Need-to-Know-News: Blackboard’s ‘Delightful’ New Learning Experience, e-Textbook Trends & A Nifty, New Digital Bulletin Board

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

MP900405500Blackboard Launches ‘The New Learning Experience’

The vision will be brought to life through technology and services that are focused on the wants and needs of the learner; tightly integrated into connected and sensible workflows; packaged in a totally new, intuitive and delightful user experience; accessible, mobile and always-on; and layered with data and analytics capabilities. — Blackboard Press Release via PR NewsWire, July 21, 2015

‘Delightful’, ‘intuitive’ and ‘sensible’ are hardly words educators (or students) would associate with a learning management platform, yet according to Blackboard Inc. ‘The New Learning Experience’ of which the LMS Blackboard Learn platform is part, will be just that.  Announced last week at the BbWorld 2015 event, the New Learning experience includes the re-designed Blackboard Learn platform, the new and improved Blackboard Collaborate, web conferencing platform and a new Bb Student App. Blackboard’s CEO, Jay Bhatt, in a keynote presentation, described the new learning experience as ‘student-focused’, ‘connected’  and outlined how it will ‘follow the student on their learning journey’ through K-12, Higher Ed and beyond.  And, since Blackboard is the dominant platform in the U.S. LMS market, it’s likely that ‘the new learning experience’ may be coming to a campus near you.

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LMS Data – Spring 2015 Updates [edutechnica.com/2015/03/08/lms-data-spring-2015-updates]
Insight:  Blackboard’s ‘new learning experience’ sounds pretty great—an integrated learning experience for students, delightful, user-friendly—a learner’s utopia! But can a LMS platform really deliver such an experience? More importantly do we really want to have one company managing all the functions and components of the learning experience?  I’m not a LMS expert, but after reading articles from those that are, over at e-Literate blog for instance, I’m not sure that Blackboard will even be able to deliver such a product. Furthermore after reading the disclaimer at the beginning of a Keynote of the CEO’s New Learning Initiative on YouTube, I don’t think Blackboard is either.

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Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt at #BbTLC15 presenting the ‘New Learning Experience’. Keynote extract – May 2015 [YouTube: youtu.be/E7FALEA7ACU]

E-text books in Higher Ed — Low Adoption Rates Explained
Textbooks in most higher education courses are a key source of content for students. Yet the adoption rate of e-textbooks among students is low; on the surface puzzling given the high rates of device ownership among college students. EDUCAUSE published a paper earlier this month that explored e-textbook use in higher education, specifically student usage patterns, adoption rate, and the role of the instructor in e-textbook use. The report is helpful; the study used benchmark data gathered via an online survey in 2012 with undergraduate (n=809) and graduate (n=133) students and compared it to data gathered in 2014 using the same (and some additional) questions.

Surprising is the little difference between results from 2012 to 2014. The one significant difference is the awareness of e-textbook availability which went from 30% in 2012, unaware of e-textbook as an option, to 10% in 2014. Overall the findings suggest that lower cost is the driving factor for students’ decision to buy textbooks with convenience ranking second.

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Figure 2: Factors influencing e-textbook adoption, 2012 – 2014 (deNoyelles, Raible, & Seilhamer, 2015)

Instructor use of the e-textbook is also factor in student use, third ranked behind cost and convenience. The study indicated that instructor annotations and embedding questions in the e-book (feature available within  e-textbooks platforms) was a driver of student purchases of the e-text over print. Yet the overall the rate of instructors using e-textbooks was low in 2012, and lower still in 2014:

In 2012, 75 percent of participants claimed that instructors seldom or never used the features within the particular e-textbook. This rate remained low two years later, with 77 percent of participants reporting that their instructors seldom or never used the features of an e-textbook… Only around one-third of instructors acknowledged the e-textbook option in their syllabus … less than 30 percent of instructors actually modeled the use of the e-textbook. — Exploring Students’ E-Textbook Practices in Higher Education, July 6, 2015, EDUCAUSE

Insight: There are several barriers to e-textbook adoption and though EDUCAUSE’s paper suggests that instructor adoption is a significant factor, there are others—one not mentioned is the fact that college students as a demographic group don’t like to pay top dollar for digital content—they are used to getting content for free or for a minimal cost with monthly fee-based platforms such as Netflix for movies ($7.99/month) and Spotify for music ($4.99/month for students). This phenomenon makes the idea of investing a significant sum in an e-textbook inconsistent with this groups’ view of digital content; a physical textbook might be viewed more worthy of the significant investment. Secondly, what is mentioned in the paper is that most student-respondents didn’t use the interactive elements of the e-textbook, only 28%. The interactive elements are one of the primary benefits of the digital format—interactive features can provide additional and/or enhanced learning. The fact that students aren’t using these elements, whether due to availability, awareness or platform limitations, is significant barrier that once overcome will greatly improve adoption rates.

There are new developments in e-textbook platforms, one highlighted in The Chronicle of Higher Education (listed below).

Nifty, New Ed-Tech Platform  – Realtime Board
I’m a big fan of the digital white board platform, Padlet, which is an excellent tool for virtual team brainstorming sessions, back channel discussions during virtual meetings, or for team communication. Though it can be buggy especially when there are multiple users, which is why this new platform Realtime Board looks promising. It appears to be able to scale up to multiple users, can handle a variety of file formats, has an attractive interface, and is supported by multiple device platforms. The downside is that there is a fee for users, however there is a free licensing option for educators, click here for more details.

Below is an example of Realtime Board used for a Mind Map assignment.

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Example of a Mind map using Realtime Board, [https://realtimeboard.com/examples/mind_map/]