabling it to relate better to teaching and learning
  • Minimise assessment and feedback admin for staff
  • Create a bank of sample questions and answers
  • Ensure adequate support mechanisms are in place for all colleagues needs
  • Have e-assessment champion in each faculty

One thought on “Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

  1. Thanks for the post, Sam. It’s really useful, particularly the summaries of Graham Martin-Brown’s keynote and that of Helena Gillespie. I had never heard of Martin-Brown before, but he sounds like an individual who talks a lot of sense. It’s reassuring to know that there are people out there not afraid to point out the existence of elephants in rooms some would rather went unnoticed. It makes for healthy debate, which can only benefit the use of technology in teaching and learning.

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