Constructing Alignments

This week some members of the LTT have been looking at the Goals and Alignment features in Blackboard.  This allows you to define a hierarchy of attributes (these can be skills, learning outcomes, etc.) and then associate (Blackboard call this align – but it is really mapping) these goals with  individual content items in courses (be these documents, assignments, individual questions in tests or surveys, etc.).

This will not be a task that we expect every department to immediately want to do. For some it will probably look like too much effort. We will be running a few pilots of the system over this coming year. We expect it may appeal to accredited courses, or ones which want to make explicit their alignment with particular frameworks or University initiatives – e.g. the employability and skills agenda. We are currently working with the School of Pharmacy as they build out their new programme, helping them to map the content to the General Pharmacy Council Standards and also key skills and subject-specific skills and knowledge that they have identified.

The mapping can be displayed to students or hidden from them as staff see fit. We can see justifications for both approaches.  The real value of the mapping comes when you run reports. This allows you to see where the online component of your course is teaching and assessing these skills. From the Grade Centre you can see which skills the students are finding easiest and hardest to master.  This sort of information should prove very useful when you come to review a programme, or need to demonstrate the mapping to external bodies.

If you want to know more please get in touch with any member of the LTT.

Building out some goals in duo

Building out some goals in duo


Advanced notice from Bristol – unavailability of BOS tool

On Tuesday 17th April 2012, between 07:00 and 09:00 BST, the University of Bristol is carrying out essential maintenance work on its IT systems, which will affect the Bristol Online Survey tool (BOS). They expect that during this period, BOS will experience two short breaks in service.  These should be no longer than 20 minutes each, but will affect both respondent and administrative access to BOS.

As such we suggest that you do not try and access the BOS tool during the affected period.


SignUp List Tool Restored

We are pleased to announce that the SignUp List tool is now available on duo again. This tool allows you to create single or batches of lists for activities such as tutorials, field trips, essay choices, etc. that students can then sign up to. Staff have the ability to set list size, the dates of the signup period and whether or not students can change their mind! Lists can be used to populate groups.

New to this version are the ability to create Course Tasks and Calendar Entries for the SignUp Lists. The reporting tools for batches of lists have also been improved, with new summaries showing all students in the course and all the lists in a batch.

Note this version is not backwards compatible as the new tool stores the list data in a completely different way. For more information about this tool please contact a member of the LTT. External users can find out more about it on the OSCELOT projects site.


Is 4 a lucky number?

We have been successfully using the blog, wiki and podcast tools developed by Learning Objects for many years at Durham. Currently we are still using version 3 of the Campus Pack tools, fully integrated into duo (our Blackboard Learn server). A new version (Campus Pack 4), hosted by Learning Objects (but which still integrates with duo)  has been released. More information about it can be found on the Learning Objects website. Members of the LTT will be working with members of the blog and wiki special interest groups in Durham to evaluate this upgrade and plan an implementation timetable.  Of particular interest is their reference to forthcoming support for mobile devices.

If you are a blog, podcast or wiki user (or would like to be) then check out the link and let us know what you think!


Sharing Notes

This morning staff from the LTT attended a webinar about the latest offering from McGraw-Hill – GradeGuru. This is something they see as an “academic social network”. Students can sign-up (either individually, or via an integration with their host institution) and share notes, sketches, their own learning aids. Sharing can be restricted to just their friends, with other students on their course, extended to any student in their institution, or globally. The content is rated by other students, providing informal peer feedback. This also earns them a series of reward points, and one of a series of status badges, ranging from humble “member” to “guru”, depending on their use of the site. We explored potential concerns about copyright issues, plagiarism and access for all students – e.g. those using screen-readers. Currently most of the content is delivered through a flash interface, so it will not be accessible to iPad users, something they are working to remedy.

There are also a range of learning tools (a citation manager a bit like the excellent zotero) and an iPad app for managing your studies – described to us as a “Calorie-Counter App for Study”! Whilst Durham has not signed up for this (at least not yet – and there is a significant charge for this) it is interesting to note that it has already been used by over 100 students, who have posted over 700 notes. Members of the LTT would be very interested to hear from anyone who has used the service – do email us via the IT Service Desk.

