Case study: Blackboard

Developing learning communities in Blackboard

Jean Duckworth – Senior Lecturer, School of Community Health and Midwifery

The MSc Homeopathy and MSc Integrated Health courses are delivered entirely online to students from all over the world. As students will never visit the central campus it is important to foster a feeling of belonging to a community. There is a fully comprehensive induction pack, including a welcome area and a series of induction activities to introduce the students to the online learning environment. During the first two weeks, the tutors act as ‘e-Guides’ helping students to access the course materials by leading them through various sections of the Integrated Healthcare Unit site. Good communication is essential, so students and staff are encouraged to get to know each other by posting personal profiles. Interaction between students is further enhanced by contributing to online discussions and appearing in front of their webcam to interact with the other students. The course team has done an excellent job in ensuring that the students receive a thorough induction to the course and feel part of the course community from the first time they login.

Students have attended from all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, North America, India, Malaysia, Russia, and Europe. Using adobe connect for the tutorials allows students to connect well with the tutors and with their fellow students. There is a lively and vibrant learning community and students at conferences have been seen to greet each other as old friends even though they have never been in the same room before. It’s made clear to students that the Adobe Connect rooms are always open and available for their use out of tutorial times and some students set up regular group for peer support.

A central space was set up for students on the suite of related Masters courses, MSc Homeopathy, MSc Herbal Medicine and MSc Integrated Healthcare, as a ‘Blackboard Organisation’ called the Integrated Healthcare Common Room Here, all documents common either to the various modules on a course or across the three masters courses, were provided.

These documents include staff contact details, documents relating to induction for elearn students and discussion board activities as ice-breakers for new students to help them to get to know one another. Information for returning students, including descriptors for year 2 option modules, were also included. Other links hold course handbooks, external examiner reports and online timetables; referencing guides and guides for literature searching and documents on using Blackboard. Finally, examples of our student/graduate publications were also posted.

The content of the common room requires annual updating, and now that a new MSc Sustainability, Health and Wellbeing has been launched, the organisation space has been retitled, ‘The Integrated Healthcare and Sustainability Common Room’.