Blackboard Open Education MOOC platform

Open Education powered by Blackboard is a free, cloud-based, supported open education/MOOC platform which will gives Blackboard customers the ability to run open courses/MOOCs using the technology that they’re familiar. Courses offered by the Blackboard community of global institutions are free and open to the public. Learn more at


Blackboard Streamline Learning Solutions

BB World 2014Last week at BB World 2014, we learned that Blackboard are to streamline their Learning Solutions to provide cost-effective combinations of their products and services to provide you with the technology and support best suited to each institution.

So let’s introduce you to the four solutions on offer:

1. Learning Core: Formerly Blackboard Learn including Content, Community, Mobile and XPLOR

2. Learning Essentials: Includes Learning Core plus Collaborate

3. Learning Insight: Includes Learning Core and Essentials plus Learning Analytics

4. Learning Insight & Student Retention: All of the above plus Data Analytics, Reporting and services to help identify, engage and retain at-risk students.

When these changes come about and whether prices will change remains to be seen … but we will bring you news when we find out.


Turning Technologies User Conference

On Monday, 22nd September 2014, Turning Technologies will be running a User Conference hosted by The University of Manchester.  This one day conference has just opened a Call for Proposals (deadline 25 July 2014).

This conference offers opportunities for breakout session presentations where educators can share best practices and insights related to TurningPoint.  If you would like to share your success story within the community of users – please consider submitting a proposal.  The benefits of being a speaker are complimentary conference registration (valued at £75), you will strengthen your reputation as an expert in your field, gain exposure with other educators and response technology users and present alongside renowned scientist and researcher Dr Eric Mazur who is this year’s Keynote speaker.

Details can be found here:


North East Learning Environments

On Thursday, 3rd July, the North East Learning Environments group (affectionately known as NELE) met at Durham University.  Learning Technologists from across Durham, Teesside, Northumbria and Newcastle Universities met in order to network, discuss upcoming upgrades and share experiences.  Newcastle representatives (Carol Summerside, Mark Agar and Phil Ansell) came along to share their experience of their large scale implementation of a lecture capture system called Panopto and this session gave us all food for thought.

There was lots of discussion around the upcoming Blackboard upgrade and Blackboard themselves had provided lots of answers to questions that had been sent to them in advance.  We then discussed Blackboard Mobile Learn as Newcastle and Northumbria had rolled this out on an Enterprise Licence and Teesside on a Pay Per App basis over this last academic year.  All three institutions agreed that Mobile had caused no problems in running it, requiring little support and that take-up had been high with very little effort in promoting it.  Following Teesside’s initial roll out they have now acquired a joint University licence for Mobile Learn and MOSAIC.  MOSAIC is a tool in Blackboard that allows a University to create their own branded institutional app that can deliver tailored information to staff and students as well as providing a link to Mobile Learn.

Later in the day Sheetal Chudasama and James Dean from Blackboard joined us online via Collaborate to talk about new features in the upgrade and to answer any outstanding questions.  New to us was the addition of Explorance BluePulse for garnering student feedback whilst courses were running – so this stirred a lot of interest and once this building block is released in a couple of weeks at BBWorld, we shall be looking at this in greater detail to see what it offers.

A good day was had by all and we look forward to the next get together to discuss how our individual institutional upgrades went.


6th International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference

From 16th to 18th June I was at The Sage in Gateshead attending the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference hosted by TurnitinUK. The main themes this year were:
On-line evaluation tools and techniques
Promoting awareness in diverse cultures
Embedding institutional policy and practice
Techniques to develop student skills

Keynote Speakers
The conference started with a talk by Adrian Slater, head of legal services at Leeds University who, in a lively workshop highlighted some of the problems encountered in group work.

Then we heard from Dr Toni Sant who is part of Wikipedia and was promoting students writing articles for Wikipedia as an assignment task.

Tricia Bertram Gallant made the delegates think by suggesting we focus too much on academic integrity which makes students think that this is a skill only for the time they spend at university instead of promoting professional integrity which they will need for all their working life. She believes we fail to teach student critical thinking so they do not have the skill to make important decisions when there is a conflict of loyalties such as helping a friend who is struggling with their work against getting both into trouble for collusion or plagiarism.

