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Have a look at the eLearning news for the month of August. This includes information about updates to MyAberdeen, a look at the Teaching and Learning Guidance of the Month, and a showcase of good practice when using the new Ultra Course View. practice when using the new Ultra Course View.

MyAberdeen Updates

Below you can find a list of some of the updates applied to MyAberdeen since the July release:

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

  • Renaming session files: files uploaded into a Collaborate session can now be renamed, by going to Share Files in the Collaborate panel, opening the File Options menu of the files needing renamed, and then selecting Rename File
  • Sharing/saving content in breakout groups: files can now be shared with one or more breakout groups. Sharing files this way will display the first slide/page in the breakout group. Group files can now also be saved back to the main room.
  • Default recording name: default session recording names are now numbered sequentially, so they can be found more easily. Recordings can still be renamed.
  • Browser pop-up notifications: previously, moderators or presenters that were sharing a file or an application within a Collaborate room were unable to see new chat messages popping up. This can now be enabled by each individual user, allowing browser chat push notifications to alert them of new messages in the session, even when the application is minimised. This is not selected by default, and each user needs to tick the box to allow browser push notification from their browser’s settings tab. In Chrome for example, a pop-up appears at the top of the screen, next to the padlock where the URL is.

Ultra Course View

  • Show answer options in Ultra Assignments/Tests: it is now possible to decide if students see the answer to questions that were answered incorrectly. Answers can now also be hidden until all students complete their submissions. This new option can be found in the Assignment/Test Settings panel, just below Anonymous grading
  • Question pools: you can now add question pools to Ultra course areas, which allow students to receive different sets of questions to answer. This is similar to the random blocks and question sets functionality in Original courses. Questions can be added to pools from all existing tests, assignments and question banks in the course.

For a comprehensive list of all the updates and fixes applied to MyAberdeen, please visit the Blackboard Learn Ultra page.

For advice and tips on building your course in the Ultra Course View (UCV), please visit the Ultra Central course page on MyAberdeen (currently available only to staff in the five Schools transitioning to UCV this summer).
 

Known issues

There are some know issues we would like to draw your attention to, and on which Blackboard are currently working on. We will update this once these issues have been fixed, so remember to check back:

  • Performance of Ultra Course pages: some users are experiencing poor loading time performance when accessing their Ultra Course, with some course areas taking 1-2 minutes to fully load. This issue has been reported to Blackboard, who are currently trying to provide us with a fix. ** A workaround has been provided in the meantime: when working in the Ultra Course View, trying to keep folders and learning modules closed when not needed, as the entire page has to be loaded and this can cause delays.
     
Teaching and Learning Guidance of the Month

Problem-based learning

Problem-based learning, or PBL, is a style of active learning, where real-world issues or problems are used to increase knowledge and understanding. It involves students working in groups to solve a problem or a scenario, which can be facilitated by teaching staff. It is a student-centred approach, and it is up to the students to decide what they already know and what they need to learn in order to complete the exercise.

How does PBL work?

The structure can vary, depending on the subject area and what the instructor wants to achieve with the exercise, but it normally follows the same seven steps, in which groups of students are given a scenario or problem to work on, for which they have to:

  • Discuss the scenario and make sure everyone understands the problem 
  • Identify the questions and issues that need addressing 
  • Brainstorm what the group already knows and formulate some initial solutions 
  • Structure the results of the brainstorming session 
  • Formulate objectives for the knowledge that is still lacking (i.e. what needs researching, who will do it, etc.) 
  • Do independent study and research 
  • Discuss the findings and finalise your solution

The initial five steps are usually done during the first tutorial meeting and can be supervised by a member of the teaching team. The last steps are normally covered and addressed during a second tutorial session.
This work is sometimes done based on roles, which students assign to themselves and which can be adapted depending on the task, such as scribe, tutor, chair and/or group member. More about these roles can be found in the PBL article written by Diana F Wood in the British Medical Journal.

Benefits and challenges

When designed properly, problem-based learning provides students with an authentic learning experience by allowing them to apply and improve their skills and knowledge through real-world scenarios.  

