In the week beginning from the 12th of July the LTEU run the What is a well-designed Blackboard module? project. We recruited 9 students to work with us as Student Learning Ambassadors. The group included: one 3rd year undergraduate History student, one 3rd year undergraduate Childhood Studies student, two 2nd year undergraduate English Literature and Creative Writing students, one 3rd year undergraduate Economics student, one International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Postgraduate student, one 3rd year and two 2nd year undergraduate Psychology students.
Throughout the project students completed the following tasks, working independently as well as part of the group:
mindmapped what it means for a module to be well-designed
generated a list of items that should be included in a Blackboard module
categorised the list of items they came up with
took part in usability testing on two existing Blackboard module
gave us a tour of a Blackboard module from their department that they found easy to use
wrote a short blog post on one aspect of a module design that is important to them with practical tips for teaching staff
identified common issues in Blackboard modules, reflected on the impact they have, and created a set of recommendations on how they could be fixed
proposed changes to existing Blackboard Required Minimum Presence
In the next few weeks, we will be publishing findings of the project including blog posts written by the Ambassadors themselves. We are incredibly grateful to Angela, Erin, Katie, Ammaarah, Elisa, Lucie, Charlotte, Gabriele and Nathalia for all the hard work they contributed to the project. We believe that all staff will find the findings as useful as we did. As my time as the Online Learning Specialist in the LTEU comes to an end I am extremely pleased and grateful to be able to conclude it by running this project. I genuinely believe that active involvement of students in the design of their learning should be a priority and I hope for more opportunities for student-staff partnerships. I would like to thank all staff I had an opportunity to work with these past months, thank you for your inspiring work and continuous commitment to providing the best possible experience to our students.
As part of this year’s CPD programme, we hosted a number of external speakers who provided us with new perspectives and unique expertise in various aspects of learning and teaching. In preparation for the upcoming year, we would like to briefly remind you of some of the topics discussed and the resources available to you. We hope that by building on these and other sessions the Unit organised this year you will feel fully prepared to adapt and innovate your teaching in the upcoming year.
In the first mini-conference of the year, we had an opportunity to listen to Dr Naomi Winstor who argued that maximising students’ engagement with feedback is fundamentally an issue of design, where opportunities for students to develop the skills required for effective use of feedback, and opportunities to apply feedback, can transform the role of students in assessment.
Kate Lister from Advance HE explored how to create effective digital communities that can support students’ sense of belonging and purpose, facilitate meaningful connections, and provide support without relying on a campus environment.
During our Mini-Fest on assessment, Dr Sally Brown and Dr Kay Sambell led a workshop designed to build on lessons learned during the complex transitions academics made last year and explore the concept of authentic approaches to assessments.
We also had an opportunity to listen to Andy McGregor from JISC on the future of assessment. A talk based on JISC’s paper: The future of assessment: five principles, five targets for 2025, which ‘sets five targets for the next five years to progress assessment towards being more authentic, accessible, appropriately automated and secure’.
The second case study on using interactive Blackboard tools showcases effective use of tests for summative and formative assessment by Dr Ruth Wonfor from IBERS.
What tool do you use and how?
I use Blackboard tests for either formative or summative tests in most of my modules.
Why did you choose this tool?
I’ve chosen to use Blackboard tests for a variety of reasons. For summative tests, I have used these in a first year module on anatomy and physiology. This module provides a lot of foundation knowledge on basic biology that is used by students in future modules, therefore I wanted to design an assessment that would enable me to test a wide variety of topics across the module that meets quite a broad learning outcome. The use of multiple choice tests has worked really well for this and it fits really nicely with the work I do in this module to try to get students to use flashcards in their learning. Students can really see the benefit of the flashcards through this test.
For the formative assessments, I have chosen to use Blackboard tests for quite a range of reasons. I have previously tended to use them to allow students to test their knowledge at the end of a topic. However, whilst we have been teaching online I have started to use them to ask questions that I would have asked in the lecture to check understanding. This has been great to help me to structure the learning and ensure that students aren’t rushing onto new sections without fully understanding what they needed to in the previous section.
How did you design the activity using this tool?
How I design the Blackboard tests very much depends on what I am using them for. The summative tests are quite rigid with only multiple-choice questions. I tend to use standard question formats, such as choose the correct answer to a question, choose the correct statement or what structure is the arrow pointing to on an image. Whilst students have been able to take this test at home during Covid-19, I have also introduced some short answer questions into the multiple-choice test. These have worked really well to prevent students just looking up every multiple-choice answer and giving a good marks distribution.