Samantha Grant spoke about her documentary on the fall of Jason Blair at the New York Times explaining how a series of circumstances including 9/11 allowed him to get away with fabrication and plagiarism for as long as he did.

The final keynote was Professor Dan Ariely who explored the human capacity for self deceit. His findings indicate that peer view can carry more weight than legal considerations and gave music downloads as an example of this behaviour. He conducted an experiment where 20 mathematical questions were provided and the subject was asked to report how many they completed in 5 minutes with a financial reward for each completed question. The subjects believed they were shredding the papers (which were only shredded at the edges) and analysis proved that people routinely added 2 or 3 to the number actually completed. From this Professor Ariely concluded that we will cheat or be dishonest to the level we think we can get away with.
He points out that cheating is something we do to ourselves and can be destructive. His findings also seem to indicate that creative people are more likely to be able to convince themselves that their cheating is justified than intelligent people or risk takers.

On-line evaluation tools and techniques
Dr S. D. Sivasubramaniam School of Science and Technology, Nottingham Trent University presented his method of continuous based feedback using the originality report from Turnitin together with custom feedback to each student allowing mistakes to be highlighted and discussed thus promote learning of good practice. Dr Sivasubramaniam admits this is time consuming but feels the benefits are worth the time spent. He also concedes that this is a continual process throughout the students time at university.

Promoting awareness in diverse cultures
Esme Anderson from Edinburgh University presented some work she had done with Dr Frank Mill on trying to detect plagiarism in 3D CAD work using shape similarity and some open source software called NodeXL. While this does seem to highlight students of concern it is far from easy and not yet reliable enough to be used on a regular basis.

Dr Mehmet Şahin et al. from Izmir University of Economics, Turkey presented their findings on the level of plagiarism in translated versions of Robinson Crusoe. There is a great deal of money to be made from translated books in Turkey and the conclusions of this study where that only 20% of the translations available were genuine. They found many translations were attributed to people who could not be traced.

Embedding institutional policy and practice
Stephanie Jameson and Frances Chapman discussed the implementation at Leeds Metropolitan University of Jude Carroll’s recommendations for a holistic institutional approach to academic integrity policy and practice. In order to have a consistent approach across the whole university they have:

  • academic integrity officers
  • a university panel to decide the penalties for misconduct
  • introduce a tariff of penalties which are made public to students

Annamarie McKie introduced an interesting theory by suggesting academic integrity was ‘Troublesome Knowledge’ as identified by Meyer and Land. She works for the University for the Creative Arts and in these courses borrowing of images is encouraged. She reinforced the message that you need to educate students as to why you should avoid plagiarism and this integrity message needs to be repeated throughout the time at university.

Simon et al from Newcastle University, Australia talked about how good a fit an institutional academic integrity policy was with non-textual assessments such as computer code and concluded that there is ‘no one size fits all’ policy.

Dr Tracey Bretag presented her work with the Australian Exemplary Academic Integrity Project which seeks to embed the five core elements for a policy:

  • Access: A policy which is easy to locate, read and which is concise and understandable to all.
  • Approach: A statement of purpose which should, ideally, not be punitive.
  • Responsibility: Every stakeholder is responsible for the implementation of the policy.
  • Detail: Extensive descriptions of breaches, likely outcomes and the processes followed.
  • Support: Systems embedded to enable the implementation of the policy.

This work resulted in the production of The Academic Integrity Toolkit ( as a guide to developing an Academic Integrity policy (aimed at Australian HE initially). The lessons for UK Higher Education are:

  • Use data already collected to inform policy.
  • Appoint champions from all stakeholders (management, academics, students, those outside the university).
  • Introduce a robust decision making process.
  • Keep records for evaluation purposes.

Techniques to develop student skills
Deryck Payne from the Institute of Technology in Dublin spoke of the social norm perspective on academic cheating. He proposed that the main influence in the decision to cheat is above all else the risk of being caught. Information campaigns do not address the cause of cheating and tend to be short lived in their effectiveness. Awareness campaigns also fail and can be counter-productive. His study looked at the causes and determined that misconception was at the root of cheating. Students know when cheating takes place and perceive this behaviour to be typical even when it is not. Students then adjust their behaviour to conform to this misconception. In view of this, intervention was targeted at specific groups using workshops and on-line courses. A strategy was implemented with goals and anticipated outcomes made clear.

