Educational Technology

Durbbu 2016 – Blackboard’s Journey

Comment on VLE provider Blackboard’s keynote at #durbbu 2016 presented by Alan Masson and ponderings over whether the ‘journey’ is about technology or about ourselves.

Masson outlined Blackboard’s view of a journey shared by both institutions and the company to increase adoption and increase innovation. Whilst this is certainly a view that echoes with learning technologists, both objectives need to be wrapped in a framework of criticality, as the last thing we would want would be to have mass adoption and mass innovation with no sense of the value of either on the learning and teaching experience. Masson drew parallels with Meyer and Land’s ‘Threshold Concepts’ learning metaphor when describing the journey of adoption and innovation, in particular the four features: transformative, troublesome, irreversible and integrative. Within learning, getting past a threshold concept opens new opportunities for understanding and applying knowledge. Learning technologies may be described in these ways, and Masson focused on some of the challenges and constraints that limit the ability for staff and student adoption and innovation. These tended to focus on the institutional constraints facing universities, such as downscaling of internal IT support and funding impacts on infrastructure, user expectations for a 24/7 resilient service and rapid scalability of deployments. Perhaps there was an underlying sales pitch for the Blackboard Software-as-a-Service platforms? Whilst Masson’s proposed six characteristics of success (leadership, commitment, infrastructure, support, real benefits and evidence) focus on the robustness and effectiveness of technology, but the success dependent upon the educator, student and the learning design itself must not be understated.

As part of the journey towards adoption and innovation, Masson noted the need to consolidate (services, support, tools, approaches, knowledge) in order to innovate. There exists a tension here, consolidation on the one hand takes stock, does what works; innovation takes risk, experiments, tries the unknown. I think where the bridge between the two exists is through evaluation, mediating the risk factors through what we do know, but not being afraid to try something in order to learn from it. In many ways, students are partners on this journey brings them into the experimentation to share the learning about the learning experience. Whilst Masson suggested confidence [in the platform] is always key, I would similarly argue confidence in your own ability as an educator, as someone willing to experiment and learn, is probably more important. 

Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2016

Keynote: Learning From Failure Success: The Blackboard Perspective – Alan Masson (Head of International Customer Success, Blackboard Inc.)

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