Blackboard Collaborate Best Practices

No two ways about it: Bb Collaborate has a complex feature set, as you can see in this overview video. While the basic functions are easy to pick up quickly, we recommend you allow plenty of familiarization time before the first session -- even if you've used online conferencing/webinar tools before.

On this page, we provide some general tips and best practices based on our testing of the tool. We recommend you download and keep a copy of the Moderator's Guide on hand as a reference, and study specific sections for features you plan to use. You can also refer to the Bb Collaborate On-Demand Learning Center to find a number of guides and video tutorials for any specific features that you'd like to explore in greater detail.

Before the Session:

  • Think about why you're using this tool. For synchronous interaction? To demonstrate a process? To allow students to work with each other? Write down a few outcomes or goals to help guide your planning.
  • Start small until you and your students are fully comfortable with the interface and technical operation. Make early sessions ungraded and brief.
  • Have a backup plan. Technologies can fail, and guest speakers may not show up.
  • Be sure everyone is technically prepared: video, audio, Java installation, general use of the system. This participant orientation tutorial is a good overview, but you should also have all participants run through the systems check and "configuration room." It's also good practice to conduct one or two brief test sessions in advance (you can make these sessions do double duty as office hours, for example).
  • Don't use WiFi without testing it to make sure it can handle the bandwidth and stability requirements. In our testing, screen refresh rates and video frame rates were very low with wireless.

Planning session materials and activities

  • Plan out your content ahead of time: slides, application tours, quizzes, etc. The more of this you do in advance, the more you'll be able to relax and focus on the interaction itself.
  • In fact, you may wish to pre-edit your session materials with Collaborate Plan (free), a separate, stand-alone desktop program that creates an output file that can then be loaded into a live session.
  • Also think about what information or materials you might want to gather from participants in advance, such as assignment files or lists of most important questions.
  • In the Sharing Tab, items in many file formats can be preloaded into the session. You can also load content once the session is open. (For further reference, see sections on the Collaboration Toolbar, File Transfer Library, and Multimedia chapters in the Collaborate Moderator's Guide).
  • Bb recommends loading large multimedia files (e.g. YouTube) by URL rather than preloading them into your session if there are concerns about bandwidth from your location.
  • Also be cautious about using resource-intensive applications like Prezi during a session. In our testing we found significant lag with Prezi and some video playback; it might be better to assign such content to be reviewed in advance of the session.

Setting up session parameters and functions

  • Decide which functions you will permit students to use (audio, video, whiteboard, etc.) and set global permissions in advance. Settings of particular interest here include:
    • Max Simultaneous Talkers
    • Max Cameras
    • All Permissions
    • Allow In-Session Invitations
    • Guest Invitees (allows a link to be sent to non-Bb users)
  • In the Create Session dialogue, Participation tab, you can determine whether guests can access via open URL or invitation-only. You can also make a recording available to guests afterwards.
  • Consider student privacy: Note that you can hide attendee names in the recordings, a good idea if you plan to make the recording public.
  • Once you have created the session, add a link to it from an appropriate point in your course site -- that is, where other materials related to that session's content are grouped together. To do so, go to Tools > Blackboard Collaborate, locate the session, and use the "add content item" link in the session's drop-down menu to specify the location where students will find the session link.

During The Session

  • Many of the resources we reviewed recommend logging into the session from two accounts, one as moderator and one as participant, so you can see what students are seeing and troubleshoot issues that arise. Use a laptop or second computer for your "student" login.
  • Launch the session at least fifteen minutes in advance, especially the first few times you use Collaborate.
  • This is an interactive tool, so don't just present, interact. Ask questions, conduct polls, hand the whiteboard over to a student, and get participants involved.
  • Have an extra facilitator (perhaps a TA) stand by to monitor the chat window and help you with questions, especially if you have complex materials that require your attention to be focused on the presentation itself.
  • With large groups, limit the number of active video or audio channels to reduce complexity and distractions. In very large groups, you may want to limit your audience to chat participation only.