For the formative tests I use a wider range of options in the questions to fit what I want the students to learn. For example, I’ve used the matching questions after going through terminology, so that student have to match the terms with the correct description. I also try to use the feedback in these formative tests to get the students to direct their learning. So instead of telling students that they have answered a question incorrectly and what the correct answer should have been, I instead use the feedback to direct the students to the slide or section of the lecture where they can find the answer, hopefully encouraging students to structure their learning and revision further.
Finally, whilst we have been teaching online I have found adaptive release combined with the BB tests really useful for structuring topics. I often start some lectures with a bit of revision of information that they should have covered in previous modules that is the basis of the topic we are covering in that session. Therefore, I’ve used BB tests to cover this revision. I use the feedback to direct the students to further information if they need to brush up their knowledge and then use adaptive release to only release the topic to them once they have attempted the revision quiz. The students get clear instructions that they need to have a go at the quiz and then they will get access to the lecture topic. This seemed to work well and so it is something that I hope to keep in place for future years so that I can remove the revision from the lectures, allowing more time for application of the knowledge gained in the lectures.
What do your students think of this tool?
I’ve had pretty good feedback from students about the use of the BB tests, a lot have said that they have found them really useful to help them revise and go over topics to understand where they need to put more effort into their further study. I’ve also helped to reduce student anxiety about the final summative test by using formative tests throughout the module. As the summative test I use is on a first-year module in semester 1, students are often quite anxious about what to expect at university level. I can therefore direct them towards the formative tests as examples of the level of questions that they will be expected to answer in the exam.
Do you have any tips for people who want to use this tool?
My main tip would be to allow yourself a fair bit of time to construct the tests. The initial start up to write good questions and feedback for the students takes a while. However, once you have spent that time, you have the tests ready to roll out each year. It is well worth the time spent to help the students and get an idea of their understanding and where you may need to clarify topics again. Also make sure that you take the tests yourself! I’ve noticed a few mistakes or questions that need further clarification when taking the test myself and it’s really useful to see how the student will see the final question formatting in their view.
We would like to thank Dr Ruth Wonfor for sharing her experiences of using Blackboard tests.
Professor Rafe Hallett from Keele University has recently delivered a fascinating keynote talk exploring the idea of students as digital producers.
The presentation encouraged educators to explore which modes of co-creation are already inhabited by their students and enable them to work collaboratively in the production of knowledge. As pointed out by Professor Hallett, this constructionist approach leads to a more meaningful experience. Students produce outputs which are available externally to university systems and can be showcased and shared as ‘theirs’. This contributes to the feeling that their work ‘matters’, in contrast to submitting assessment in a standard format which is read, marked and archived.
Enabling students to be digital producers requires them to build on skills they already have, but also to develop digital criticality to choose the right digital resources for what they are trying to do. It is one way of facilitating more authentic assessments, a concept explored by Kay Sambell and Sally Brown our recent mini-fest.
The time to get ready for 2021/22 teaching is fast-approaching. Although there is still much uncertainty about what we will be able to provide, we would like to share with you a few points worth considering when planning for next year. These points derive from our reflections and experiences of supporting staff and students over the past academic year, as well as considerations from colleagues across the sector.
How will we measure student engagement?
What we mean by student engagement and how we measure it has changed over the past year. Previously we might have gauged student engagement in the classroom by simply observing their participation during the face-to-face sessions or monitoring their attendance. Since teaching online, we perhaps paid more attention to Panopto statistics, participation in interactive activities on Blackboard and chat in Teams. Making it clear what you mean by engagement and how you are going to measure it, in what is likely to be a new delivery format for you and your students, can help you evaluate your methods and help students understand what is expected of them (Love & El Hakim, 2020).
We know that during the pandemic many students suffered from isolation, studied in various home conditions and struggled with anxiety and motivation. Going forward we will need to take this into account and balance the increased need for contact hours and socialisation with best pedagogical practices. Although we won’t be able to approach this upcoming year with certainty, it is essential to provide students with a sense of structure wherever possible. One of best practice emphasised during past months is creating ‘roadmaps’ which tell students what they need to do and by when. Another recurring theme across the sector is building a community of learners to address isolation.
