22 September 2007

Some jottings from the Asia-Pac Blackboard conference

I'm feeling a bit conferenced-out having just returned from Sydney (Intranets07) and attending the Blackboard conference for the Asia-Pacific region the week before.

I'm a bit behind writing up my notes, so better do it now rather than leave it any longer. But, it's going to have to be fairly brief.

Blackboard first (intranets can wait for another post)

Keynote opening address from Barry Jones. Great, thought-provoking, reminder about the rise of generic management and it's impact on education. Barry reminded us that pedagogy in ancient Greece was the education of slaves - quite different to philosophy, the love of learning. This all ties in with education as a commodity, the supremacy of economy and the risk of not focusing on how we can make the world a better place.

BJ also suggested that MPOW "may very well be the most courageously named university in the world".

Suggested Reading: James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution by George Orwell.

On to more practical presentations...

Elluminate - web conferencing/presentation software. This presentation was hosted by someone, whose name I don't recall, in Calgary with a participant in the exhibition area and the room we were in, all participating using the Elluminate product. I want to try this out and fortunately the company offers V-room, a free, limited use option to give it a whirl. It enables collaboration, session recording, video, application sharing and more..

Safe Assign - Blackboard has bought up Sciworth product "Safe Assignment" and is integrating it into the BB environment. And at no cost to BB sites. I wonder what their partner, Turnitin, thinks of that. I hope we are going to trial this plagiarism deterrent.

AUT demonstration of some home-made modules:

  • podcasting for language students
  • KELP - Kiwi electronic language (plugin?)
  • Study groups - organised without lecturer involvement. Self-study groups, student-centred, course-based groups.
  • Course admin utility - to assist in managing requests for new courses and student enrolment
  • Current/Old courses tabs - this looked useful.

Deakin Uni - open source and Blackboard - good presentation of projects at Deakin University where 5 open source apps are being trialled with a view to integrating them into BB using powerlinks. All are branded as DSO (Deakin Studies Online) and include:

  • Mediawiki
  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • Gallery2
  • Wordpress SU

Half of the trial projects are using Mediawiki. A couple of those referred to were simulation of real-life scenarios. In one, the lecturer was the boss and the students were employees who had to submit their work in an IT business. The aim is to use social software to support teaching and learning.

Beyond eye candy - another well presented session, from the University of Alberta. This one outlined the problems with using websites for group collaboration. The tasks were assigned on a skills basis rather than fostering collaboration. And there was a predominance of design elements at the expense of content. Mediawiki to the rescue. Content and collaboration improved with less focus on eye candy.

Day 2 keynote was a Blackboard executive presentation with a twist. This did not focus on the product, but rather on research being undertaken by the company to investigate what keeps university leadership awake at night. In Australia this was:

  • differentiation
  • accountability
  • teaching/research nexus
  • funding

Eureka - Nanyang Technological University has developed a project management application that integrates with Blackboard. This was designed for students to manage projects such as:

  • Final year research projects
  • Semester projects
  • Internships
  • Exchanges

In addition, the product is also being used for non-academic purposes. Some administrative projects and events are planned using the product. It is designed so that external assessors are able to access the relevant projects without having access to Blackboard. One of the key benefits is the capture of knowledge associated with projects including formalised documentation, what didn't work, tracking of processes. Eureka includes Gantt charts, milestones, tasks, assigning tasks to project members, member blogs (to replace log books previously used), assessment (links to Gradebook), document management. A much simpler introduction to PM than starting off with MS Project. Nanyang has 1058 project sites so far. Future developments include:

  • automated feeds of relevant research/news for projects
  • digital rights management for knowledge assets

Trial accounts are available on request.

The only other thing worth noting - we should look at how we can use communities within BB to better effect. Cases were cited where students can establish contacts with other students before they even get on campus - some were organising to share taxis from airports when they first arrived. Another university uses BB as their student portal, and yet another is using it to introduce and discuss how research at the university is related to teaching. Undergraduates are gaining a better idea of what other things their lecturers are doing and how they benefit from it.