Monday, July 27, 2015 A Recap of #BbWorld15 Learning

To make it easier to bring all the great news and content from BbWorld 2015 home, please visit Bb's digital conference site online at Use this site as a tool for continuing and sharing the enthusiasm from BbWorld with your colleagues who could not attend the conference. Also the site is a good way to remember all the little things you might have forgotten during this amazing educational technology cram week.

There you’ll find a lot of the BbWorld experience, packaged to go, including things like:

  • Jay Bhatt’s opening main stage keynote presentation
  • The student Panel from Wednesday’s main stage, moderated by Katie Blot
  • Adora Svitak’s inspiring keynote main stage presentation
  • The insightful panel from Thursday’s main stage, moderated by Katie Blot
  • Bb's key product and leadership presentations that include roadmaps, news, and announcements
  • Important announcements, information on the New Learning Experience, and printable versions of Bb's new ad campaign
Most of us will be revisiting and talking about highlights from BbWorld 2015 for weeks to come, and Blackboard Inc. has made it easy for us this year. With so many sessions to choose from, it was impossible to see everything, so use to see a presentation again or to watch one you missed. 

The above information was from a letter from a letter I received under my door (with the hotel bill) from the Blackboard team before checking out. Also check out the Twitter hashtag #BbWorld15. Facebook and LinkedIn also have active DevCon/BbWorld communications. Oh, yes DevCon this year was asked to Tweet under BbWorld15, instead of using a separate hashtag.

#BbWorld15 Closing Day Reflections

The morning started off with a nice meet and greet hosted by the East Coast Client Service Advocates (CSA) group. It was a great opportunity to talk with the amazing Anthony Jovanis. He is a CSA and is always willing to help clients. I watched him that morning connect CSA's to clients (even if he wasn't their CSA) and was also willing to suggest other Blackboard employees who were at the conference that could answer their questions. While Anthony said he is always glad to help connect CSA's with clients, as I am sure other CSAs also do. I learned that sometimes the disconnect between clients and CSA is because Bb Inc. only works with a given person(s) at institutions and often the people seeking a CSA or attending the conference is not the person list for communication with Bb Inc. So anyone looking to talk with their CSA should first contact the primary Blackboard (Bb) communicator at their institution. However, I do think it would be nice for Bb Inc. to add a "Who is my CSA" page to their website. They don't have to list individual schools (thought that would be nice) they could simply do it by region or however Bb divides up the CSAs. This page would also provide direct contact information, then they just need to let all clients know this page is out there.

Next I was off to the General Session, which was another panel discussion moderated by Katie Blot. The panel included:
  • Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Dept. of Education 
  • Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director, Education Policy, New America 
  • Kent Hopkins, Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Arizona State University 
  • Kris Clerkin, Executive Director, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University

The panelist made very important points about education, but the most beloved panelist was Richard Culatta. There was a Twitter call for him to be a keynote at next years conference. There was a lot of discussion on the need to stop saying "traditional" and "non-traditional". Because 75% of students now are old "non-traditional". Instead we should be using the term "New Learner".  There was a cry for more funding and to hold educational administrators more accountable for supporting educators who embraced the New Learner instead of forcing them to follow the old way of thinking.  The panelist also talked about the importance of competency based learning and the positive impact it will have on society if done correctly. Equally discussed was the need for personalized learning and to provide more guidance and support services to the learner.  As Eric Syliva tweeted "
Education needs to be a partnership between the student, faculty, staff and institution" there were also some great discussion on the use of #OER, addressing skill (competency) gaps through industry partnerships, and the need for revamping of the entire education system K12 to Higher Education. I personally think everyone wish this panel discussion would have been longer. 

After the panel discussion came the closing Keynote Speaker Peter Diamandis who is Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. He provided attendees a trip through technology marvels and educational technology beautifully articulating how today's education system should and could learn from each of these past events. It is the questions that we as educators ask today that are going to be important for the success of the future. While I enjoyed this session, I am not sure the non-technical attendees enjoyed it as much. Blackboard live streamed this event, but if you missed it you can watch it at

From here I went to listen to fellow #BbMVP Doug Cohen talked about  Open SUNY's 
 ( University-wide collaboration that opens the door to world-class online-enabled learning opportunities. Join this discussion to learn about more about the tools, services, and supports that make up our Digital DNA, and how their implementation has been designed to help online students be successful. It is amazing how much work Doug and his team have put into making sure their Digital footprint was a positive one all their users. 

