Oct 052017

Dr Rob Weale (CELT) has written an extended blog post titled ‘Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – with Technology’ which explores the interface between digital technology and UDL, and presents a mechanism which aims to broker an initial engagement between educators and the use of digital technologies specifically for UDL.

Read the post at: http://rweale.our.dmu.ac.uk/2017/10/02/universal-design-for-learning-with-technology/

Apr 192016

I had the pleasure of attending JISC’s ‘Investigating students’ expectations of the digital environment’ in Leicester with a focus on ‘the digital expectations and experiences of learners in the skills sector’ (14/04/2016). The scope of the study covers work-based learning (including apprenticeships), adult and community learning and offender learning.’ There was mixed group of attendance with some of us from HE. This event gave us an insight into the issues and opportunities affecting learners in the skills sector in respect of the ‘digital environment’; such learners can easily become learners (students) of HE too. In brief research in this area by JISC involved gathering data and having focus groups using ‘experience cards’ which can be used to ‘support conversations about students digital experience’. These cards are great at starting off conversations which can often be tricky at first and hopefully allows students to think about various areas around technology and related services that impact their experience during their course of study. These cards are multi-purpose and can be tweaked to suit the learning context, they can be easily used as a planning or an evaluation tool. By getting the learners ‘doing’ something hopefully allows for a more rounded response and consider the issues at hand.

Understanding the learner  experience and expectations  of the digital environment is important to channel support and guidance for our diverse cohort of students and inform us about the technology we have invested to use – therefore having an added opportunity for the ‘student voice’ funnel is just as important as in appreciating the lecturer’s  learning and teaching objectives for the course who is having to balance how technology can facilitate and support the curriculum. It’s good to know that we incorporate this in the project work that we do.

Technology can facilitate in so many HE academic practices as we know -assessment, teaching content, communications, research and collaboration, such technology  and service related technology now is very much extended into the modern workplace and digital literacy is regarded as a key skill for graduate/post graduate employability. We recognise that teaching staff value sharing effective practices in the usage of technology e.g. PGCertHE for their professional development and starting from their academic teaching practices is essential to see the wider uses of applied technology. We know what purpose technology can serve in a course of study and that the responsibility lies in how the lecturer chooses to use it. If we can sift through the essential information and digital skills that students  should possess and for this to be more widely available and accessible, this and building digital experiences  through the curriculum – we can hopefully ensure that we are equipping our students with the necessary skills set to engage in the wider digital environment.

Our current student ‘digital’ support can be steered collectively to reach out to all our students informed by both student and staff experiences as notably found when I completed the ‘Teaching Systems Review’ project, students valued the technologies we have invested in and have aired where some improvements can be made – by listening and acting we can make a difference and steps are being made towards this.

JISC highlighted  a ‘Benchmarking tool – the student digital experience – which could be used to evaluate current practices in this area to plan any work that may be needed, it would be good to evaluate!


Apr 122016

The HEA Arts & Humanities conference took place last month in sunny Brighton: there were quite a few interesting ELT-related sessions at the conference which are outlined below plus links to further information.

Jonathan Worth, Newcastle University Open Lab: Synthesising approaches to openness

Excellent keynote by Jonathan Worth from Newcastle University Open Lab: he talked about not just ‘Teaching with‘ the digital, but ‘teaching of the digital.’  Jonathan discussed his #Phonar global photography classes, Phonar Nation, an international initiative enabling young people to take part in their own representation as well as much, much more: hugely inspiring and thought-provoking.  You can read more about his work on using the affordances of social media in teaching here.

Christopher Wiley, University of Surrey: How to use electronic voting systems creatively in arts & humanities teaching

Using electronic voting systems in the context of Dance, Drama and Music to enhance critical engagement.  1.2 abstract here – his presentation isn’t available but you can read more about Christopher’s work, including his role as a Turning Technologies Distinguished Educator here.

Christopher Hall, Sheffield Hallam University: Infographics as module guides (Poster Presentation)

Using infographics to capture an entire module guide on one page – used as a front page in Blackboard and as hard copy.  You can read the poster presentation abstract here.

