Currently viewing the tag: "NILE"

Between Saturday 19th December 10:30pm GMT and Sunday 20th December 10:30am GMT , NILE will be upgraded to the latest stable version. It will be unavailable between these times.

Northampton is currently on Blackboard April 2014  and will be upgraded to the October 2014 release. This version jumps one release above our current point and will ensure that we remain within contracted support. There are no new significant features but there will be security updates.

All users of NILE should ensure that browsers are updated to keep within the supported levels.

Whilst during the academic year security fixes are applied, annually we need to ensure that NILE is at the most stable version with the latest features to benefit staff and students. Our hosting contract provides us with at least 99.9% availability for NILE 365 days a year providing we ensure that we maintain our version.

The new version contains security updates to ensure that NILE is maintained as an advanced virtual learning environment to maximise the student experience.

Please contact if there are any comments or questions around the upgrade process.

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[Posted on behalf of Anne Misselbrook - Content Developer]

Dr Michael Curran PhD, MBA, MPhil is an Associate Professor (Podiatry) and module leader for research methods in Podiatry at the University of Northampton.

One of the research methods modules taught over three years of the BSc Hons Podiatry course is inferential statistics.  Mike was keen to increase the blend of this material between face to face delivery and online activity, and this resulted in the Statistics Knowledge Check.  He has completed the cycle of transferring content online and students provided feedback using a survey included in the Statistics Knowledge Check.

Podiatry Statistics Knowledge Check


One of the Podiatry students noted:

“I found tackling the Knowledge Check in 4 separate stages hugely useful and much more manageable than being exposed to a larger test.  I found the separate stages less intimidating”.

Dr Curran reflected on the experience:

“It is interesting to me how to blend the concept of e packages with actual face to face teaching. I guess it is the future.

On reflection I think we have hit the middle ground of evaluation with no very favourable student comment, but equally no very unfavourable comment. Considering this is teaching statistics that is probably pretty good!!

My reason for doing this is to try and look at alternative ways of delivering a potentially dry subject, with ability for the students to reflect on the statistics at a future date.

I would consider repeating this approach for other areas of my teaching”.

To read the full blog article please click here.  Using an online Gamification approach to teaching inferential statistics

To find out how to use the Adaptive Release feature in NILE please click on the link here

Learn more from Blackboard Help click here


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The honest answer to this question is, ‘it depends’. A good NILE site will de different depending on your subject, mode of delivery, level of delivery, and various other factors. As you’d expect, as much as possible we like to avoid the idea that a one-size-fits-all approach is possible to learning design. However, what is sometimes useful when trying to come up with ideas for things to do in NILE is to look at what other people have been doing. To make this easier, we have collected together a few sites which we feel are quite interesting, and have made them available as self-enrol (and self-unenrol) NILE organisations.

If you’d like to have a look at any of these sites, just do the following:

1. Log in to NILE
2. Click on the ‘Sites and Organisations’ tab
3.  Search in the ‘Organisation Search’ box for either, LTC, SSAS, PSAS, CRIT101
4. Enrol on the site

Enrol CRIT101



Currently there are four NILE sites available as self-enrol organisations. These are:

Let’s Teach Computing (LTC)
Study Skills for Academic Success (SSAS)
Postgraduate Skills for Academic Success (PSAS)
Critical Thinking – A Practical Introduction (CRIT101)

If you’ve got a good NILE site and would like to make it available as a self-enrol organisation please get in touch with us at:

And finally, if you think that you’ve got a great NILE site, you might like to enter it for a Blackboard Exemplary Course Award:

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screenshotOne of the most important roles of a Learning Technologist is in mediating between users of technology and the technology itself, so providing technical support is a critical factor in the acceptance of technology by teachers and the satisfaction of students. It has a direct effect on perceived ease of use and usefulness (Sánchez et al, 2010).

