Meeting with Cindy Becker, School of English

Track usage: how far can we go? And where will it take the students?

A few weeks ago, I met with Cindy Becker in the department of English. She was one of the members of staff who asked if it might be possible to structure content in a Blackboard course in a different way. I met with her to make clear what it is she wanted when she asked this.

Cindy outlined three things she would like to be possible within her Blackboard course, some of which I said might be outside the scope of the project (my comments appear in red italics below each point):

  • If students go to a section we can somehow track usage by other students and recommend other material accordingly.
    I explained that while Blackboard had a tracking facility as well as a “performance dashboard” it wasn’t clear (from my previous experience) how reliable these usage statistics are or if they would provide the information necessary to make such a feature possible.
  • A recommender that would say “if you’ve enjoyed this section, go elsewhere” based on connections or associations the staff member had made between different materials or sections of the site. (This might occur through a small contextual menu.)
    I explained this point fit perfectly within the scope we had at that point drafted on the tagging and recommender widgets. Staff would be able to tag content and the recommender could pick up this metadata and display links/previews to other areas of the site accordingly.
  • Some way of tracking where students have got to within a particular section.
    I explained that Blackboard had a review status feature so that students could tick off sections as they read them but I didn’t yet see any way in which Blackboard might automatically remember what a student had read so far (esp. regarding how far down a document the student had got). [Afterwards, I thought this would be roughly analogous to how BBC iPlayer remembers where you are in a programme even if you close it suddenly.]

Cindy is interesting in re-organising her course and so this is also a good opportunity for her to think about how she might use tagging and for us to see how it might be used to re-shape existing content.

I explained that we should have a rough prototype of the tagging and recommender widgets soon. It will be interesting for her to try this out and inform further development before we move to true piloting (with students!)

About Guy

I am currently Enhancement Officer (for Education Technologies) at the University of Reading. I am also studying for a Masters in Research at the University's School of Systems Engineering.
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