The duologue project
An English Subject Centre 'Mini-Project'
Department of English Studies, University of Durham
Report by Dr Pam Knights
Pilot (non-funded): October 2001-June 2002;
main phase: October 2002-September
2003; continuing development, dissemination and review,
October 2003-September 2004.
main aim in this project was to explore the uses of a virtual
learning environment (VLE) for an English department largely
new to e-learning, and uncertain about its possible advantages.
We worked with the Blackboard™ platform,
customised in the university as 'duo' (Durham University Online),
and well established throughout the institution by the time
our project began. Bringing in other colleagues as the project
unfolded, we set out to trial the system from an English
Studies point-of-view: to develop, test and assess a variety
of activities and resources. At every stage, we were offered
unstinting help and support by colleagues at the LTSN English
Subject Centre (from 1 May 2004, the Higher Education Academy),
and by the Durham University Learning Technologies team.
VLE activities also opened up welcome contacts with colleagues
across the university, and in English departments elsewhere;
and the project was greatly enriched by these discussions.
We were aware that many other departments use managed learning
platforms as a matter of course (as richly attested to, for
example, in the projects Michael Hanrahan describes in the
English Subject Centre 'English and IT', Report Series, No.
5, December 2002, or in the numerous case-studies highlighted
in the Generic Centre briefing leaflets and resource areas).
However, we have also realised that for some English colleagues,
online systems still seem a largely alien world; for others,
such systems remain colourless repositories for booklists and
course descriptions. In describing our engagement with Blackboard,
we are not propounding ground-breaking innovations, or even
'best practice guides', nor are we trying to replace the plethora
of guides now available. We are simply trying to convey something
of the experience, to help fellow subject-practioners (particularly
non-IT enthusiasts) to picture its uses and possible kinds of impact.
report gives an overview of some of our students' and
staff responses at various stages, and attempts to offer
some snap-shots of how we have been developing and using
the Blackboard platform, from the pilot onwards.
Our general aim is to give a realistic picture of how we began
to work with the system, and to suggest some of the (often
unexpected) ways we have found that a Virtual Learning
platform can help to support ordinary departmental activities
in English Studies.
Individual levels of involvement have varied; and we have represented
as wide a range of responses as possible. We
have included the voices of the more enthusiastic, but
have also tried to be open about what different colleagues
have seen as the system's limitations and drawbacks. We
are addressing a 'lay' audience, rather than the e-sophisticate:
to give as clear a picture as possible, we include sample
materials and the comments of duo users.
We hope that the report will be helpful to any English colleagues who are
wondering about whether to commit departmental time and energies to developing
VLE resources; and to those who are already using a VLE, but are interested
in hearing about others' experiences, or sharing ideas about possible developments.
This report is not a full-blown web-site, and will not be updated. (Unfortunately,
the coordinator cannot commit the rest of her life to the duologue report.)
However, we hope that the format is slightly less deadly than a single word-processed
document, and that it helps people who don't know VLEs to picure something
of what they are all about. With this report, as throughout the project,
our ambitions for a more exciting and sophisticated end-product foundered
on the reefs of time and technical expertise.
All screen-shots are of modules developed during the project,
in the Department of English Studies. These small illustrations
are intended simply to give a general impression of the
versatility of Blackboard-- to show that using it need
not mean encountering endless screens of monochrome text.
If you are interested in seeing some larger, clearer samples,
you will find some in the 'uses' pages.
Unless indicated otherwise, any sample images have been produced
in-house, and anyone is welcome to extract them for educational
purposes. You are also welcome to cite this report and
duologue project research, but we should appreciate the
appropriate acknowledgement (see 'Contacts' page).
Finding your way round this report
The reports on the main pages (white background) give a general
overview: about the aims
and implementation of the project, evaluation of student and staff responses,
the main uses we have been
making of duo, our dissemination activities,
and contact details, with
acknowledgements. You can access all the main pages from
the navigation bar at the top and foot of each page in
the site; and if you are short of time, a quick click through
these pages will give you the gist of the project.
you get lost, click any home link,
or the project logo at the top of each page.
Supplementary pages (blue background) offer more details (e.g. fuller reports
on surveys, examples of activities, staff and student duo users' comments
in context, sources for further information). You will be guided to these
by links from the relevant main pages. You will find more details in the Table
'Signposts' throughout the site offer an 'at a glance' summary of our main
observations at each point. If you are very pressed for time, you could just read the signposts.
To read a formal report on the duologue project--contexts, aims,
implementation and development, and our general reflections and conclusions,
(If you just want the main outcomes and conclusion, go here.)
To get an idea of some of the ways we have used the VLE, flick
through a photo-album here.
For an individual perspective from a project team member,
you might prefer to start with one of these (in order
of length; shortest first):
A worm's eye view of
the Blackboard System, by Robin Dix. Highlights advantages
and disadvantages of the system, as experienced by
a web newcomer . . . I came to Blackboard as a complete
novice: a year ago, I didn't even know what a Virtual
Learning Environment was. .
Duologue: a review by Robert Carver. A reflective
narrative of one staff user's experience over the
span of the project; also offers a sense of important
strategic considerations in the use of Blackboard
. . I was . . . interested . . . in the practical
challenges of getting the system up and running,
creating resources, and selling the idea to the Department
and to students. .
teacher's approaches by
Pam Knights. An illustrated outline of some of
the ways one staff user began developing duo within
three different modules . . . At the start of
the project I had imagined creating far more dynamic
resources . . .
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