Open Themes
Ann Rogerson from the University of Wollongong, Australia talked about the prevalence of essay mill and file swapping sites on the internet today and the problems associated with spotting work submitted by students from such sites. She suggested that sharing is the norm for students who are used to bartering and re-purposing material. Spotting work from essay mills is not easy but there are some clues which can give it away such as:

  • differences in spoken and written English
  • a very generic response to the question
  • references misrepresented, made up or non-existent
  • discussing the essay with the student to determine understanding

Turnitin was not a reliable indicator of purchased essays, although a zero match should set alarm bells ringing.

Conference details can be found at


Digicon Dublin

Today I attended the digicon pre-conference blackboard workshop in a very sunny Dublin. I thought I’d take a few minutes to go through the notes that I’ve made today to reflect on some of the key points and take home messages.

The workshop was obviously looking at digital content in its various guises, both text, interactivities and video, and there were a series of presentations on this from both blackboard and software reps.

Kate Worlock from Outsell wphoto 1ho outlined a report on the current use and uptake of digital textbooks as well as putting forward her vision of what digital content would look like in 2020. Her current reports stated very clearly that ‘Print is not dead’ and the need for a duality of systems with print living alongside the digital. She suggested that students prefer print using this as what she described as a “safety blanket” something familiar but when exposed to digital version of the same items they did slowly move away from this dependence. This point was echoed by Jenni Evans later in the day, however both also pointed out that students have developed working practices that involve working with print medium such as annotation and are reluctant to give this up.

Kate stressed the importance that digital content must deliver more than its print predecessor in challenging times as many believe that digital content ‘should be cheaper than the print version’ in her presentation though she shared the finding that ‘students were not yet taking advantage of the additional features’. One final interesting point from Kate was that staff were also not exploiting potential for digital media, as reliance on ‘old faithful’ textbooks was less time consuming that finding, vetting and maintaining the use of open content.


Another interesting pphoto 4resentations were given from Sam Weber who put forward a thoughtful piece on how students engage with learning materials using an effective example of anatomy from a static textbook to a range of interactive online resources to promote deep learning rather than rote memorisation. He also discussed staff making the corresponding progression from users who simply upload content to the VLE to users who will build material for open online content. For me, one of the most interesting things that Sam suggested in his talk was that ‘Content was commodity’ and that the real value is in what staff build around the content. I think this echoes much of what students see as the ‘added value’ provided by interactivity and engagement with staff.


One presentation from the day that caused most discussion was given by Alice Duijser, who demonstrated learn smart ‘adaptive study tool that continually adapts to a student using continual assessment the tool is designed to track a students performance throughout a course and provide material at the point of need, for instance she cited Ebbinghaus (1885) ‘Curve of Forgetting’ as an example of how revision content would be released at certain points in time to support a student in transferring material from short to long term memory. This would be an incredibly useful tool in students getting the fundamentals of a subject but may have limitations in terms of supporting deep and higher order skills as at first glance it doesn’t facilitate interactivity with staff and peers. However it was a presentation that prompted a number of questions in the audience and  a lively debated that spilled over into the break.

So all in all, a very interesting first day in Dublin. Digital content in all its various formats and how staff and students engage and use this is a thought provoking area and today has definitely given me some ideas to take back.

Posted in New

Plagiarism Education Week (21-25 April 2014)

Plagiarism Education Week is happening again this year from 21st to 25th April.

The theme is “From Copying to Critical Thinking” and is covered in a series of free webcasts.

Turnitin says:

“Plagiarism Education Week returns for its second annual virtual conference from April 21-25. Join us for a week of free, daily webcasts devoted to sharing ideas and best practices to teach educators and students how to move from copying to critical thinking. Certificates of Participation are provided, and we have a few special giveaways!”

More details and links to register for any of the webinars can be found at Plagiarism Education Week.