Infographics as Module Guides

Christopher Hall’s poster showing a module guide presented as an infographic

Sarah Crowson & Simon Denison, Hereford College of Arts: How to build a less formal online learning space

Students felt more ownership of the informal online learning space created in WordPress, and engaged more with this space compared to the the official VLE.  12.7 abstract here and you can read in more detail about Sarah and Simon’s action research project here.

Alexis Taylor, University of Northampton and Phil Perry, University of Coventry:#CovNorth
16.8 abstract here and you can see at #CovNorth the way that students preferred email to Twitter for professional communication.  My favourite quote of the conference came from this presentation: ‘Twitter is for old people’ according to these students at least.

More on the conference website: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events-conferences/event/inspire-%E2%80%93-sharing-great-practice-arts-and-humanities-teaching-and-learning

Julia Reeve

Jun 052015

Dr Neil Brown mainly teaches Energy Analysis Techniques, Energy Efficiency, and Mechanical and Electronic Engineering Labs, in the School of Engineering and Sustainable development at DMU.
Traditionally, all feedback in the Energy and Sustainable Development (ESD) Subject Group has been text based due to the use of a specific database for communicating feedback to students. The database was partly developed for the benefit of the Distance Learners in ESD who make up the majority of the cohort.

Neil’s  biggest single marking load is Energy Analysis Techniques, this is a core module to three MSc courses and the assessment comprises of two written components. To provide as much meaningful feedback to students as is possible and to be able to mark efficiently and away from the university whilst offline; he has identified an innovative and efficient way to provide feedback that his students have also embraced.

The approach adopted bypasses the computer keyboard by using speech to text software to simply dictate to the computer. Using this approach it’s possible to generate feedback much more quickly, with less fatigue, and allowing concentration on the subject in hand.  He also uses this technique to generate course notes for Distance Learners and he has found that dictation can be around 5-6x faster than typing.

For marking, the overall process is not sped up massively, but the extra detail possible in feedback means that there are almost zero queries on marks from students, which in itself offers a massive time saving. One recent comment was that a student was ‘blown away’ by the amount of feedback.

For Energy Analysis Techniques, comments on each report are grouped as; general comments, notable good features, and areas for improvement.  Comments could also be placed in the submitted PDF of each assignment. This is done in conjunction with grid marking, where a spreadsheet is used to generate marks based on weighted criteria.  It’s not vital to mark in this way, but grouping comments this way, plus grid marking makes things easier still.

Neil uses Dragon Naturally Speaking 10, which now costs around £30. The basic microphone which comes boxed with the software works reasonably well, but he has found that suppliers of dictation software to GPs etc. offer microphones with much better results – expect to spend around £30-50.
Usually, the dictation is carried out using a basic Dell laptop from 2010, running Windows 7. The Dragon Naturally Speaking CD installs itself in Windows and the software can be configured to run on Linux with some tweaking, and Mac OS. He has also trialled other speech to text solutions such as Google speech recognition and IBM ViaVoice but the Google product proved less reliable on accuracy.  The IBM product worked well but it did require significantly more training.

To dictate, a microphone is plugged into the laptop and the Dragon software is started along with the application (Word, Excel, Open/Libre office, Notepad). Training the software to recognise a specific voice takes around 30 minutes and involves reading some set passages before dictating for real. This ‘training’ can be one-off, although the software does become more accurate with more use by the same person/voice.

A bespoke database had been used in the past, long before Blackboard was used for providing feedback, but now the subject group uses DMU’s Blackboard Learn VLE installation. Blackboard Learn offers the chance to provide audio feedback too, circumventing text altogether. Neil and the ELT Project Officer discussed this and Neil tested this multimedia based audio feedback approach, although after a trial the students stated a preference for text as text is easier to skim read and pick out the salient points. He also felt that the audio files were rather lengthy, handling them became fiddly for a large cohort, so has now reverted to dictation.

This approach to providing rich text based electronic feedback not only benefits students but colleagues who may have a disability could also adopt this technique to speak their feedback.  The software can also control the computer, offering improved functionality for anyone who is differently able.

