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Increased user-friendliness in Blackboard to pave the way for rolling out EDU IT iniatives

The Education Committee is doing a status on Blackboard, which has been implemented this autumn as the only shared learning platform for all teaching staff and students across Aarhus University. The university has thus taken an important step in its efforts to disseminate educational IT, which in the long term will pave the way for more learning. Increased user-friendliness is the first step.

Online maths teaching, digital feedback from fellow students, video-based oral presentation skills training. There are plenty of examples when you start talking about the development of digital educational methods and tools – so-called educational IT, or simply EDU IT. 

Blackboard is now being used throughout the university, which has created a common platform for the further development of EDU IT at Aarhus University. In the coming months, the Education Committee will be looking at what is required for the university’s teaching staff to fully exploit the potential offered by Blackboard.

Chairman of the Education Committee and Pro-rector Berit Eika stresses that Blackboard could be considerably more user-friendly.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Blackboard can be optimised, and this is something we need to work on. However, having a common platform is definitely a big step in the right direction. The implementation of Blackboard could be likened to a topping-out ceremony, and now we have to finish the rest of the building. The first thing we need to look at is how we can best develop the system to make it easier to expand the digital learning space,” says Berit Eika, before pointing out that developments are going in one direction only – towards the increased use of IT in education.

This is the future Aarhus University is already preparing for – thanks to the efforts of our visionary and dedicated teaching staff across all faculties.

Good examples show the way 

At the Department of Political Science at Aarhus BSS, much has been learned from offering an online version of a methodological course on qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis, which was developed in 2016. Formerly, the course comprised a series of lectures combined with exercises in a computer lab, which gave the students a basic introduction to the computer programs used for data collection and analysis.

All this has changed. Now students are introduced to one of the computer programs presented by the course via a three-week online course on the course homepage on Blackboard. The course is structured around a series of videos demonstrating how the program is used. Every week, students are also assigned reading and data sets, which they are required to download and use in the program to complete assignments, which are then submitted to the course instructors.

“We can see that the videos are being watched, and virtually all of the students have completed the online course. The feedback from the students has been very positive, and they value the flexibility of the course format. And we can see that the teachers now have more time to provide the students with genuine feedback on other assignments,” explains Associate Professor Lasse Lindekilde from the Department of Political Science, who helped to develop the course.

Wherever educational IT is used in university education, it offers the potential for greater learning outcomes. A common denominator for the digital tools is that they are not intended to replace on-site teaching, but rather contribute to improving the quality of the face-to-face time which students have with their teachers.  

“It’s incredibly positive that ambitious efforts are already being made at many levels. We can see that EDU IT tools allow students to become more actively involved with the material. At the same time, it has been found that quite a lot of learning can just as well take place in a virtual universe, which in turn frees up time for more dialogue with the teacher in the classroom. In this way, teachers can strengthen the quality of their research-based teaching,” says Berit Eika.

In the near term, the pro-rector will meet with the faculty management teams to get their input on the local efforts. At the same time, the Education Committee is preparing a project description for Aarhus University’s work with educational IT going forward. The project description – envisaging investments in technology and competency development as well as the restructuring of teaching activities – will be discussed by the senior management team on 8 November and presented to the University Board in December 2017.


EDU IT is spreading at Aarhus University

Digital technologies are being used throughout the university.

At ST, the electronic learning tool curriculearn.dk is used to train students in doing written assignments. The tool is based on the principle of peer instruction: the students give each other feedback under the supervision of a teacher. Moreover, ST has strengthened the students’ basic maths skills through the use of the electronic learning platform sci2u. The project was one reason why Professor Bjørk Hammer was awarded this year’s Aarhus University Anniversary Foundation Prize of Honour for Pedagogics.

On the Master’s degree programme in medicine, Associate Professor Tue Wenzel Kragstrup has developed a digital case method-based course format for the rheumatology course in collaboration with CESU. Based on the online platform Padlet, the students work in groups to assign symptoms and findings to a case patient. The groups then share their case patient with their fellow students, who have to work out a diagnosis for the patient together. Experience shows that the active participation required by the course format supports learning and gets more students involved. At the same time, some of the work is moved outside the classroom, which leaves more classroom time for discussion and dialogue. 

At the Department of Law, a teaching format for training students in legal method has been developed for the courses in private law. They have developed a so-called question tree – or self-test – which guides the students through a number of questions based on a case. Along the way, the students receive feedback, and can only proceed to the next question once they have answered a question correctly. Judging by the feedback from students, they feel that the question tree has made it easier for them to identify a legal issue and devise a good structure for an exam paper. The question tree is part of a large EDU IT project at the Department of Law. 

At the Department of Theology, Assistant Professor Jacob Palle Bliddal Mortensen is using IT to a greater extent on the New Testament course, where he has developed small video sequences which help the students translate the Greek texts. This has meant that the lectures no longer need to focus on translation issues. Blackboard plays a key role as a platform for sharing the videos and knowledge sharing in general, providing students with access, among other things, to each other’s notes and joint group work. Experience shows that the format increases the students’ common vocabulary, as well as evening out learning levels among them.

Read the news item from Aarhus BSS on videos as effective exam preparation 

FACTS about the Education Committee

The Education Committee at Aarhus University is in charge of the project to promote educational IT. The members of the Education Committee comprise the four vice-deans for education: Niels Overgaard Lehmann (Arts), Finn Borchsenius (ST), Charlotte Ringsted (Health) and Per Andersen (Aarhus BSS), Pro-rector Berit Eika, who chairs the committee, and Kristian Thorn, the deputy director of AU Student Administration and Services. Read more about the committee’s work.