Managing student expectations is never easy and may be even more challenging this upcoming year. One way of managing expectations effectively is by engaging in a continuous conversation with students and being able to adapt wherever possible. Treating students as partners in their learning design also requires explaining why we educate them the way we do, even if it is not what they expected. Finally, scaffolding their learning regardless of the form it takes is likely to increase their satisfaction.
How our roles as educators and education professionals will change?
The flipped-classroom approach which our institution promoted this academic year changes the power dynamic in the classroom. It allows students to have more choice over how they learn and when. It also places more emphasis on tutors being mentors and facilitators rather than lecturers. Going forward, the relationships between students and staff is likely to be transformed further. As mentioned earlier, it may be an opportunity to work in partnership with our students, enabling them to be the agents of their learning experience.
We are pleased to present the first case study on using interactive Blackboard tools featuring the use of discussion boards by Dr Martine Garland from Aberystwyth Business School.
‘Discussion boards were thus a way of recreating the discussion we may have had in class, this led to over 900 posts during the semester.’
What tool do you use and how?
I use discussion boards on a core 1st year marketing module with 97 students. They are used in a very structured way to provide students with an opportunity to apply a theory, model or framework they have just learnt about. I found that with the blended approach adopted in response to Covid-19, students were studying recorded asynchronous content out of synch with the week in which it was intended they should study the topic. This meant that in live MS Teams sessions it was difficult to use that time to do topic specific exercises and create debate as many students had not yet covered the topic. Discussion boards were thus a way of recreating the discussion we may have had in class, this led to over 900 posts during the semester.
Why did you choose this tool?
I chose this tool as it was very straightforward to embed into the asynchronous learning structure and to signpost students to it at the relevant moment in their studies. Each recorded lecture had three ‘discussion points’ that were designed to meet learning outcomes related to application of learning. Having worked through online learning content on a topic, the discussion point asked them to share their experience or a relevant example, and to enter into deeper conversation about the real-world application of a theoretical construct.
How did you design the activity using this tool?
In the PowerPoint of the recorded lecture, I used a consistent icon to indicate discussion, then included directions that they should pause the video, make some notes, then when they have finished the lecture, go to the ‘discussion space’ and share their thinking.
I also used the discussion board functionality to set and receive ‘collaborative task’ activities. They could read the brief at the top of the thread, and they then posted their groups outputs in the thread. It was termed the ‘Collaboration site’ but was just using the discussion board tool.
What do your students think of this tool?
I think it was mixed, some students didn’t engage at all, although the majority did (bear in mind they were awarded marks for participation and engagement). Several students cited the discussion boards in their MEQ feedback:
“I absolutely loved this module. the teacher was exemplary, and she was very focused throughout the module. The discussion board was the best part of module as it gave us the space to apply the theories. overall, one of the best modules in my first year.”
“With everything going on, this module has been run very well this semester. Lots of online content to do and discussion forums for students to discuss the topics covered has made it a very engaging module.”
Do you have any tips for people who want to use this tool?
Make it very clear what you are asking them to do and where they can find it. Encourage students to upload an avatar so the discussion is not so faceless. Certainly for year 1 modules, consider awarding marks for participation an engagement in things like discussion boards, wikis etc. Blackboard reports provide you with a quick and easy way of seeing who is doing what, where and when.
We have recently procured the university polling software – Vevox which can be an excellent addition to the tools you are already using. During the Annual Learning and Teaching Conference (book on the conference) our Vevox account manager Joe Probert will explain how Vevox can be used for learning activities. On Wednesday, we will also have an opportunity to join a webinar on how to use Vevox in your hybrid classroom. If you like to see how Vevox has been used by other institutions, you can also take a look at these case studies.
Another tool that we have previously written about is Padlet which is free and widely used across the sector. Take a look at our previous blog post which includes some ideas on how it could be applied in teaching. There is also a recording of the presentation on Padlet by Danielle Kirk delivered during the 7th Annual Learning and Teaching Conference.
Based on findings of the Digital Insights Survey we have also published a list of digital tools and apps useful for learning. You may choose to recommend these to your students by sharing this post with them or pointing them to specific tools helping them with what they need.
If you decide to use any of the third-party software for learning and teaching, there are a few considerations you need to make to keep yourself and your students safe online.
During last week’s Mini-Fest we run a session entitled ‘Designing Anxiety-Free Assessments’. The session was based on A review of the literature concerning anxiety for educational assessments produced by Ofqual which outlines links between assessment anxiety, students’ performance, and mental health. It also offers possible assessment anxiety interventions which can be applied to both assessment design as well as its implementation.
