From the 1st of March 2021, Kaltura will be making a change to the way that your video files are stored. However, please be aware that this change will not affect the playback of your videos.

When you upload a video file to Kaltura, the original video file that you upload (known as the source file) is automatically converted by Kaltura into a variety of different video formats which are more suited to web streaming. These converted video files (known as transcoded flavours) are the ones that people see when they play back your video. Once your original video file (the source file) has been automatically converted into the various transcoded flavours, it remains on Kaltura, but is not used for video playback.

From the 1st of March 2021, your source video files will be automatically removed from Kaltura after one year. However, all transcoded flavours will be retained, therefore playback of your Kaltura videos will be unaffected.

Please note that once the one-year period has expired and your source video file has been removed, it will no longer be possible to edit your Kaltura video.

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Because it won’t be possible to automatically convert Original courses to Ultra, Ultra development courses will be created for all modules at least six months before they are required for first teaching.

Foundation and Level 4 Ultra courses for first teaching in September 2021 are available now.

To enrol on the Ultra development course for your module, please use the Enrol as a Tutor on your Modules tool in NILE.

The ID and name of your module will be in the format: Course ID = ABC1234_ULTRA, Course Name = ABC1234 Ultra Development Course.

Please note that these Ultra development courses are not the final versions of the courses that you will be using for teaching. The actual courses that your students will be enrolled on and which are synchronised with the Student Records System will be created later in the year (usually late May, early June). These Ultra development courses are intended for staff who would like to spend time slowly building their courses over many months, rather than waiting until June to begin the process. If you build your module using an Ultra development course you will need to copy it across later in the year into the course that your students are enrolled on; however, this is a quick and easy process. Our suggestion is that these Ultra development courses are best used as a place to structure, develop and build your module content and activities. Once this is complete, you can add assessment submission points, etc., into the final version of your course later in the year.

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Introduction

During the autumn 20/21 term, nine members of academic staff across all three University faculties taught 305 students on twelve Blackboard Learn Ultra modules (FAST=7; FBL=1; FHES=4). During December 2020 and January 2021, these academics shared their thoughts about Ultra with us, and this blog post presents a summary of the main findings from UON staff who have piloted Ultra with their students.

N.B. For clarification, throughout this post ‘Ultra’ refers to the new Blackboard Learn Ultra courses, whereas ‘Original’ refers to the original Blackboard Learn courses (i.e., Blackboard Learn version 9.1 courses) that UON staff have been using for many years.

Main findings

1. Once they had taken the time to get used to Ultra, the majority of staff were generally positive about it, and particularly liked its more modern look-and-feel, referring to it as being simple, clean, smart, slick, bright, and neat. However, for a very small number of staff this simpler, cleaner appearance and the lack of course customisation options was found to be bland and visually uninspiring.

2. In most cases staff noted that it did take quite some time to become familiar and comfortable with the new Ultra interface, and that a reasonable amount of thinking, experimenting and planning time was necessary to work out how to use Ultra and get the best from it.

3. As well as the time taken to get used to Ultra, and to consider how to design their Ultra courses, most members of staff reported the need to spend more time than usual putting their Ultra courses together; i.e., uploading content, and creating online activities, etc. Some staff members found this process too slow, but even those who found the process daunting also noted that it was also a good opportunity to re-evaluate their courses. As this was their first time putting an Ultra course together, most staff members reported some frustrations getting used to Ultra, or with the limitations of Ultra, but for the most part there was the sense that once they had become used to Ultra, it was not difficult to work with.

4. Many members of staff noted a loss of minor functionality with Ultra when comparing it with Original. However, with the exception of a limitation with the journal tool (which has subsequently been updated by Blackboard) the missing functionality usually refers to relatively minor issues (such as the inability to create tables in the text editor, some clumsiness with the messaging tool, difficulty using drag-and-drop function to move content around within the course, or the lack of ability to copy content within a course) which are likely to be remedied in future upgrades. In some cases, the missing functionality reported was actually there, but was difficult to find. Regarding positive comments about Ultra functionality, the Ultra discussion boards were noted as a particularly good tool. Overall, while there were concerns about Ultra’s functionality, there were no comments suggesting that Ultra was unfit for purpose, or unusable/unsuitable for teaching and learning.