After a quick break, it was time for my participation in a digital badge panel discussion. I believe the panel gave an overview of badges and why they are important. Plus we provided three examples of how to use the badges (achievements) within Blackboard Learn to improve student engagement, work cross curriculum, and to move educational activities into skill evidence tools. Richard event about how police officers were using their badges to alert them for re-certification. While I talked about some things to watch out for when copying or modifying achievement setup and trigger definitions, the audience did seem to want to see actual demos of our classes. Perhaps it wasn't smart to combine our two presentations into one. I know that all the panelist will be glad to talk further with anyone who reaches out to them. Check out the "Gamification Leaderboard" building block on Oscelot if you want to do basic gamification in your classroom. The building block can be found at You can see a more detailed look into my courses with badges on YouTube here.  Our panel presentation can be found at

Then I spent time in the Exhibit hall with vendors after enjoying some wonderful cupcakes, which seemed to be the most common dessert in National Harbor. I was really hoping to talk with the vendor ProctorFree, but they had to leave before the "Time with Vendors". I heard they were a great company to work with and their pricing structure was more realistic then most of the other proctoring options out there. The amazing Jacob Spradlin did a blog post about them at  I just you check them out.

Blackboard has done a lot for research and realizes they need to improve their help site ( They had a very informative session that showed the new and improved Help experience is coming soon for Blackboard users! This session also explained their vision for the site to be a single help resource for all Blackboard products, and the upcoming redesign is a critical step on that journey. Clients will benefit from the new responsive site design, improved site functionality, better localization of content, and more accessible content. There will also be an expanding search and 'findability' of content. Attendees got to see an in-depth tour of the new design, content formats, and distribution enhancements we are making for developers, administrators, instructors, and students. We got to see how Bb Inc. involved clients in the redesign process, how the help site relates to other Blackboard resources, and hear about their plans for the future. More importantly, they provided clients an opportunity for our voice to be heard for future site developments.Conference attendees could so stop by the Usability Labs booth.

Then it was off to here Wade Weichel a Bb Sr. Product Manger talk about competency-based education (CBE). He explained that building a training program around competencies is beneficial because it allows employees to understand what skills they're developing and how they're being evaluated. Managers benefit because they have a clearer framework to discuss strengths and opportunities for development. This session while designed to help training manager plan for creating a competency model and evaluating employee development. It was informative for educators who are involved in starting or thinking about starting #CBE programs at their institutions. Wade even took time to explain how Bb Learn could already help with goals/alignments and automated updates with curriculum changes. He also explained how Bb was going to roll out more competency tools in Learn 9.1 very soon. 
Luckily I got to stay in the same room for a presentation by Capella University and their #CBE program known as Flexpath. Capella is an online school and they were one of the fist credentialed CBE programs. You can learn more about their Flexpath, self-pace program at While Capella set their program up in 6 months it took lots of work to get it ready. They worked hand-in-hand with Bb Inc. to use within Bb Learn and integrate with custom databases and PeopleSoft. The use Bb Analytics in addition to another 3rd party analytics tool. The suggest that anyone venturing down this path have a dedicated internal staff and to partner them with a single person at Bb Inc.There presentation will be available through Bb Inc after the conference.

