“I didn’t know Blackboard could do so much!”

Every time I train staff on Blackboard someone will say something along the lines of “I didn’t know Blackboard could do so much”. In accomplishing day to day tasks we forget to explore. We miss all the opportunities technology can afford.

Reflective practice

one effective way to develop self-regulation in students is to provide them with opportunities to practice regulating aspects of their own learning and to reflect on that practice. (Nicol and MacFarlane-Dick, 2006)


Journals allow students to communicate directly with you. Private journals are an ideal tool for reflective journals. Students are able to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions in private with you. Students could use a journal to:

  • Reflect on the results of their assessment
  • Tell you about their progress on a project
  • Share difficulties they are having with group work


Blogs allow students to express their ideas and opinions in a social learning space. Blogs are public and allow students to comment on each others posts. Students could blog about:

  • The development of an idea for a project
  • Record the progress of a project
  • Resources they have found


Students learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating in activities in which they can learn from their peers (Boud et al., 2001).


Think of a Wikipedia for your subject. Students can collaborate by creating pages, adding content and editing existing content to create a course resource. Students could create a Wiki on:

  • Topics that are covered in the course
  • Create a Wiki in a group
  • Sharing ideas
  • Collecting useful resources

Discussion Board

Discussions boards allow students to communicate asynchronously. Students can discuss course topics, pose questions and share resources.

  • Create a question and answer forum for assessments
  • Ask students to debate a topic
  • Ask students to share useful articles

Peer Review

Students indicated that completing a structured, comprehensive review for someone else is an illuminating way of becoming aware of areas that require attention in their own work. (Mulder et al., 2014)

Turnitin PeerMark

Students can read, review, and evaluate work submitted by their peers. Reviews can be anonymous and instructors can assign a student specific papers to review. Instructors can provide marking criteria and questions on which each paper is to be reviewed.



Boud, D. Cohen, R. and Sampson, J. (2001) Peer learning in higher education. [online] London:Kogan Page. Available from https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dHN9AwAAQBAJ [Accessed 8 April 2016].

Mulder, R. Pearce, J. and Baik, C. (2014) Peer review in higher education: Student perceptions before and after participation. Active Learning in Higher Education, 15 (2) 157–171.

Nicol, D. and MacFarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2) 199-218.

Science fiction won’t be fiction much longer.

“A central concern of British Art Show 8 is the changing role and status of the physical object in an increasingly digital age”. British Art Show 8

I visited Leeds recently and attended the Leeds Art Gallery to see British Art Show 8. If you’re planning a trip to Leeds the exhibition will be at the Gallery until January 2016. There were lots of thought provoking exhibits but I will focus on two in particular.


Implanted Technology

Melanie Gilligan, The Common Sense

“Technologies inevitably change us—our attitudes, our social relationships and the ways we use our capacities.” – Melanie Gilligan British Art Show 8

Melanie’s video work, The Common Sense, consists of 5-6 minute serial dramas set in a fictional future world where humans wear a product called the ‘patch’. The videos were displayed on a metal frame at different levels and viewing angles. Each screen had an infrared sensor that when approached wearing the headphones would turn on and stop automatically. It was uncomfortable viewing, literally, as you had to stand very still and the viewing angles were deliberately uncomfortable.

Watch episode on Vimeo here.

The patch allows humans to communicate telepathically and read each other’s emotional states. Naturally the drama was dystopian. People are forced to wear the patch, it invades their personal lives and human interaction is reduced to communication solely through the patch. Lack of adoption is seen as backward and Luddite.

This is nothing ‘new’. Look at any film regarding humans and technology. I can think of very few that aren’t dystopian. See Jonny Mnemonic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Inception, Transcendence…I could go on.

Interestingly some of the episodes were set in a university environment in which students performed work tasks, given by external companies, to pay their tuition fees. Is this the future of education funding? We shall see…


Everyday Objects as Surveillance

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, A Convention of Tiny Movements

“…we are in an age where we become sworn-in the minute we accept the terms and conditions of a particular communications software or email provider.” – Lawrence Abu Hamdan British Art Show 8

Lawrence’s work, A Convention of Tiny Movements, concentrated on “how technological developments have altered the conditions in which people are heard in legal and political contexts”. His work, a tissue box used as an amplifier, accompanied an image of a supermarket which highlighted all of the objects that could be used as listening devices.