5. Not all staff piloting Ultra had assessed student work in their Ultra course at the time they gave feedback, but those who had had mixed comments about the process: some had found it straightforward and intuitive, but others had found difficult and cumbersome.

6. Staff noted no problems with their students using Ultra, and no negative comments from students about Ultra – generally the sense was that students were okay with it, had adjusted to it, and were just getting on with it. One member of staff noted positive comments from their students about Ultra being easier to navigate that Original, better to look at, and displaying well on a mobile device.

7. While most staff were positive (and often very positive) about Ultra, there were a few comments which indicated that some staff were concerned about it not being as functional as Original, and their impression was that while it was a good tool, and one that they would happy use in the future, it was not quite ready yet. However, other staff, even where they noted less functionality with Ultra, did not find this to be especially problematic. Overall, almost all respondents seemed happy with the idea of using Ultra for teaching and learning either immediately, or after a little more development.

8. In terms of rolling out Ultra across all courses at the University, while some staff liked the idea of doing it all at once for all modules, most considered a three-year phased roll-out to be the most prudent and most reasonable option for both staff and students. Nevertheless, quite a number of staff piloting Ultra noted that it was going to be a lot of work for all staff to make the transition to Ultra, especially for those staff who are module leaders and who would be rebuilding their Original courses in Ultra.

Summary

The findings strongly suggest that the University made the correct decision in continuing to use Blackboard as its VLE provider and was right to begin the process of adopting Blackboard Ultra courses. The findings did not suggest any reason to abandon the UON Ultra adoption project or to stick with Original courses for the foreseeable future.

Overall, the findings showed a very good level of support for Ultra, and, for the most part, a preference for Ultra over Original. The main concerns with Ultra were about: i) the time it would take for staff to get used to working with Ultra; ii) the time it would take to rebuild Original courses in Ultra, and; iii) that currently Ultra does not completely match the functionality of Original.

Next steps and future developments

• The University Management Team (UMT) originally stated the University’s commitment to Ultra at a meeting on the 5th of May, 2020, and to a three-year phased roll-out of Ultra courses across the University beginning in September 2021. At a meeting on the 26th of January, 2021, UMT confirmed its ongoing commitment to Ultra and to the Ultra adoption timescales. You can view the Ultra course adoption plan here: https://libguides.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/staff/nile-guides/blackboard-ultra-faqs#s-lg-box-15342243

• In order to assist staff, and hopefully to reduce the amount of time it takes staff to transition their modules from Original to Ultra, the Learning Technology Team have designed and built two complete Ultra courses as examples of what Ultra courses could look like. Both courses contain the same content, but one is set out thematically, and the other on a week-by-week structure. You can access these courses as explained here: https://libguides.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/staff/nile-guides/blackboard-ultra-faqs#s-lg-box-15341315

• The functionality of Ultra is improving all the time, and we have shared the Ultra findings from UON staff with Blackboard, who are now using it to help shape future developments of Ultra. You can find out more about the latest developments with Ultra here: https://www.blackboard.com/learnultra/whats-new-learn-ultra

Find out more

You can find out more about the University of Northampton’s move to Blackboard Learn Ultra at: https://libguides.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/staff/nile-guides/blackboard-ultra

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New to NILE this week is Blackboard Assist, a curated collection of links to useful services, information, help and resources available to University of Northampton students.

Blackboard Assist

To see what’s available, simply click on the ‘Assist’ link in the NILE main menu.

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The Learntech Team note that staff who are exploring new tools with their students should undertake a number of considerations when these are being reviewed:

Always start with the reason for the tool and have a chat with your Learning Technologist in the first instance. There may already be licensed and/or supported tools which will satisfy your needs.

Ensure that the tools are accessible for all students – complete an Equality Impact Analysis to obtain guidance with this.