In short, I feel like Bb senior management realized that they short changed their client community by not involving them as much as was done in the past. I believe that they heard the clients voice that we wanted more direct, specific, and technical communication. The company heard that not everyone has access to Behind the Blackboard (BtBb) and that they need to post more on known issues and workarounds outside the BtBb site. Clients are not aware of CSA group as they should be and that innovation and support of Learn 9.1 is an absolute must for the next several years. I think it was also clearly shown through comments at the executive session was while we loved the Ultra feel and support student focuses, we also wanted self-hosting ability with Ultra and did not want the company to forget that faculty also play a key role in student success. While I did receive some contradiction when asked about why Collaborate Ultra took so long, I believe this was because communication issues were also happening within the company. Find a new name for Blackboard User Groups, aka "BUGs" because that name alone according to Jay Bhatt indicates problems and User Groups are not a problem. However, senior management was very transparent during the executive listening session and I hope everyone will be open to giving them to now fulfill the many promises made during the conference. Some deliverables to clients, as I see it are:
  • Better internal communications so clients get consistent answers
  • Improved communication with clients & user groups, new community site a great start
  • Clearer marketing strategy so clients understand company vision and plan better
  • Identification of Client Satisfaction Advocate group, so clients know who to contact
  • Quality delivery of updates for all products, starting step hiring Peter George from Kronos
  • Include clients more in community activities, like presentation selection at DevCon/BbWorld and redesign of Help Site. Great start with offering attendees on Technical Preview of Collaborate and Ultra. 
  • Improved understanding of client community product passion. Off to a good start with listening sessions with MVPs & User Group Leaders. 
  • More technical & specific deliverable communication on Ultra & 9.1, more "Quick Hit" videos from Vivek Ramgopal and Jim Chalex webinars about 9.1.
Just enough time to do some chatting with friends and Bb employees before the Client Appreciation Party that is always looked forward to. There was lights of neon lights, good food, dancing, and socialization at Club Blackboard with tunes from DJ Ravi Drums. There was even some good creative team building activities like making statues out of the bling and fun photos.

If you attended the conference, please help out the conference team and complete the post-conference survey. You should have gotten an email in the mailbox of the account you registered with.

Save the date:  BbWorld 2016, July 12-14 at the Venetian|Palazzo Las Vegas

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Student Voice Matters To Blackboard Inc.

The overall theme through out the #BbWorld15 conference is "the student voice matters" to Blackboard Incorporated (Bb) and educators around the world. There may not be agreement on what it is called or the path to it, but all agree in everything points to the student. While this maybe the first time in years that conference attendees have heard Bb Inc say it so loudly and proudly, but it is not something they just decided to push.

I am not talking about the numerous student surveys that Bb Inc. has completed with students. One result that I will never forget comes from a speech by Greg Ritter where he said students want to keep their beers and books separate, which was captured during the development of Bb Social area. I am not even talking about the past conference presenters or even this years student panelist. I am talking about their STUDENT MVP, Eric Silva. After talking with people at the conference, I was surprised to find out how many people thought he was a teacher due to his MVP status. Eric and I have talked in webinars and tweeted many times, but it was not until this conference that I actually got to meet Eric and have a real conversation about students while getting to know him.

His official bio reads "a computer science student at The University of Texas at Brownsville. Eric has attended ISTE with Blackboard K-12 to share his experiences with Learn and Mobile Learn to attendees. In addition to being a part of the South Texas Independent School District technology strategic planning committee, Eric has conducted Blackboard Learn workshops at campus and district levels." Unofficially, I learned that Eric has enjoyed help teachers integrate technology into the classroom since he was in elementary school. He appears to be one of those students everyone wishes was in your class when the technology doesn't do what it is suppose to or when you are struggling to figure out what is in the minds of your students. Eric is very respectful when he is making sure the student opinion gets included in the Bb decision making process. You can learn more about Eric by clicking here.
During the #BbWorld conference you may have seen him at the MVP Blogger table, working the Knowledge Bar, handing out t-shirts at the community table, or answering questions at the Blackboard booth in the exhibit hall. He loves to help people and if Bb is smart one day he will be part on the CSA team.

Eric has an active Blog in which he provides helpful information on Blackboard Learn, Collaborate, Engage so his knowledge spans from K12 to Higher E. Eric does not just talk about Blackboard, check out his other Ed Tech topics on his blog at

One of the things he would like to see Blackboard Inc. in the coming year is create a student user group and a student product advisory team. I think the advisory team is a great idea and that Eric should lead it and report the teams suggests back to the MVPs and Bb Management team. I am also hoping that Eric gets active in the revamped ECP program to provide feedback via the Rubric and a student view.