Alongside the acquisition of knowledge, there are many other skills that are developed during problem-based learning scenarios, such as the ability to: 

  • analyse complex issues
  • gather, record, critically evaluate and structure information
  • work in a team, cooperating and respecting other's views
  • lead groups and discussions
  • chair a group 
  • engage in self-directed learning
  • improve presentation skills

Problem-based learning also provides students with an authentic learning experience 

PBL is not without its challenges, and it’s important that these are kept in mind when designing these activities:

  • Writing up effective and rich scenarios can be time consuming but is key in ensuring a good and meaningful experience for students. 
  • Groups can be dysfunctional, with some students having a more dominant character, thus making it more difficult for the others to effectively engage with the activity. 
  • Assessment methods need to be tied in with PBL, for it to work more effectively. If assessments focus solely on recalling information, then there might be less incentive for students to actively participate in solving PBL scenarios. 
  • Failing to solve a PBL scenarios is not necessarily a bad thing. Allowing students to experience both success and setback will not only better prepare them for work life outside their studies, but will still allow them to acquire new knowledge in their quest for finding a solution. Coming back to this problem once they have acquired more knowledge and skills throughout their course would offer them a new perspective. 

For those interested in knowing more about PBL, have a look at Maastricht University, who almost exclusively teach using PBL. Advance HE also have numerous case studies, spread across disciplines, looking at the use of PBL.

Accessibility Tip of the Month

Using Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Word 

It is important that learning materials and other documentation we produce are accessible to all users, including people using assistive technologies such as screen readers.  

Microsoft Word includes a built-in Accessibility Checker tool, which provides a list of potential accessibility issues and suggestions on how to fix them. This is especially useful for highlighting missing alternative text on images and graphs.  

How to use the Accessibility Checker 

  • In your Microsoft Word document, Open Accessibility Checker from Review tab. 

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  • Use the drop down menu to quickly fix issues, for example, add a description (alt text) to images in a document.

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  • Accessibility Checker will provide information and instructions on how to fix each of the issues highlighted.

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Accessibility Checker is also available in other Microsoft Office products, for example, in PowerPoint it can be used to quickly highlight slides missing a Title. Visit the Microsoft Support pages for more information.  

Ultra Course View - Tips and Good Practice Showcase

Conversations and group work

The Designing & Tutoring Online Course (DTOC) is a five-week course which was created to support staff teaching online courses, whilst also allowing them to experience studying online as a student. A key component of this experience is the use of group work. The April 2019 cohort were the first to take this course in the new Ultra Course View (UCV), which allowed us to make use of the Conversation tool present in UCV.

What are Conversations?

Conversations is a new tool available in the Ultra Course View, which can be enabled for individual content items or assessments within the course area. It provides students with a synchronous (Collaborate room) and an asynchronous (Conversations) communication space, which appears only in the relevant content, and which can be used to ask for help, share resources or answer any questions others might have. 


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Within DTOC, the tool was used as part of a group submission. 

Benefits and Challenges

Staff engagement was good, and they used the tool to collaboratively work on their document submissions, schedule and attend Collaborate sessions, provide feedback to each other, as well as for more light-hearted discussions. We received timely submission from all groups, the quality of the work was very good, and they all seemed to be able to access their feedback.

As with any new tool, there were some challenges encountered.
Finding and accessing the area caused some issues for staff. Although written instructions for access were provided, we learnt that a video guide would have been more useful, and plan on adding one for the next run of the course. 
The Conversation tool provides two asynchronous conversation areas to engage with, one visible just to members of a group (for group assignments only), and one visible to the entire class. Depending on which way they opened the Conversation tab, staff could be taken to one or the other, which did cause some confusion, with staff being unable initially to communicate with their peers. More work needs to be done in ensuring staff and students are well aware of how to use this tool, and the aforementioned video will be used to help with that as well. 


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As with any group work, there were challenges with finding suitable times for collaboration and with getting the tool to work. Although frustrating, this is a good way for staff to experience first-hand what their online students go through when they have group work activities to engage with. 

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