Neil’s top tips for those who may wish to replicate this practice would be:

  1. Use a good quality microphone – background noise can reduce the accuracy of the software
  2. Set the software to be as accurate as possible and speak clearly
  3. Skim read the output text before releasing to the student as some specialist words or phrases can be misinterpreted
  4. Understand your students – Energy Analysis Techniques students prefer text based feedback but in other subjects it may be more appropriate to provide audio, text, or feedback in other media.

Ian Pettit, Neil Brown

Jul 282014

Blackboard has been upgraded to service pack 14 on the 10th July 2014 (previous version service pack 8) which has brought some new features and improvements to existing ones. See here for more details.

Why do we upgrade?

There are many reasons why we have to upgrade, software, browsers, hardware, data security and other web technologies are constantly having updates we need to ensure that our systems such as Blackboard operate efficiently. We also need to keep up with the latest release as older releases will no longer be supported which could cause us issues if we had a problem.

The CELT team were involved in evaluating and testing features in subsequent service packs from 8 to our current version 14. There are some features that we have disabled after evaluation based on data security and workflow process and we will be keeping a close eye on how these are further developed so staff and students get the best teaching and learning experience using Blackboard. Were running some central staff Blackboard overview sessions as well as faculty sessions, more details in the link above. Hope to see you there!


Jul 282014

Chris Knifton, Richard Postance and Helen Rooney from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at DMU have been capturing student role-play sessions on video for use as formative reflective learning materials.

A case study detailing this approach is available on the CELT Hub at:



Jul 022014

Just a quick post about a neat trick I discovered today that could help improve access to files for students and staff.

A colleague was looking for a more intuitive way to point fellow staff members to a Blackboard course's file repository as the link (in Control Panel) is not always obvious.

Firstly we right-clicked the link in the browser and copied the link location to the clipboard.

We then created a new item in a content area, inserted a picture and submitted.

Once submitted, the item was edited and with the picture selected the hyperlink button was clicked and the URL for the course file repository pasted into the link URL.

The changes were submitted and we now have a big picture/button within a content area that takes staff and students (depending on permissions) to the course files or a specific directory. This is much more obvious for staff members who may be using a Blackboard course or Organisation for sharing files.

We also found that this approach can be used when creating an Announcement too. Using the divider on the Announcement page we can permanently stick a link to the student files to the top of the default course entry page.

Using this approach could help in a scenario where students need the content of a directory and the instructor can save time by using this technique as an alternative to attaching individual files to an item or using the folder content type as the folder content type offers limited ability to wrap links within contextual and support information.



Jun 122014

workshopsJISC Legal has produced an online training course in copyright for academics and those supporting academic staff on legally using other people's materials in teaching and learning.  It is a standalone module which takes an hour to complete, and consists of some videos, audio, animation and text pages.

For more information on copyright for teaching and learning at DMU see:



[note: the content of this post has been borrowed from http://libguides.library.dmu.ac.uk/copyright]

Jun 032014

We will be having a Blackboard upgrade this summer 2014. Here is a sneak preview of what to expect!

More information about the upgrade will appear soon.


Global Navigation Menu and My Blackboard

When you first log in to the newly upgraded Blackboard, you will see an overlay that highlights some of the new features. On clicking on your name in the  upper right-hand corner of the screen, a drop-down menu will appear, providing access to content notifications, user profile, and the newly redesigned calender.

The Global Navigation panel consists of a set of text links within the user menu – this is the right panel headed 'Courses'. Selecting a course link will take you to that Blackboard Course. The My Blackboard menu with icons is loacted on the darker left panel. These menus give you a personalized view of your learning environment.

The user menu on the right (contains Courses, Organizations, Settings) which provides access to your courses, communities, as well as the Home and Help links at the very bottom of the panel.

My Blackboard menu (on the left) shows timely course communication, recent posts, due dates, grades (for students only) and more for all of your courses. It provides icons and links to various areas of Blackboard. The icons and the numbers in red boxes signal the presence and number of new information, such as new messages and new posts.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard. Please note that we may not be using all the icons displayed in this view.


