The electronic course management system, Blackboard, has propelled Kingston to the forefront of e-learning activity in the United Kingdom. The program, which allows course information to be delivered online, was launched at the University two years ago and has gone from strength to strength ever since. It allows course material such as lecture notes and assignment information to be accessed by computer, also giving students opportunities to interact using bulletin boards and chatrooms. It even has a facility for online testing and allows users to submit coursework direct from their terminals.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline Gipps, who oversees the University's learning and teaching strategy, said Kingston's commitment to Blackboard meant it was now beginning to rival institutions in the United States for excellence in e-learning. "By August this year, more than 50 percent of our undergraduate modules were supported by Blackboard and, by next summer, we hope to have pushed that figure up to 80 percent," she said.
The University collaborated with Princeton and Lehigh Universities in the United States when it decided to introduce the system. "The concept of electronic learning management was already well established in the United States and the experiences of our American colleagues taught us how critical a strong information technology infrastructure would be," Professor Gipps said. "Armed with this knowledge, we have forged ahead with Blackboard and American institutions are now beginning to look to us to share our expertise."
Most of Kingston's academic staff have been trained in delivering core modules on the system. Dr Tim Linsey, Head of the Educational Technology Unit, said the next step would be to help academics improve the design of online course material and make more use of other functions such as sound and video. "We are currently setting up drop-in resource centres attached to the University's libraries where staff will be able to access digital video cameras, editing equipment and advice from technical support staff," he said. The University also intends to offer graduates bursaries so they can assist with the design of online material.
Last year, Kingston was awarded £340,000 to research the use of Blackboard. The project has two strands - e-access, which explores using the system to encourage students to move on to Higher Education, and e-success, which studies ways to use Blackboard to support students already at University. In another development recognising the University's achievements, Kingston's Head of Academic Information Systems and ICT Customer Services, Dr Demetra Katsifli, now sits on Blackboard's main board.
The University will soon be rolling Blackboard out to its associate colleges. The system already forms a key plank of Kingston's New Technology Institute (NTI).
Bridge - The Kingston University magazine