Tips for a better Blackboard Collaborate experience
Blackboard Collaborate requires a fairly good connection speed if video and audio are to work properly. Before you decide to use this tool, check that all students who will participate have appropriate connections.
Considering the following:
Sound quality has been an issue with some UNSW Blackboard Collaborate sessions. If you are using a computer in the UNSW Standard Operating Environment (SOE):
- A good headset is vital to a good-quality virtual classroom experience. Note that iPhone earphones and microphone do not deliver sound and voice of sufficient quality for teaching in a virtual classroom.
- If more than one participant will be in the same room, test whether electronic feedback and/or echo occurs. If participants are less than 3 metres apart, issues are likely to arise.
Other practical considerations:
- Fine-tune your moderator skillls by practising with 2 computers side by side, or with a friend, colleague (perhaps your "producer"?) or family member.
- Ensure that your students are comfortable using Blackboard Collaborate, so that your presentation is not disrupted by orientation issues. Run a preliminary session to get them used to the technology if necessary. Encourage them to create a user profile, so that everyone starts to get to know each other.
- Ensure that students have the resources they need to configure their computers prior to your session. (Blackboard Collaborate's Getting Started for Participants guide is a useful document to distribute.) At the beginning of each session, you might provide a slide explaining how to configure audio and create a user profile.
If possible, organise to have a second facilitator or session "producer" present during the session. This person could be another teacher, or a student helper. They can:
- manage technical support questions or troubleshoot problems
- manage questions and comments that pop up in the chat window, so you don't have to interrupt your presentation to deal with them
- organise questions for you to address later
- list relevant information in the chat window (e.g. instructor email address, URL, details of other resources).
In terms of your presentation:
- Ensure that you have informed your web conferencing participants that the session will take place.
- Prepare the content thoroughly beforehand.
- Create presentation slides, and work up to including multimedia and application sharing to help reinforce content. But remember the 10MB file-upload limit.
- Create instructor notes for yourself about what you want to say and do on each screen. Include a note to yourself to start recording at the start of the session—recording is a great way to build reusable learning content. Also include suggested questions to promote discussion and interaction.
- Plan to include an interaction every six minutes. Prepare questions that require students to raise their hands, click an emoticon, respond with a tick or cross in the chat window, or use the whiteboard.
- Leave yourself time to practise delivering the content, especially if you're unsure how it will flow. A certain amount of multitasking is necessary—there will probably be times where you will have to talk at the same time as preparing the next part of the presentation. Practise using 2 computers side by side, or with a friend, colleague or family member.
- Clear your browser cache and your Java cache. (Restarting your computer is an alternative way to clear these caches.)
- Log in to the session using the Join Session link on the session page in Moodle. Do not use the guest link you sent to the students, or the speaker's tools will not be available to you.
- Join the session early, so that you're there to greet the first students when they join, and to give yourself time to solve any initial problems, such as audio or video not working, and to load content and set up breakout rooms.
- Run the Audio Setup Wizard.
- Test the webcam, if you are using one. Frame your image correctly and check the background for distracting items.
- Upload and test any PowerPoint presentation. If possible, test your setup and rehearse your presentation with a colleague.
- Switch off your mobile phone, email notifications and other computer alerts or electronic devices that might sound or display during the session.
- Mute any landline telephones in the room.
- Be personally prepared. If necessary, visit the bathroom, have a bottle of water to hand, check that your appearance isn’t distracting and have note taking equipment nearby.
- If you intend sharing your desktop, close down all unrelated applications, for privacy and aesthetic considerations.
Display a welcome slide for the session. Include:
- the topic for the session
- details on what students should do if they cannot hear or be heard during the session. If students are new to Collaborate, explain how to configure audio and create a user profile.
- Consider locking your door and putting up a "Do Not Disturb" sign—include the start and finish times of your session on the sign.
- If you are manually recording the session, start the recording.
- Keep your welcome brief but informative.
- Consider using a webcam, at least during the introduction. Or set up your profile in Collaborate; if you include an image of yourself, and are not using a webcam, the image will display in the AUDIO & VIDEO panel when you are the primary speaker in the session. Do this by clicking Edit > Preferences in the menu bar, selecting My Profile in the Preferences window, clicking the picture box and browsing for and opening an image, entering at least your First Name and clicking OK.
- Unless you know that all participants have used Collaborate before, spend a few minutes helping participants become familiar with the layout and functionality of the Collaborate windows. Remind them that only 6 people at a time can talk, and to click Talk when they have finished speaking to allow others to participate and avoid the problem of audio feedback.
- If all participants have used Collaborate before, it is still worth advising them how they can indicate their agreement with you (by clicking the tick button) or ask a question (hand-raise) during the session, and how they can be heard within the session (click Talk).
- Your voice is critical in setting the tone of the session—sound positive and energetic. Some moderators even stand up and walk around a bit during a session.
- Be very clear with any instructions you give, as there are fewer visual cues for participants to go on than in a face-to-face session, especially if you are not using a webcam.
- Check frequently that students understand the material. Use instant polling and publish the results to stimulate discussion. You might involve the whole class in activities using the whiteboard and breakout rooms, then have each group present the results of their work to the class. Or participants can demonstrate what you've taught them using application/desktop sharing.
- Stop the recording.
- Advise participants how to leave the session correctly (select Help > Leave Session from the menu bar) in order for the archiving process to begin.
- The link for the recording will be available up to 15 minutes after the last person leaves the session. Copy and circulate the link to participants, or post it in an appropriate venue in the Moodle course.
- Blackboard Collaborate creates Recording Index entries marking where things happened during the session (e.g. when slides changed, when Application Sharing started. Consider manually adding other index entries, to mark key sections of the recording, such as when the discussion topic changes, or when you set tasks for the students at the end of the session.
- Consider conducting a debrief with other facilitators (if any) and/or a brief evaluation with the participants. What worked for them? What would they like to see more of? For your own development, reflect on what worked and what didn't work during the session, and why. How might you adapt your teaching practice to improve future presentations?
- Think about creating extra recordings, either in Blackboard Collaborate or using the Voice tools in Voice tools in Moodle, as tutorials to supplement your live Blackboard Collaborate Classroom sessions.
- Blackboard Collaborate provide an On-Demand Learning Center. Click the link, then under On-Demand Learning: Web Conferencing click Documentation and recorded training. This takes you to a list of resources, with useful items FOR PARTICIPANTS and FOR MODERATORS.
- These Tips for webinars or virtual training may also give you ideas about how to conduct your Collaborate sessions.