Academic staff require a variety of levels of support, given that their approach to using a new VLE (or previously unused features of an existing one) will vary from trial-and-error experimentation to a desire for formal training. Support within a VLE usually consists of searchable alphabetic lists of help items or by categorising common activities, often consisting of text supplemented by video clips (either of these formats appears equally effective, so a combination of the two would seem the best approach). As technology acceptance seems to be positively related to the ease of completing a task (Rienties et al, 2014), improving access to support material should be a priority. There is little doubt that a good student experience is directly linked to the configuration and use of VLE tools, but there is a similar need to ensure that they are confident in the use of those tools too.

As maintainers of the VLE ‘container’, we need to be aware of the need for help and make it clearly available in a form that users can elicit appropriate material easily. Students react positively to relevant support information and their learning is enhanced, though they might not access it as regularly as we might think and may not wish to explore subsequent links to further resources. Operative instruction (“click this, then this”) would appear to be more effective than functional instruction (“you can use this tool to discuss topics with your peers”) for simple tasks, but the opposite is true of complex tasks. Help is more likely to be accessed when some prior knowledge of a task exists, so users new to a VLE must be a high priority to be directed towards it. Making material:

  • Context sensitive
  • Simple to understand
  • Of good quality (both text and multimedia)

appear to be significant to the value of help material (Aleven et al, 2003).

We have been aware of the shortcomings of access to our NILE help material for some time (even if the help resource itself is excellent). The lack of a search facility within Blackboard Learn had previously limited us to a set of thematic links for students and staff (these referenced a number of different resources, from single page PDF files to full-blown support sites) and an alphabetic listing of single issue topics. The former were perceived to be useful, but the latter proved difficult to both use and maintain. The relatively high number of dead links that remained unnoticed and unreported in the student help tab would seem to suggest that few of them were actively used. Indeed the access and use of individual help items was impossible to judge, though we had introduced basic analytics tracking to the staff and student help pages in September 2014.

For the 2015/16 academic year we have, therefore, completely changed access to help material by using a MyPad (EduBlog) site to act as an electronic index. As systems administrators we are able to use categories as a tool to cluster and filter individual blog posts into thematic groups and providing tagging filters that can modify those clusters and construct tailored help searches. Users can also directly access tagged items through the ‘most used tags’ word cloud.

While we have control over the thematic links, the standard search function that exists within Edublogs is very basic and produces results which are solely ranked upon recency. This does mean that we are required to identify important posts and manually adjust their date on a regular basis to ensure they are ranked most highly. The lack of any sophisticated parsing of a search query is a further problem – a natural language query is likely to result in no hits but one or two common words with return a high number of hits, again plagued by the poor ranking.

However, this may not be too much of a problem providing that the number of blog posts remains relatively small and it many respects this is desirable. We have seen examples of Edublogs based help systems which contain high volumes of disparate content (going well beyond the core VLE functions) that results in very poor search results. When our new help system was created, it used approximately 90 entries to re-create the thematic and item links in the old help pages and it will be our aim to keep the total number of active posts under 150. In this manner we should reduced the number of excessive search results while keeping the maintenance of entries manageable.

screenshotPerhaps the greatest advantage of the new help system is that we now have access to anonymous analytics to inform us about which items are being used and the flow of access to each item. We can also see the text used in search requests that fail, so for the first time we can add new posts or editing existing ones to achieve a ‘hit’ in the future. The range of these search requests can be surprising – within a week of the system being used we needed to add entries to capture searches for ‘timetables’ and ‘examination results’, a need we would have been totally oblivious to last year.

Despite the wide range of help requests, our aim is to keep its content tightly focused on NILE core and arranged technologies, signposting requests for which we are not the best contact point to the highest level of appropriate contact (such as the Student Help desk, IT Services or Skills Hub). Wherever possible, we avoid linking to specific pages on an external site content as links we have no control over have an unpleasant habit of changing. Our main exception has been Blackboard Learn’s online help, which benefits from a robust (and predictable) URL convention but has very confusing generic advice at its top level. To aid our maintenance, you will see that links are colour coded – Black for external Blackboard Help, Blue for other external resources and a ‘heart’ for material created or managed by LearnTech.