Posted in New

Assessment & Feedback using Tablet Devices

Assessment & Feedback EventOn Friday, 28 March 2014 I travelled to Loughborough and attended a session delivered by The Tablet Academy in association with Loughborough University, in the Rutland Building on campus.

The facilitator was Dave Foord who was a former lecturer in Sports from Loughborough University and who had set up and now runs The Tablet Academy (A6 Training & Consultancy Ltd).  We introduced each other and determined that we were all there to explore what could be achieved using tablet devices, to share current experiences and trends with a view to prepare our institutions for future students who already use these kinds of devices as part of their every day lives.

There were 8 attendees, 3 from HE, 1 from JISC and 2 from FE.  We were paired so that each of the four teams of two had a Learning Technologist plus a teacher and were given different devices within each team.  I was paired with an FE teacher who was using a Samsung Android device and I used an Apple iPad.  We were given simple activities to familiarise ourselves with the differences of the devices.

We then were given a choice of assessment & feedback activities as a guide and were asked to create our own assessment for another team – who would carry out the activities set using their devices – we would then receive their work so that we could review and provide feedback on.  We were at liberty to choose any apps to set the assessment to delivery to the other team, they could use any method/app to carry out the activity and deliver us their submission, and then we would choose a medium to deliver feedback.  Our created assessment activity was to provide a link to a video that explaining “fracking” and ask them to explain the pros and cons of fracking incorporating some sort of multimedia, but to also justify their sources.  The other team sent us an assessment activity which asked for a picture of a University building, to give some information about the building and asked us each to explain what we personally thought of the building.  Sounds simple enough but when we started we realised that although we knew different apps we struggled to find one that would work on both devices.  Similarly apps that we then chose – worked differently and in many cases caused even more problems.  Very interesting but very frustrating.

The day brought home to me that the idea of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) sounds good in principle but if you need to create activities for students, especially where assessment is involved, that you need to fully evaluate what you are asking them to do and how they would do it so that they can concentrate on the learning activity rather than the method of carrying it out.  This is where it becomes important for your institution to have a strategy in place with regards to where you specify any device can be used or where a specific device becomes part of the learning process.

The following is a link to a post on the BBC entitled “Textbooks replaced by iTunesU Downloads” added today talking about one school’s approach to digital devices where the head teacher said “An iPad on its own isn’t inspiring, it’s the way it’s used that’s inspiring.  Education should be a mixed economy, there should be technology, but it is only there to support what a living, breathing teacher is doing.”


Use of iPads at South Tyneside College

South Tyneside College - iTunesUOn Thursday, 27 February, Malcolm Murray and I visited Ralph Holland at South Tyneside College.  Ralph had recently presented at the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference on how this FE College had gone from being a previous Blackboard User to a Moodle User and then to exploring how to use iPads with Course Manager tools to deliver materials to students via iBooks.

They had recently purchased a number of mini iPads and had them stored in lockable storage units within several central learning hubs. One small cohort of students had been given iPads to take off campus as an experiment to see if this posed any issues for the College. When a class was scheduled the students went and picked up a 16GB ‘Wifi Only’ Mini iPad from the storage unit.  Preloaded were designated Apps to provide additional functionality such as Socrative to allow voting system opportunities, iBooks to read course materials, Showbie to deliver assessment back to the teacher and to receive feedback on it etc.  Course specific apps were also purchased to complement the teaching on certain courses.

The teacher could use Apple’s ‘Air Drop’ system to quickly upload and share their iPad on 60″ TV screens controlled by Apple TV.  With a pin code the students were also allowed to share their screens with the rest of the class.

It was very interesting to see how South Tyneside College were looking to the future by providing specific devices to students.   As a solution for Durham, however, it would be difficult to upscale this up for the numbers of students we have but it was interesting to see how it could be used for distance learners etc or specific courses where students are off campus.  Also interesting to see how iPads could be used by lecturers in teaching rooms equipped with Apple TV and screens thus removing the need for Whiteboards.






