Monday, 15 July 2019

The BLE is renamed!

BLE logo no.3After over 15 years, as the "Bloomsbury Learning Environment", the BLE has (slightly) changed its name. Now known as the Bloomsbury Learning Exchange, the BLE Executive Team and Steering Group agreed that this much better reflects the nature of the collaboration.

A brief history of the BLE
BLE Logo no.2Established in 2004 by LSHTM, SOAS and the Royal Veterinary College, the Bloomsbury Learning Environment service was set up to provide a joint virtual learning platform, Blackboard. The Institute of Education and Birkbeck joined the consortium soon after, and all five partners were using this shared platform. Blackboard was cleverly set up so users didn't realise they were actually using the same system. In addition to Blackboard, a number of additional shared software licences were negotiated and introduced. In 2012, we migrated away from Blackboard and each partner moved onto their own instance of Moodle.

The present
BLE logoThe BLE is no longer a shared platform - although the partner institutions still benefit from preferential software licence deals, negotiated by the Service Manager. Today, it is much more about sharing, collaborating and improving the use of learning technology and the exchange of good practice in digital education to enhance learning and teaching across the partnership institutions. Therefore, 'Bloomsbury Learning Exchange' is a much better fit to represent what we do.

"In my opinion, the modification of the BLE's name is a no-brainer and took the Steering Group no time at all to approve. I'm proud to support and continue to Chair this valuable and successful collaboration". Jonathon Thomas, Chair of the BLE Steering Group.

"The new name offers much stronger reflection and more representative connotations for what the BLE service provides its partner institutions. I'm delighted that the Service continues to make strides in supporting and improving the application of digital learning and teaching". Dr Mandy Bentham, Founder of the BLE.

What does this mean for the service?
BLE logo no.4Other than some tweaks to our beautiful branding, designed by the BLE's Digital Education Specialist Nancy Weitz, nothing will change. The Service will continue to provide support to staff in the BLE's partner institution (including academics, academic support, learning technologists, librarians and other professional services) and students to explore the opportunities that digital education lends to improving practice. We do this by arranging meetings, events, webinars, workshops, demonstrations and developing resources (such as our MOOC for teaching staff and Digital Skills Awareness course for students).

For more information and to get in touch, please visit our website: www.ble.ac.uk 


Friday, 28 June 2019

BLE runs its first webinar

On Tuesday 25th June, the BLE organised and ran its first webinar, which focused on a mentoring scheme managed at LSHTM. The purpose of the session was to share the method used to recruit and train alumni mentors in order to enhance students’ learning experience. This has transferability across different HE contexts.

Dr Anna Foss, Associate Professor in Public Health Education & Mathematical Epidemiology at the School presented her work in such a way that colleagues will be able to take lessons learned and the model she used to apply to their own contexts.

The aims of the session were therefore to
  • present key findings from the group mentorship scheme in which alumni support Public Health MSc students undertaking a research project via distance learning through LSHTM
  • discuss the relevance for other contexts of the transferable lessons learnt
  • outline and share resources (e.g. mentor training slides www.bit.ly/m150319, code of conduct and template emails) that may be adaptable to other contexts
  • gain insights from participants on whether these resources are useful / adaptable to different contexts, and whether this mentorship scheme is likely to be transferred elsewhere
You can watch the recording from the session here:
and access all the resources from the session via the BLE website: www.ble.ac.uk/events.html

Thursday, 20 June 2019

BLE's Digital Skills Awareness Course is now available


                                                                         
Course logo
The Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE), a digital education partnership of the Bloomsbury institutions and the University of London, has created a free Digital Skills Awareness course for higher education (HE) institutions to roll out to students before they start university. This resource will provide new students with advice and guidance to help them have a successful learning experience at university.
The course, available for Summer/Autumn 2019, outlines the key digital skills students need for their studies and helps them identify the skills they have and the ones they need to acquire or improve. While the course doesn’t focus on teaching practical digital skills, it provides valuable tips from a variety of sources, including university support staff and students, as well as helpful resources and videos.
Each unit focuses on a particular topic:
  1. General Technologies
    Working with files, Microsoft Office applications, browsers and search engines
  2. Learning Technologies
    Online learning environments, forums, assignments/assessments and video
  3. Access, Sharing and Safety
    Accounts/access, safety, social media and sharing
  4. Getting Organised
    Notetaking, referencing and digital wellbeing
Licensed under Creative Commons, this generic Moodle course can be tailored and personalised to fit the local needs of your university once installed on your own Virtual Learning Environment.
Sarah Sherman, BLE Service Manager, said:
“Our pilot went really well, and students provided us with excellent feedback. We have had so much interest in our course already from across the UK. We are now really excited to be able to share our work with the wider HE sector and look forward to fostering a course community.”
The BLE collaboration comprises Birkbeck, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), SOAS, UCL and the University of London.

