Enhancing your module Blackboard site

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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

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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.

New Blackboard Developments for 2018/19

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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.






HEA Updates

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Pleased to announce the latest staff to gain HEA recognition either through the CPD or PgC route, especially the D4 (Principal Fellow) which is the University’s 2nd D4.

D4: Principal Fellow of the HEA

Nicky MEER, Academic Developer

D3: Senior Fellow of the HEA


Anne GAGER, Education

D2: Fellow of the HEA

Kamal AHMED, Education

Katie BANKS, International Coordinator, LiSS

Dr Elaine BIDMEAD, research fellow, CACHET

Kerrie BROOKS, Law

Laura COLLINS, Mental Health Nursing

Laura DAGLISH, Drama

Lisa DORRIGTON, Children’s Nursing

Kelly FIELDEN, Occupational Therapy

Carly HAWKINS, Adult Nursing

Amanda HILL, Social Work

Dr Davina HILL, Zoology

Dr Claire HOLT, Conservation

Tania HOPLEY, Social Work

Gail JEFFERSON, Medical Imaging

Judith KELLY, Mental Health Nursing

Alex LEEK, Policing

Matthew MADDOCK, Paramedic Science

Christopher MARQUIS, Medical Imaging

Richard MARSH, Project Management

Rebekah POWELL, Career Ahead Coordinator

Jason ROSCOE, Counselling

Francis SIMPSON, Policing

Claire VUCKOVIC, Education


University’s authentic crime scene exercise shortlisted for excellence award

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The University of Cumbria has been shortlisted for the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE). The CATE award recognises outstanding contributions to teaching by teams at higher education institutions demonstrating ‘excellent practice’, teamwork, and dissemination planning. Teams will need to show they are working in collaboration with direct student involvement in their work.

The University of Cumbria is represented by its Major Incident (MI) team, which brings together forensic science, policing and paramedic practice departments to provide professional, problem-based learning to students in the form of an annual mock crime investigation incident staged in real time over three days. The collaboration facilitates ‘hi-fidelity authenticity’ which cannot be created individually, and enhances opportunities for students to develop employability skills realistic to their professional vocation.

For more information, click here to read the news article on the UoC Website.

Summer System Updates

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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

PebblePad V5

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PebblePad logo

PebblePad has moved from v3 (used Flash) to v5 (uses html5). The main difference is to Pebble+ – the personal space within PebblePad – where assets are created, shared and stored.

ATLAS, the assessment area within PebblePad, remains unchanged.

Everything in your Pebble+ account has transferred over into the new version.

The main differences:

  • Works on all mobile devices and looks and behaves the same, no matter what device is used.
  • Drag and drop to add files to your asset store.
  • Improved text editing functions – you can use your mouse to copy and paste text.
  • All Assets and Resources are in one place – no separate tabs for shared assets any more.

Here are some guides to help you navigate your way around the new version:

PebblePad v5: click the link to see what the new interface looks like; how to create assets; upload files; share with people or for assessment and Alumni information.

Academic PPDR instructions: click the link to find out how to fill out your Academic PPDR for the first and subsequent years.

Don’t forget, you can take your PebblePad account and all its contents with you if you leave or graduate from the university and you can continue to use it FREE forever. Just register for an Alumni account before you leave or graduate.

Educational Recipes!

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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.

Jisc Digital Student Project (Jisc, March 17)

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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 …

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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).