Skip to content

Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference 2012 #1

January 6, 2012

This is the fourth year I have attended the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference, and the first time there has not been ice or frost or snow on the ground. Still the reported temperatures hide the affect of a bitingly cold wind. But this year’s conference itself  is as good as any I’ve been to.

After the usual witty introduction from Durham’s Malcolm Murray, the first keynote was delivered by Professor Grainne Conole of Leicester University, titled “Using the VLE as a Trojan horse – transforming practice through creative design”.

First thing to note – Grainne’s presentation was delivered using Skyrocket, which I must admit was new to me; sign up at

The presentation itself can be found at

It contains a number of videos and links which were only partially explored during her session – plenty to follow up after the conference. Here are some brief notes which I made at the time:

Technology offers previously undreamed of opportunities, but is still not being fully exploited by academics: there is still a lot of replicating bad pedagogy (“electronic page-turning”), still issues of lack of staff time and expertise.

Grainne prefers to refer to Web 2.0 as a “social & participatory web”. Web 2.0 technologies have offered many new opportunities, and  increased the openness of some academics’ practice (for instance she has been making available chapters of the book she is currently working on through Dropbox, and considers that it has benefited hugely from the input she has received in this way from around the world).

What technological changes can we expect? A preview of the Horizon report 2012 predicts

1 year – growth in use of Mobile apps and tablets
3 years – Game-based learning, Learning analytics
5 years – Gesture-based computing, Internet of things

Some commentators have claimed that the VLE is dead. But all HEIs have one, and rely on it to an increasing extent. She considers that the VLE  can be used as a Trojan horse – a way of helping academics to improve their pedagogy.

Benefits of a VLE

  • consistency across modules / programmes
  • an environment where academics can experiment with new tools
  • administrative use
  • assessment
  • monitoring student activity
  • providing support beyond the classroom
  • allowing academics to provide clear structure & signposting
  • providing access to interactive materials
  • OER and free tools
  • use of discussion spaces
  • map the use of technology to pedagogy

VLE versus The Cloud: Embrace the Cloud!

  • Integrate Cloud technologies with the  VLE
  • Establish boundaries
  • Focus on activities not technologies e.g. tell students they have to blog, but don’t dictate the tool – they can use WordPress or Tumblr, or the tools which are built into the VLE
  • Evaluate the learning experience

The presentation covered a lot else besides:

  • the importance of digital literacies, and what constitutes digital literacy
  • examples of innovation using Blackboard – at Leicester and elsewhere
  •  learning theories and the technologies which support them e.g. MOOC, Twitter and Hootcourse
  • the use of course design tools (see for example)
  • the design of physical learning spaces



No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: