11th Durham BB Users Conference

Theme: Location Location Location

Thursday & Friday – 6 & 7 January 2011


Theme: Location, Location, Location

This year’s Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference approaches the concept of location from multiple perspectives:

1. Location as a barrier: traditionally learning opportunities were only available to those individuals able to attend the event on the date and time it was delivered.

2. Location as an irrelevance: online delivery and pervasive technologies should offer learners much more choice when, where and how they engage with learning activities.

3. Location adding value: particularly with the advent of location aware devices (GPS, triangulation via wireless or mobile phone signal) suddenly there is the opportunity to use location as an additional factor when tailoring a student’s learning experience.

We’d love to see papers discussing any of these themes (as well as those exploring any innovative use of Blackboard). With students expecting seminar rooms bristling with technologies and mobile learning getting onto the committee agendas, we hope for a timely, informed, stimulating, challenging debate.



Our two keynotes this year are Carl Smith from Learning Technology Research Institute and Professor John Traxler from Wolverhampton University.

Carl Smith

Carl Smith (PGDip, MA) is a developer and researcher for the Learning Technology Research Institute. His recent work has concentrated on exploiting the various ways that computer-based modelling can be used in the design, construction and generation of learning environments and resources. His primary research involves the investigation of these micro forms of learning from the point of view of their units of construction – to see across the whole range of constituent parts, schemas and key narratives involved in their successful development and application. He uses visualization techniques to produce interactive and engaging learning resources for both the web and mobile devices. His other research interests include: augmented reality, intermediality, visualization as interface, open source learning, and the emerging practice within the arts and sciences that merges digital virtual experiences and technologies with physical spatial experiences. His was previously employed at the Humanities Computing departments at Glasgow and Sheffield Universities. Further info:


John Traxler

John Traxler is Professor of Mobile Learning, probably the world’s first, and Director of the Learning Lab at the University of Wolverhampton.  

He is a Director of the International Association for Mobile Learning, Associate Editor of the International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning and of Interactive Learning Environments, and is on the Editorial Board of ALT-J and ITID. He was Conference Chair of mLearn2008, the world’s biggest and oldest mobile learning research conference.  

John has co-written a guide to mobile learning in developing countries and is co-editor of the definitive book on mobile learning “Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers”, with Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme. They are working a second book together. He has written more than 14 book chapters on mobile learning, and talks and writes frequently on the consequences of universal connectedness and mobility on learning, knowledge and societies. He has guest edited special editions of three peer-reviewed journals devoted to mobile learning.

He was shortlisted for the Handheld Learning Conference Special Achievement Award and received Best Research Paper Award 2009 from the Association for Learning Technology in 2009. He was keynote speaker at IADIS Mobile Learning 2011 in Oporto, the annual ISD conference in Praha, ICL2011 conference at Hasselt University in Belgium and 3rd International Future-Learning Conference On Innovations in Learning for the Future 2011: e-Learning in Istanbul in 2011. Forthcoming keynotes include the Mobile & Social Learning Event in April 2011 at the 22nd Annual Teaching and Learning Conference in Florida, VII International Seminar on Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development, in Barcelona on October 2011 and Third International Conference on eGovernment and eGovernance, in Ankara, Turkey, in March 2011. He was invited by Epic to speak in the 2nd Learning Technologies debate at Olympia in 2011.

He convenes the HEA SIG focussed on the ethical challenges of educational interventions in popular digital technologies such as mobile phones, social networks and immersive virtual environments, encouraging the sector to discuss, debate and publish.  




This is a conference organised by the user community, for the user community. Whilst we welcome the involvement and support of Blackboard and other commercial companies, they have no influence on the conference theme, the programme or the content. This long-standing e-Learning event regularly attracts over 130 delegates – last year we had to close registration early because we had no places left at the dinner table! The audience is a mix of repeat attendees and first time visitors: learning technologists, librarians, academics, administrators and even the odd manager. It is a great networking opportunity at a low price.



We can confirm sponsorship for the 2011 Conference from:

Durham University

Durham University

Blackboard Inc


Learning Objects

Learning Objects






We will be tweeting about this event, as well as using it during the conference itself (more on that later). If you are tweeting, we’d like you to use the tag #durbbu. We have also set up a twub for the event using the same tag: #durbbu.



More information will be added to the site as the conference draws nearer. In the mean time if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us by emailing lt.team@durham.ac.uk or alternatively contact Julie Mulvey on 0191 33 42781.



Feedback on our 2010 Conference

Several attendees of our 11th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference blogged about this conference – which had a theme of “Location Location Location”. Here are some of their comments and links to their blog postings which we hope you will find as enjoyable as we did!

