Blackboard SaaS Update 2

At the end of last month, we blogged about getting our hands on a test Blackboard SaaS environment. This month we’ve started the process of testing the environment and finding out the differences and similarities between SaaS and our current version of Blackboard.

A lot of the work this month is being done by our Blackboard Project Manager in Amsterdam. Blackboard have taken a full copy of our local version and are importing it into the new SaaS system. Once this is done, we’ll be able to have a look at our existing courses, check that the migration process has worked and that everything is behaving as expected. This will mean looking at existing content, testing all the tools work properly, and running through all the normal daily processes we use.

In the meantime, we are testing all the Building Blocks that have been developed in-house at AU. Building Blocks are the Blackboard name for extension tools – some examples of Building Blocks you’ll recognise are Turnitin and Panopto. A Building Block embeds third-party functionality into Blackboard, for example using Blackboard enrolments to control permissions, and making it easy to display content in a Blackboard module. However, there are other tools that you use every day, but you probably don’t even know have been created at AU. The scrolling banner and My Modules box are examples of these. We also have some tools that we as System Admins use and ordinary users will never see – things that allow us to deliver the NSS information to third year students or provide a Blackboard feed to ApAber.

The testing process has involved documenting what each tool does and how it behaves now. We then use the same tool in our SaaS environment to check that it has the same outcome and behaves the same way. We make sure that all Building Blocks are tested in multiple browsers, as well as on PC and Apple. Where appropriate we’ll also test on a mobile device. And of course, we check in both English and Welsh. Once this has been done, we’ll pass feedback to our local developers for any changes that might be needed. And then the process starts again.

We’re also getting used to the continuous deployment cycle that we talked about in the last blog post. This means making sure we receive the emails that come from Blackboard and read them closely to look at what’s changing for our environment. We may have fixes for problems we’ve reported or new / updated tools. Once the deployment has been installed, we then need to test each of the new items to make sure it does what we expect it to do as well as making sure that our bug has been fixed where appropriate. We may also need to update our documentation, FAQs etc to reflect the changes that will be made.

Academy Forum: Instilling Self-Regulation in Learners

The E-learning Group host several Academy Forums across the academic year. The aim of the Academy Forums is to bring together members from across the University to discuss a matter related to Learning and Teaching. Our last Academy Forum focused on Instilling Self-Regulation in Learners. This topic was suggested following last year’s Annual Learning and Teaching Conference. At the conference, Dr Simon Payne, Liz Titley, and Liam Knox gave a presentation based on Self-Regulation. In addition to this, the E-learning Group ran an Academy Showcase where Simon presented strategies for instilling self-regulation.

As always, our full notes from the Academy Forums can be found on a dedicated Wiki which can be found in the Enhancing Learning with Technology module which all staff have access to.

A summary of our discussions can be found below:

  • Strategies for encouraging self-regulation in learning and teaching activities
  • Students spend more time learning outside of class time so we should be teaching them how to learn
  • What skills do students arrive with and what do we need to teach them in order to be self-regulated learners
  • How might we emphasise and measure improvement

If you would like to explore self-regulation in further detail then you are able to view the recording from Simon’s recent Academy Showcase. In addition to this, the following articles might be of interest:

Our next Academy Forum is on 9th May at 11am and is focused on the topic ‘How do I know my teaching is working?’ The forums are a great way to share your experiences and learn from others whilst also reflecting on your own approach to the topic. If you’d like to suggest a topic for an Academy Forum next year then do get in touch with us. You can sign up to the Academy Forum by booking online.

Dr Rob Grieve – Mini Conference Presentation

The E-learning Group are hosting a mini conference on Inclusive Education on Wednesday 10th April at 1pm in E3, E-learning Training Room, Aber Academy. In addition to our previous blogpost announcing the line-up for the mini conference, we’re also pleased to announce that Dr Rob Grieve will be giving a recorded presentation entitled Stand Up and Be Heard: Student Fear of Public Speaking.

