Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2018 - Digital Learning

Friday, 13 April 2018

Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2018

I've just got back from this year's Blackboard Teaching and Learning conference (#BbTLC18). It's always a good conference, and this year it was right on our doorstep in Manchester, which is great because it's not a lot of travelling, but it does take away the opportunity to visit an institution for the first time which I always enjoy. As ever, it had a packed agenda and the presentations were very good. I've presented at the last two conferences, and this year I was sharing that with Farzana. More about that shortly. With such a full schedule, I'm just going to take a quick run through the days and briefly mention the sessions I attended.

The conference started for me on Tuesday afternoon (Monday was the academic adoption day that Simon attended, and the DevCon for those with a more technical role than me). First up was the Opening keynote from Volker Hirsch which was a fascinating dive into data and what it means to us.

Me and Farzana just about to start
Our presentation was in the first parallel sessions track straight after, which I think is the best time to be given. We were talking about the changes we’ve made over the last year, and how the student voice drove that. The room was packed, with people carrying chairs in with a few minutes to go and we had too many questions for the time at the end. It’s always good to get a response like that, and many people came up to us after giving us positive feedback, which was very welcome.

The theme of the rest of the day for me was exam orientated. I've presented about our online exams previously, and I like to keep up with what other are doing, so I went along next to see Chris Moore from UWE talk about how he'd introduced final year open book essay based exams in his teaching. Then it was off to hear Claire Iving from Newcastle talk about their online exam approach, which is very similar to ours in many ways.

The afternoon finished with the Blackboard keynote speak, with senior Bb leaders talking about their vision for the company. It was also good to hear them acknowledge some things that hadn't gone to plan, in this case the change from Crocodoc to Box View.

As I'm the usergroup leader for NEBUG, I got to spend the evening with other usergroup leaders from Europe and Blackboard people, which is a great chance to hear more about what they are doing in their groups, meet some face to face for the first time and catch up with those I've known for a while, and also to meet some senior Blackboard staff including the CEO Bill Ballhaus and CPO Tim Tomlinson.

Wednesday kicked off with the Blackboard product keynote, which gives a good insight into what is coming to all the products we use. My first pick of the sessions was Malcolm Murray from Durham talking about a gamified course they had done. He's written a extra bit of code to create a really good interface to a standard course that has improved student engagement. Next up was a quick 20 min introduction to ReadSpeaker from Sandra Stevenson-Revill at Derby, which looks an interested tool for all users to allow course content to be read to them. Next was Lisa Fishburn from Newcastle talking about how to deal with a course that hasn't been refreshed for about 10 years - how do you go about dealing with 1500+ folders worth of content! I also won a Kinder egg from Lisa as well 😁 The last session of the morning was another quick 20 min session by Tamsyn Smith and Matt Diprose from Southampton about their VLE awards.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Luca Bordogna from Bocconi University in Milan over lunch. He had seen my presentation there last year and wanted to talk some more about what we were doing with online exams and assessment. After lunch, I opted to miss the panel discussion and instead spend time with Jan Thomson and Neil Carroll from UCLan, talking to them about how I manage a lot of the back end admin side of running Blackboard Learn. I find these times at conferences the most valuable, sharing knowledge with colleagues from other institutions. I finished the day in another Sandra Stevenson-Revill session, taking a look at some of the extra features that Derby have created to make things work more easily.

The evening was a chance to spend time over dinner with a group of people from a number of institutions, and get to know some I'd not met before.

The final day of the conference (Thursday in case you've lost track) started for me with Bobbi Moore from Reading talking about the online course for staff development they've created to support their users. Next up was Joe Currie from QM Edinburgh talking about their move to the new Blackboard SaaS platform, something that is of particular interest to me currently. The penultimate session for me was listening to David Pike from Bedfordshire talking about how they exploring and quantifying TEL usage and how that can focus approaches that support the TEF. This years conference concluded for me with Peter Rayment from Cardiff talking about how they have used Eesysoft to produce focused support for their users, and generate course usage data for staff to access.

Fun in the party photo booth
Lots of really good thought provoking presentations, great feedback on our session, and quality time spent talking to lots of people have made this years TLC a very good one, and the final night party is the perfect way to finish things off - to have a bit of fun with some new colleagues and friends.

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