Author: Andy White

Enhancing your module Blackboard site

Posted on

AQD ran a recent webinar session “preparing and enhancing your Blackboard site” which considered the use of the Blackboard Protocols when planning your course. The session also included a quick exemplar site walkthrough

Many of the protocol areas are straightforward to apply, and can have a positive impact on the site. AQD have put together a few “quick wins” for checking and applying some of these areas.

AQD have also produced a getting started with Blackboard guide and a module checklist which could also be useful.

AQD can help support teams with their use of learning technology to enable and support learning. Please contact AQD to discuss.

Module-Site Protocol Area “Quick Win”
There is an easily located introduction to the course and/or Blackboard site Add the module aims as an item within the Module Information section of the site. This text can be expanded to include other relevant information regarding the structure and running of the module.
Staff contact information is available in its own area Ensure that up-to-date contact information is available. Include contact details for relevant support services.
Announcements are being used effectively Add announcements to alert/remind students of new topics within the course.
There is a link to the programme site on the menu Add a link to the programme site on your module’s menu – ensuring that the programme site is active and up-to-date.
There is an Assessment menu item, with information and submission points Add assessment criteria and learning outcomes to the assessment area.
Learning Outcomes are being displayed around the site (outside of the module guide) Copy the learning outcomes from the module handbook and paste them as an item in the Module Information area, and also add them to other relevant sections, such as the assessment area.
The module handbook is available Ensure that the current module handbook is within the Module Information area of the site. The document needs to be in a format that students can easily open and access, such as PDF.
There is a working reading-list link Add the relevant reading list link to your site’s menu. Please contact Information Services Library staff if you need help with creating/managing your reading list
An appropriate use of .pdf Check the files that are located on the site; many file types (such as Word and PowerPoint) can easily be converted to PDF which can then be uploaded onto the site.

For the latest guidance for adding library resources to Blackboard, please see the “making sure that you comply with copyright for library resources and reading and resource lists” section of this page

BOS is changing its name

Posted on Updated on

The Bristol Online Surveys (BOS) service migrated to Jisc in October 2017.

Jisc has recently announced that the service name, and site branding, will shortly start to change from “BOS” to “online surveys”, with all changes being completed by the summer (2018).

See their website for further details.

iLead iLearn Webinar Series – Preparing and enhancing your Blackboard site. 29th January 2018

Posted on

The session started with a brief recap of how Blackboard usage has grown at the university, with the system now being classed as “mission critical”.  A move to module-site delivery and a consistent approach resulted in a set of protocols being developed, and these were shown during the webinar, along with other support available, such as a staff-facing knowledgebase.

Access to these resources can be found via the Staff tab on Blackboard, along with the route to accessing your Blackboard module site, which was demonstrated during the webinar.

The option to review and reuse existing content was highlighted, and a tour of an exemplar site showed how a course could be organised; following the protocols and making the most of the tools available.

A quick walkthrough of adding a profile picture to your site, and making a screen-recording introduction to your course then followed.

Finally, there was a quick update on some system changes that are being planned for 2018/19

A additional question asked outside of the recording was about creating a banner on Blackboard.

Click the image below to view the recording (university login required)…

View “preparing and enhancing your Blackboard site” webinar recording (university login required)




New Blackboard Developments for 2018/19

Posted on Updated on

There are some exciting  changes coming to Blackboard for 2018/19 academic year such as:

  • Course Creation and Automated Template Application
  • System Home Page Redesign and Responsive Theme
  • Summer Upgrade

Course Creation and Automated Template Application


The Blackboard course creation route has remained largely unchanged for a number of years. Although it has worked well, it is fairly inefficient and is not robust enough to support future developments and tighter integration with SITS.

Currently, apart from student enrolments, there is a lack of two-way communication between SITS and Blackboard for our module deliveries.  All modules created in SITS (via a MAV) and completed with the correct data are automatically created in Blackboard however if the course should subsequently be removed from SITS then this is not reflected on Blackboard which has caused issues of incorrect sites being used.

Students no longer associated with the MAV are not automatically removed from the Blackboard site.