Watch an interview with Lawrence about his previous work Tape Echo.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered they could reconstruct sound from a video of an object. As sound hits an object, vibrations invisible to our eyes are created, the vibrations are then used to recreate the sound. The Guardian has a great article on the work “How an empty crisp packet can be used to eavesdrop on conversations”.

The face of things to come…



It was really enlightening to have a conversation with a member of the gallery staff. When you are so embedded in the world of technology it’s easy to lose sight of what the rest of the world thinks.

The thing that startled me most about our conversation was her surprise. I had approached both works with a “yup that’s nothing new” attitude whereas she was genuinely surprised that these things are possible. I’ve had a lot of these conversations recently; I don’t pretend to be an expert, where I have debunked people’s misconceptions around safety and privacy in a digital world. For example, given the recent hack of TalkTalk, someone told me they would pay their bills in cash forgetting that although their bank details won’t be being recorded electronically all their other private information will still be being stored online somewhere. I remember telling someone that I could find out their date of birth and where they lived with just a few clicks. I could go on…

I didn’t want to terrify her further by telling her what is already possible and happening. That high level, intrusive surveillance is within our current capabilities and implanted technology is just around the corner. Science fiction won’t be fiction much longer.

Exponential Growth, Technology and Higher Education

I recently attended a lecture by visiting professor, and Gadget Show presenter, Jason Bradbury. The lecture was titled “The Thousand Year Decade”. The premise being that we will experience the same rate of progress of the last thousand years within the next ten. What does that mean for technology and what effect will that have on Higher Education?


“For the vast majority of human existence, it was safe to assume that the world in which you died would look pretty much the same as the one in which you were born.” Big Idea: Technology Grows Exponentially


Exponential Technology

Even in my lifetime (never ask a woman her age or hazard a guess) I have witnessed technological progress that has happened at an ever increasing rate. The first PC my family owned involved loading every piece of software you wanted to use on to the PC individually from multiple floppy disks. (It has been so long since I have written the words floppy disk I had to double check the spelling.) Now you can buy something no bigger than the palm of your hand at a third of the cost, with more computing power and a universe of software and features.

What is most interesting is that the rate of progress is constantly increasing. The graph below shows the rate of technological ability in fifty years. “Fifty years out, the technology … is a quadrillion times more advanced than today”.


Predictions for the next 25 years

By the late 2010s, glasses will beam images directly onto the retina. Ten terabytes of computing power (roughly the same as the human brain) will cost about $1,000.

By the 2020s, most diseases will go away as nanobots become smarter than current medical technology. Normal human eating can be replaced by nanosystems. The Turing test begins to be passable. Self-driving cars begin to take over the roads, and people won’t be allowed to drive on highways.

By the 2030s, virtual reality will begin to feel 100% real. We will be able to upload our mind/consciousness by the end of the decade.

By the 2040s, non-biological intelligence will be a billion times more capable than biological intelligence (a.k.a. us). Nanotech foglets will be able to make food out of thin air and create any object in physical world at a whim.

By 2045, we will multiply our intelligence a billionfold by linking wirelessly from our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud. Ray Kurzweil’s Mind-Boggling Predictions for the Next 25 Years

So what does that mean for Higher Education

“Your brain is programmed to be linear. But in these next few decades the rate of change is growing so fast that almost everything we can conceive can happen.” Peter Diamandis

Jisc has attempted to map the future landscape of Higher Education now, in 3 years and beyond. Flexibility, adaptive learning and personalisation are all recurring themes.

Jisc - Key Landscapes

Change is inevitable and rapid. Higher Education needs to be adaptable and flexible, keeping its eyes firmly on the horizon. As technology changes so must our curriculum, infrastructure and research. The problems that once seemed insurmountable will be solvable. How can we capitalise on these new technologies? How do we keep ahead of the sector?

Institutions need to be ready to support staff through change. Resource needs to be allocated to digital technology and digital capabilities. Particularly for the training and nurture of digital skills. Ray Kurzweil predicts a point known as The Singularity “when the exponential growth of the power of computers and technology hits such a speed that it fundamentally changes the world, and humans’ role in it.”