Reflections from The MoCo User Group October 2018

Moco User Group Logo

On Friday 26th October 2018 I attended the MoCo User Group meeting at Birkbeck University London. I did a the Lightning strike presentation about using OneNote with Collaborate Ultra, which I have written up in a separate post (link to come). The day was split into two parts, Blackboard Collaborate in the morning and Blackboard Mobile in the afternoon. Below are some of the points I took from each of these sessions.

Here is a Wakelet collection of Tweets from the day.


  • Tim Neumann from UCL talked about some research he did into ‘Simultaneous Teaching’. Simultaneous in this respect refers to having learners in the classroom as well as online at the same time. Tim indicated that in the main they are happy with how it is going and they will continue to persevere with the technique. We have tried this ourselves in the past but the generally the feeling was that we would rather have bespoke sessions designed for each audience. It was discussed that one of the key factors of success to make this work was having additional moderator support. It can be very tiring and quite distracting to try to manage two different modes at once, which Amy Eyre from the University of York agreed with. If you wanted more information on Tim’s case studies, I’m sure he will be happy to talk to do (Twitter link above).
  • Helga Gunnarsdottir from UWE discussed how they were supporting distance learners with Collaborate. She showed a number of support resources that they had created for both staff and students that looked very good. I intend to get in touch with Helga to hopefully talk further about the support provision that they have in place.
  • Michael Butler from SOAS, was discussing using Collaborate for non-teaching events. He described their use of the system to run sessions with potential international students, to give them more information and support visa requests. There was some mention of virtual open days which is something that I have some experience of, having assisted LHS 4 or 5 years ago to do something similar. This developed into an interesting discussion around the idea of virtual open days being a great example of Inclusive Practice. Gillian Fielding from Blackboard added that she was aware of some unfortunate stories where the cost of visiting universities for open days had been a contributing factor to students not progressing to HE.
  • Anne Tholen of LSHTM was also giving examples of how Collaborate was used with their distance learners. She discussed how a Flipped Learning approach is often used, and how Padlet is used before, during and after sessions to promote engagement from students. Amy confirmed that York also uses Padlet with their distance learners.

The last part of the morning session was an update from Sandeep Mittal, Senior Product Manager, on current roadmap features for the product.

  • Animated slides and a fix for PowerPoint layout bugs are listed but unfortunately, they probably won’t be coming anytime soon. The libraries they use for PowerPoint conversation are from a third party, making it hard to push any specific updates.

  • Whiteboards

    • Push/pull content to/from break out rooms is due Q2, 2019.

    • Persistent annotations Q3-4, 2019.

    • Annotation messages – “Who is currently annotating, annotation author labels Q3-4 2019.
  • Play a video in a Collaborate tab, possibly 2019, but the feature is problematic technically and may take longer to develop.

Blackboard Mobile

The afternoon session started with an update on the mobile strategy and roadmap, from Dan Loury. I didn’t have much to contribute to this myself as we have very little experience of the mobile apps at Aston, however this meant that there was a lot to take notice of and it was a very worthwhile afternoon.

The main demo was of the Blackboard Instructor App – the grading and feedback workflow and features. Of course, it’s quite difficult to get a real sense of how easy it would be to use but it looked feature-rich and efficient.

Two new features that particularly caught my attention were speech to text and multimedia feedback. Blackboard have added speech to text where ever a text appears in both of the mobile apps. Only time will tell if this is anything more than simply tapping into the device OS speech to text features, but the fact that Dan mention you need to enable it in the app suggests maybe it is?. Additionally the multimedia feedback looked very slick. Having an integrated feature is going to be so much easier to use than the current method of either firing links to media into the comment text box or attaching media files.

Before I actually have a go with it myself I can’t say this with any real certainty, but on the whole, it looked like a far better experience than on desktop. This shouldn’t be that surprising. Considering how much better Blackboard Collaborate Original was on mobile compared to desktop. One of the advantages of the “new” mobile apps is that the interface and method of operation can be completely re-imagined at this point, without all the baggage that the Learn team must face when trying to update the core product.

Mock up of instructor app marking features.

A quick rundown of the features for Blackboard Instructor,

  • Assignment Marking.
  • Review assignment submissions and attachments.
  • Provide comments and inline annotations.
  • Mark with rubrics.
  • Post marks to students.
  • Expanded Cloud Storage Options.

For SaaS customers this is available now, for everyone else Q2 2018 CL.’4.

Additionally, Blackboard are planning some other updates. We should be seeing some updates to responsive design for Wikis, Grade Centre and Improvements in Rubric Viewing, along with Content Adding and Editing workflows and Course Menu optimisation. This is slated for release during Q2, 2019 for all customers – SaaS and SH/MH.

Mock up of responsive features

There were also a number of updates regarding mobile analytics data in terms of general usage, tool adoption, curated insights and all on an “Open data model”, which presumably means that you will be able to pump data into the interpreting/reporting tool of your choice. Continuing with this idea Blackboard are also developing a Student Check-In feature on the mobile app for Attendance Monitoring.

Road Map Summary

Available now In development Planned for 2019
Courses & Communication.

  • Courses, Assignments, and Tests.
  • Discussions and Scheduled Announcements.
  • Offline Content Download.
  • Expanded Cloud Storage.

Assignment Marking.

  • Review Multiple Student Submissions.
  • Inline Annotations.
  • Multiple marking types including Rubrics.


  • Audio / Video Sharing; Chat; Whiteboard;
    Document Sharing; Breakout Groups;
    Status Management.
  • Collaborate Course Room Integration
Integrations & Analytics.

  • Improved 3rd Party Integration with Due
  • Bb Data for Mobile and Collaborate.
Courses & Communication.

  • Improved Embedded Rich Text and Media Support for ultra and Original courses.
  • Course and Content Management.
  • Attendance.
  • Messaging.

Assignment Marking.

  • Ultra course support.
  • Multimedia Feedback.
  • Offline Support.
  • Anonymised and Delegated Marking.


  • Polling.
  • Real-Time Feedback.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for all of the discussion element of mobile as I had to get a train. One point I did want to make though was that Amy from the University of York showed some of their resources they had developed for staff and students regarding the mobile apps. These looked excellent. A really good “boiling down” of the important features and affordances that staff and students alike should be aware of. I will be doing my utmost to get my grubby paws on them, to use as the basis for some new Aston materials.

Finally, I want to say thank you to Sarah Sherman and Amy Eyre for the well organised day and thank you to Blackboard for sponsoring lunch.

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