To begin working on a site a tutor needs to select a course from within Blackboard (this relies on the module site creation process above), redesign or apply the correct template and, if required, copy any existing materials across from the previous instance of the course manually.

Proposed Development

The new system will:

  • Improve and increase updates in both frequency and capability of enrolments and course creation
  • Simplify the route to consistent Blackboard sites
  • Reduce the risk of incorrect Blackboard site selection
  • Limit the number of sites created to only the ones which are actually required
  • Establish the foundation for an enhanced dynamic link between SITS and Blackboard
  • Create more accurate SITS records

Once in place, Blackboard sites will only be created when the lead tutor is assigned to the MAV within SITS, this is critical as Blackboard sites will not be created without this data.  Once the data has been entered on the MAV in SITS the Module Blackboard sites will be available to a tutor within a few hours.  Requests for “non-module” Blackboard sites will be via a form request.

The identified tutor will automatically be attached to the newly created site and will find it listed under “My Courses”, or within the “Pending” category if the tutor has enabled “Terms”.

On selection of the site you will be taken through the two-step process of attaching a template and optionally, copying selected content from a previous instance.  The basic site is now ready to add/update content and attach other tutors as required.

If you plan to deliver a course where a number of modules are taught together then the system can help you create a combined site by prompting you to identify the modules (MAVs) to be included.

Only students who are on the MAV will appear on the Blackboard site.

The new system will be in place for all 2018/19 courses.

System Home Page Redesign and Responsive Theme


System analysis, sector trends and our experience tells us that students are increasingly accessing learning materials via alternative devices year on year.  Whilst analytical data from Blackboard confirms the traditional desktop is still top of the list for access, a significant proportion of logins are from mobile and tablet devices and has been increasing for a number of years.

With our current system, display response to this wide variety of devices is difficult to predict but we are aware it can sometime cause issues, unpredictable behaviour and, on the whole, results in an inconsistent user experience.

To help mitigate this frustrating user experience, we are developing a new interface using a Responsive Web Design approach.

Responsive Web Design will make the site mobile-friendly and improve the way it looks on devices with both large and small screens as it automatically scales, reorders and prioritises content and elements to match the screen size on which it is viewed.  It also keeps images from being larger than the screen width and prevents users on mobile devices from needing to do extra work to read content.

The Blackboard App is constantly being updated, and the responsive theme will work in conjunction with the App to provide a much more seamless experience when using a mobile device.

As part of this project theme functionality, the Homepage and other “non-course” areas will be reviewed to provide a much more engaging experience.

Summer upgrade

The annual system update will take place during summer. The date has yet to be arranged, but it is likely to be at a similar time to previous years – around the end of July / early August.  Please be aware that Blackboard will be unavailable for up to 24 hours during the upgrade.

Regular and timely upgrades are necessary to ensure we have;

  • Full system support for each academic year
  • Access to the latest features and updates
  • Support for current client software – operating systems, browsers, etc.
  • Up-to-date security and performance settings

We will publish further information regarding dates and any new features of interest as soon as they become available.

Details and descriptions are subject to change, and more information will be circulated as necessary and as it becomes available.






Summer System Updates

Posted on

The system updates highlighted in February are now in place. Early August has been a time for refreshing some of our core learning technology systems.

  • PebblePad has moved to Version 5
  • Blackboard has been updated
  • The Turnitin Document Viewer has changed to Feedback Studio
  • Medial has been updated to Version 5.

The PebblePad update replaces legacy Flash technology with HTML5, which, along with a redesigned interface, makes the system more intuitive and accessible. Find out more ….

PebblePad V5

As well as security enhancements, and ensuring that we maintain full system support for the next academic year, there are some new features with the Blackboard upgrade. Find out more …


Turnitin’s Feedback Studio has all the same features as the previous Document Viewer, however the interface makes better use of space, and is more accessible and responsive. Find out more ….


Like PebblePad, Medial has moved their interface to HTML5. They have also added a useful multispeed player option. Find out more …

Medial V5

Educational Recipes!

Posted on Updated on

An online Educational Developer’s Cookbook has been published. The resource is a collection of practical ice-breakers, workshop ideas and ways to obtain feedback & evaluation.

“Recipes” have been submitted from across the educational development community, including one from our own Nicky Meer whose recipe is “making a cup of tea”!