Andy Turner – Thames Valley University (TVU)

“This was my third visit in four years and the conference lived up to its usual high standards in terms of content, organisation, and the opportunity to network with other Blackboard users.”

Impressions of Durham #1

JANUARY 10, 2011
by Andy Turner


I have just returned from Durham where I was attending the 11th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference.

This was my third visit in four years and the conference lived up to its usual high standards in terms of content, organisation, and the opportunity to network with other Blackboard users.

This year the conference theme was Location, Location, Location – exploring the challenges of location: a barrier, an irrelevance or added value?

full conference programme (PDF)

Here’s the first of two or three reports from the Conference.

The keynote presentation on Thursday 6th January was from Carl Smith of the Learning Technology Research Institute at London Metropolitan University.

He gave examples of work with which he’s been involved using digital technologies to enhance our understanding of historical and archaeological sites. For instance

  • using a mixture of digital models and live action video to recreate historical scenes, to enhance the understanding of visitors to a museum of industrial archaeology.
  • creating digital models of ruined mediaeval abbeys such as Rievaulx in order to recreate a 3D digital image of how the building would have looked when complete.

In the latter case he contrasted the digital approach to the traditional approach used by scholars, who might publish detailed 2D images of the components of gothic architecture in an article or book. 3D digital models allow scholars to reuse and manipulate the information in a variety of ways – focusing on individual components, or combining components in new ways – thus increasing their understanding of the form.

Whilst looking at high-tech examples of augmented reality, he also looked at much more accessible cases using the location-aware capabilities of modern phones. For example apps which overlay text and multimedia data on Google Maps , so that learners can walk around a site and pick up site-specific information on their portable device, as their location changes. This enables the learner to access information on site which previously they would only have been able to access in the classroom or from a PC.

One of Carl’s current research projects involves him working with a neuroscientist to see how different parts of the brain can be used to control sounds. Given that we already have consumer products like the X-box Kinect where the user controls the game using only their body, can it be too long before the user can control on-screen actions through thought alone?

Friday’s keynote was from John Traxler Professor of Mobile Learning (as the programme noted, probably the world’s first) and Director of the Learning Lab at the University of Wolverhampton.

He looked at the use of mobile devices

  • in widening participation in the UK (learners make use of their own familiar devices when entering the unfamiliar environment of Higher Education); to aid learners in developing countries where mobile phones are widely available but internet-enabled PCs may not be; allowing learners to make use of “dead time” (e.g. at bus stops, on the train) to access short chunks of learning.
  • to enable learning “on location” – e.g. field trips (in the past geography students might have to record their observations in the rain using pen and paper then type them up at the end of the day, now they can enter the data directly on screen as they go along); work placements (nursing and medical students are an obvious example).
  • mashing up geographical location and data provided by the institution or elsewhere e.g.Mobile Oxford or similar services from Ombiel – seehttp://www.campusm.com/case-studies
  • enhancing the visitor experience e.g. in museums (similar to the Google Maps app shown by Carl Smith)

He then considered the use of mobile devices in the real world and the resultant changes to how people live their lives

  • Ordinary people are able to generate content (e.g. photos taken on phones then uploaded to the web). This content may be re-used by the professional news media, or may challenge the established media and/or authority.
  • there are communities in cyberspace (social networks, but also networks of gamers e.g. World of Warcraft devotees) – these may not have a geographical basis but in practice can be considered as locations.Malcolm Murray’s introductory remarks on Thursday had mentioned the ideas of geographer Torsten Hägerstrand mapping location against time (seehttp://geolabs.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/hagerstrand-timespacecube/ for an example). In the digital age Hägerstrand’s map would need a new axis – location in cyberspace, showing individuals’ digital connections – although this would complicate the map to the extent that it became unusable.
  • changes in the division between public and private space
    e.g. use of iPods in public (you can shut yourself off from where you are)
    use of mobiles in public areas (other people can hear your conversation, and are having to develop the ability not to listen – or at least pretend not to)
    individuals making private information available on the web – and effectively losing control over who can access and reuse the information
    using devices (including laptops) in lectures – are they paying attention to the lecture?an aside: if location doesn’t matter any more, why do people still say “I’m on the train”?
  • changes in our perception of time
    “slipperiness of time” – previously time would be measured in fairly large chunks, and meetings would have a fixed time. But if you’re in mobile contact, you can make vague plans then firm then up as you get nearer to the event.