Ensure that use of the tool is inline with data protection regulations complete a Privacy Impact Assessment to obtain prompt questions. Please also review this useful GDPR blog post

Review the guidance on the use of third party tools

Ensure that use of the tool is sustainable (i.e. is tool support only localised with one person?) What will happen if the tool is withdrawn in the future or the cost becomes prohibitive?

Students should be fully aware who is providing support for the tool to ensure they address the correct support desk.

Any tool which is used for summative assessment should comply with University regulations on retention of content / student engagement.

The University Digital Steering Group makes decisions on the tools which are fully supported by the University; which are recognised but not fully supported; and which are not to be used.

If in doubt then please contact Rob.Howe@northampton.ac.uk for further guidance.

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Helen Caldwell kindly collated a list of the tools used across the Education courses with their students. This shows a wide range and diversity which are useful for students who will be working in a Schools environment in the future. The team have shown a real enthusiasm to enhance student engagement and enhance the interactivity within sessions. The range of activities reflect a growing confidence and expertise with Active Distance Learning and Active Blended Learning.

Helen notes that “…the collection of tools and strategies is a testament to the drive within the education team to make their online sessions active and engaging, and to find imaginative ways to facilitate sensemaking through digital making. “

An example of use of Bitmoji classroom

The Education Teams who are using the tools provide localised support with their students. The range of tools covered within the Education courses included:

  • Blackboard Collaborate
  • Book Creator
  • Jamboard
  • Padlet
  • Adobe Spark
  • Powtoon
  • Wakelet
  • Tweetbeam
  • Bitmoji
  • Thinglink
  • Kahoot
  • Mentimeter
  • AnswerGarden
  • OneNote
  • Miro
  • Canva

The use of these tools within the Education Teams are driven by pedagogical requirements and they are carefully piloted within the team in conjunction with their Learning Technologist in the first instance to ensure they are fit for purpose and do not duplicate any existing licensed product. The tools support the teams flexible approach to ensure their students are prepared for school environments and enhances their employability. Staff in other teams should review the recommendations for the use of third party tools and speak to their Learning Technologist in the first instance prior to introducing any new systems.

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Please could all staff using Xerte check their accounts to ensure they have all Xertes which are needed regardless of whether they are currently being used or not.

Xerte logo

In addition, please can all staff check their NILE sites for resources which contain Xerte URL links. Please check if the URL link is:

a. from your own Xerte account, or
b. whether it is a Xerte URL link of a Xerte not created by you but created by someone else, or
c. is a link used in an active NILE site which has been re-used and/or inherited by you from a member of staff who has left the university.

Why do this?
We are at the beginning of a process to review archiving of unused Xerte accounts and need to ensure that access is not lost to resources which are still required.
NOTE: It is important that you check if you use Xerte Learning Objects created by colleagues who have left the university, or if in your NILE site you have a URL link to a Xerte which was not created by you, or you have inherited sites which contain Xerte content not created by you.

Passing Xerte projects to another member of staff
If you need to pass ownership of the Xerte to another member of staff then you can use a Xerte function called ‘Give this project’. If there is no-one in post to give your Xerte project to, you can export the Xerte projects as SCORM zip files and store them a shared area where your team can have access. These Xerte SCORM zip files can be imported in to Xerte if they require editing and then uploaded as SCORM zip files in to NILE. If no editing is required, the exported Xerte can be uploaded to your site in NILE, if the content is unchanged.

It is recommended that you share your Xerte projects with at least one colleague as Co-Author role.

More information
For more help then log in to the Xerte Community site on NILE and read the relevant guidance. Visit the left menu called Training to book on to a Xerte training session.

 

From the 6th of November 2020 onwards, staff and students will notice that the Blackboard Content Editor looks a little different.

