Blackboard SaaS Update 5

Da iawn ni! The big development of this month has been a working version of the Welsh language interface. After a lot of thinking, and some investigations we have managed to

Iaith Gwaith logo - speech bubble containing the word Cymraeg

find a way to recreate our Welsh language tabs and boxes on the new SaaS environment. As users you won’t notice anything different, but for us it’s a major step forward. And it’s all nicely documented (all 9 pages of it!) to make sure that anyone in the team can do it, should we need to. It’s nice to see Blackboard back to its bilingual normality!

We’re also looking for teaching and administrative staff to help test the new Blackboard SaaS environment. If you are interested, please email us on elearning@aber.ac.uk

We’ll give our testers access to copies of their Blackboard modules on the SaaS site. We will then ask you to

  • Look at the course materials and check they work as you expect
  • Use some of the Blackboard tools to make sure they are working normally
  • Spot and report any problems or issues

All staff are welcome to join the testing. We are especially looking for staff who use Blackboard in Welsh or who use tools like tests and discussion boards.

If you would like more information, you can email elearning@aber.ac.uk

Exemplary Course Award: Winners

We are pleased to announce this year’s recipient of the Exemplary Course Award run by the E-learning Group. Come and see the winners present their modules at next week’s Learning and Teaching Conference. Further information here.

Alison Pierse, Lifelong Learning Tutor in Art, has been awarded the Exemplary Course Award for the module XA15220 Figuratively Speaking: The History of Western Figurative Sculpture. The panel commended this module for its innovative approach to co-design with students as well as its ability to create a 3 dimensional learning experience for students who might not be studying on campus, in addition to ensuring all aspects of this module was fully accessible.

In addition to the winner, the following modules achieved Highly Commended:

  • IBERS Distance Learning Team for BDM0120 Research Methods
  • Stephen Chapman for BDM1320 The Future of Packaging
  • Alexandros Koutsoukis for IP12620 Behind the Headlines
  • Jennifer Wood for SP10740 Spanish Language (Beginners)

The diverse range of teaching and learning styles evidenced in this year’s applications reflects the innovative work that is taking place across the institution.

The aim of the Exemplary Course Award, now in its sixth year, is to recognise the very best learning and teaching practices by giving staff members the opportunity to share their work with colleagues, enhance their current modules in Blackboard, and receive feedback on their modules. Modules are assessed across 4 areas: course design, interaction and collaboration, assessment, and learner support. The self-assessed nature of the award gives staff the opportunity to reflect on their course and enhance aspects of their module before a panel assesses each application against the rubric.

The panel and the E-learning Group would like to thank all of the applicants for the time and effort that they have put into their applications and modules this year.

We’re looking forward to receiving more applications next year and many congratulations to the recipients of this year’s award.

Blackboard SaaS Update 4

The focus of most of our testing over the last month has been making sure that our local settings in Blackboard work correctly. We’ve spent a lot of time working on the Welsh language translation. Our translation files are quite old and need updating, so we’ll be spending time getting the Welsh interface working correctly.

We’re also checking all the main Blackboard tools to make sure that they work as we expect – and for that to work properly we will need your help. We plan to invite staff to test the new SaaS environment to get more feedback – look out for an email inviting you to join the testing group.

In the last blog post we mentioned we are planning downtime for the final data transfer. It has been quite hard to find a suitable time that isn’t either too early or disruptive during the supplementary exam period. We believe that we’ve now found a suitable date. Our plan is to take Blackboard out of service on 29th August. It should take a couple of hours to transfer the data and when we bring Blackboard back into service it will be read-only until 2nd September. If staff need access to update anything between 29th August and 2nd September, please email elearning@aber.ac.uk

How can we help you with the Blank Course Copy?

Level 2 and Level 3 Blackboard modules for 2019/20 academic year will be created with no content. Previously, year by year the content was automatically copied over for all Blackboard modules.

Preparing the Level 2 and Level 3 modules for the next year will require the module co-ordinators to copy over existing and/or upload new material into the new iteration of their module. All modules will contain an agreed departmental menu template that content will need to be organised under.

We would like to assist staff with preparing their modules as much as we can. We are happy to come to your office or for you to come and visit us. If you would like to book an appointment with a member of the E-learning Group, please let us know a convenient time and place where you would like to meet.

We have prepared these FAQs with detailed guideline on copying different elements on Blackboard and produced the information help sheet below.

We look forward to work closely with all staff and supporting you in any convenient for you way.

 

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.

Blackboard SaaS update 1

Blackboard LogoMany of you will have seen the announcement that AU is moving to the cloud-hosted, Blackboard SaaS platform. We plan to provide a monthly update on the progress of the project via the E-learning blog and this is our first update.