Concluding, he said that the car is one of the great icons of 20th century mobility. But car ownership doesn’t entirely free the user – need to top up fuel, pay congestion charge, plan route etc.

Same with mobile devices. They can be liberating, but users worry – will there be coverage, will I run out of battery, can I sync my data?

Impressions of Durham #2

JANUARY 31, 2011
by Andy Turner
This is my second report on the11th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference. My previous post dealt with the keynote presentations; now I’ll deal with the break-out sessions and workshops.

Two presentations dealt with the use of Blackboard to induct and orientate new students.

First up was Nichola Hayesfrom the University of Leicester, with Three Steps to Success: Building the Right Foundation – A taster, induction and first module reconfiguration course design for students studying at a distance.


This looked at Leicester’s use of Blackboard to improve the way Distance Learning students are introduced to their programmes – and given an opportunity to check that this way of learning will suit them. The central team has developed a 3 step programme, which is then tailored and deployed by course teams. This approach is being used only on certain courses. There is a checklist which course leaders need to go through to ensure that their course is suitable – e.g. the course involves heavy use of Blackboard / TEL. Also, the approach is only deemed suitable for courses which already have strong course design.

The three steps are

  1. Blackboard Taster

This uses an open access Blackboard course introducing potential learners to the technologies / learning methods which will be used on their course. Details are sent out to all applicants for DL courses, at the point of application. Because the course is open to guest users, no login credentials are required (N.B. Leicester still use Blackboard 7? When they move to version 9 they may need to rethink some of the technical details of this, as Blackboard has tightened up on guest access to the system – this is something we discovered when looking at opening out access to study skills courses and communities in Blackboard). At this stage the information provided is fairly general e.g. learners see screenshots of discussion boards rather than actually being able to contribute to forums.

  1. Orientation Course

This runs 2 weeks before the start of their studies, when students do have a Blackboard login, and takes things further . The idea is to avoid students having to learn how to use the technology later on, when they should be concentrating on subject content. The orientation course gets them to explore and understand key processes outlined in the Student Handbook (e.g. around assignment submission). This helps the learners, and avoids course administrators having to answer the same questions over and over later on.

The key aim is to make sure students feel they are ready to embark on their chosen programme of study before it starts.

  1. Module One

Once their course proper has begun, students complete a centrally-devised long thin module (covering library skills, key skills etc.)

The University is developing a Distance Learning Backpack – a virtual student handbook bringing together everything DL learners need to know through their course, with information from a variety of central departments as well as the Faculty.

Nothing here is rocket science – certainly not in terms of the technologies involved. But the new funding arrangements seem certain to accelerate the provision of distance learning courses across the HE sector, and we would do well at TVU to take note of this model to ensure that distance learners are not disadvantaged in comparison with those with a more traditional attendance pattern.

Of course, it’s not just distance learners who need support in making the transition to higher education. Simon Davis from the University of York presented Delivering transition support through the VLE looking at learner orientation onto full-time taught courses. York also set up courses inside Blackboard to induct new students. York’s term for the induction sites is “Transition sites”, although some teaching departments refer to them as “Welcome sites”.

The sites have been set up for specific individual courses, and are made available to students once they have been accepted on the course – i.e. before they arrive (N.B. this whole process relies on these students having a University IT account which is at least a partially-enabled)

How are the transition sites created? Course teams use a variety of approaches

  1. site creation led by current students
  2. created with participation of current students
  3. created by academics
  4. administrator-led

Who took the greatest role in producing the site did affect the focus of the site’s content, but in almost every case feedback from new students was extremely positive.

Another recurring workshop theme which tied in well with our current interests at TVU was feedback. Guy Pursey & Karsten Lundqvist from the University of Reading are leading DEVELOP, a JISC project one part of which involves the use of video feedback. This is being used for generic, whole class feedback, rather than feedback for individual students. They’ve found that it works best when the academics accept fairly low production values. One department tried to produce professional standard high resolution video, but this was unsustainable (as well as eating up far too much storage space). In the trial, students overwhelmingly liked video feedback. They thought they were getting more feedback than usual, even though lecturers said they delivered the same amount – students seemed to realise they were getting feedback when delivered as a discrete video, rather than in the classroom.

The project team looked at using a dedicated platform to deliver the videos, but students didn’t want it on a separate system – they wanted it in Blackboard. So Karsten is developing a building block for lecturers to upload their video to the dedicated storage area, but to do this – and make it available to their students – via Blackboard.

Alex Spiers, from Liverpool John Moores University, also looked at video feedback, using tools available as part of the Wimba suite (now Blackboard Collaborate). This is something which we will be following up at TVU.