More information can be found on the grade guru website ( or by watching this video:


Roses are red, violets are a dull yellow

Yesterday I found a great free application that works on Macs, Windows and Linux. It provides a simple way for you to view whatever is currently on your screen as if you had impaired colour vision (e.g. Deuteranopia, Protanopia or Tritanopia). It is called Color Oracle and available from the Institute of Cartography, ETH, Zurich. Whilst there are other services out there that do similar things – e.g. Vischeck for websites – the thing I like about this is that it works instantly for anything on your screen, be it a spreadsheet, a complicated graphic, an email with fierce stationery, or a PDF. It’s also a good example of a small program that does one thing very well.


When you are stuck…

We have been reviewing the way we support duo and other learning technologies. For the last three years we have used an internal wiki – duopedia – hoping that staff and students would contribute content as well as consuming it. With a few honourable exceptions, that hasn’t been the case – over 95% of all the edits have been made by members of the LTT. When we asked people why they hadn’t submitted items (or even changed entries or commented on them) they typically gave us one of these answers:

  • I didn’t realise the content was editable
  • I was worried to post something in case my advice turned out to be incorrect,
  • I’d like to but I am just too busy
  • I don’t think it’s my job to do this!

We then asked students and staff where they went for help. The answer was overwhelming – google! Now duopedia isn’t visible to google, so you can’t find the pearls of wisdom it contains via that route. That’s deliberate as some of the screenshots and advice may contain personal details (e.g. the names and email addresses of students) which we shouldn’t be accessible off-site. How then could we help the users who see google as the source of all answers?

This has been a question vexing the LTT for the last few months and so we did a bit of research. We spoke to colleagues in the ITS and the Library about tools they used, and asked learning technologists in other Universities how they supported their users. As a result we are launching a new frequently asked question (FAQ) tool for duo that is visible to google. It even has a browser plugin so you can search the system without remembering the URL!

It will be linked from the Help tab in duo later today. If you can’t wait you can take a look now from this link: or watch this demonstration:
Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.


Thoughful Technology

Last week I was running a session on the University PG Certificate in Academic Practice (the PG-Cap) where staff talk about changes they plan to make in their teaching – actionable theory. One of the people presenting discussed WITS – a Wireless Interactive Teaching System – developed at the University of Texas. I think it is a great example of how technology can be used thoughtfully to really change the learning activity in a class. Don’t take my word for it – watch this video of staff and students who have used it:


You’ve got (a lot of) Mail!

Apologies to all users of duo if, after a recent dearth of communication, your email inbox has just filled up with announcement messages. The queue had got stuck and we hadn’t noticed – sorry! This has now been remedied and we expect your inbox, like ours, is suddenly heaving. Remember that despite our pleas to Blackboard since release 9.0, the link in your email to display the announcement only works if you are already logged into duo :-(


Blackboard: the shape of things to come? The Developer’s perspective

Coding a solution to the world's problems at OSD 5.0

I had a very interesting day yesterday at Oscelot’s Open Source Day conference #osd5.0 in Orlando.

There was a lot of discussion amongst the developers about the potential for basic #lti  to help staff and students at different institutions work together in a way that can be set up and controlled by the users, rather than requiring intervention from system administrators.  LTI offers a way to integrate third party tools with your VLE (such as Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai or Desire2Learn) e.g. use a shared wiki, alternative discussion board, mash up of google maps such as Steven Vicker’s SpACE project. Use of these tools can be confined to discrete groups – e.g. just students on a given course, or broadened to allow wider collaboration. There was also a good deal of discussion about Andrew Martin’s Web Services project, and the possibility this offers for opening up Blackboard for use with third party tools.o a wider discussion amongst the developer community. We speculated whether Blackboard, currently a suite of integrated applications, could move to becoming more of a platform – similar to Google’s android. Essentially an institution could choose to license the whole or parts of the Blackboard software stack and carry on as just now, or else choose to replace or extend the products using the building block model. Foe example UK HE Institutions might develop a common replacement gradebook that supports multiple marking, moderation and anonymous marking, which could be seamlessly slotted in to replace the existing grade center. It will be interesting to see if this view is shared when Blackboard deliver thir roadmap presentations and vision for the future at the Developers Conference #DevCon10 and Global Users Conference #bbworld10 later this week, and/or is picked up in any of the conference back channels such as facebook