Recording sessions

  • Make sure all participants are agreeable and ready before starting recording.
  • Arrange windows and applications as necessary before you begin recording (ideally, before participants arrive).
  • You can stop and restart recording, but Collaborate creates a separate session recording when you do so. So you can use this as a crude editing tool, but you will need to create links to each recording. There is no way to splice them together as one.
  • There is a recording index created to mark significant events during the recording, to help navigate recorded sessions during playback. The index points automatically occur with certain events, but you can also manually index any point (while recording). See the chapter on "Interactive Recordings" in the Moderator's Guide for more information on indexing.
  • The recorder also notices when things are inactive in the session and will simply not include those passages in the recording.

Using audio and video in the session

  • Address the camera directly to establish eye contact with your audience. Don't look elsewhere and read to them. (You'll have to look away from time to time, but think of the camera as a proxy for your students.)
  • Turn off your microphone and video when not being used for extensive periods because they can be distracting. Don't forget to turn them back on when you want to be seen and heard again.
  • Turn off student audio if not needed. Students sometimes leave their microphones on, allowing distracting noises (dogs barking, etc.).
  • Also, if video is enabled and "make video follow speaker" is checked, the main video window will switch every time someone with an open microphone coughs or makes a noise. Select "make video follow moderator focus" to force a single video view (coordinate if using multiple moderators, for example by turning off the video function for background moderator/facilitators).

Using text chat

  • Post critical information and URLs to the chat window, since it will be easier for students to refer back to than the whiteboard.
  • If you have scrolled up to re-read earlier chat messages, the window stops automatically scrolling up to show new messages until you move the scrolling slider (aka "scroll thumb") back to the bottom.

Using the whiteboard

  • Be sure to give participants an opportunity to practice with the whiteboard before using it extensively, especially if they have little or no experience with object-oriented drawing tools.
  • Note that students can only see the currently viewable whiteboard page – if you have multiple pages, only the moderator controls which one is visible.
  • Limit the number of people working on the whiteboard simultaneously to avoid accidental erasures, etc.

Using application sharing

  • Size the window of the shared application so it's about the same size as the whiteboard space in Collaborate, and drag the window over the whiteboard space. (See this quick-reference tool for details. You'll see why this matters when you start application sharing.)
  • Avoid excessive scrolling as you move around, because the recording may be jerky.
  • Use the Collaborate menu to switch back out of app sharing if you can't find the navigation buttons.
  • When allowing students to share applications:
    • Advise your students to adjust their application sharing screen using the Scale to Fit button.
    • If a student wants to share his/her application (e.g., Word document, PowerPoint file, Excel file, etc.) to ask questions, let the student turn on the Talk button and give them application sharing permission.
    • Once the student shares his/her application, you are able to control the application (by using the Request Cursor Control button) and can then provide feedback and/or demonstrate step by step procedures.
    • If there are multiple students in the session, have them take turns sharing their applications for feedback.
    • Remind students to stop sharing the application when they have finished.

Using web tours

  • Web Tours currently do not work for students using mobile viewers (tablets and smartphones).
  • For specialized sites or those requiring logins, students may not be able to follow (the web tour actually uses students' local web browsers). You might be better off sharing your web browser using App Sharing.
  • A web tour takes students to the website you pull up, but until you move on to another page, students can click around at will. Plan for this by having them look for specific information on their own, for example, and report back to the class. You can give students permission to take over the web tour and show others what they've found.

Using polls

  • Clear results before going on to the next poll.

After the Session

  • If participants are present during the recording, all must exit the session (you can manually eject them) before the recording will begin to render.
  • After they have rendered (that is, after they have been converted for playback--which may take some time), recorded sessions will be available via Tools > Blackboard Collaborate > Previously Recorded. Just as you did with the session link itself, make the recording easier for students to find by using the "add content item" function on a recording's drop-down menu to create a link from an appropriate folder or unit in the course site.
  • Recorded sessions can be reused in other course sites and subsequent semesters. Visit the Information tab on the Edit Menu of a recorded session to designate the target course, then create the link in the target session via the Collaborate menu.
  • You can create a "guest link" to allow access to the recording outside Bb.
  • When viewing the list of recordings, you will see buttons that allow you to export in MP3 or MP4 format. Please note that the former is strictly for an audio record of the session, while the latter records audio and the whiteboard/sharing area – but not the video window. The regular Collaborate recording is the only one that completely reproduces the session's video and chat windows. For further archiving and exporting options, we recommend the free Publish tool from Collaborate.
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  • 05-Nov-2015
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