An Excellence Gateway case study
Published: 10 November 2009
This case study was produced by JISC RSC (Regional Support Centres) Northern on behalf of the Excellence Gateway.
Sector relevance: Further education and Sixth Form colleges
Keywords: Improving teaching and learning, improving responsiveness to learners, improving institutional effectiveness, Web 2.0 technology, learner engagement, improving motivation, induction, creating and adapting e-learning materials, personalisation of learning, retention rates, enjoying and achieving, curriculum development, management of resources, learning resources centre, 14–19
Hartlepool College uses different Web 2.0 technologies, such as Facebook, YouTube and social bookmarking sites, to improve learner engagement and create social learning opportunities.
About Hartlepool College
Hartlepool College of Further Education is based in the centre of Hartlepool, County Durham. The College has approximately 8,000 learners in full- or part-time education, studying for academic, work-based learning and vocational qualifications.
Christopher Hayton, Deputy Manager of the learning resources centre (LRC), is always looking for ways to improve learner engagement. He strongly believes that using Web 2.0 technologies, which learners often use outside the College and are familiar with, will improve learner engagement and make the virtual learning environment (VLE) more accessible.
Web 2.0 is a set of internet services and is all about sharing ideas and resources, collaboration and joint knowledge-building. Hartlepool College uses the Blackboard VLE portal. It offers a number of Web 2.0 tools, such as Blackboard Scholar and Blackboard Sync, which are easy to install, making integrating Web 2.0 technologies in the College easier.
- Blackboard Sync is an application that delivers course information and updates from Blackboard to Facebook. Learners can find out if they have a new assignment, grades, new forum posts, etc, without having to log on to the VLE. Learners can also connect with each other easily through Facebook, thus creating social learning opportunities.
- Blackboard Scholar is a social bookmarking and sharing site customised for education, similar to FURL and del.icio.us. It provides a way for learners and lecturers to find educationally valuable resources on the web. Learners can check other users’ favourite resources and collections to help with their own courses and studies. Resources can be evaluated and associated information can be stored and shared with each resource. Users can subscribe to RSS feeds to receive the most recent bookmarks of a user’s collection that are relevant to them. Learners and lecturers can also create their own bookmark collections.
- The VLE can also be used to embed educational videos, for example, from YouTube. This avoids learners getting distracted by other videos on YouTube that have nothing to do with the course.
- Wikis are also part of Hartlepool College’s VLE and are used by lecturers and learners to collaborate on creating, editing and working on content. Learners might use a wiki to collaborate on a group report, compile data or share the results of their research, while lecturers might use the wiki to collaboratively author the structure and curriculum of a course – the wiki can then serve as part of each person's course website.
- Blogs facilitate critical feedback by letting readers add comments, which could be from teachers, peers or a wider audience. Hartlepool College created its blog through Blogger.com.
- Blackboard Txt is a tool within the VLE used to send text messages to individuals or groups of learners on a course.
Image 1: Screenshot of the Blackboard VLE
Image 2: Screenshot of group collaboration on the wiki tool
Image 3: Screenshot of the social bookmarks page
PILLARS contains a large amount of IL training material and staff have been trained to assist in the development of the IL toolkit. NHS North East aims to have 5,000 staff using the VLE by the end of the initial phase of the project in March 2010.
Use of Web 2.0 technologies at the College is still in its pilot phase but Chris Hayton believes it has improved learner engagement and communication outside the classroom:
"I believe that technology is about putting the learner back in the driver seat and what they feel comfortable with. Synchronisation of VLEs and social networking sites is the way forward.
"The use of wiki and blog tools are an excellent technique for everyone to engage, enrich and collaborate together as learners."
At the start of the new academic year, Blackboard Sync was promoted to the learners and over 800 learners have since linked their Facebook pages to the College’s VLE. They can now access the VLE easily through Facebook from home or by using their mobile phone, and can contact each other outside the classroom.
There have been some problems encountered using Facebook:
- Using Facebook can distract learners from their studies.
- Some learners might use it as an excuse to be on Facebook in class.
- Blackboard statistics show a decrease because learners are now accessing the VLE through Facebook.
The number of lecturers using the VLE has been increasing from term to term. Lecturers might not be using the Web 2.0 technologies at their full potential yet, but are looking to do so in the future:
"I have found Blackboard to be an invaluable tool and resource in my teaching practice. I use Blackboard on a daily/weekly basis and have added course materials, external links, journal articles and a glossary. This year I have found that the glossary tool and the course materials section have been accessed frequently by the students and, once the usual login wrinkles had been ironed out, the students now expect the week’s classes to be available for them to access from home. I have to say that the training received in Blackboard has been excellent and, if I've ever needed to know how to do something, it’s been explained in such a way that I can do it!! I feel, however, that I am only using a small percentage of the features currently available with blackboard and look forward to learning new ways to communicate effectively with my students."
Paula Strickland, Lecturer at Hartlepool College
Note: Blackboard Sync is available on version 7.1 and higher.
Read other related case studies
- Hull City Council Adult and Community Learning: Facebook your learners for engagement and retention
- Abingdon & Witney College: Using a social network to deliver online collaboration to trainee teachers
- Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College: Using social networking to get revising
Disclaimer: The Regional Support Centres (RSC) and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) support the development of educational e-learning. In the case study, we may refer to specific products, processes or services by trade name, trademark, manufacturer or otherwise, or link to websites or supporting material. Such references are not endorsements or recommendations and should not be used for product endorsement purposes.