SaaS stands for Software as a Service, and there are advantages of moving to using Blackboard SaaS. The first, and most welcome one, is no more downtime once we have migrated to SaaS . Currently we have two planned maintenance periods every year – two days during the Christmas vacation and two days in the summer. Followers of this blog will know how difficult it is to plan these, and how it is virtually impossible to find a time that suits everyone. Blackboard SaaS is upgraded without any downtime (you can find out more about this and other SaaS features at https://uk.blackboard.com/learning-management-system/saas-deployment.html).

There will be a period of downtime as part of the migration process, but this will be communicated to you closer to the time. And the good news is that once we have moved, there will be no more Christmas or summer downtime announcements!

SaaS is upgraded using a ‘continuous deployment’ method – this means that every month Blackboard will be updated to the latest version. This update includes both bug fixes and new features. So, you should find problems get fixed earlier and you won’t have to wait too long for new tools or updates to current tools.

There is plenty of information about Blackboard SaaS online; if you do have a look, please note that there are two different versions of Blackboard available on SaaS, Original and Ultra. We’re planning to move to the Original version initially – and we’ll consider Ultra in the future.

Since we sent out the initial announcement, the E-learning Group and Systems Integration team have spent a lot of time getting to know SaaS. One of the most exciting things has been being given access to a completely fresh, new version of Blackboard. Most of us have never seen Blackboard without any courses or any users – it was a little bit like being faced with a patch of fresh snow!!

Our first priorities are to make sure that all the main features work as expected, and to check that all the add-ins (or Building Blocks) we use work correctly. We use Building Blocks for a whole host of things, from Turnitin and Panopto, to the scrolling banner on the homepage.

If you have any questions about Blackboard SaaS, you can contact us on elearning@aber.ac.uk

Blackboard Grade Centre

The Blackboard Grade Centre is probably the most powerful yet underused part of a Blackboard module. Every Blackboard module has one, but how often do you use it and are you getting the most out of it? I’m a big fan of the Blackboard Grade Centre so I’m using this series of blog posts to introduce to some of the hidden features which could make your marking and assessment life easier.

The first post is about setting up the Grade Centre. Like many things, a little bit of thought and planning before you start goes a long way. Some advance organisational work will make your life a lot easier in the long run.

So, what sort of things should you consider?

  1. Organise before you create. Some features like categories and Marking Periods are added to columns when you create them. It’s useful to set these up first, rather than go back and edit afterwards (although that it is possible).
    1. Categories. There are built in categories for types of tools (e.g. Tests, Assignments ) etc. which are applied automatically when you create them. But you can also create your own. For example, you might want a category for Exams or Presentations. You can also do calculations based on the category of a column using the Calculated Column options. Blackboard help on Categories.
    2. Marking Periods. These are time periods for when the work is marked. This would be useful if you are putting a lot of marks directly into the Grade Centre for a long-thin module. You could have a Semester 1 and Semester 2 grading period and then filter by these so you only see the relevant columns. Blackboard help on Marking Periods.
  2. Do you need any additional columns? Anything that you can grade in Blackboard generates a Grade Centre column when you create it. So, if you have a Turnitin Assignment, graded Discussion Board or Wiki, you have a column in the Grade Centre already. If you want to store marks for presentations, exams, in-class tests, oral exams etc., you can create your own columns. Blackboard help on creating columns.
  3. Think careful when you name your columns (either manually created columns, or the ones created when you set-up Turnitin etc.). They should be meaningful and easy to understand which assessment component they relate to. This is especially important when mapping components for marks transfer. A common problem is two e-submission points both called Essay; make sure you use titles which make sense such as Essay 1 and Essay 2 or Nutrition Essay and Exercise Essay.
  4. Do you want to make any calculations or combine marks? AStRA takes care of the weighting of your assignments in the overall module mark calculations, but you may want to group together small assignments to make calculations or show to the students. For example, you might have a set of weekly tests that make up one component of your module assessment. To do this you can create one of the calculated columns. Blackboard help on Calculated Columns.
  5. What do you want the students to see? Most people know that you can hide Grade Centre columns to the students, but did you know that there is a Primary and Secondary Grade. This means that you can show the students a letter grade, or even that the work has been marked, without showing the grade. This is a way of giving feedback before the releasing a mark.
  6. Viewing and filtering. There are a number of ways you can organise your Grade Centre to help you see only the things you want to see. Depending on how many columns you have and what you need to do, one of the following might be useful:
    1. Smart Views and Favourites. You know the Needs Marking and Assignments items under Full Grade Centre in your menu? These are shortcuts that take you to filtered views of the Grade Centre. Did you know you can add your own shortcuts here, using categories or groups of students as the criteria? Blackboard help on Smart Views.
    2. Filtering. Like Excel spreadsheets it is possible to filter your view of the Grade Centre, to only certain sets of information. Blackboard help of filtering.
  7. Colour coding. This is my personal favourite. You can colour code the Grade Centre to quickly show which students are getting very high marks, and which students might need a little more help. This is particularly useful for tests which are marked automatically and you may not see the results straightaway. It provides you with a quick visual way of seeing who might need some further help. Blackboard help on colour coding.