Post content is kept deliberately short and task oriented, uses additional ‘how to’ videos whenever possible and restates the issue using variety of different terms to improve search results. We have a significant amount of extra work to do though and intend to improve thematic (such as marking assignments and providing feedback) and task (‘How can I make a video?’) orientated access to related material progressively. LearnTech’s Iain Griffin has already produced a more specialist help site for PebblePad that provides an excellent model for these some of these application or task related mini-sites.

As of now, we see a very similar number of ‘hits’ on our help page to that of a year ago – we look forward to providing a more detailed report on facts and figures and progress in developing the site later in the year.



Aleven, Vincent, Stahl, Elmar, Schworm, Silke, Fischer, Frank, & Wallace, Raven. (2003). Help Seeking and Help Design in Interactive Learning Environments. Review of Educational Research, 73(3), 277-320.

Rienties, B., Giesbers, B., Lygo-Baker, S., Ma, H., & Rees, R. (2014). Why some teachers easily learn to use a new virtual learning environment: A technology acceptance perspective. Interactive Learning Environments, 1-14.

Sánchez, R. Arteaga, & Hueros, A. Duarte. (2010). Motivational factors that influence the acceptance of Moodle using TAM. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(6), 1632-1640.

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Affected NILE pageMany instructors have commented that the menu on their NILE site has vanished – or become black text on a black background – which makes navigation a little tough for students! Sadly this is a bug that has been around for a long time (see ‘Who turned the lights out‘ from September 2013).

Our advice (if affected) remains pretty much the same:

1. Open the Site Manager, Customisation, Teaching Style menu item and scroll down to the background colour and text colour pickers.

2. Edit the background colour and chose a very light contrasting background or type in ‘ffffff’ (‘f’ six times) into the code value box for a white background.

3. ‘Submit’ to save changes

Alternately, you can also select the ‘default’ theme, which fixes the issue too.

We strongly advise NOT using themes in any case. The vast majority lack high contrast colours and make the menu difficult to read. You may also be unaware that themes add an image to the lower left that can be totally inappropriate for your subject content and appear rather ‘childish’. Always use the Student Preview to check what your site looks like to students.

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Here are a few things we need to tell you about your NILE sites for the 15/16 year. Please take look as there will more than likely be something that is relevant to you.

Making your site live

Don’t forget that sites are not automatically made available to students. You need to make them available once you’re ready. To do this, you can use the Quick Actions box which is on the Sites & Organisations tab. Click Site Availability, then use the toggle switch to make sites available/unavailable (ie. turn them on/off) to students.


To make things easier to copy contact details from site to site you can change your contacts section from using the Contacts Tool to a standard content area. This will enable you to copy individual items/contacts between sites instead of all contacts at the same time. However, if you have spent some time on your contacts area already (using the Tool) and just want to ensure the Student Desk details are correct, you can create a new contact and use this URL as the link:

For more information on using a Content Area for your Contacts have a look at this guide

Reading lists

Unfortunately we have discovered that there are some 15/16 sites that have not automatically got a link to the Reading List (Talis Aspire) site. If you find that there is not a link in the Reading List section of your site then follow this guidance to add it. It is only a few clicks.

Turnitin update

Updates to the Turnitin integration with NILE over the summer has resulted in the frustrating issue where the Primary Display in the Grade Centre reverts to displaying the number has now been resolved. If you make changes to a Turnitin assignment (eg. changing the post date) the Primary Display settings are retained.

Kaltura update

If you are using videos for assessment then the product (Kaltura) behind this has been updated. This new guide provides details of the slight change in the way that students should submit video for assessment. Look out for more details soon.

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It’s that time of year when ‘My Sites’ are being edited to reflect next year’s modules, so we are seeing a number of reports about a script warning that pops up on NILE – ‘Batch already begun’ when visiting the home and Sites & Organisations tab – it fires as organisations load.

It appears that this is a ‘known issue’ (sigh) with Blackboard Learn. What it doesn’t like you doing is hiding sites you’re enrolled on and using the ‘group by term’ feature at the same time.