The cookbook can be found here;, where you will also find a link for submitting your own recipe.

ELESIG NW “Seek, Gather, Explore”. 15 March

Posted on Updated on

The ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group) North West group meet at Liverpool John Moores University on 15th March.


This was an afternoon event, which began with Dr Amanda Mason & Jim Turner from LJMU feeding back about a project to set-up and run a virtual Journal Club.

Dr Rod Cullen from Manchester Metropolitan University then discussed how they had used data from a student survey to gain some insight into students experience of TEL. A greater level of consistency across the student experience was a key finding – the most vocal reports were often when a student had a good experience on one course and a poor experience on another.

Other themes emerging were communications (clarity around how often & when to respond, for example), VLE content & organisation (timeliness of content, clarity of purpose, organisation, etc.), and an interactive teaching & learning experience (a desire to be involved in learning & teaching, not just passive recipients of information). Most of the issues were around learning design, rather than the technology. One idea was for better discussions with students regarding expectations with technologies, and how they can/should be used in their studies.

Daniel Roberts and Tunde Varga-Atkins from the University of Liverpool discussed a minimum standards VLE baseline. They found that the staff who were aware of the baseline, were generally positive about it, but didn’t want it to be too prescriptive, whilst 95% of students surveyed felt that a baseline was important – again, highlighting the need for consistency (students reported less provision on the VLE than staff thought they were providing).

Ashwini Datt from the University of Auckland then talked about a couple of MOOCs her university had developed and run. She discussed the idea of MOOC blending – where some of the resources for the MOOC were used in “on-campus” courses.

Professor Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes University then discussed “rising to the challenge of education in the digital age”. She talked about the diverse ways that learners respond to technologically rich environments, and how it is difficult to generalise.

She felt that learner voices were important, as the student experience is a strategic priority, however internal systems can be slow to adapt to rapid technology changes.

Currently, the focus is on blended learning, digital literacy, distance learning & MOOCs. The goal is to prepare learners for the digital world; a global, networked society. Users need to be confident users of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use.

As with most of the speakers, consistency was again seen as vital. Curriculum redesign was happening with multi-disciplinary teams to help ensure consistency and embedding of digital skills. A mapping exercise using the Jisc NUS Benchmarking Tool was also mentioned.

A very useful session, highlighting again a number of key areas that can help support the student experience and develop vital digital skills.

Jisc Digital Student Project (Jisc, March 17)

Posted on Updated on

Jisc has recently circulated the following update regarding their Digital Student Project –

“As part of the Jisc Digital student project, we have recently carried out interviews with 12 students from across further education and skills, higher education and with learners who are studying online.

The Digital learner stories are inspirational stories from learners sharing their experiences of how technology has supported their educational journeys.

It is hoped that these learner stories will:

  • inspire and encourage learners to try new things
  • showcase the rich diversity of digital practices available to learners
  • demonstrate the importance of supporting digital learning practices in all their diversity
  • argue for investment in digital access, on the basis that this make a real difference to learning outcomes
  • encourage teaching staff to develop a range of approaches, and to work with students to fully exploit the technologies available for learning
  • offer evidence to decision makers about how technology is supporting learners and enhancing their educational journey

A report compiling all the themes arising from these interviews and building on the work of the Digital student project as a whole will be published shortly.”

Learning Technology: Coming Soon …

Posted on Updated on

There are a number of learning technology system changes expected to happen prior to the start of 2017/18;

  • PebblePad moving to version 5
  • Turnitin GradeMark moving to Turnitin Feedback Studio
  • Blackboard upgrade and theme change
  • Medial moving to version 5

Details and descriptions are subject to change, and more information will be circulated as necessary and as it becomes available.


  • Our current version of PebblePad is being moved to the latest version (V5) over the summer
  • The underlying technology moves from Flash to HTML5 – more accessible, and in-line with browsers that are phasing-out/removing Flash support
  • Accessible on all devices, such as smartphones and tablets
  • Redesigned, and simpler interface
  • ATLAS remains unchanged
  • All Assets move across
  • Our current version is no longer being developed, and will be phased-out shortly
PebblePad V5 Screenshot
PebblePad V5 home page

Support & communication
Workshops for staff will be delivered over the coming months. Some have already taken place.  Those who attend will have access to V5 via a temporary account that will remain available to them until the upgrade.

