Monday, 15 February 2010

Durham reflections (post-Blackboard conference)

I attended the Durham Blackboard Users Conference back in early January, along with some other members of the BLE technical group, and having also attended last year, I once again found it well organised and well attended, so it was a great opportunity to hear and meet speakers from all over the UK and beyond. Highlights for me included hearing about how e-learning is being embedded into key skills training for bioscience students at Leciester (see Jo Badge's blog for more info), thus-far somewhat disappointing results from a promising Twitter project at Kingston (see Tony McNeill's blog) and a presentation from US academics about Blackboard's Exemplary Course Program, explaining why they believe student engagement is at the heart of exemplary courses.

Overall, I thought it was interesting (ironic perhaps at a Blackboard conference - though to be fair there was a social media theme) that the most interesting work being done by presenters is generally happening outside the VLE itself. It must be said though that most continue to regard their VLE as an important tool in the e-learning kit.

There was a lot of reflection on barriers to e-learning development, with major ones cited being:

  • many staff lack the time, and sometimes skills or willingness, to engage beyond creating course document repositories;
  • students often demonstrate an unwillingness to participate in tasks that are not assessed; and indeed sometimes also to participate in collaborative tasks which appear to hand advantage to 'competitors';
  • students are not necessarily the ‘digital natives’ they are often assumed to be;
  • some students, while confident in their use of technology, don’t see the relevance of it for learning.

This makes me wonder if too much of our focus as learning technologists tends to be on staff development, when we should perhaps be engaging with students more directly, and also engaging with the tools they know and like more.

Images courtesy of ewjz31 via Flickr.