Blackboard Collaborate is U of T's institutional Webinar/Webconferencing tool. It is the latest version of Elluminate Live, a Canadian product used by educators since 2006 and acquired by Blackboard, Inc. in July 2010.
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With Blackboard Collaborate you can:
- synchronously teleconference using Voice/Video over IP
- chat, quiz, poll and time participants for real time active learning activities
- share presentations, applications, and files;
- create and manage breakout rooms;
- collaborate with shared whiteboards;
- narrate tours of web sites and resources;
- make recordings of learning interactions for time-shifted (asynchronous) teaching and learning;
- create a 'session plan' of activities for your instructional design so you can concentrate on interacting rather than setup
Blackboard Collaborate integrates with the Learning Portal (Blackboard LMS) so it is easily accessed by faculty, students and staff. Click on 'Course Tools' and 'Collaborate' to schedule a session. When the session begins, click the link to trigger a .jnlp file download. Java Web Start technology makes it possible to download and run Java applications, like the Collaborate webinar tool, directly from the Internet from a web browser. Note that if you have a Macintosh running OS/X 10.8, you might need to go to System Preferences > Security and Privacy > General, and select 'Allow Anyway' to launch the .jnlp file.
Collaborate webinar attendees can be either Moderator or Participant.
Moderators have privileges that Participants do not, such as being able to load presentations into the whiteboard, record a session, share applications, etc.
While in the room, Moderators can promote individual Participants to Moderators so they can share these privileges for group activities.
The most common problem which occurs for groups of users new to Collaborate is that one or two of the participants aren't wearing a headset which separates the speakers from the microphone. This can cause feedback to every user. So the first thing each participant should do is run the audio setup wizard and adjust the volume levels, otherwise the moderator might have to cut him/her off partway through a teaching and learning activity.
Functionality in Collaborate
The left side of Collaborate is for controlling direct communication with participants. This is via webcam and microphone for high bandwidth participants or small numbers, or via emoticon, poll, hand-raising and chat for low bandwidth participants or high numbers.
One of the most difficult things to manage in synchronous online communication is turn-taking, and the lack of affective cues which guide social groups to judge correctly who should communicate when. Moderators will want to establish early in the webinar how participants should use the tools available in order to indicate they have something to share with the group and when sharing is encouraged.
The right side of Collaborate is for controlling and authoring content and browsing digital artifacts. There are three main modes
- Application Sharing and
- Web Tour
In Application Sharing mode, the area that is being shared with other users is defined by a yellow rectangle. In this case, I am demonstrating the application 'TweetDeck' as it appears on a Mac Desktop. Don't use this mode with a large class as it is bandwidth-intensive due the amount of screen refreshing required: for you, for Collaborate, and for the students.
Web Tour mode is very much more efficient for large numbers of students because you narrate web links and push them to students as you go, it doesn't involve continuous updates to every computer. Just put the link in the URL bar, tick "Follow Me" and hit enter. See also "Introduction to Web Tour" (Collaborate Webinar)
In all modes, Collaborate permits recording and playback of a session, meaning that you can record the teaching and learning occurring synchronously and make it available for playback and review for a short period of a time afterwards. These are accessed through the Collaborate Scheduling Manager, the same tool used to launch a session, and then selecting the "Recordings" tab. Longer term recordings can be produced, but we generally recommend they be downloaded and stored in MyMedia, the U of T Library's media archiving server.
As well as recording and playback, there are also a lot of great active learning tools you can use to engage students during the webinar, such as quizzes, file sharing, polling, and breakout/group activities. Here's a useful orientation video, produced by Blackboard.
Blackboard Collaborate has a scripting tool called 'Plan' which can help you automate complex class interactions and then launch them with one click. This is useful for energizing presentations with interactive activities, breakout active learning sessions, polls and quizzes and engaging online students in synchronous group work. It also helps instructors to focus on the interaction, rather than the setup. You can download 'Plan' here: [http://www.blackboard.com/Platforms/Collaborate/Products/Blackboard-Collaborate/Web-Conferencing/Plan/Plan-Download.aspx]. It's also possible to post and share a plan so faculty can share effective instructional designs with one another. [sample plans]
Once you get Collaborate working on a quality PC, try it out on a mobile device. There is only basic functionality on a mobile device, but it's probably easier to be out in the field in a situated learning environment, such as for a research meeting.