Friday, 31 July 2009

wrote a list of things that need doing this evening and it's worrying long. Ergo, I am online.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

New iPhone?

July so far has been a busy month and there are only two days left for it to prove otherwise. Consequently, between sessions of preparing our new help system, I've time for the occasional visit to Twitter and that's about it. (Hence the lack of recent updates on this here blog.)

Since my last post about Twitter (in which I said I'd be taking part in a new social media experiment called Infinite Summer), I've been on it quite a lot. And unlike my other forays into social networking this hasn't been one of these read- or write-only things.

In fact, I've been getting into it so much, I've been tempted to get myself an iPhone so I can play with it on the go (which lately is where I've been finding myself).

Of course, these toys and gadgets are changing so fast nowadays, I find myself resorting back to my old "deferred entry" excuses, excuses which follow this line of reasoning: if something is going to be better and/or cheaper in a few months time, might as well put your pennies in a piggy bank and wait 'til then. Which reasoning means of course that I will never ever buy any new toy or gadget, unless we hit that sometime-anticipated technological singularity while my money is still worth something. (Some have placed bets on 2012.)

All of which is one way of directing you to a report from America's Finest News Source about the new iPhone, which I must say even I am tempted to buy into.

Some more stuff about Twitter and the #infsum thing is waiting in my blogpost drafts area and it'll be there I guess until I've decided the grammar is sufficiently anal enough for all to see. Hopefully sometime in the next few days.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bb 9 Upgrade Notes (LSBU)

Last Friday, my colleague Robyn and I went to the University of Westminster for the London BbUG (Blackboard Users' Group). It was, as usual, a nice way of catching up with friends and colleagues in other institutions and a healthy outlet for our frustrations with, ahem, certain bits of software. We also got to see a couple of presentations - one of which was given by three people from London South Bank University (LSBU).

LSBU recently upgraded to version 9 of Blackboard and it was very interesting to hear about the issues they had and were, in some cases, still experiencing.

They have a large and diverse student body; 23,500 students, half of whom are of ethnic minority. The decision to upgrade came apparently from their Vice Chancellor, and was related to recognition of the need for a student portal. Coming from the top down as it did, the upgrade was thoroughly planned; Jim Nottingham gave a glimpse of their schedule as laid out in a finely-detailed spreadsheet. This tight schedule was crucial for them, I gather, as use of the VLE continued heavily through the summer months and they were upgrading from version 7.2 (which e-portfolio users will remember had some pretty dire bugs).

Sarah Bell, who's on the e-learning team there, listed some of the bugs they are now encountering in the upgraded software, among which were (from my scribbled notes):
  • Problems with course copying (something to do with admin settings and existing courses)
  • Language pack issues
  • Availability of courses for the TA role
  • Issues with announcements
  • Ample time to make cup of tea while waiting for Grade Center to load
  • File exchange issues
  • Problems with lists and re-ordering items in courses
  • Changing colour of item titles
  • Browsing received e-portfolios still limited
I wasn't really surprised by the last of those points. The interface may've changed but the functionality of the e-portfolios is much the same. In fact, that's one of the main reasons we at Reading have decided not to opt for the upgrade this summer. The biggest challenge we imagined facing, before we even hit any bugs, would be re-training staff in the new Web 2.0 "look-and-feel" with its lack of control panel, etc. The new interfaces are better, and kudos to Blackboard for finally trying to catch up with the kids, but they do leave staff who are used to clunky workarounds and web-based forms with receipts in need of some support, guidance, and general TLC.

If you see this as a problem (which we did, in terms of resourcing) then it's one more to the list, as Version 9 doesn't actually have enough change in functionality to solve any of our existing problems! Ergo, automatically, the cons outweigh the pros.

I did speak to a few of people from Blackboard at the Bb World Europe conference this year about their plans for e-portfolios. All they could tell me was that big things were on the way (which, in retrospect, sounds kind of ominous). I have not-so-secretly been hoping that they don't change e-portfolios too much as we've adjusted to the pitfalls and built our enhanced iLearn features on the back of it. If they do, it would be nice just to include some extra functions that don't interfere with the current operations (like they did with the Received Portfolios organisation): things like an ability to import e-portfolios back into Blackboard, an option to give 'write' permissions to others and an improved WYSIWYG text-editor (like the LX one). Simple additions like that would go a long way to improving the tool, whether the interface is 'clunky' or not.

The same probably goes for the rest of Blackboard - which might explain why, with the exception of LSBU and one other person I spoke to, no-one else at the Users Group is going ahead with an upgrade this year.