The 2016 Bama Bug conference, held April 15 on the campus of Troy University, focused on the REAL (Retain, Engage, Adapt, Lead) benefits of innovation in education. The opening speaker, retired Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, encouraged and energized the crowd with her message of tenacity and positive leadership. Three conference tracks gave attendees the chance to focus on their Blackboard and teaching with technology priorities. The technology track included sessions on textbook selection software, textbook publishers and their new personalized learning offerings that integrate with Blackboard, and proctoring services and software. Because our current third wave of online learning is deeply concerned with student success and retention, the retention track focused on ways to use Starfish reports as a starting point for student outreach and coaching, how to bring emotional intelligence into the learning situation, and how to manage change and translate that change for the online learning context. These sessions were both well attended and intimate, with active interaction between presenters and participants.
The centerpiece of the event, however, was Blackboard. Connie Weber shared the value and ease of use Bb is bringing to its mobile applications, each focused on a specific audience and set of essential functions. Our lunch keynote speaker, Bb product manager Ali Ganjalizadeh, shared the exciting framework and key affordances of the new Blackboard Ultra platform, and several of us registered for Ultra sites and started working in the new environment as soon as his session was over. (We just could not wait!) In the sessions, nine of the 15 tracks were solely focused on how to use Bb to support student learning, train faculty, improve retention, and uniquely support campus-wide clubs and groups. Our common thread at Bama Bug was our daily use of Blackboard to support the missions of our institutions, and the sessions became a warm-up for hallway and intermission chats and impromptu strategy sessions as teachers shared tips and admins shared strategies and email addresses for future collaboration. And this is what Blackboard has done for groups of users as long as I’ve been a Blackboard user (since 1998): inspire us to do more, and give us ideas we can share that energize and spark others toward innovation.