Mike Cameron, now at Newcastle University, reported on a project he was involved in when at Durham, in collaboration with City University.

The survey showed that the majority of students who responded do have mobile devices and use them to access email/VLE etc. And are keen to be able to use their mobiles to access information/content e.g. timetables, VLE, feedback/grades. Less keen to use mobile devices for interactive activities e.g. voting systems. But do they know the benefits of, say mobile voting systems, if they’ve not experienced these in practice?

Some comments from others attending the session:

  • small number of respondents – probably most likely to be those who did have / use suitable devices.
  • even if 60% of an institution’s students have suitable devices, while it may be worth providing services for those users, these will have to be additional provision – institutions can’t disadvantage those learners who do not own smartphones etc.

Also there seemed to be some confusion in what was being classed as a mobile device – not just smartphones, iPads etc. but possibly netbooks and laptops. This highlighted the need to be very careful when formulating questions for a student survey: we are planning a TEL survey which will include questions on students’ mobile capability, and will have to try to avoid any ambiguity in the questions asked.

A second session from Mike Cameron was entitled Sharing good teaching practice through collaborative, multimedia slide shows. This looked at a project at Durham which attempted to find a more interesting way (than text-based reports) of presenting case studies of lecturers’ use of TEL. The project used cheap video equipment e.g. flip cameras to record video clips of lecturers talking about and demonstrating what they had done. These videos were then uploaded to http://voicethread.com – and lecturers and students encouraged to add comments. The content on voicethread is visible to anyone, but only registered users can add comments (I’ve noted that 50 user accounts cost approx $100 p.a. – having now looked at the site, this would appear to be the Higher Ed Single Instructor licence).

This conference is all about users’ experiences, so the representatives from Blackboard Inc.are invariably limited to an hour or so on the Friday morning of the conference. The general feeling seemed to be that this was the best (for which read most honest?) presentation from Blackboard for a long time.

Some key points for TVU: 9.1 Service Packs 3 and 4 (released either side of Christmas) address the current Content Collection issues, but we must wait for SP5 for a full fix. This is due late March / early April 2011 – so we can hope to have it tested and deployed by the time lecturers are looking at preparing their Blackboard courses for the 2011-12 academic year. If all works as promised, we can also start to plan and deploy the “Move to Course Files” tool in a more coordinated and determined way. This tool – which Blackboard currently suggest is not used because of its unreliability – moves all files uploaded to a Blackboard course pre-version 9 into the Course Files area, where they can be much more easily viewed and managed by lecturers. Once this tool is working properly we may well recommend that all course materials should be stored in the relevant course template, rather than being duplicated onto each course instance.

SP6 (due mid-year i.e. June-ish) should include an improved Rubrics feature which will allow instructors to provide feedback to students on each criterion in the marking scheme, and automatically assign grades based on the student’s performance against that criterion – then modify the automatically assigned mark if required. At first sight this looks more sophisticated than what is currently available in Turnitin – although we were looking at a video mock-up of a tool which clearly won’t be finalised for some months, and which – Blackboard would be the first to point out – may not look like this when released. SP6 will also include an upgraded SCORM player, which may not affect many of our courses, but is good news for those which do make use of SCORM-compliant materials, whether produced in-house or sourced from elsewhere.

I was also reminded by this presentation to check out Bboogle –an open source project to integrate Blackboard with Google Apps. It strikes me that this could be a particularly useful tool if the university should ever decide to go down the Google route for provision of student email and storage space.

Of the exhibitors, I was rather taken by the potential of Kaltura, an open source video-hosting platform, which appears to offer the simplicity of YouTube with the benefits of greater control over who can access your content, and which will integrate with Blackboard. This is another product to follow up.

Impressions of Durham #3

FEBRUARY 2, 2011
by Andy Turner

A brief postscript on the 11th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference

After the conference I stayed with some friends, one of whom is an Engineering lecturer at Durham University. As we started discussing Blackboard, it soon became apparent that we were talking at cross-purposes. “We do still have a couple of rooms with blackboards”, he said, “but mainly we use whiteboards”; as for any software called Blackboard, it meant nothing to him.

Suddenly I realised where I was going wrong: “You probably know it as duo“.
To which the reply was “oh, duo – yes we use it all the time!”

I was impressed that Durham had so successfully re-branded their VLE that users didn’t even realise they were using Blackboard. Here, although we’ve been using the name “TVU Online” for some time, most staff and students still refer to the VLE as “Blackboard”. The University’s own impending name-change provides an opportunity for us to try again – any suggestions for suitably catchy names gratefully accepted!