If you get a chance to talk with Eric before you leave, please do so. If not your can tweet with him at or join the new Community Site and follow him. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#BbWorld15's Wednesday Actvities

After a quick 7:00a breakfast, it was off to a full day of learning, sharing, and networking with educators, students, and technology wizards. I am so glad my daily Starbucks Chocolate Chai had me awake for "The Blackboard Teaching & Learning Roadmap" session with Jim Chalex, David Hastie, and Jennifer Harris discussing Learn, Bb Student, and Collaborate respectively. Jim was up first and did an amazing job discussing the company's commitment, update plans, and just plan making 9.1 clients feel less abandoned by Blackboard Inc. The company is focusing on quality for all 9.1 activity. They rolling out CBE tools for 9.1, yes before it is included in Ultra. They realize that it will take time and not everyone will jump at SaaS. They have plans to improve existing technologies like discussion board.

Truthfully, I think clients would have been less worried about support of 9.1 if Jim's presentation had been included in the opening session. David and Jennifer expand on things mentioned on what was said during the opening session on Tuesday instead of repeating. This group of presenters also did not go into areas that were covered by other presenters, instead they provided attendees details about later sessions so we could be in control of our learning and attend sessions that were relevant to us. A real life experience of Blackboard personalized learning.

From this inspiring morning session, it was off to the General Session where Sr. VP Corporate Strategy & Business Development Katie Blot was a moderator for an elite student panel which consisted of 4 college student's and one high school student. The panel consisted of Zak Malamed who is founder and executive director of StuVoice, Joelle Strangle wow is the University of Mineesota's student body president, Kunal Bhadane from University of Maryland, Aaron Wagner from Georgetown University and also represented Veterans and #CBE students, and Ifetayo Kitawala. Even though there were no adult learners, community college learners, or learners from technical/trade schools included on the panel their words were strong and made everyone think. The goal getting everyone to realize that the time is now to be a "Catalyst for Change" in education.  We learned that while we are focused on making everything mobile for students, not all students have access to technology and must still allows for students to opt to use pen and paper. Students are craving for more personalized learning, learning from alumni and working professionals, want more self paced learning, and engagement. These panelist want a more real life experience, for example one stated that networking was as important as the academic and sometimes more important. Isn't the peer networking what most BbWorld attendees say is the best part of the conference. We also attend BbWorld to learn from our peers, students also want to learn from each other with the instructor as a facilitator in their journey.

Most educators want to give students what they desire in their learning the problem not being addressed is that K12 and state funded budges are being cut or higher education decision makers are earmarking money for other things instead of providing it for student wrap around support services. Education is failing to meet students needs should not always be blamed on the instructor and how they teach! As one panelist stated, one of their instructors desired to do what the students craved but were being forced by administrators to operate in the old way and those that do go outside the box are often penalized by administration or suffer career damage. The keynote, Adora Svitak, followed the panel discussion and quickly admitted that the panel did such a good job they stole her planned speech, so she quickly switch and made her presentation interactive. Most notably she used Twitter for answers to her questions and referenced her phone for notes. This reinforced Blackboard's importance on mobile tools and how students want social interaction through technology. These students were truly amazing, but what about those students who are still accepting being spoon feed content in the old manner and won't get the chance to have their voices heard? As educators we must teach students to take responsible for their learning and to self-advocate their needs to make sure they learn what they need to be successful after graduation, while ensuring they know their learning rights. Watch this session On Demand, by clicking here.

One thing that I find more and more difficult to do during the conference is spend time with the exhibitors. Partly because I don't like visiting during the crowded welcome reception in the exhibit hall as it is to loud to hear there presentation. The other reason is the hall is only open during sessions and I don't want to miss important session information. I keep asking for the hall to be open after sessions like maybe late on Wednesday evening, one day maybe it will happen. This year I decided to visit the exhibit hall and skip a session.  One vendor I talked with was blended schools. While they provide over 190 K12 blended and online courses that align to the Common Core, they use a competency based learning format that creates flexibility and allows for personalized learning with performance data. They have LTI links which means not only do they work in Blackboard, they also work for Moodle, eCollege, D2L, Jenzabar, and Canvas. They have a class list of more than 200 courses. Honestly, I think their program could work for higher education if they partnered with the right college/university. For more information contact Cecilia Lopez at or at 1-407-810-0049. I also received a tweet request for the Knowledge Bar to over a "Virtual Knowledge Bar" for those people registered as Online participants to ask product developers questions. I stop by the knowledge bar, but they promised to put it in as a request for next year and quickly directed me to the amazing Marissa Dimino (@diminom) to see if she could do something within the new Community Site, but the beta doesn't officially start till Monday.

