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Faculty of Humanities Teaching & Learning Office

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

[Discipline level] History Student Portal (HSP)

School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Academic leads: Max Jones, Georg Christ; Sasha Handley (Peer mentoring lead); Student Peer mentors: Sophie Praill and Georgie Callé

Key features: Single/joint honours, course unit information and presentations, extensive online resource list across subject area, handbook and administrative documents and guidance, peer mentor support area, academic advisement, study skills resources, links to History Society and The Historian student publication.

Dr Max Jones originally set History programme pages up in September 2010-11, but it was from 2011-12 that we started using the pages effectively.

Reasons for setting up the organisation

There were three principal reasons for setting up HSP:

1. To help students find information

One of the problems in 2011 was that students often didn't know where to look for guidance. Blackboard? Website? Intranet? School Office? Handbook? One idea was to try having the Bb Organisation Pages as a 'portal' through which students could find everything they need.

We discussed whether Bb should be the central place for students to look for all information, or whether the Student Intranet or University website would be more appropriate. This is an ongoing debate. But the Bb Organization space at least provided a single space where we could put the History Handbook, guidance on referencing, details of office hours, etc., to which all staff could direct students.

We have been very wary about duplicating information, about posting material which would stay up too long and become out-of-date. So we frequently used the Bb Organization space to insert links to School/Faculty administration content, rather than duplicating that content on our History pages.

Speed of loading of Blackboard remains a problem. At the moment, both the University website and Student Intranet usually load much more quickly than Bb, and therefore offers a more user-friendly space for the provision of information which students want quickly (office hours, emails etc.), as opposed to more detailed instructions (e.g. course selection).

Central management teams should develop a holistic vision for the provision of information to students, which integrates the various means at our disposal (Blackboard, web, intranet, paper, email, etc.). Students don't perceive Blackboard in isolation; it's just one part of the suite of resources to which they have access.

2. To distribute information re. Course Selection

Course selection is vital to student satisfaction. Yet even with very high turnouts there will always be some students who don't attend explanatory lectures on the process. And at any given time, a number of students inevitably are away studying abroad.

So one of the main motivations for setting up the HSP was to have a space to put everything students needed to know about course selection: documents, films of explanatory lectures, etc. We worked hard to track down the Programme codes of all the programmes that needed to select History course units (different codes for History & French, History & Spanish, History & German, etc.).

The HSP has greatly helped support course selection and aided joint honours and Study Abroad students in particular.

3. To harness online resources for History students

Manchester students have access to a fantastic range of online resources through the University Library. But we sensed that many students and some staff weren't fully aware of everything we had access to. So we arranged around 200 links in a dedicated Online Resources for Historians page on the HSP. In Open Day talks in 2011-13 Dr Max Jones often showed the 'Online Resources' pages to prospective students and their parents, to advertise the wonderful resources which Manchester students could access.

In 2013-14 we are hoping to discuss with the Library whether they can take over responsibility for keeping the dedicated History Online Resources page up to date.

Peer Mentoring

This is being used to outline the role of Peer Mentors with a view to recruiting more of them for next year. We also use the space to add details about upcoming/past events that have taken place as well as listing the Peer Mentor groups themselves as a point of reference for the students. We hope to add more information to the HSP over the forthcoming semester.

Evaluation

Our sense is that the HSP has been viewed as very successful by staff and students, particularly re points 2 and 3 (supporting course selection, harnessing online resources).

We believe the HSP was one of the factors which contributed to the rise of the History Honours NSS score from 79 to 93 between Aug 2011 and Aug 2013: several students commented in the NSS on the excellent use of Blackboard by History and how the department was better organised, with better communication.