Our guest contributors at July’s Digital Learning Connect event were well placed to offer insight into what makes a successful virtual learning environment, having both won university Blackboard & VLE Awards, as well as making it onto the shortlist each year.
Prof Judith Holloway
For MSc Allergy students, Blackboard offers a ‘one-stop shop’ where they can find everything they need to know about the university and their course. Focusing on the students’ experience is important: content is determined by asking what students want to know, and what they need to know. Something that students neither want nor need to know is not worth including.
“Very well organised and makes good use of blackboard to actively enhance learning. I have experience of blackboard at another institution and it is 100x better and easier to navigate than there!”Student comment, Blackboard & VLE Awards
Judith and Dr Veronica Hollis have created clear menus and a consistent layout across module sites to help students find their way around, along with a ‘site map’ linking to the folder view offered at the top of the menu. Various resources are collated within the site via links or embedded feeds, including university email, feeds from Twitter, Facebook and the Sussed news page.
Information is presented in short sections, accompanied by images to create attractive-looking, easy-to-read pages. Sites make use of Blackboard’s learning module format, which allows resources to be grouped together with a sub-menu.
“The allergy blackboard site is fantastic. Not only does it contain all important information about being a student at Southampton University, but it also provides a complete e-source for each module.”Student comment, Blackboard & VLE Awards
One feature of the Allergy sites is the organisation of the course files area, uploading resources in folders here before deploying them in context within the site. Finding the option to Set Up Web Folder “pretty much the best thing we’ve ever done,” Judith explained how this allowed file updates to be managed through file explorer, ensuring that content can be kept up-to-date in an efficient way.
Student engagement is prominent in the sites, with active discussion forums set up and ‘You said, we did’ to share actions from mid-module feedback. Blackboard ‘tests’ or quizzes (set up by a student on summer placement) help students engage with the learning materials provided, and results can be easily tracked through the Grade Centre.
Finally, Blackboard’s integration with Panopto has allowed students to record assessed presentations to the site, giving them valuable experience and making it straightforward to store and assess recordings.
Prof Chris Howls
Looking for a new way to teach module content, Chris noted his daughter working towards her A-levels with the aid of YouTube videos. The resulting approach has led to two award-winning Blackboard modules, with students citing the online content as key to their learning on the module.
“Very easy to learn from the resources and the clear structure of the course. The amount of effort that was put into the blackboard portion of the course outweighs any other module I have taken so far.”Student comment, Blackboard & VLE Awards
Skeletal lecture notes created using LaTeX are uploaded in advance, so that students can annotate these electronically if they wish. As well as recording live lectures using Panopto, Chris uses Explain Everything to capture annotations made on an iPad (which is projected during the lecture). These recordings are made available along with the full versions of the lecture notes after the session.
“A genius when it comes to explaining and providing quality resources to up your game in Mathematics! More interesting, better lecture notes, videos are entertaining and informative, appeals to intuition as well as mathematical rigour.”Student comment, Blackboard & VLE Awards
Extension material is also recorded using Explain Everything, with numerous worked examples uploaded to Recorded lectures and embedded in the course. Panopto’s viewing figures for the various videos in the module show up to 12000 minutes viewed in a day, underlining the value of these resources for students.
“Chris does his own short videos in his own time to help us with complex problems. He should become a YouTuber they’re so good.”Student comment, Blackboard & VLE Awards
Useful additional links and resources are shared, including interactive mathematical models. The narrative through the site, with content presented in a meaningful structure and guidance accompanying resource links, is something students also appreciate. Sadly YouTube links to old Open University videos are no longer available!
Thank you very much to both for your contributions, which were much appreciated.
The Digital Learning team has some Explain Everything licences available, so do get in touch if you are interested. If you are looking for further inspiration ahead of the next academic year, have a look at some of the examples on our VLE Awards page.
We will be back with a new series of Connect events in the next academic year. Do let us know if you have any suggestions for what you’d like covered, or if you have something to share.