Getting Your Educational Tools into the Hands of Faculty and Students: George Kroner
Kroner used his presentation to discuss how to get some of the cool things that developers are producing actually in front of people. By way of introduction to this topic, he recommended identifying where those users actually are: highlighting that the most accessed institutional website is usually the webmail, followed by the VLE and then the institutional web pages. However, the people using these different resources are probably not the same audience – they will all be using the different systems and using them for different purposes – so it is important to understand where your intended audience are and what they need when deciding where best to integrate your new tool.
Kroner advocated integrating tools into the VLE system, so that people can access your tools in the same place as other features that they are already using. He made the link between this and the plugin/app concept made popular by Apple and Facebook, which both deliver utilities through their systems, since the target users for these tools are already using their systems/devices.
As a representative of Blackboard, who are kindly sponsoring the event, he outlined some of the features of Blackboard product and how the new tools produced by local developers can be integrated into this system to help reach particular audiences. He emphasised how Blackboard is a much more flexible platform than many people realise, built from a number of products which slot together, with SDKs available for developers to hook into with their own tools. Kroner provided an overview of the main Blackboard features including: building blocks, customisable CSS for themes, open database, authentication, proxy tools, open standards, web services, SIS integration and community. He also discussed how their use of open standards would help developers to write a tool once, to the standards, which could then be imported to different VLE systems reasonably easily.
Kroner provided some practical examples, including a tool he built himself which uses click analytics to keep track of what you are doing as you navigate a particular course and use that information to deliver an updated additional reading recommendations, in a similar way to Google using click data to target adverts.
The main purpose of the workshop was for participants to get their hands dirty by building a working blackboard plugin. After Kroner’s introduction and a discussion of the main issues, he walked participants through a series of exercises to get them started.