There are many “how-to” guides directly on the new home page. We will produce a transition guide, which will be applicable to staff and students.

Most users will move across on Monday 7th August, however, any reassessment students will be left on V3 (current system) until they have resubmitted, and will be moved at the end of August.


  • GradeMark interface is being updated to Feedback Studio
  • Same features, but improved use of space
  • Easier to add comments & Quick Marks
  • Can now add clickable URLs to feedback – support pages, documents etc.
Turnitin Feedback Studio Screenshot
Turnitin Feedback Studio

Support & communication
A transition guide will be produced to help staff move to marking via the updated interface.

Some of the features can be seen on Turnitin’s demonstration site.

We are able to switch-on this feature at any time, with a forced change to all users initially planned from Turnitin by July 2017. We are checking current timings for this forced switch; however, the current proposal is to make the move at around the same time as the Blackboard upgrade (i.e. late July / early August).


We will be looking to perform our annual upgrade of Blackboard over the summer. There is no licence-cost impact to upgrading to a newer version of the system. All upgrades bring security improvements, as well as support for newer versions of client software and systems (browsers etc.). However, an essential reason for needing to regularly upgrade is to ensure full support for the system for the up-coming academic year.

The upgrade will bring some new features and an updated colour scheme and theme change.

Regarding the theme, we are proposing to move incrementally towards the – desired – responsive web design theme as it develops. The proposal is a move towards the look-and-feel, but maintaining the course design options for a period of time (these themes need to be turned-off when we move totally onto the responsive design).

Blackboard potential theme change screenshot
One Blackboard potential theme change

The last two upgrades have happened towards the end of July / early August, and the proposal would be to do the same again (these upgrades didn’t appear to cause any major disruption issues). Blackboard should be on Managed Hosting by the time of the upgrade; this should offer more flexibility and options for upgrade timings.


  • System update to version 5
  • Updated and fully responsive interface redesign
  • HTML5 player by default (Flash fallback still an option)
  • Multispeed playback (i.e. 2x)
  • Multi-bitrate playback
  • Version 5 is required for MediaLecture (if we were to consider this option)
  • More customisation & branding options
  • Live-stream workflow improvements
Screenshot from Medial V5 demo server
Screenshot from Medial V5 demo server

Support & communication
Much of the current interaction with Medial is via the Blackboard building block, rather than directly through the interface. The main changes via this route will be the new options on the player, and the switch to HTML5. All the web interface features will still be there, just with an enhanced interface.

Support and upgrades of Medial is included in our annual licence. The upgrade is carried out remotely and is expected to take less than an hour (updates in the past have been around 15 minutes, with actual video playback disruption less than that). We just need to book an update “slot” with the vendors. As there isn’t a test system for Medial, updates always carry a slight risk, and we only see the changes at the same time as all system users (we rely on their demo server to view some of the potential feature changes ahead of the move).

“Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education?” (HEPI. 2 Feb 2017)

Posted on Updated on

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has recently published a new report entitled “Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education?”.

HEPI report cover

The report makes seven recommendations that HEIs should consider to make the most of the advantages and opportunities that digital technology can offer; even stating that technology can help support TEF’s three main components, namely teaching quality, learning environment and student outcomes.

The report recommends that technology-enhanced learning (TEL) should be built into the curriculum design process to ensure effectiveness, and that best-practice should be evidenced and shared to help support TEL use and continued adoption. A focus on digital capabilities is also recommended, as this is a key component of graduate employability; increased digital skills across the institution also helps drive TEL and the digital environment.

TEL can have a positive impact on learning outcomes when it is “designed-in” as part of the overall pedagogic approach. The report also discusses and recommends learning analytics to help measure engagement, increase retention and potentially predict outcomes.

There are many examples from across the sector within the report that help substantiate the arguments and recommendations being made.

Overall a very interesting read, with strong recommendations for making the most of TEL within Higher Education.

You can find out more on the HEPI website, which also includes a link to the report in PDF format –