Blackboard Collaborate is used to run live revision tutorials during the study break when students are not campus. It was chosen over other tools as the package is built into Moodle and offers a wide range of functions. It is easy for engagement across platforms and sessions can be recorded and made available via Moodle for later use. Blackboard Collaborate enables rich interaction with students. It has a whiteboard function so the teachers can draw with a mouse and it allows for the teacher to share their screen so word documents or PowerPoint files can be shown. There is also real time text chat as part of the package so students can comment and ask questions. Some students may just watch the video and follow the text box, but others can use the full audio experience too. Students can respond to questions by putting up a virtual hand and teachers can then give them access to the audio so they can speak to the class. The tool also allows for polling of the students so understanding can be quickly assessed.
The package has all the features wanted to create virtual tutorials and there are many options yet to be explored. It does not take too much time to familiarise yourself with the basics, after which there is not a particular time cost relative to face-to-face tutorials. It simply allows for the delivery of a class over the web rather than face-to-face, so whatever preparation that would normally be done would be the same for Blackboard Collaborate.
Here is an example of Blackboard Collaborate in use:
Blackboard Collaborate is used to create after-hours tutorials for the part-time Pharmaceutical Medicine Post-Graduate Masters course. This is a fully online course and these online tutorials serve as digitally mediated 'face-to-face' contact for the students. The rest of the contact in the course is via discussion forums and email. These tutorials allow teachers and students to give presentations from any device. Blackboard Collaborate is used to create the tutorials as it is the only webinar type system available through Moodle, allowing for links to be set up directly in the Moodle course. Other systems, such as Adobe Connect and Google Hangouts are good but run outside of Moodle and can be very expensive.
Tutorials can be set up so that they are automatically recorded, enabling students to revisit them at a later time and also giving students who missed a session the chance to catch up. It works with a camera and microphone so students can see and hear the teacher and it is possible to set the number of speakers that are allowed to talk at one time during the session, which can help save time as students do not have to wait for the current speaker to turn off their microphone. The whiteboard allows for freehand drawing or typed text to be added and tools such as a pointed finger can be used to draw attention to particular aspects on the screen or highlight important information for students. PowerPoint presentations can be directly uploaded onto the system. If students are scheduled to give a presentation, they just need to send their slides for the teacher to upload. Students can be polled, but because this is a Post-Graduate course and student numbers are relatively low, this function is seldom used. Instead, students can give a tick or cross to indicate whether they understood something or not. This feedback can be used to provide further instruction to those students who did not understand. Students are also able to raise a virtual hand to ask a question and if someone steps away form the session, they can mark themselves as 'away'.
All lecturers can be given moderator status so they can upload slides, take students on web tours to show them how to navigate around a particular website (only open websites, not those that are password protected), and share their desktop screen with students so particular applications can easily be shared. Application sharing is very straightforward as everything open on the desktop shows up in a list which can be easily clicked on for immediate sharing – you just need to be careful to make sure anything you want hidden is shut down. It is also possible to give students varying levels of access, such as microphone, video, chat or even allow them to write on the whiteboard or take other students on a web tour.
Initial download takes around 15 minutes and the overall time investment for creating the online tutorials is the same as with traditional face-to-face tutorials, you just need time to set up slides beforehand as it can take time for them to upload. Moderators and students are normally given access half an hour before the start time in order to accommodate for this. It is fairly straightforward to use and to navigate around, but some computer skills are needed to make sure it is all set up properly. Students and lecturers are given a step-by-step guide to help them access the tutorial. Some students have had trouble accessing it from their workplace due to firewalls, but for most this is not an issue. Although it is compatible with all browsers, it is better to use with Firefox as it is more stable. Most limitations, such as an audio lag and students dropping in and out, are dependent on the broadband connection.