The next instalment of this series will be marking and dealing with grades. If you want any help with setting up your Grade Centre, get in touch and we can go through your requirements and get you up and running.

E-learning Support for Learning and Teaching Activities

The E-learning Group hope you had an enjoyable break over holiday period. As we begin to enter into the examination period, we thought that it would be useful for us to identify what support is on offer for colleagues who provide administrative support for learning and teaching activities.

Our FAQ, What FAQs are useful for providing administrative support for E-learning systems?, might be a good starting point. This is a FAQ designed specifically to bring all our FAQs pertaining to administrative support together so that you are able to find an answer to your question as quickly as possible.

In addition to our FAQs, we also have E-learning Guides available on our webpages. These guides are designed to guide you through the entirety of a process from beginning to end and are useful for those who would like to gain an understanding for a whole process. We’re also happy to meet you face-to-face and of course we provide help and support over the phone and via email. We’re also happy to provide training to yourself and your colleagues. If you and your colleagues would like to request a training session, just get in touch. There may also be some training sessions that you will find useful. Our full training programme for 2018/19 can be found on our webpages.

elearning@aber.ac.uk

01970 62 2472

www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/it-services/elearning

E-learning Blog

 

Submit your Blackboard Module for an Exemplary Course Award

Applications for the Exemplary Course Award are now open. The closing date for applications is 12pm, 1st February 2019. To submit an application, download the application form here and consult the guidance available on our webpages.

The Exemplary Course Award is designed to recognise exemplary practice in Blackboard modules. Since its launch in 2013, the Exemplary Course award has awarded 5 exemplary modules, 8 highly commended and 3 commended awards.

This year’s awards are slightly different. Although the Exemplary Course Award is still based on Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Program Rubric, we have made some adjustments to emphasise the interactive uses of Blackboard to provide a blended learning environment for students. In addition to this, extra weighting has been given to the accessibility criteria to ensure that the Blackboard modules are accessible for all learners.

We will be running a training session for those of you who are considering submitting an application for the ECA on Wednesday 12th December, 3pm-4pm in E3, E-learning Training Room and also on Tuesday 8th January, 3pm-4pm. You can book onto these sessions by going onto the CDSAP book a course pages.

Training and Support

This year’s E-learning Training programme is well underway. You can book onto our training sessions via the CDSAP booking pages. This year, our training is split into 3 different levels so that the training that we are offering you meets your needs.

Our first level is E-learning Essentials. These sessions are aimed at people who have not used the systems before or who would like a refresher. A key aim of these sessions is to ensure that participants are able to adhere to the University’s policies. Whilst these sessions are technical, we ensure that there is always a view as to the pedagogical rationale surrounding them. Following this, our next level is E-learning Enhanced. The idea of these sessions is to begin to explore innovative ways in which you can use the E-learning software to support your learning and teaching. Our final level is E-learning Excellence. These sessions support the development of innovative approaches to technology-enhanced learning.

There are a couple of new sessions that we would like to draw your attention to:

  • What can I do with my Blackboard course? In this session, we will be looking at the interactive tools that can be used in Blackboard to enhance learning and teaching. There’s a special version of this session on 13th December specifically looking at how Blackboard can be used for Distance Learners.
  • Introduction to Skype for Business. This session will look at Skype for Business and how you can make use of it to create a virtual classroom. We will go through setting up the Skype for Business meeting and the interactive
  • Using Panopto for Assessments. Panopto is the University’s Lecture Capture Software. In addition to recording lectures, Panopto can also be used for assessments. This session will look at how you might use Panopto for student assessments.
  • Teaching with Mobile Devices. We will look at how you might use mobile devices in your teaching. As well as using mobile devices to teach, we will also look at ways in which you can use polling software to increase interactivity in your teaching sessions.

We’ll also be running sessions on the Component Marks Transfer tool that allows marks to automatically feed through from Blackboard into AStRA which may be of use to those who manage this process.

Our sessions are participatory and interactive. If you would prefer a one-on-one version of our sessions, or if you have any specific requirements, then please email elearning@aber.ac.uk.

Access to E3 Aber Academy has also changed. In order to access the E-learning Training Room, enter the Hugh Owen Building via the Language Labs on Level B. Proceed up the stairs until you reach Level E. You will need your Aber Card to swipe to let you in. E3, the E-learning Training Room, is just down the corridor on the right hand side.