Blackboard Collaborate at #JISCrmd Webinar

Today was my first experience with Blackboard Collaborate.

Blackboard Collaborate “combines the capabilities of Wimba and Elluminate” – both were bought out by Blackboard in 2010. I’ve written quite a lot on my experiences using Elluminate but haven’t used Wimba before. Since the acquisition Blackboard have been working on a Beta program designed to involve learning institutions and their feedback in the development of the new Blackboard Collaborate platform. I was keen to see whether the union was for the better….

System Setup

Blackboard Collaborate - Introductory slides

Blackboard Collaborate - Introductory slides

To use Blackboard Collaborate you need the correct (and current) versions of Java installed. You can check your system set up online by going to the Blackboard site and following the instructions for “Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing”. If you are interested in trying out the service you can trial it for free. JISC Netskills provide a useful PDF document entitled 5 Ways to prepare for your Blackboard Collaborate Session to help you get up to speed. I seemed to be all ready to go so headed along to the JISC Webinar – Meeting the research data challenge.

Using Collaborate

To be honest at first glance Blackboard Collaborate seems very similar to Elluminate, just with rounded edges! The first difference I noticed was that it’s now possible for participants to have avatars. I’m not sure how you add an avatar but all the moderators and speakers had them. This added a really nice personal touch. When someone was presenting it was possible to see their image at the top of the screen. To some extent this cuts out the need for a webcam – which saves on bandwidth issues.

There were a few other things that seemed different (though my memory often fails me so I can’t guarantee that they couldn’t be done in Elluminate). You can send private messages to moderators and individuals by double clicking on a name. This is much more intuitive then selecting a drop down from the chat box. You can customise the screen and if you want you can have panels on separate screens. There was also an option for participants to forward and back the slides – though after a ‘technical hitch’ when the slides got stuck this option seemed to disappear. There was a little discussion on this slide functionality in the chat panel that I can’t help but share:

Kevin Ashley, DCC
12:37
Preferred it when I could move them back and forth myself.
Andrew Treloar 1 #2
12:37
Me too, but then we could skip to the end of the story and cheat
marion tattersall 2
12:37
Yes I liked that control option too
Kevin Ashley, DCC
12:38
The butler did it, with the metadata, in the library.

One thought that occurred to me in the session was – wouldn’t it be good to be able to copy the text and click the links in slides during the webinar. Unfortunately Blackboard Collaborate turns the slides into infographics. Surely this must be next step in online collaboration software?

The Webinar

Simon Hodgson presenting

I really enjoyed the Meeting the research data challenge Webinar. It was primarily a run down of projects and resources from the JISC Managing Research Data (JISCMRD) programme and there was a lot to take in. The webinar was well managed and there were only minor technical issues. The discussion at the end was facilitated well too, which made it both interesting and informal. Potential question askers were encouraged to put their hands up (these people were then queued) or type ‘QUESTION:’ in the chat panel. This clarity really helped.

As soon as the webinar finished and I’d logged out I was taken directly to an online feedback form – which was a great idea. If you’re ever going to get people to fill these in…straight afterwards is the best time! After filling in the form I was taken directly to Research Excellence – JISC really are doing a good job of getting you to the right online places!

JISC Feedback form

The session peaked at around 70 attendees. The moderators also mentioned that they’d had 120 people online at the JISC Research Integrity Conference last month – I was one.

These numbers are impressive. I’ve been involved in the organisation of quite a few workshops and events recently, many of which were free. Getting people along is a constant challenge – yet online seminars and conferences are thriving. I realise there is a place in the academic world for both, and both offer us very different things. However when the powers that be look at the stats the online/virtual event world does seem to give significantly more bang for your buck.