AUT’s Learning Management System review

AUT’s Learning Management System review

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It is more than a rumour that the university is currently undertaking a review of its Learning Management System – known to all and sundry as Blackboard.

AUT has used Blackboard as its LMS since 2003, providing an online space for lecturers to post learning material for students, and to also mediate online collaboration, discussion and assessment. Blackboard has provided the digital glue that also gives access to a number of other online platforms, including e-portfolio, video capture, feedback interfaces and the management of student assessment.

It must be said that the current provision of Blackboard has been almost faultless for the past five or so years – I think I only recall one ‘outage’ in that time, since ICT upgraded some of the internal hosting systems. The problem that calls for a review is not performance but design and user experience. The current underlying Blackboard software goes back to its earliest versions, from around 1997. For anyone still in education who remembers the last millennium, mobile devices were not invented and web design and navigation were in their infancy. I survey I conducted with AUT staff in early 2017 suggested (by some) that Blackboard was clunky, out of date and difficult to navigate. As a university, we have been long overdue for another serious look into how we provide students with an exceptional digital learning experience.

So what is this LMS review expected to provide?

It is not fundamentally an evaluation of Blackboard as a product. We know that the current experience of Blackboard (Bb Learn) is past its use-by date and will not survive far into the future. There is a new, very different offering called Bb Ultra, and one option is to simply upgrade to Ultra and stick with the Blackboard platform.

However, it is a shared view at executive levels of the university that since it is basically twenty years since the first LMS evaluation, we should be totally re-thinking what we want digital learning to provide. It is also widely acknowledged that as a university we have recently under-invested in technologies for learning, and it is time to provide some focus on this area. In an attempt to answer that curly question ‘What do we want a digital learning experience to be?’, working groups have been consulting with both staff and students to gather opinions, ideas, personal preferences and ideal worlds. A decision is expected sometime towards the end of the year as to what our preferred direction will be.

Whatever the final decision, the rollout of the new LMS will be seen as an opportunity to not only update our user interface, but to provide a once-in-twenty-years chance to refocus our engagement with online and digital learning. If the decision is to stay with Blackboard there will still be a strong focus on enhancing learning and teaching designs to get the best out of digital pedagogies. Our students expect it, and as 21st Century academics we should be providing nothing less.

Watch this space.

– Mark Northover

Introducing CfLAT 2019

Introducing CfLAT 2019

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The Centre for Learning and Teaching has provided a wide range of academic, research and technology-enhanced learning services for almost ten years, and 2019 looks like being one of our most transformational years yet.

All those involved in the academic work of the University will perceive the shift of focus back to the quality of teaching and the student experience, now that we can turn our gaze away from PBRF for the next while. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Leadership Cluster continues to explore what we mean by ‘exceptional student experiences’, and CfLAT is critically placed to inform and implement much of this work.

As a challenge to a teacher-centred view, I would suggest that quality teaching is not actually the ultimate objective of our work. The critical outcome is the quality of student learning – how do we make a significant difference in the capability of our graduates to be valued, respectful, productive members of our wider community? The critical component is a focus on student activity, student interactions and relationships, student engagement. While teaching staff are clearly key facilitators of this learning, quality teaching is not the desired endpoint.

In my thinking about quality learning, I am frequently reminded of the work of Professor Diana Laurillard and her Conversational Framework of learning. Prof Laurillard’s premise is that learning is a change in understanding of content and concepts, and this change develops from (often internal) dialogue, whereby a student reflects on and challenges their current conceptual framework, and moves that framework in some way. Providing activities and creating opportunities for that dialogue are the bits of teaching that creates effective learning.

I am aware that my three young grandchildren will most likely live into the 22nd Century – can we imagine the society, the workplaces, the technologies, the leisure activities that they will be part of through this time? Our role is to develop young people to be resilient, to be adaptable, to be accepting of change and difference, and to focus on their place in that society. We are in a time of very rapid change – socially, technologically and economically. As educators we have chosen to take a role to make a difference in our students’ lives – the wide range of skills and experiences within CfLAT can play a significant part in this role.

I invite you to subscribe to this series of blog posts from members of the CfLAT team on a regular basis. I trust there will be ideas and challenges here that will inspire you and your students.

– Mark Northover