Where previously you’ll have seen and used this version of the content editor:

Blackboard's Old Content Editor

You’ll now see and use this updated and improved content editor:

Blackboard's New Content Editor

An important difference between the old and new content editors is the ‘Mashups’ button. In the old content editor it looked like this:

Old Content Editor Mashups Button

While in the new one it is now a ‘plus’ button:

New Content Editor 'Plus' Button

There are lots of great reasons to like the updated content editor. Adding content has been simplified, and it works better on both hand-held devices and larger screens. There are several improvements for accessibility and some new features, too. Here are six enhancements you can look forward to:

1. The Power of Plus. One easy menu for adding content from your computer, cloud storage, Content Collection, or integrated tool. The content editor will automatically recognize the kinds of files you add.

2. Better for All Devices. The editor is better suited for all devices—small screen or big. It’s easier to author on mobile devices because pop-ups are gone.

3. Improved Accessibility. The editor is more accessible due to higher contrast icons and menus, and the removal of pop-ups improves the experience for screen reader users. A new accessibility checker helps authors make content more accessible while they’re creating content. An Ally licence isn’t required for the accessibility checker; it also complements Ally capabilities because it helps users while they’re initially authoring.

4. Better Copy and Paste. Pasting content from Word, Excel, and websites is even better. Easily remove extra HTML but retain basic formatting.

5. Simple Embed. When pasting links to websites such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion, the videos are automatically embedded for inline playback—there’s no need to fuss with HTML. Other sites including The New York Times, WordPress, SlideShare and Facebook will embed summary previews.

6. Display Computer Code. Authors can now share formatted computer code snippets, super handy for computer science classes and coding clubs.

If you have any questions about the new content editor, please feel free to contact your learning technologist.

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One of our course advocate students on Events Management has kindly collated some reflections on the student’s experiences of online learning.

“I know you are all trying to make our learning experience the best you possibly can in this situation and we are very thankful for that. So to support this, I am reaching out to communicate feedback that I received from my course mates. We will all be stuck with online lectures, probably until we graduate, so I think it is in all our interest to make this the best we possibly can, rather sooner than later.”

Group work

The questions asked were: where are the problems? what would you like to be changed? & are you happy with everything?

There were two different opinions about group work and break out rooms:

  1. Students feel a lot more confident and comfortable contributing when they know the other person, or at least recognise the name of people in the group.
    This leads to group work where no one is speaking with each other at all and work isn’t being done so it’s ultimately a waste of time.
    —> so the goal here would be to be able to choose your partners yourself, as you would in F2F lectures.
  2. On the other hand there are students raising their concerns about this as it can be super isolating for new and anxious students, who may not know anyone personally, and don’t want to be “pushed away”.

One of the suggestions around group work is to set up groups being named as “Camera & Mic”, “Mic”, & “Chat”, so that students can choose the way of group work they feel most comfortable with. Another idea would be to integrate more verbal engagements.

Some of the above suggestions echo those covered in in other guidance on groupwork from Inside Higher Education

Interactive sessions

“Students have more than one lecture where they are physically just spoken to for two hours straight and are watching a PowerPoint. Often not even referenced, this feels pointless.”

Lectures could do with being more interactive, if possible. Many students have mentioned the way other tutors incorporates polls in their lectures to find out about our opinions, then afterwards he asks about the reasons for the answers. This engages students! They are then able to have verbal and written discussions on the chat.

Cameras

There is currently a discussion underway about whether cameras should be left on or turned off in online sessions. Some students and tutors are valuing the social interaction which is encouraged when they are able to see other participants in the room. Others emphasise with articles such as “Reasons Why You Should Reconsider Requiring Students to Turn on Their Zoom Cameras During Class” and suggest that this should be optional.

For more information on strategies see previous blog postings from Learntech, Mark Allenby’s suggestions on group work and suggestions from Kaltura

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During 2020 Mark decided to make a radical change in his teaching through removal of PowerPoint in his synchronous teaching. He still use some pre-recorded presentations, but his ‘live’ teaching, both face-to-face and online, have now used NILE(Blackboard Learn), not PowerPoint.

In this guest Learntech posting, Mark shares some of his hints and tips on ‘life without PowerPoint’.

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