For lunch I was privileged to be part of the MVPs private luncheon with CEO Jay Bhatt (@JayBhattTweets) and a few other select Blackboard team members such as Vivek Ramgopal(@VivekRamgopal), Mark Strassman (@markstrassman), Peter George, and Valerie Schreiner (@balschrenier). This meeting was long over due and I think everyone was very happy with the outcome. Personally, it was nice to get to talk with Jay in a non-formal setting that was true dialog instead of a scripted presentation. The MVPs learned about Jay and Jay learned more about his MVPs and our detailed knowledge and experience about the company. I think he also started to see the MVPs want to help Blackboard improve education for all involved. All admitted that over the past year there was lots of miscommunication. For example, last year when Blackboard talked about Ultra, they were trying to get clients to understand where the company was going and there was not real product. However, clients thought the product was created and coming out soon. The company need better advise Jay that past leaders revealed new product at BbWorld and MVPs should have told Jay why we assumed what he showed was going to be delivered earlier.  All agreed from today forward everyone would work together. Jay also gave his commitments to not only the MVPs but all client community groups. He truly realizes how important the community groups are and how passionate we are about Blackboard the company, employees, and product. Let's give Jay and the management team a chance to deliver all that they promise and let them know when we do not understanding their message or marketing approach.

I had planned to attend the session on "Attendance Tracking Made Easy" but could never find it and ended up in a session for K12 and I think on the Parent Link. The session I was looking for was listed being in the app in National Harbor 12 & 13 at 2:15p and about a new cloud product designed for capturing class attendance and the attendance data could be exported to Learn and other external systems such as SIS. It is suppose to even integrate with Bb Transact to provide easy population of student information and financial aid. If you found this session I would love to chat with you or if the presenter Kent Pawlak can provide more details I would appreciate it. Beside product detail, I would like to know obvious questions like cost, will it every be part of the Learn base product, and is it available now? Now for what I saw in the room was kids using collaborate. I also learned that when K12 school districts use mobile and social parent satisfaction increases by 17.5%, parents who are happy with their children's schools communication are 26% more involved in classroom activities, 47% of parents are unhappy with communication levels within districts without mobile apps, and 65% of parents are dissatisfied with school districts because of infrequent use of social media. Blackboard is offering 25% off their standard pricing for Bb ParentLink till 8/24/2015. For more go to

The last two sessions of the day were all about competency based education (CBE). The first session was Wade Weichel (Sr. Product Manger at Blackboard) explaining how Bb Learn 9.1 (aka: Original) could be used to deliver CBE programs and the benefits of CBE, the structured process for defining competencies, aligning those competencies with assessments. Wade also provided attendees with tips on goals and assessments mapping and how 9.1 will update automatically when curriculum change occurs. Immediately after Wade's presentation was one by Capella University representatives on how they partnered with Blackboard Inc to create their FlexPath program for Learners. Capella is an online university and they became the first university to offer a federally approved CBE direct assessment program at the bachelor and master level. In 2014, Bb gave them a Catalyst award for Innovation for their Flexpath model. There model has learners submit authentic assessments at their own pace, to prove mastery of competencies within three attempts.  All of this done within their stand Blackboard 9.1 classroom with several integrations to other systems like Peoplesoft and a few LTI building blocks (some created in house and some by Blackboard Inc). Pete Boulger and Kathryn Green provided lessons learned, hows and whys from the students engagement. I left with a desire to know if the building blocks create would be shared so others could do at their institutions and wondering if Bb Inc. would be willing to partner with other schools to do this level of CBE creation. I wonder how much of what Bb Inc learned from Capella will be incorporated in 9.1 CBE tools? One thing that really impressed with at the beginning of the project Blackboard's CEO Jay made a personal visit with Capella's dedicated CBE team to layout a logical project plan and to ensure all were on the same page in respect to needs and outcome.

 If you haven't yet, jump on BbWorld 2015 Live and listen to the last day of events! It promises to be a interesting day. Register at You can learn more things and see what is going on by following the Twitter hashtag #BbWorld15.