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NILE courses for the 2021/2022 academic year are now available.

Courses will be Original or Ultra depending on type of course and level of study. Module-level courses at Foundation and Level 4 will be Ultra. Module-level courses at Levels 5, 6, 7, and 8 will be Original. All programme-level courses will be Original. You can find out more about the transition from Original to Ultra on our Blackboard Learn Ultra guides:
https://libguides.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/staff/nile-guides/blackboard-ultra

Find and enrol on your new NILE courses using the process outlined in our FAQ, ‘How do I enrol/remove myself off a module site?
https://askus.northampton.ac.uk/Learntech/faq/181746

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The Ally winners – Alison Power, Jean Edwards and Simon Sneddon

Congratulations and well done to our three brilliant and amazing digital accessibility champions who took part in our challenge on the recent Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Simon Sneddon, Alison Power and returning competitor Jean Edwards join Charlotte Dann from last year in making their NILE sites more accessible for their students. This past year has placed huge demands on our time and our energy so it’s immensely wonderful these three were able to take part in the 2021 challenge alongside many other commitments. The 2021 trio contributed to Northampton’s final score of being 42nd in the World rankings and 4th in Europe.

The challenge was to see how much more accessible they could make their content within a short window of time. A prize for the most accessible NILE site, the most increasing in accessibility and the runner up prize for the greatest increase in accessibility. The results are in, and we are very pleased to announce the winners are:

  • Simon Sneddon gets the highest overall score with a score of 97% on modules LAW2006 and LAW2007
  • Jean Edwards gets the prize for the greatest increase with a whopping increase of 29% on PDT1068
  • Alison Power gets the runner up prize for greatest increase – with a fantastic increase of 18% on MID3026

Alison, Simon and Jean can feel extremely proud of the effort they made, but if pride is not a significant enough reward for them, we have dug deep into the coffers to award them prizes of chocolate and sweets which we will be presenting to them in a modest online celebration. Formal wear is not obligatory, though neither are jogging bottoms.

Alison Power said, “engaging with this competition was a great opportunity to review my NILE site to ensure it is as accessible as possible.  Ally is a fantastic tool to support Module Leaders in checking and revising content – I found it really user-friendly and wonder whether it could be included in the NILE Minimum Standards.”

Simons commented that “the main thing I think is to let people know that it is really straightforward to make documents and NILE sites accessible, and if you do it as you go along, it doesn’t take any additional time, so it is a win win activity. The Ally tool is really helpful, and the process also makes me think more about formatting and contrast and so on, and focusing way more on content than all the fancy things that PowerPoint can do. Substance not style.”

Jean, Simon, Alison and Charlotte now form our exciting celebrity digital accessibility tutors but of course we know there are many other tutors who couldn’t take part in the challenge but who are equally doing their bit to support and promote digital accessibility. We are immensely proud of the efforts made on a daily basis to make content and teaching more accessible.

If you would like training on making your content more accessible to students, please get in touch with your Learning Technologist and we will be happy to point you to resources or offer online one-to-one training. Making our content accessible to our audience does take time but as Simon observed if you can make the small changes early on in the process then what flows from that is infinitely improved.

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Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021

Thursday May the 20th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day and to celebrate, the University is launching a competition to see who can make their NILE site the most accessible over the course of the day.

If you’d like to be involved, click the link below to register your NILE module and we’ll send you simple instructions on how to check your modules Accessibility score as well as some useful tips on how to use Ally to easily improve your site.

Enter using the Eventbrite form.

On the morning of the 20th of May you just need to email us a screenshot of your Accessibility score then send another screenshot by 8pm of your finishing Ally score. The module with the largest increase in score will win a small prize, a special mention in Unify and the satisfaction of creating an accessible site in line with the regulations for online materials.

Last year, Charlotte Dann and Jean Edwards took up the challenge to improve the accessibility of their NILE sites using the Ally tool. The challenge involved using the Ally module accessibility reports to incrementally make changes to their course which would make their course more accessible to students. The intrepid tutors worked during the day to make the necessary changes and by the end of the day, Northampton finished 28th in the World (3rd in Europe) for the greatest improvement!

