Using Blackboard Communities as a staff team

Improving working practices as a division




Kaushika Patel
School of Applied Social Sciences
Faculty of Health & Life Sciences


In this audio interview Kaushika about her use of Blackboard communities for her team and how it has helped their practice as a team.
Audio transcript

We have a large division with a number of programmes. Professional programmes such as Policing and Probation, traditional undergraduate programmes such as Criminology, postgraduate programme which is an MA in Criminology, and post doctorate in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

So many students, so many different programmes and because some of these are distance learning programmes, staff aren’t always here at DMU because they have to be out and about on visits, and they need access to some of our core documents that we use, or their team might use – feedback sheets or learning agreements. You don’t always have these on your data stick, and not everybody likes to use data sticks. We have a shared drive, but you cannot access this from off Campus due to the confidential nature of some of the material. So the question was: how can we have access to information? Not student information or confidential information as that will stay on the shared drive, but basic day-to-day things that we use, such as assessment timetables. Some people may be writing validation document form home and they need access to things that normally we keep on the shared drive. So what happens is they email me asking if I can find it for them, so I spend half my time looking for things n the shared drive and emailing it to people.

So for me it was a very practical thing about my capacity. So I decided to create a community space in the VLE. The whole division was on board and they loved it.

The site has the usual things in it such as announcements and information. I haven’t used the announcements yet but I was planning on using it for information such as meetings that have been set up, feedback on things that are happening that the whole division needs to know.

So when we were doing our validation for the new criminology programme everybody had to have various input, everyone had to do their own module templates, so rather than being emailed out to everybody for consultation and people commenting via email, we’ve put things on the community site and people could just go onto the document, find what they needed from wherever they were working. But it’s in one place, so it doesn’t matter where you are working from, you can access it.

As we’ve got so many changed happening to research. And we’ve got the REF coming up. We’ve got new paperwork that has been implemented by the university, tutorials on how to fill that paperwork. Rather than emailing everybody, and people not saving it where they should save it, not finding it in their emails, we have one place where everybody has it.

[Interviewer questions: Is it just yourself who maintains the community site?]

Staff look after their own areas, I just add bits to it that are needed, This has made my life as a manager much easier, but for the staff its meant that they can access most of the process things we need. So even if people are at conferences, or abroad at conferences and they need to access things they are still there. They can still get into it and do what they need to do. Without having to remember to save it to a data stick and take it with them.

The big problem that we had with the shared drive was that each programme leader setup their own folder and their system of organising content is different from everyone else. So when I setup the filing system on the shared drive it made sense to me but it didn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else where I’d put things. So we were trying to resolve that and we’ve come up with index and content. So we’ve opted for very obvious titles for each file, so that it says ‘what’s on the tin’ so to speak. We’re still trialing how this works, and in terms of each area it works brilliantly, in terms of finding things we’ve not had a problem. So the next stage for me is that, currently all of the programme leaders and myself do all of the uploading, the next step is for all staff to start putting things on as well, the rest of the teams need to be putting things on that they find useful. Or to make comment on things that are missing, or how can we better do things.

The thing that I wanted to add to it is, we’ve started to do a lot more external income generation, and when I do bid writing I need input from a lot of people and I’m finding it harder and harder to get people round a table. I use wikis loads with my students, I love using wikis with my students, I think they are wonderful things. So the next step for me when the next big bid comes in, where there’s 3 or 4 of us involved, I think an initial face to face meeting is important so that everyone knows who is who; the next step is that we encourage people to have dialogues through wikis.

I’m finding that the bids that I’m writing are broader than just my division, which is not a problem because I can enroll other people on the community site. Other people in the division are a bit concerned about issues of confidentiality. But we have been very careful not to put things on the community shells which are confidential.

For the next bid there are 13 people who are a part of that. So we have a first face-to-face meeting and after that further development I want to be on the community site and people can see what each other are doing and not working in isolation.

I use doodle to setup meetings, so I’ve organised this meeting of 13 people via doodle, which has been brilliant. But I’ve had to email the same documents to people 3 or 4 times because they have deleted it or can’t remember where they have saved it.

The conversation this afternoon will include information about the community site, that they will be enrolled on it and that this is how we will move forward with the package that we are working on.

So that’s how we’ve used a community site. Its’ early days, but next year once the academic session starts we will look at more creative ways of working with it as people have become more familiar.

It’s little things like when it comes to issue we’ve had with the assessment schedule this year. People can’t remember if the programme leader has saved a master, because we all had our version of it. On the community shell we can save a copy and develop it. See where we are doing well and progressing well in terms of responding to NSS outcomes and making sure our assessment schedule works in response to what people have said. And keep a track of things. And its evidence for our probation programme, for which we have to go through a QA process with an external body. And I’ve just had the QA paperwork in; and the amount of information and paperwork that we are going to have to gather; we’re going to setup a folder on the community site so people can just start putting things into it.

Because of the QA thing we can see how it can evolve. Traditionally we would have had to have had a box file, after each meeting we would have to keep the minutes, student evaluations, everything would have to go in there and then they would come and do a desktop review. This way I can give them access to the community site for the day. They can go through all of our materials that are on there. They can also review our online teaching whilst they are in the VLE. So we don’t need to physically print out masses of paperwork.

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