by George Rosa

One of the best new features of Blackboard 9.1 is Collaborate, Blackboard’s web conferencing application specifically designed for an eLearning environment. With Collaborate you create virtual classrooms and meeting spaces, where you can share meetings, lectures, presentations, seminars and other events in real time. Anyone who is an instructor of a course can use Collaborate as part of their instructional activities, no matter whether his or her course is in the classroom, hybrid or asynchronous. If you are an instructor and can access Blackboard, you can use Collaborate. In addition, the recent Collaborate 12 upgrade gives us Collaborate Mobile, allowing access to Collaborate with Apple’s mobile devices.

At the core of Blackboard Collaborate is web conferencing. Collaborate at its most basic level is a web conferencing application with similar features and functions to commercial applications like Adobe Connect and Go To Meeting, but it is designed specifically for education and distance learning. It gives you the functionality you need to support a twenty-first century teaching and learning environment, with two-way audio, multi-point video, interactive whiteboard, application and desktop sharing, rich media, breakout rooms, and session recording. Educators and students can engage one another as if they were in a traditional classroom.

Lets go over some of Collaborate’s features:

Streaming media: audio, video, chat 

With Collaborate you can conduct a lesson where students (the “participants”) can see and hear you (the “moderator”) remotely via real-time video and audio that streams through the web, as long as you use a computer with a microphone and webcam and they have access to a computer with audio and video cards. You also have the ability to hear and see your students because of its two way audio and multipoint video, which allows for up to six videos to stream simultaneously, when setup properly at their end. During the session, you as the moderator can control who among the students/participants are seen and heard. This allows you to virtually call on participants or allow them to raise their hands and ask questions that others can hear and view, just as in an actual classroom setting.

All this live video stuff makes some a little uncomfortable, either for privacy or technical reasons (although many, including your students, are familiar now with streaming video communication due to the widespread use of Skype). For most instruction the ideal approach is for students to participate in the sessions through live chat, where instructors and students type in their questions, answers and comments in real time, where submissions can be seen in the continuously scrolling chat window. This allows everyone to participate without worrying about audio and video setup. And most instructors who use Collaborate in their teaching choose not to have their own video camera on during the lesson, allowing a photo of themselves, which can be uploaded permanently into Collaborate, to represent them.

 

Interactive Whiteboard, Shared Desktop and Applications

The default view of a Collaborate session includes a virtual whiteboard, which looks and functions similarly to a Smart board. Text and shapes can be entered and arranged, images, screen captures and PowerPoint slides can be inserted to create a live streaming presentation. The Whiteboard can also be exported as a PDF document and saved, similar to the Smart board.

The instructor can also switch to “Desktop View,” allowing him or her to share documents opened on the desktop, and “Application Share,” allowing the instructor to conduct “walkthroughs” and demonstrations of applications and websites. Students can actually use the applications and websites as they are being shared.

 

Breakout rooms

The instructor/administrator has the ability to divide the presentation into multiple simultaneous group sessions simulating breakout meetings. In each of the breakout rooms the instructor can designate a student as an administrator or presenter, giving him or her control of the whiteboard for student-led sessions.

 

Recording Sessions

Collaborate gives you the ability to record sessions. This tool can also be used to record a presentation which is not part of a live streaming session for student viewing online, much like lecture-capture recording using Tegrity or Camtasia, and can potentially replace those applications.

 

Collaborate Mobile

Collaborate 12, the latest version of Collaborate in our Blackboard 9.1 toolset, includes Blackboard Mobile, allowing access to sessions through Apple mobile devices – iPads, iPhones and iPods. A mobile collaboration application, of course, adds a great advantage. The disadvantages are that Collaborate Mobile can’t be used with android or other mobile devices, and moderators lose many control tools for the sessions that are at their disposal in the desktop version.

There are many other tools and features in Collaborate that can expand your instruction whether or not your course has an online component. You are welcome to explore Collaborate – just enter one of your Blackboard courses to access it. EdTech will be offering Introductory Collaborate workshops and the staff will happily assist you in showing you how Collaborate can be part of your pedagogical repertoire.

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