Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Is that really me? Turning on student pictures in blackboard

This post is about this uses surrounding the process of making personal images available via blackboard VLE.

It is now possible for personal images that represent you in online spaces (avatars) to accompany any postings made in blackboard. This has great benefits but also carries concerns, and highlights the wider issue of representation on line or virtual presence.

The process could work in 2 ways, the start-from-blank way, users (staff and students) could be allowed to upload their own image, starting with a blank, or here-i-am way, users could have their university image uploaded for them, and could then change it.

Here-I-am, solves a major problem that has been discussed by lecturers many times.
It takes them a long time to remember and identify students names with faces. Seeing recognisable faces online will all help this process. And in a similar way students will benefit from seeing each other. So far, so good for overall student community.

Would the Here-I-am stiffly the emergence of online identity? Would this impact of student engagement in online activities.

Online presence embodied in avatars
No avatar image in neutral, they all say something personal about you. Other participants are hungry for information about you to help them analyse your text. Even having no image can be interpreted in a particular way. Having an egg as an avatar in twitter can say, I'm new, I'm shy, I'm not committed or I can't find how to upload an image. This is part of the process of becoming a tweeter, you commit a little bit more of yourself when you finally upload that image. This all connects with you immersing online identity. So would having an image of yourself already there make a difference to that process?

For students . . .Possibly yes and no.
Having an image already there, I would say, helps with making a positive break in the creation on an online identity. It says, here I am, both to the audience and to the student. Who will I be at university, becomes a more explicit process. However, when making that first posting in the VLE with not only text but also an image, may increase procrastination, as they battle with how to commit to expressing this identity. Now, anyone can possibly put a name and a face to those tenter time first postings.

What does research say
Strano (2008) sees the avatar image as a central mechanism to expression of identity in Facebook. In the study, younger uses change the image more regularly that older. This may be because younger users are less certain of their self image or identity. What's interesting is younger remains change their image more than any other group, and are more including to include others in their image, eg boyfriend. While older uses are much more included to be alone in their image. Zhou et al (2008) sees users upload more of a true representation of themselves in closed networks, which blackboard would be categorised as.

So Not much convincing evidence from research yet to say students may be more or less inclined to engage. However, the important point here is that students maybe more inclined to but an image up that will be of themselves. Being an internal network, where the pressure to preform in a more open social space such as Facebook maybe reduced. This change in demands to present yourself in a particular way may lead to the creation of new academic identities as the space offered is free of this pressure. Although, it may carry new pressures as yet unsurfaced by the literature. This might be interesting to research next year.

Staff and images
The reseach might indicate that the images will be less problematic. profile images are changed the lesast by older age groups. This also carries a very different dynamic. On the surface, getting staff to involve themselves in creation of profiles seems positive. However, I can image staff will be troubled by the pressure to perform in a particular way. We will have to wait and see on this one.


Strano, M. M. (2008). User Descriptions and Interpretations of Self-Presentation through Facebook Profile Images. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 2(2), article 5.
Shanyang Zhao, Sherri Grasmuck, Jason Martin, Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 24, Issue 5, September 2008, Pages 1816-1836, ISSN 0747-5632, 10.1016/j.chb.2008.02.012. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563208000204) Keywords: Anonymity; Facebook; Identity; Internet; Self-presentation; Social networking sites

Wiki, Blogs and Discussion boards

I'm putting information together to a session on these tools. I had some old nots that took me to Warwick University blog site. You might remember, but when blogs first became popular Warwick were very quick to make blog spaces available to all students. The site is still going, but as you can see from the stats, it tells a story of the rise in interest in this technology and the decline caused mostly by Facebook dominating university campus communications.

three character feedback - could this be the answer

We have been testing the latest version of blackboard today. The new editor interface is a lot better. I noticed in the feedback section you can add emotioncons. Perhaps this is the answer to quick feedback (only kidding ;)

Monday, 15 April 2013

My slides from blackboard conference

Here are the slides from the blackboard conference session. New connections and spaces, developing a data exchange system to support innovations in blackboard.
This session showed the details of how data is kept up to date and exchanged from the student information system into blackboard. This allows us to make accessible the blackboard community sites 4 weeks prior to students arriving on their course. I discussed the impact of the blackboard programme sites and Jack Butterworth provided the details of the process.

There were many questions, and people were interested in the efforts these sites might have on retention. Many of those who came to the session were in developer roles. They also commented that many of the presentations at the conference lacked a technical system wide detail.
You'll find more details about the project here http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/Academic_Enhancement/123182.htm

How I would like to see mygrades develop

Blackboard seem to be interested in re developing the my grades area in blackboard. This area allows students to see their grades and access any feedback.
I would like to make a few suggestions. However, they are perhaps more radical than wish. I have read extensively around the area of feedback, and these are some ideas that come from project and research I have come across.

Mygrades = myfeedback
In the UK the term 'feedback' has become a key area of research and interest. This is mostly because it features in the national student survey. Low scores for this area of the survey has meant that many student campaigns by universities have tried to educate the students about the benefits of engaging with feedback. The research around this area has also come to some very convincing arguments how feedback changes the student engagement and depth of learning. Taking all this into account my grades should be called myfeedback.

Separating the release of feedback and marks
In addition to this it should be designed in such a way to bring prominence to the feedback rather than the mark. Over concentration on the mark, by students, reduces their ability to see and use feedback. E.g." I got 55, that's a pass I'm though, I'll read the feedback later". I have worked hard over the past years to help staff bypass blackboard's design in order to get students to engage with their feedback and with online activities connected to it, before they are allowed to see their mark. This is very difficult to achieve with the current design, and it seems might even be harder in the future. The simple activities to be completed, such as planning and reflection processes in the form of online tests have allowed students to process their feedback, and provided staff with an understanding of how students are thinking and using feedback. Blackboard could build some functionality to help slow down the process of getting marks and allow the creation of activities connected with feedback.