New Content Editor

The new content editor improves the user experience for adding text and digital content. The update brings a new math formula editor (WIRIS) that is based on JavaScript.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard on the new content editor

Find out more on the Maths Editor Improvements


Inline Grading Assignment

A revision to the current assignment workflow allowing instructors to view student submitted files 'inline'. Annotation tools enable instuctors to provide feedback including comments, highlights and even drawing/annotations directly on the inline view of the document

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Inline Grading for Blackboard, Discussion, Blogs and Wikis

The Inline Grading sidebar design has now been added to Blogs, Journals, Wikis and Discussion Boards.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Groups Management – Enhancement

This update to groups simplifies the process of creating and managing groups. Manage all course groups at once from the 'All Groups' page, including deleting multiple groups at once, creating GradeCnter Smart Views and enabling or disabling Group Tools. Plus on the users page, group membership is now listed.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Discussion Boards

A modern discussion interface that displays all posts and options on a single page, allows for inline posrting and can also require students to post before participating.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Retention Center

A tools that enables instructors to give focused attention to students who may be at risk. Ths tool is based on preconfigured rules created in a Blackbord module. It replaces the Early Warning System feature with easy workflows, while reati8ning all existing early Warning System data and rule.

Note Works in FireFox and not Internet Explorer or Google Chrome

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Calendar Enhancement

Instructors and students can view personal, course and system-wide events in a single calendar view.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Test Improvements

Item Analysis on a Test
This fearture allows for  the ability to evaluate the quality of each question and that question’s ability to discriminate between students who understand the material and those who do not.  Ineffective questions can be easily identified and then quickly corrected with the Automatic Regrade feature.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

File Attachments in Tests
Files that are attached to test questions must be uploaded using the content editor. This will store the files in Course Files in the Blackboard module.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Test and Survey options

Test Availability Exceptions—have been added to the Test/Survey Options page which allows you to set the Test/Survey options once the Test/Survey has been added to a content are, improved workflow including group and user deployment, improved handling of late submissions, having a test 'begin page' to add additional information before the test is taken and more.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard

Find out more on Blackboard help on Test and Survey options

Test Availbilty Option ' Score Attempts Using' (also in Blackboard Assignments)

In test deployment options the option 'Score Attempts Using' has been added. Previosuly this option was only available from the Grade Center, this created an inefficient worksflow iif your test or assignment was set to multiple attempts beacuse you had to remember to navigate to the Grade Center if you wanted to change the default score that was displayed to students if there was more than one attempt on an test or assignment. Now when you deply a test or assignment you can specify which attempt score to display.


Event- based method for releasing Test results and Feedback to students

In test deployment options, there are additional feedback options to provide instructors with more control on when and how students can view test feedback. Also evebts can be triggered to specific feedback settings

Find out more on Blackboard help on Test results and Feedback to students


Test Question Positioning

It's now possible to create a new test question in the desired location with respect to questions that have been created already.


Test Access Log

Detailed Information on student test attempt interactions are now availble, this helps address issues as to whether students have began to take the test or ran into issues whilst taking the test.

Find out more on Blackboadr Help on Test Access Log


Test Export Options

All questions are now retained in imported and exported tests, these include questions that originate outside the exoprted test (i.e. question sets , random blocks and question links. Questioms that are in question sets and random blocks in teh originating tests are imported into the new course in question pool. Single questins that were linked in the originating test are imported as 'native' (non-linked) questions.


Mobile Browser Support for Mashups

Changes in how mashups are processed allow them to play on mobile devices via a web browser.



Accessibilty Improvements

The Quick Links tool allows a user to quickly locate any heading or section within any page in the Blackboard Learn application and jump directly to it.

videolink Watch an overview video by Blackboard


Course Reports – Single Course User Participation Report 

In the option 'Evalutions | Course Reports' (via Control Panel) in a Blackboard course you can run several types of course reports to view information about course usage and activity. You can now run the report 'Single Course Participation Report' –  If run, this reports displays the number of user submissions in your course for Blakcboard assignments, tests, discussions, blogs, and journals within a chosen time frame. Note this information is provided in a Microsoft® Excel® spreadsheet (.xls). Also if no activity exists for an item type, then no assignment column appears in the spreadsheet.

Find out more on Blackboard help on Blackboard Course Reports