Rob is a Senior Lecturer in Physiotherapy in the Allied Health Professions Department at the University of the West of England (UWE). In addition to his main research area and teaching activities, Rob is also a trustee of the British Stammer Association. As such, he has spoken at several events about the use of presentations as a form of assessment and equipping students with the skills necessary for public speaking. In this introduction, Rob will be drawing on a couple of his recent presentations that he has given at Advance Higher Education. Rob will also be reflecting on Stand Up and Be Heard workshops that he has been running for students with a fear of public speaking. The aim of the workshops was to support learning and teaching related to presentations and public speaking through specific strategies and a review of the overall benefits of public speaking as a transferable skill for university, life, and future employment. Rob builds on a survey conducted in 2012 which evidenced that 80% of students identified that they experienced social anxiety as part of assignments that involved public speaking (Russell and Topham, 2012). In addition to this, a further study (Marinho et al, 2017) identified that 64% of students had a fear of public speaking whilst 89% would have liked their undergraduate programme to include classes on improving public speaking. Further information on Rob’s work can be found on this blogpost. His Twitter handle is @robgrieve17.

We hope that you’re able to join us at the mini conference. There are still a couple of places remaining. You can book onto these online.

References

Marinho, ACF., de Madeiros, AM., Gama, AC., & Teixeir, LC. 2017. Fear of Public Speaking: Perception of College Students and Correlates. Journal of Voice. 31:1 DOI: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2015.12.012

Russell, G. and Topham, P. 2012. The impact of social anxiety on student learning and wellbeing in higher education. Journal of Mental Health 21:4. Pp. 375-385. https://doi.org/10.3109/09638237.2012.694505

 

Using Virtual Reality (VR) in Mental Health

Although individuals using VR are conscious of their experience not being real, the physical and psychological responses induced by it are similar to those experienced in real life scenarios.

Using VR in mental health treatment opens up possibilities of working through responses to problematic stimulus without having to face them in a real life. There is an obvious, practical benefit to it; for example, creating a flight simulation for an individual struggling with phobia of flying is a much easier solution that arranging an actual flight.

Additionally, it allows the therapist to work not only based on the patient’s account but to actually observe their responses. Both therapist and the patient have a control over the stimuli making the treatment potentially safer both physically and psychologically.

‘VR has the potential to transform the assessment, understanding and treatment of mental health problems’ (Freeman, et al., p. 2392). It has been used for assessment and treatment of phobias, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, paranoia, eating disorders and autism. For example, a VR app created at Tulane School of Social Work prevents drug and alcohol relapse in patients ‘by practicing self-control and awareness skills in realistic simulations where drugs and alcohol are present’ (Leatham, 2018, para.13).

Gareth Norris and Rachel Rahman from the Psychology department at Aberystwyth University in collaboration with colleagues in Computer Science have recently done a pilot research project using VR to look at its potential for reminiscing in older adults.

The E-learning Group has acquired virtual reality (VR) headsets and camera for staff to use in teaching and research. You can create immersive learning environments or use already existing VR materials. Book the VR headsets and camera from the library loan stock.

 

References:

Farnsworth, B. (2018, May 1). The Future of Therapy – VR and Biometrics. Retrieved from https://imotions.com/blog/vr-therapy-future-biometrics/

Freeman, D. & Freeman, J. (2017, March 22). Why virtual reality could be a mental health gamechanger. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/mar/22/why-virtual-reality-could-be-a-mental-health-gamechanger

Freeman, D., Reeve. S., Robinson, A., Ehlers, A., Clark, D., Spanlang, B. & Slater, M. (2017). Virtual reality in the assessment, understanding, and treatment of mental health disorders. Psychological Medicine, 47 (2393-2400).

Leatham, J. (2018, June 22). How VR is helping Children with Autism Navigate the World around Them. Retrieved from https://www.vrfitnessinsider.com/how-vr-is-helping-children-with-autism-navigate-the-world-around-them/