General feedback.
There are no systems currently to allow generic feedback to groups of students. All feedback mechanisms are designed at the individual level, with the possible exception of the rubric tool. This is not about feedback for group work, but occasions when
- A number of students have all made similar errors
- An overview of common mistakes would help all or a particular targeted range of students e.g all those achieving a particular grade.
The tools to allow generic feedback to all or particular students could, if well designed speed up the process of providing feedback and allow greater depth of information provided.

Feedforward is the process where students and staff can see and make explicit connections between past feedback and the next assessments. for instance if i receive feedback commenting on my performance in a presentation, and can then . .
- See when the next time I will be asked to perform a similar task, where I can use that feedback to improve
- Have feedback actually talk about the ways in which I could work to achieve a higher grade explicitly for this next assessment
- be encouraged to review feedback before taking the next assignment.
Blackboard could support the process by which all students can, at a glance, see the connections between up and coming assessments, and plan which aspects of their learning need to be improved to allow them to complete these successfully. This level of engagement in their own learning process will help to build their independent learning skills so vital to future careers.
I would suggest a tool which allows staff to see all assignments across a programme, and allow then to visually connect these together. This feedback map could help all staff and students see the range and timings of assessment.
When marking work staff and be more informed when making comments because they will be more aware of the connecting assessments.

Mygrades should contain an indication of these links, and also a space for students to input their thoughts on improvements.
If future assignments do have links back to past assignments then these should be appear as links in the interface encouraging students to view the feedback.

Student reflections and planning
The mygrades tool needs to contain a space for student comments. This would allow the student to think and oceans the patterns of particular issues their may have. By seeing at a glance the past successes and failures, and see the comments on why those failures may have happened they can then plan for the future and change their behaviour. I believe that this information should be visible by key academics e.g personal tutor. The current eportfolio system in blackboard is being run down. I think this takes the best parts of that process and breathes new life into it.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

My blackboard: community or collaboration?

I feel a little bit bad about saying this, but here goes . . .
Blackboard's latest developments of a student lead social space has me confused. They have developed a set of tools that now sit on the homepage. These draw discussion topics or key dates from the calendar and present them in one handy place. So far so good, no one would argue that this is not a useful addition for any user, student or staff.
What's confusing is the addition of a small chat space within this area. This allows students to build a profile and share it with students in the institution or potentially with other institutions. What I'm surprised by is the lack of information that surrounds this development. I expected to hear some stories of piloting, or some connection with student demands for this service. It feels to me as if this is as Jessica Finnefrock put it at the beginning of the conference, a chance for blackboard to "play" with the potential of these systems.
I've got a feeling that the tool probably didn't take that long to develop, it is very simple in structure, but why dedicate development time to something that offers the user so little.
It all feels a little like the 'scholar' blackboard social bookmarking tool. Which tried to bring the power of 'delicious' into the blackboard environment. But the tool simply didn't match to the larger and more popular bookmarking sites, and was quietly closed. As delegates pointed out during the blackboard keynote, why concentrate on these types of enhancement, when the main tool is still crying out for development. Blackboard can never catch Facebook, or even emulate it. There seems to be a gap between what blackboard would like to give academics and students, and what is needed at this current time.

Distance learning development at Derby

There was an excellent presentation by Ester Jubb and Sandra Stevenson-Revill. Derby have been delivering distance learning for 10 years and have a couple of thousand distance learning students. This area is seeing the largest expansion in student numbers in the institution. The current management have made this a strategic development for the university. Which has help Ester and Sandra priorities the development of a distance learning business within the institution.

Key areas of interest from me was the quick development of customer services for distance learning students, making it easier for them to phone in a get help, rather than get lost trying to find the right department.

The carrier bag issue
Many of the old distance module sites were disorganised, and needed redesign. This all fitted with the notion of the VLE becoming the campus for the distance student and needed to be organised and pleasant to engage with.

Staff development was another key issue as the needs of these students are very different student and the transition for tutors to become online tutors is difficult

Webpa, up and running

We finally have a working version, can't wait to test it out tomorrow. I think this is going to be such a useful addition to our tools set.

Using blackboard collaborate to support distance learning students with computer issues

This is a neat idea that came from a presentation by Ester Jubb's presentation.
Distance learning students may have a variety of issues with their computers. The university help desk can help by using collaborate to share desktops and see what the issues are. It might be worth talking to our help desk support team about the possible extension of this.

Blackboard collaborate session

We have collaborate, and I was keen to hear from more people at the conference.

Key additional features include:
When you add a timetabled session it appears in the new calendar
Blackboard IM allows instant access to a wimba room, if discussions need to be taken further.

The session included some excellent examples from other institutions. Both reported a very high level of reliability for students and staff. Seeing that both examples were pulling students in from around the world, it gives me extra confidence that this tool will be useful of our distance development, even in hard to reach at areas of the world.

There were some nice examples of the use of the tool for distance student presentation which could also be recorded. Here students would be offered a practice space to make sure they are happy with the tool, and then be given a slot to go through their presentation.

There wasn't a chance to share ideas, but here's one that might be in development. Many staff here use the system to prerecord presentation materials. Two things would help with this process, a pause button for the recording, and a very cut down editing tool. This could be used to re edit the content if content change between each delivery.