Jean said, “I took part last year and in the process of checking and improving my accessibility scores on the day I learned a lot that I have been able to apply when I make new resources. I feel I can make my resources accessible as I devise them instead of retrospectively. This is time saving for me and supportive for students.”

Charlotte also got a lot out of the challenge. “Accessibility is an important issue for me, personally as well as within my teaching. When I saw the NILE site challenge relating to accessibility last year, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to test myself against how accessible I thought I was. And I really learned a lot! Some of the changes that were needed were relatively simple for me, but make a big difference to others – things like ensuring pictures have alternate text for screen readers, and referring to Word documents throughout my site rather than PDFs which some accessibility software find difficult to navigate. This has now translated into being aware of accessibility issues outside of the NILE module site (such as in social media use for hashtags and images), and the tool itself is something I refer back to for my modules since.”

We thank Jean and Charlotte for their involvement in the challenge and for sharing their experience. This has been a busy year for teaching staff and accessibility is unlikely to be a priority with so many other demands. However, as Charlotte says, a simple change of habit can have a massive impact for students.

If you don’t have the headspace for the challenge, please consider trying something new for September to make your content more accessible. It could be clearer captions for your videos, a shorter or more concise name for your next uploaded file or using less PDFs in your course.

Every NILE user deserves a first-rate digital experience so making your content accessible is really important. We hope this is a fun way to help you improve your sites. If you need help on the day then remember to contact your Learning Technologist who will happy to give you some training or tips to win.

For guidance on how to use the Ally tools in NILE, paste the following link into your browser:

https://askus.northampton.ac.uk/Learntech/faq/189667

For more assistance on using Ally then contact your Learning Technologist:

https://libguides.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/staff/nile-help/who-is-my-learning-technologist

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The NILE design standards for the 2021/22 academic year were approved at the Student Support Forum meeting on the 15th of April 2021, and have now been published.

The most significant change to NILE design standards for 2021/22 is the inclusion of the design standards for Ultra courses (see, ‘Section B, Tables 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3’).

The design standards for Original courses remain largely unchanged. The only changes of note from the previous year’s standards are:

  • Clarification that, should staff wish to, it is fine to update the course landing page from ‘About this module’ to ‘Announcements’ after the first few weeks of teaching (see, ‘Section C, Table 6, About this module [Entry Point*]’.
  • Renaming ‘Virtual classroom’ to ‘Blackboard Collaborate’ and having this area available by default (see, ‘Section C, Table 6, Blackboard Collaborate’).
  • Removal of the ABL definition from the landing page on programme-level courses (see, ‘Section C, Table 7, My Programme [Entry Point’].

The NILE design standards for 2021/22 are available to view at:
https://libguides.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/staff/nile-design/nile-design-standards

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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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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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The core technology underpinning NILE, known as Blackboard Learn, is changing. This will have a major impact across the University as NILE courses are updated to Blackboard Learn Ultra over the next three academic years, starting with Level 4 and Foundation courses for teaching beginning in the 2021/22 academic year.

Blackboard Learn Ultra is a modern, responsive VLE, that has been designed to work across the widest range of devices. While the original version of Blackboard Learn was, and in many respects still is, a highly functional and well-engineered VLE, it does not have the same ability to work seamlessly across the full range of devices that our students now expect. Blackboard Learn Ultra is Blackboard’s answer to the challenges posed by today’s students, the majority of whom now access the VLE from a mobile device.

The Ultra experience is very different to the Original experience. From a design point of view it has a simpler, more modern and less cluttered look-and-feel. And because it has been designed with mobile devices in mind, it flows and responds well on smaller screens, whilst giving users a similar experience regardless of whether it is accessed on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

We have titled the project to move NILE from Blackboard Learn Original to Blackboard Learn Ultra ‘UON Ultra’, and you can find out more about the project and the timescales here:

https://libguides.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/staff/nile-guides/blackboard-ultra

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In addition to the excellent range of resources which are available for students to help with NILE, a new Organisational resource has just been released on the platform for those who are new to NILE. This 20 minute mini-course will provide a basic introduction to NILE including navigation and useful tools such as the calendar, activity stream and the Blackboard app.

