Come and talk to Blackboard … the listening VLE

Last week I spent two enjoyable days at Durham University for the 10th Annual Durham Users Conference.  The strap line for this year’s conference was Anti Social?  I went along to the meeting partly because here at Dundee we upgraded to Blackboard (Bb) v9 in the summer and I was hoping to meet and hear how other medical schools were getting on with the upgrade.  Also as I have an interest in how Web 2.0 type tools can be used to personalise learning my attention was hooked by the antisocial theme. I plan to write two posts summarising my reflections on the Conference, this first one looks at Bb issues and the second will pick up on the other presentations.

One of the most interesting sessions of the meeting was the panel session with representatives from several UK universities, including Durham and Liverpool that had upgraded to Bb 9 over the summer.  All of these universities with the exception of Northampton, which has an externally hosted Bb platform, experienced significant issues with the upgrade.  We certainly did at Dundee and in the College of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing these issues persist with web browser issues for staff and students using NHS IT networks, where IE6 is the standard browser.  Bb was not terribly popular with clinicians before the upgrade and it is even less so now.  Jake Gannon from Liverpool reported that some teaching staff there too were no longer using Blackboard following the upgrade. The discussion from this session was recorded in the conference twitter stream, which you can find by searching for #durbbu10 or by visiting the conference twubJo Badge has also written an  excellent post summarising the panel session on her DrBadgr blog and Terry Wassall from Leeds provides a helpful twitter derived report.

The following day the team from Blackboard had their opportunity to respond.  The presentation was headed up by Jan Poston Day and the key message was that Bb were changing and wanted to listen to what their users/customers were saying.  It was rather startling to hear that there was only 9 weeks of beta testing on Bb 9 but I guess this exaplians why Dundee and other institutions that have upgraded have experienced significant issues.  It was clear from Jan’s presentation that Ray Henderson’s arrival at Bb from Angel is clearly cultivating a listening culture and that they want to hear from us.  They are setting up a ‘bug squad’ to help determine client priorities, ensure clients have a voice in Bb software maintenance and undertaking quarterly satisfaction surveys.  Users can also get support via Bb Twitter accounts and there’s also Blackboard Connections where Bb users can connect with other users, share best practice etc. We were also told about NG Playground, course level access to a live development build of Bb allowing users to try out features that are currently in development.  The Playground is also a place to exchange ideas, get feedback on development roadmaps etc and for users to have input on future development.  So Blackboard want to listen to us and reflecting on this on the train back to Dundee an old TV advert sprang to mind for the Midland Bank, which had the strap line, ‘Come and talk to the Midland, come and talk to the listening bank’.  Blackboard clearly want us to talk to them and they want to be the listening the VLE.  I managed to find the Midland Bank advert on YouTube and you can take a look at it if you want to hear a blast from the past.


  1. nice post Natalie – love the video! Midland was my first bank account many moons ago, I don’t remember them being that good at listening though….

    1. Thanks Jo! When I was looking for the video on the web I noticed a few people had said they weren’t very good at listening. It will be interesting to hear how well Blackboard have listened at next year’s meeting in Durham.

  2. My sceptometer is swingingly wildly, I’m afraid. I’ve never been a fan of Bb in any of its iterations – it all seems just too overly complicated for the teachers, certainly.

    As you know all too well, it has lead me to ‘go rogue’ and design my own (limited) alternatives for the chest department. I think devolving the IT out to the departments such as we’re encouraging is a good model: allow each department to organise their own course material in the way that best suits them, then allow all other departments access to everything. A meta-site above it all would be ideal, but we’re starting small. I think.

    Well, when I’m dean of the medical school…..

    1. There needs to be some central structure, admin and QA otherwise if everyone does their own thing it could end up a mess, so there does need to be a meta site and central co-ordination. There are some things which can’t be public and need to be done within the closed walls of the VLE, so we do need some of the features that Bb offers. Also if everyone ends up using something different this could get confusing for students particularly if lots of different sites need different login and passwords – I think single sign-on is a big issue and there needs to be central co-ordination. The advantage of the chest department approach is that students will still be able to access the content once they’ve graduated. I like how University Mary Washington and others are using WordPress –

      1. I know – there needs to be structure, and there needs to be log in etc. But I also see what’s possible by working in smaller groups, devolving responsibility to enthusiastic teams.

        Perhaps Bb 10 will be the panacea…?

        I like what UMW have done – getting others to get involved is the main issue, though.

        1. I agree, working in smaller enthusiastic groups supports creativity and innovation. At Penn State they have Hot teams to take new ideas forward and try them out, if they work – great, if they don’t you still learn something from the process. As you say getting others involved is the main issue and challenge, in the meantime we need to keep pressing on.

  3. BTW – how old is that advert!!?!?! I remember it very well. But I was with Barclays. I always wanted to be with Natwest, though, because their accounts came with piggy banks in the shape of pigs.

    I am with Natwest now, but no piggy bank. I should look into that…

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