To access the demonstration version of the course and find out how to request a copy, please contact the BLE at www.ble.ac.uk/contact

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

BLE Service Manager wins exciting award


Sarah Sherman (BLE Service Manager) and Amy Eyre (University of York, were named joint winners of the Blackboard Catalyst Award for Community Engagement, which recognises customers who are dedicated to improving student achievement by fostering a connection between institutions, educators, students, and their communities. 

Founded in 2005, the annual Catalyst Awards recognise and honour innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global community of practice, where millions of educators and learners work every day to redefine what is possible when leveraging technology. Winners are selected by a cross-functional team of Blackboard experts.

Sarah and Amy achieved the honoured distinction of being among a select group of winners in the Blackboard community to receive this award. This award program is designed to enhance the visibility of the innovation taking place and to recognise the efforts of staff. Sarah and Amy co-lead the Blackboard Mobile & Collaborate User Group, which brings together UK and European institutions using these platforms to share practice, collaboratively troubleshoot challenges, and collectively raise issues and suggest developments directly back to Blackboard.

The efforts made by Sarah really do make a difference in enhancing the learning experience at the Bloomsbury member institutions and for many other institutions across the globe. 

“I’m proud to recognise this year’s outstanding recipients of the Blackboard Catalyst Award for their demonstrated commitment to using technology to enhance the learning experience, and sharing their best practices with the education community,” said Lee Blakemore, Chief Client Officer and President, Global Client Operations & Success at Blackboard. “Their outstanding contributions will help to support learner success in the Blackboard user community.”

Sarah and Amy were honoured alongside other Blackboard Catalyst Award winners during the TLC Europe 2019, Blackboard’s user conference held on 13th-16th May in Newcastle. 

For more information on the Blackboard Catalyst Awards, please visit: https://community.blackboard.com/groups/catalystawards. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Unlocking the stable door?

Preparing learners for digital learning before they enrol on their studies






The House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills reported in their 2014-15 paper that ‘universities should ensure that all graduates are digitally competent’. However, rather than being an issue primarily for graduates, gaps in digital skills create issues for students from day one of their academic careers. As learning technology practitioners (whether we are based in the library, IT services or course support), we are regularly presented with students who have arrived at our institutions with little or no understanding of what an online learning environment is. The fact is, they often lack the digital skills required to navigate through their studies before they even get anywhere near graduating. By focusing on our students’ digital competence as they near completion, to get them ready for life in the real world, are we doing a disservice to their learning and knowledge acquisition? 

image of a horse in a stableOver recent years, agencies such as Jisc and UCISA, have researched and written much about how to best prepare students for the digital workplace (UCISA 2014). In 2015, Jisc noted that ‘developing learners who can learn and thrive in a digital society is a key role for universities and colleges’. Where we cannot deny the importance that higher education institutions have on preparing learners for their careers, are we locking the stable door once the horse has already bolted? The BLE's Digital Awareness Course focuses specifically on equipping students with some key capabilities required to learn and successfully achieve their qualifications. Moreover, the instruction is intended to be delivered before the student arrives at the gates of the institution. The focus on graduates entering the workplace has lent itself to ‘bolt-on’ interventions, which are often too little, too late; our plan is to embed these skills from the outset.

The course comprises four short sections, which follow a brief introduction to what is meant by digital skills:
  • General technologies
  • Learning technologies
  • Access, Safety & Sharing
  • Getting Organised
Right now, we have internal pilots running at Birkbeck, LSHTM, RVC, SOAS and SAS to try out the course on the incoming students about to head through our doors. 

empty tableOn Tuesday 10th September 2018, I presented this collaborative project at the annual ALT Conference. I provided a little context and described the research we conducted to help us design the course. I then explained the structure of the course and demonstrated how it will look to students. The metaphorical suggestion that I proposed is that we can unlock the stable door and let our students to roam free, safe in the knowledge that they are digitally aware in terms of their learning.

You can watch the presentation below and access my slides here.






References

House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills Report of Session (2014–15). Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. Availble at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldselect/lddigital/111/111.pdf [Accessed 26.03.18]

Jisc (2015) Developing students’ digital literacy. Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy [Accessed 26.03.18]