Based on the review as well as discussions from the session we prepared a list of simple steps you can take to make assessments less anxiety-provoking for your students:
Replace fear appeals with positive encouragement.
Fear appeals, messages emphasising the importance of upcoming assessments, have been shown to contribute to higher levels of test anxiety, lower-class engagement and lower task performance (Putwain & Best, 2011; Putwain, Nakhla, Liversidge, Nicholson, Porter & Reece, 2017; Putwain & Symes, 2014). Instead of motivating students using fear appeals, try rephrasing your messaging into positive encouragement.
Help students set achievable goals.
In addition to providing students with information about how their final performance or paper should look like, it is worth adding some information on what steps they need to take to get there. Breaking assessments down into stages and suggesting approximately how much time they should spend on each part can be helpful to students, particularly those not experienced in managing university assessments.
Facilitate a positive learning environment.
As described in the review ‘positive learning environments can include: designing lessons that focus and building upon students’ strengths and abilities rather than identifying weaknesses; giving positive and accurate feedback; encouraging cooperative rather than competitive peer relationships; and encouraging students to be intrinsically motivated to study, rather than being coercive or focusing on the instrumentality of assessment outcomes(Jennings & Greenberg, 2009 as cited in Ofqual, 2020). How can you foster these elements in your classroom?
Modify the mode of assessment (if possible!).
Several specific assessment-design factors impact how anxiety-inducing they are. Making small adjustments to the assessment mode can make a difference to your students:
Instrumentality (how much impact the assessment appears to have on students’ overall grade): Breaking down or spreading out complex and heavily weighted assessments into smaller chunks will help students with managing their time better and create less pressure on doing well.
Complexity (how complicated the assessment seems to be): is there anything in the assessment design that could be simplified?
Evaluation (whether their performance will be evaluated by others): where possible consider minimising the impact of the social evaluative aspect of assessments by limiting the audience size or allowing students to submit a pre-recorded presentation.
Timing (whether their performance is timed): this one is applicable particularly in terms of exams which usually have strict time limits. It’s worth considering whether timed exams are the best way of measuring student progression on the learning outcome or whether there is an alternative assessment design you could use.
Help students feel prepared.
Increasing feelings of preparedness can also help in reducing assessment anxiety. Some of the things you can do to help your students feel more prepared are:
making assessment clear, detailed and accessible clear;
tying assessments clearly and obviously to learning outcomes;
linking skills they learnt throughout the module to those helping them in assessments;
communicating expectations (e.g. how much time they should spend on an assessment) clearly and repeatedly.
Finally, perhaps the most effective way of making students feel more prepared and help them get used to being assessed are mock exams and other formative assessments (Ergene, 2011).
Provide students with information about assessment anxiety & how to manage it.
Simply providing students with information about assessment anxiety being common among students and giving them links to some resources available to them (see below) can be helpful.
Supporting your Learning module available to all student via Blackboard offers all essential information on assessments including a short section on tackling assessment anxiety.
Quick Guide to Student Success is a good starting point for helping students to build academic skills such as managing their time, effective study strategies and the ability to motivate themselves.
AberSkills pages (accessible also via Blackboard) offer students support on various essential skills including academic writing, referencing or employability.
Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit (LTEU) is looking for a number of Student Learning Ambassadors to work on a ‘What is a well-designed Blackboard module?’ project. Issues with consistency and navigation of Blackboard modules are frequently raised in the feedback received from students (e.g., via the Information User Survey or the JISC Digital Insights survey). We would like to gather a small community of students who, through various User Experience methods, will work on this question. As part of this role, students will participate in focus groups, build their own Blackboard module and work collaboratively to report on the findings.
We are looking to recruit 8 students. This project will run between 05th and 17th of July 2021. Depends on the group, Ambassadors will be required to commit approximately 13 hours of work either in the first or in the second week of the project.
Please consider encouraging your students to apply for this role via the AberWorks portal where more information is available. The closing date is 21st of June.
We are looking for staff who would like to share their experiences of using Blackboard interactive features, e.g. blogs, journals, wikis, tests, discussion boards. We welcome case studies in any format, e.g. short text, a video, voice memo. These case studies would be included on our blog and used in future training sessions. Please sent your case studies to firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about different interactive Blackboard features: