Darren Kelly – NUI Galway

Durham still stands as the perfect location for a conference that seeks to bring Blackboard users and ideas together to show what impact the software can have on communities. In Durham, the create history and pedigree of education can be seen. The beautiful castle and grounds in addition to the portraits of the first heads of college and the large unchanged lecture halls shows that education hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. The digital classroom is essential in the modern “Y Generation” world but it works in conjunction with the classroom or lecture hall. Blackboard solutions such as Learn gives students with different learning styles a much needed option.

This year, the central theme was “Students as Partners” and the great work that can be done when students are given the opportunity to not only participate but to be equal partners whose opinions and ideas are heavily valued.

During my short time in Durham, the huge effect that a small level of student partnership has. Stephanie Noble from GCU along with staff member Jim Emery demonstrated the advantages of collaboration while investigating the difficulties involved in engaging students. Having a student partner in this project was essential as the only way to truly understand why students are not engaged is to ask a student. Stephanie herself explained that she was not always as engaged as she is, and the story of her transition to understanding the importance of being involved in her University on a personal and community level was insightful as to the way students interact with University. This insight is invaluable to any Universities taking on initiatives to include or engage students which has definitively been shown to improve grades.

I gave my own talk on the development of a mobile app, by students, for students, utilising Blackboard’s Mosaic solution and was blown away at the overwhelmingly positive feedback. If anything, it encouraged me to continue further projects and recommend others do so also. Other Universities and student groups were also ecstatic to start their own development of an app for their Universities which will lead to further adoption of Mosaic. I would be very willing to develop a set of instructions and tips for the app’s development for future users as a few simple tricks can save a great amount of time and difficulty.

Leeds University’s Dave Lewis told us about his project “Enhancing Graduate Employability: Developing Digital Resources for Final year projects” which benefited from student partnership by allowing 2 students completing their own 4th year projects to utilise the Xerte software. Having students test the software led to great feedback on where it could be improved but also showed the dramatic improvement in the students’ digital literacy and skills which increases employability. The projects themselves are benefited by involving students but the students benefit even more. The opportunity to show your willingness and ability to experiment with new technology and be involved with others in larger projects is invaluable to students and sets them apart in a future more competitive than ever. It pays to be adaptable and open to change.