My module is on Blackboard… now what?

One of the questions I tend to get as Academic Developer in TEL from faculty members is what they can actually do with Blackboard. Most colleagues are familiar with the basic functionalities like creating folders, uploading files and setting up and marking assessments in Turnitin, but aren’t sure what else they could do.

I believe the very question needs rephrasing. The whole thing is not about what the technology allows us to do: it is relatively safe to assume that with the robust learning management systems and other technologies available to lecturers today we should be able (with a little effort or ingenuity sometimes) to develop any type of activity or resource we can think of (within reason).
The question should therefore be: what will support our students’ learning? What is lacking or malfunctioning in the current delivery of the module? What do we want our students to do? How do we want them to learn? What will be beneficial to them in light of the learning objectives and assessment? What type of learning activities will support their learning?
It is this conceptual phase that often tends to be missing in deliberations on the use of technology in learning and teaching. There tends to be too much focus on what the technology can do – how to use this or that system – rather than on pedagogical strategies that will support learning (and potentially make academics’ lives a little easier). In the end, it is not the technology that decides how we teach – we decide how we teach and we may, if we so wish, use technology to make things more effective. As someone once said, we should not allow the technological tail to wag the pedagogical dog.
One way to tackle this issue is by identifying problems with the current delivery of the module. The groups are super large, which generates tens of 2000-word essays to mark at the end of the semester? The little darlings fall asleep during lectures, don’t engage and stop attending? Course/exam grades show they don’t really understand the content? Etc., etc.
So the starting point should be, at the risk of sounding trite, the pedagogical dog, not the technological tail. First identify the issue and then check if technology can help you address it. Learning technology is not a one-pill-cure-all kind of thing. Think about the problem first and speak to your Academic Developer about ways of addressing it.
At a conference (#udigcap) I’ve recently attended, one of the presenters mentioned the idea of critical digital literacy, i.e. the ability to make an informed choice when to use technology and when not to use it (@jsecker). I thought it was brilliant. That’s exactly what we need: the ability to decide what solutions are best and why sometimes it is better to think about underlying issues rather than technological fix-alls.

Image: CC Clayton Shonkwiler photo