The course will supplement information and resources provided by tutors and provide a springboard into NILE usage.

New students will be able to view the course by clicking onto the Organisations link after logging into NILE and then click onto the link for “Student Introduction to NILE”:

It is then possible to access all the material in the course. A printable / downloadable confirmation page is available for those who complete all materials.

Staff wishing to preview the material for their own use/reference should follow the guidance for enrolling on Organisations (click on “Add Organisation to Workload”) and search for “Stu-Intro-NILE-staffview”

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As well as having a NILE course for each of your modules, your programme has its own NILE course too. For the 20/21 academic year we have been working with colleagues in IT Services to make improvements to the way that programme courses are created in NILE, which will make the process of finding and using programme courses much easier.

During the 19/20 academic year, 3,410 programme courses were created in NILE. Of these, only 6% were actually used, and the story is the same in previous academic years. The reason for this apparent low take up of programme courses is actually due to the way that NILE automatically creates a large number of programme course variations based around year and mode of study. For example, when trying to find the 19/20 programme course for History, you’ll be faced with the following list:

  • CBAAHISTY-1920: 19/20 BA History
  • CBAAHISTY-1FT-1920: 19/20 BA History Stage 1 FT
  • CBAAHISTY-1PT-1920: 19/20 BA History Stage 1 PT
  • CBAAHISTY-2FT-1920: 19/20 BA History Stage 2 FT
  • CBAAHISTY-2PT-1920: 19/20 BA History Stage 2 PT
  • CBAAHISTY-3FT-1920: 19/20 BA History Stage 3 FT
  • CBAAHISTY-3PT-1920: 19/20 BA History Stage 3 PT
  • SUBHIST-1920: 19/20 History

The end result here is that it is often difficult to know which of these programme courses is the best one to use. Additionally, the most requested type of programme course, the one with all of your students on it, is not in the above list because it is not automatically created; rather it has to be generated manually via a multiple programme course merge.

The good news is that earlier in the year, SEC (Student Experience Committee) approved a proposal to improve and simplify the creation of programme courses in NILE, the result being that your programme now has only one NILE course, and all of your students are automatically enrolled on it.

To return to the above example, there is now only one programme course in NILE for History this academic year.

  • CBAAHISTY-2021: 20/21 BA History

This course contains single and joint honours students; first, second and third year students; and full-time and part-time students: in fact, anybody and everybody studying History at UON during the 20/21 academic year.

But this doesn’t mean that programme courses now have to be one-size-fits-all affairs. While you can use these courses to communicate easily with and create activities and resources for all your students at once, you can also use the groups and adaptive release tools in Blackboard to communicate with and create activities and resources for specific groups of students.

The only other programme courses created in NILE for 20/21 are one for all Joint Honours students (CCH-2021) and one for all Foundation Study Framework students (CFSF-2021).

If you have any questions about finding and using your 20/21 programme course, or about how to set up groups in your course and release content to or communicate with specific groups of students, please do get in touch with your learning technologist.

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In addition to the excellent support and training provided by your Learning Technologists there are also a range of sessions which are provided on a regular basis by Blackboard – the company behind the main product forming the NILE backbone. These sessions are normally free and you can catchup on recordings if you cannot attend the actual events.

Northampton does make a few customisations to the ‘out of the box’ product but where possible we do try to keep to the standard layouts which mean that the product training should still be relevant.

You should be aware when looking for training that we are using the Blackboard Learn Ultra Based navigation along with traditional courses. There are a limited number of Ultra Based courses also being piloted. The core communication product is Blackboard Collaborate.

Whilst Blackboard sessions run during regular time slots, they are also recorded and these are made available to all delegates who sign up – so don’t let the actual dates of the events put you off.

The sessions which may be of use are:

Understanding the Ultra Experience Series

Preparing for the Ultra Course View

Transitioning to remote instruction (From basic to advanced). Past recordings from these sessions are also available.

More events will be added to this list as they become relevant.

Please contact your Learning Technologist for more information and help.

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