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Blackboard organisations to support students at programme, discipline and academic community level

Case study: [Multi-programme space] Law LLB: English Law with French Law (joint honours) AND Certificate in Legal Studies (incoming exchange students)

School of Law

Programme director: Gillian Ulph; System Support Administrator: Zoe Day

Key features: Handbook and administrative procedures/guidance documentation, use of Bb repository as 'single point of truth', signposting of content and folder descriptions; supporting incoming exchange students; study skills; course options; academic advisement (inc toolkit: PDP, journals; Staff area); student reps; course feedback – summaries of actions taken; weekly School bulletins; School calendar; Careers information and links.

Note that English Law with French Law is now in its last year of presentation, so functionality is now limited to that final student year group rather than as originally devised, and further development is not planned.

Programme Director commentary

What were the key motivations for setting up the Blackboard organisation?

The themes that you identify are exactly the reasons we set up this Blackboard space. As background information, the ELFL programme was a 4 year programme with a year abroad in the 3rd year. The CLS programme was a 1 year programme for incoming exchange students who studied with us for a year (and were the exchange counterparts to the students going abroad in their third year.) We originally posted information on a website, primarily for students planning to go abroad, but when Blackboard came along I thought it might be a more useful tool to facilitate interaction and support students in preparation for the year abroad and during that year.

(One of the difficulties is that it is difficult for students in different years to communicate and interact because the natural links would be between 2nd and 3rd years or 3rd and 4th years but the 3rd year students are studying abroad which makes communication difficult. I wanted to ensure that there was communication and interaction during the summer period in particular, as students were finalising their planning and preparation for the year abroad.)

I also wanted to enable ELFL students to make links with the CLS students (and vice versa) to provide peer support in relation to studies and student life in the UK and France so I asked to have both programmes sharing the same space on Blackboard.

However, almost as soon as this was set up, the decision was made to close the ELFL programme in the School and the final cohort of students are now in their 4th year. As a result, we haven't done too much with the community aspects of the site because the needs and opportunities for peer support quickly diminished as the final small cohort of students progressed through their programme.

The site is updated with year abroad information when relevant, and it has subsequently been updated with the appropriate programme level information once the move to Blackboard spaces was effected across all programmes within the Law School.

Content/features: what content or features are used? How often is content added? Is this done by staff? students?

Primarily a repository of information, initially for the year abroad and more recently for all programme level information. I also tried to introduce Learning Diaries, discussion boards, Blackboard Instant Messaging, but uptake for all of these was poor.

Roles and responsibilities: How many staff are involved in setting up and updating the Blackboard space? Academics/admin staff/GTAs? Are roles determined? Is the space updated regularly?

The site is primarily managed by the programme director, although Zoe Day (our administrator) now looks after much of the programme level information that is replicated across Law School programmes. There is very little need for the programme director to update programme specific information about the year abroad now so most updating is done in line with regular programme updating in the school.

How successful do you find it (and how do you determine that)? Have you had any review sessions about it?

Less useful than I had hoped, but that is probably a result of circumstances (the ending of the programme, the introduction of Blackboard whilst one of the final cohorts of students were studying abroad.) The information repository is very useful, not least because I can be sure that all students actually have access to the information and I can communicate with them as a cohort very easily. They are a small group of students and I also act as their Academic Adviser so to some extent there is less need for online interaction as I have regular communication with them in person whilst they are studying in Manchester.

Have you had any feedback from individual students or student reps?

Only in relation to the changes when Blackboard 9 was introduced, which was difficult for the cohort of students studying abroad that year.

What challenges have you found?

Persuading students to engage with the programme space whilst abroad, getting them to remember to check online for information before sending me an email with a question.

System Support Administrator commentary

What were the key motivations for setting up the Blackboard organisation?

I'm not sure what the key motivations were as I wasn't involved in this. It helps to have one central area that students can go to for information that is relevant to just their degree.

Content/features: what content or features are used? How often is content added? Is this done by staff? students?

The options page is used frequently especially during course selection. Also, during exam time I often direct students to the Examinations & Assessment area. I have recently added the 'Past outlines of issues' area which will be used students accessing past exam papers; this is very popular during exam time and is better placed on the programme area than on individual course pages (where if course content is not carried across, outlines of issues would have to be updated each year).

Students don't have access to edit anything on the area.

I set up a student reps area this year. I asked the lead rep and the director of student experience if they wanted anything added, which I would do, but this doesn't appear to be taken advantage of. I think reps use Facebook more frequently. The communication area is updated each week with the bulletin. Other content is uploaded as and when its needed.

Roles and responsibilities: How many staff are involved in setting up and updating the Blackboard space? Academics/admin staff/GTAs? Are roles determined? Is the space updated regularly?

I'm not sure who was initially responsible in setting up the programme space. The staff responsible for its content now are the programme directors and me (as System Support Administrator). Other staff do have access but I'm not sure how many of them actually make changes or have access to make changes I try not to encourage this. It's better that not too many people update info as it can cause confusion and I try as much as possible to keep all the undergraduate areas similar.

Also, I am keen to try and work through to get as much info on the Blackboard repository (see screencast on right) which can only be updated by a handful of people.

How successful do you find it (and how do you determine that)? Have you had any review sessions about it?

I'm not sure how successful it is. I think that students may not be very aware of it. However, as I mentioned, the idea of putting 'Outlines of Issues' here is that students always want these especially during exam time. If they get used to looking for these they (hopefully) will use the programme areas more.

We haven't had any review sessions.

Have you had any feedback from individual students or student reps?

I haven't had any specific feedback but anyone I've directed to the programme area has been pleased they know about it.

What challenges have you found?

In Blackboard generally (not just the Programme areas) it can be difficult to keep control of the information that I have linked to the repository, if a link gets broken.

I have also found on a couple of course pages staff have downloaded guides from the programme area and then uploaded to their course pages rather than copying the link across. When they've done this amendments are not automatic and I've been concerned that some students could have been viewing incorrect documents, especially coursework guides.