Turnitin User Group Meeting – 12th Feb

Last week I spent the day in Birmingham at a UK Turnitin Users’ Group meeting.  At these events the company likes to share its road map and talk about the new features they hope to release that year, but most of the delegates had something else on their mind – the poor performance of the system in December and January, with one of the outages lasting 8 hours. Just as bad was the poor communications whilst the service was unavailable.

Chris Caren (CEO) had flown in from the US. He was obviously well-briefed and began the session in a contrite manner. He offered his sincere apologies, recognising that Turnitin had clearly let us down. Much of the frustration felt by the audience regarding the poor performance at peak times was that we feel Turnitin hold all the information necessary to manage this. They know the submission deadlines and the size of the classes and have a wealth of historical data that should allow them to estimate likely and peak loads. Chris acknowledged this and said that the recent failures were because of people, not technology.  Turnitin (iParadigms) run two installations using the same core software, one in the US, the other in the UK. The US service has remained up and coped with loads more than ten times anything experienced in the UK. So the UK system should have coped. The problem was that someone (no longer working for the company) specified a database for the UK system that was too small and it ground to a halt under load.  He also recognised that their system monitoring and root cause analysis methods are not as good as they should be. Delays in identifying the problem and several false starts contributed to the eight hour outage. He was very clear, large outages like this must not be allowed to happen again. He did point out though that outages are a fact of life – even giants like Google do suffer the odd outage.

He talked a lot about changes they are planning to the infrastructure.  Currently everything is too inter-connected, meaning that changes may require alterations to the database, the servers, the software code and the user interface. This makes them difficult to test, risky and harder to roll back later.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that they have to do all this whilst supporting a large number of custom integrations with other systems – Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, PebblePad, iPad apps, etc. adding a series of legacy constraints.  They are planning to address this by re-engineering the system, reducing the number of ways systems can talk to it (the new default will be the standard LTI 2 protocol when it is finally agreed by the IMS) and using a wrapper around the system to try and abstract many of the functions. An immediate focus is to improve the way the data queues requests, so users are still able to submit work when the system is busy, even if it takes a while for the file to be processed at the back end. It all sounds sensible but it needs to be carefully managed both whilst it is being developed and then during the migration process. One change is the location of Turnitin’s product development team – it is now led by a UK-based member of staff (Will Murray) and they plan to increase communication with UK clients. That said, it was good to see that many of the changes planned for release on their road map came from suggestions raised in past UK Users Meetings.  They are also running a beta pilot for the new Blackboard integration (which Durham have already signed up for and are testing ).

The poor communications is also something they are working on, with plans to centralise details of issues and upcoming changes via their site and the uservoice site they use to help users prioritise new features and fixes. They will also increase the number of people who can receive emails from Turnitin about service issues – currently this is limited to one per institution.

Much of the road map presentation was speculative and some slides were marked as ‘confidential’ – I will share what I can later when I am sent the slides.

Over lunch there was a special listening session with Chris Caren, Will Murray and eight individuals (including me) representing the Heads of e-Learning Forum (HeLF). This came about after a letter we sent to Turnitin in January expressing our dissatisfaction with the current service. This is not the first time we have had to take this approach. HeLF members made it clear to Turnitin that as well as the issues just experienced, we feel that particularly because of its near monoply position, Turnitin has a moral, ethical and quality related obligation to work in a way that recognises the national responsibility and regulatory framework that UK universities and colleges have to work within. We feel strongly that the current performance and way changes have been pushed out with insufficient testing and communication is highly damaging to the reputation of both Turnitin and UK HEI and FEIs, particularly when some of these changes seem to contradict or require significant reworking of existing policies and practice. We also emphasized the negative emotional impact that any problems with online submission can have upon our students and the staff who manage and mark the work.  We reminded Turnitin that in some institutions failure to submit work on time can result in a mark of zero – this point hit home. Later Chris pledged to appoint UK account managers to come and listen to individual clients, understand they way we work and the impact of any potential changes upon our staff and students.  This dialogue is ongoing and a formal response from Turnitin to HeLF is expected in the next few days. UCISA is also pursuing this matter, but chose to do so separately from HeLF.

All in all it was an interesting day, with plenty of food for thought on both sides.  A good summary is available on Tim Smale’s blog – see