Probably best to just turn off your ‘group by term’ for an immediate resolution using the settings cog. If you do wish to group by term, the only way around this would be to un-enroll from  courses you didn’t want to see listed. Do this on the Sites & Organisations tab, using ‘Manage your NILE Sites’ – click the module you want to escape from, select yourself from the instructor list and ‘Submit’. There isn’t a quicker way for us LearnTechs to do this for you en masse – sorry!

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The Department of Engineering within the School of Science and Technology offers a unique course in non-destructive testing both at a foundation and bachelor degree levels. Since its inception, the course has been delivered in distance learning mode to accommodate the cohort of students who are interested in the course. They usually work in full time jobs in different parts of the world. Moreover, their jobs involve travelling to remote places for long periods of time at short notice.

While the provision of learning packages has been facilitated and organised through NILE (the University’s Virtual Learning Environment), the assessment posed a number of challenges in terms of quality and rigour. This is evident from the high portion of students who achieve grades exceeding A-. One may argue that this is a testament to our quality of tuition of this course. However, it is difficult to reconcile these results with the assessment conditions where students are offered six weeks or more to answer a set of questions in an open book style and without the usual exam type time constraint. Furthermore, the external examiners have often expressed a concern about the distribution of grades. Professional accreditation bodies such the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) would not accredit a course where standard type exams do not represent a large proportion of the assessment.

Our aim and that of the accreditation institutions is to ascertain that a student with a mere pass is able to function as an engineer and the assessment should reflect that. In order to address this issue, we have sought to harness the capabilities of NILE to improve the quality of our assessment for distance learning students. We created assessments that include a range of question types from formulae to essays to cater for students with different skills. We also generated the same question with a different set of numerical values for each student using regular expression on NILE. Despite our best efforts, this has not resulted in a distribution of grades that is representative of students with different capabilities, albeit, there is a marked improvement. On a close inspection though, the essay type questions seem to produce a range of grades from a simple pass to distinction.

We have then generated a case study in non-destructive testing and invited students to submit an academic report discussing their approaches to the problem. In order to make the problems more interesting and thought provoking, we suggested using non-destructive testing methods that are non-standard and ask students to use their creative minds to make it work. We expect the distribution of the overall grades to change as a result of these changes. Thus far, it has proved to be instructive for students and lecturers alike. We intend to solicit some feedback from the current cohort of students to learn about their experience.

For more information about this assessment, please contact Dr. Abdeldjalil Bennecer, Senior Lecturer in Engineering ( or Professor Phil Picton, Professor of Engineering (

This case study is taken from the Institute of Learning and Teaching’s 2015 publication ‘Outside the Box Assessment and Feedback Practices’, available from the University’s Assessment and Feedback portal.

checkmarkNILE sites will be sampled by the Quality and Partnerships team from 1st August 2015 in readiness for QAA so it is important that sites comply with the baseline standards which were approved at University Student Experience Committee on 16th June, 2015. In addition, there are a number of common problems that could have a negative impact on student experience and generate avoidable requests for assistance from you and other teams supporting students.

LearnTech have been asked to provide some simple guidance on preparing your 2015/16 NILE sites to ensure they meet foundation level at the very least.

We have managed to condense the main points down to one page, which you can download here. Following these simple guidelines should help to save time once teaching begins.

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copying a manuscript

The preparation of sites for the 2015/16 academic year is now starting in earnest and you may find yourself copying material from last year’s sites. Usually this is fairly easy using the ‘copy’ dropdowns, but one section that is a little more difficult is ‘Contacts’. It isn’t possible to copy individual contacts from one site to another, but you can copy the whole Contacts folder even if this isn’t immediately obvious. Especially as you probably only ever do this once a year!

One advantage of this full copy process is that you can create a ‘Master’ contact list to import into all your modules with every contact, then just delete those you don’t need on a particular module.

We have created a quick one-page guide to jog your memory and  help you speed things up. The same principle can be applied to large content areas with lots of content. Rather than copying items individually you can move across all the content of a menu item on the left side. Just select that item instead of ‘Contacts’ for the Export and Import content.

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