Blackboard’s Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC) returned to the UK this year, in the vibrant city of Manchester. The conference was attended by participants from 101 institutions in 22 countries and provided us with the opportunity to catch up with our peers, discuss best practice and contribute to shaping the future direction of the EdTech sector.

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This year Joe Currie and I presented on our experiences of migrating the Hub to a new SaaS platform. Last June Queen Margaret University was the first university in Europe to make the move to the SaaS platform which is delivering improved reliability and enables us to make improvements to our environment with little downtime.

Joe’s favourite session was the Developer Roadmap which provided an outline of the plans within Blackboard Dev Community in 2020. Blackboard is making significant progress in opening up their platform for developers; this means that it will be easier for developers to create tools for Blackboard allowing for even greater customisations tailored to the specific needs of an institution.

Whilst there were many interesting sessions, including the Blackboard Collaborate User Group, one of my favourites was ‘Let’s be realistic’, presented by Dr Chris Moore from the University of West England in Bristol. Chris, frustrated with the limitations and unrealistic expectations of traditional paper-based examinations, in comparison to the real world of employment, designed an open-book Blackboard exam, allowing learners to access a defined parameter of online resources.  The experiences gleaned from Chris will feed into our Digital Exam development plans as we move into the new academic year.

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In addition to the community presentations, Blackboard also provided details of future updates to their suite. Ultra, Blackboard’s update to their VLE, continues to modernise the user interface which provides a user-centred approach to workflows. These enhancements translate into a super simple to use, attractive and engaging learning spaces for your modules.

We also had several meetings with Blackboard to discuss our community feedback to the two QMU pilots for Ally and Collaborate. Ally makes use of machine learning as Blackboard’s accessibility tool that may shortly be available in your module areas in the Hub. Ally provides feedback to tutors on how to improve accessibility specific to each content item.  For students, Ally will automatically translate the content into a format that best meets their needs, including; audio-reading, braille and ePub formats. Going forward we even had a demo of Ally’s ability to automatically translate across languages.

Machine learning is the ability for a technology system to independently interpret data inputs and its ability to adapt its output without specifically coded instructions

At QMU we are also transitioning to Blackboard Collaborate to modernise our real-time learning provision, previously provided by Adobe Connect. This move enhances video/audio quality, removes the dependency on older Flash-based video and provides an easy to use application which is fully integrated into the Hub. Collaborate is an easier way for tutors to run online sessions or to create a real-time online peer learning space for students to interact.

After a long few days, Joe and I returned inspired by some fantastic community practice; we have begun working with colleagues to building much of our experiences into our development roadmap, so watch this space.

And for those of you that know Joe…Yes! The little blue man joined us for the event, including our presentation.

If you would like further information on QMU’s Blackboard Collaborate and Ally pilots, additional details and workshop scheduled are available at the Centre for Academic Practice website

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