Thursday, May 15, 2008

What's new? Assessing Learners with Enterprise (pm)

This afternoon focussed on SafeAssign, the Grade Center and Scholar (not sure what this has to do with assessing, but I suppose it's an opportunity to push the tool).

A useful debate in the presence of Blackboard about the usability, value and robustness of SafeAssign. The urgent checking option isn’t really an option at all because all instructors will want checking to be completed as soon as possible rather than queued in the ‘slower’ option. SafeAssign does not yet accept Office2007 formats and it is not known when this will be resolved. Pepijn referred to the reports as giving an actual judgement of plagiarism. We explored copying and submitting web sources; the reports rarely identified the correct sources or simply gave partial matches, if they identified any matches at all. Jennifer expressed concerns about this and is going to report this issue to their Product Development Team.

A fantastic time exploring and getting to grips the Grade Center, although Pepijn and Jennifer must have experienced question fatigue from the amount of questions I was throwing at them. Again it was good to be able to hear reasons why things work the way they do from a Blackboard perspective, and being able to suggest enhancements.

And finally we were given a quick over of Scholar. I didn’t really take much away from this, not least after 7 hours of sitting in a warm pc room.

What's new? Assessing Learners with Enterprise (am)

Quick report on the morning's session of the post-pre-conference workshop on 'What's new? Assessing Learners with Enterprise'. Arriving tired after being kept awake by police and ambulance sirens during the night's city centre violence, the workshop aims to cover the Self and Peer Assessment and SafeAssign tools, the Grade Center and Scholar.

The session is facilitated by Pepijn (Pippin) Kalis (Blackboard Training Manager) and supported by Jennifer Matthews (Director of Blackboard Training). There are 3 attendess: a teacher from Delft University (which burnt down last week -, a Blackboard systems administrator from the United Arab Emirates and myself. Interesting mix.

So far we've looked at the Self and Peer Assessment tool. We've explored it from the student perceptive and it seems easier to use and more fun than I anticipated. The Instructor view and creating self and peer assessment items is much more complex and involves a number of discrete steps. And Jennifer herself admitted it can be quite difficult and easy to miss out crucial steps. The session is not all about point-and-click, but there's plenty of opportunity for discussion and sharing experiences which works well being such a small group.

Will be starting with SafeAssign after lunch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My final parallel of the day for me (before our 'graveyard' slot) was by Julie Andrews (not the one of Mary Poppins or the Sound of Music fame) from Manchester presenting on the benefits to staff and students of online formative and summative assessment (so I had to attend, naturally). Eee, and I'm glad I did. Slide no.2: Why should we be thinking about incorporating more assessment and feedback into learning and teaching? And I was referenced on the slide, and Julie said 'I'd given a great talk earlier in the week'. Yes, me on a University of Manchester slide. Highlight of the presentation. Nothing more worth mentioning/hadn't heard before/hadn't written about - benefits of online formative assessment, good reasons for online summative assessment, and how to get staff buy-in. Oh, and she overran into our joint session ...

Blackboard: Enabler of the XXI Century Campus

By Filipe Rocha, University of Minho 'with-two-campi', Portugal

There was nothing else worth attending at the time, so I chose this session. A very quiet session with about 10 delegates, though we were invaded by chanting of Russians, the tooting of car horns, and the occasional cry of 'Rangers'. The session was about UoMinho's story of implementing learning technology across the University and their paradigm shift from learning to discovery, individual to collaborative study, teach as knowledge to teacher as guide etc, and lots of references to Bologna throughout. In 2005/06 each of the Schools (can't remember how many he said - I was suffering from 'University statistics fatigue' at that point) choose their own technology to pilot (eg Early Education, Moodle, DMart) with the idea to pick the best features of each to build into a University-wide platform. The idea failed, and they went with Blackboard and inhouse developed Portuguese language pack instead - easy to use and reliable. (Blackboard is a 'she' apparently and was subsequently refered to her gender for the rest of the presentation - 'she keeps on working', 'she never fails'). They have developed a set of 'e-UM levels' with appropraite training to gauge and promote usage:

e-UM(A) - compulsory use for course/module documents ('course dossier')
e-UM(B) - static content online
e-UM(C) - use at least one communication or assessment tool
e-UM(D) - put learning objects online
e-UM(E) - e-learning

Filipe then talked about how they had extended Blackboard with a 'Course Dossier' Building Block that forces staff to develop this set of information (which is compulsory for all courses in Portugal) - a kind of definitive module guide. But I was interested in their Sign-Up Tool development by the School of Law that allows students to assign themselves to groups and then generates the Group Pages in Blackboard.


I like Respondus. I want Respondus. I went to the demo by the Account Mgr for Respondus. He demonstrated the 3 (soon to be 4) products of the suite and I have to say that I was actually impressed. We all know about Respondus 3.5 offering an offline assessment authoring tool, but this now makes publishing and deploying an assessment in Blackboard seamless (and you can even publish and deploy the same assessment in several Blackboard sites at the same time) - might be useful for surveys. Respondus allows the user to import questions (even containing images) from Word and publish directly into Blackboard. And Test Banks from several publishers including Thomsons, Pearson and McGraw-Hill can be downloaded for free.

StudyMate Author is a tool that allows Flash activities and multi-player games to be produced and again seamlessly published in Blackboard and they can also be viewed on mobile devices, phones and iPods. These are generated via wizards and templates and once deployed student scores can be extracted via SCORM. I was thinking that this might be useful to generate interesting and interactive activities to support pre-enrolment and applicants, which staff often struggle to develop ideas for - crosswords, jeapody, flashcards.

The next product demonstrated is not yet available - StudyMate Class Server. This plugs into Blackboard and enables staff and students to work collaboratively in generating Flash-based assessment activities, which can be converted into quizzes and linked with the Gradebook. Finally, we were shown the Respondus Lock-Down Browser. This secure browser enables any assessment in Blackboard to be 'forced' into a locked-down browser in which all browser menu functionality (apart from Refresh, it would seem), keyboard shortcuts, the systems tray and taskbar are disabled, screen-monitoring and IM are also disabled. Blackboard and website navigation (unless part of the test) is also locked. Once in the test environment students must submit the test; they cannot close or exit without. The Lock-Down Browser needs to be installed locally, and students can download this on their own machines and it is possible to perform a cluster installation. There is a two month free pilot available and I wonder whether it is worth pursuing this, along with the other products.

Blackboard Beyond: Using Blackboard Software Beyond the Institution

John Morrison - Director of User Communities, Blackboard

This session was about Blackboard Scholar, Safe Assign, EduGarage and the new Facebook application thing. He went into lots of detail about BbScholar and Safe Assign, which I think most people will already know about, and then ran out of time before getting to the two other things that I hadn't heard much about. Useful session though.

We are the Web: From a Course to a Community (and back?)

Melissa Phillips, Nicole Hayes and Zak Mensah - University of Leicester

This session was definitely not good. They started by asking if anyone had seen 'A Vision of Students Today'. When practically everyone in the room raised their hands she said, 'oh well, we're going to go ahead and show it anyway'.

I was completely lost in this session due to the fact that they didn't tell us what they were actually talking about, but from what I could gather it was something to do with staff development in lots of different countries. I don't think I'll go into any more detail than that because it really wasn't much use. Juliun Ryan shared my pain so he might be able to give you a clearer idea of what was going on.