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.

Supporting Researcher Engagement With Social Tools

Today I signed in to the Netskills “Supporting Researcher Engagement With Social Tools” online talk presented by Alan Cann, University of Leicester. Alan wrote a guest blog post on Go Forth and Amplify! for us last year.

It was a really interesting talk and presented very effectively in Elluminate.

More Tips for Elluminate

Everytime I attend an Elluminate session, either as a presenter, moderator or participant there seem to be more tips to add to the list. Here are a couple from today’s session:

  • Tick list – I liked the ‘tick list’ slide at the beginning of the session. The moderator asked all participants to give him a green tick in response to the questions: Can you hear me? Can you see slides,? Can you see the Web cam?
  • Clarity about chat – Clarity over questions and discussion is always important. Steve Boneham explained that the rules were: general chit chat in chat box, formal questions by hand raising in the discussion time.
  • Discussion time – The session was nicely split up in to brief (10 minutes or so) sections with a 5 minute break for discussion time. This worked really well.
  • Video – The Netskills team explained that the Elluminate session would be available for watching later on and that the video would also be available by itself for sharing. They use blip.tv for this.

The Talk Itself

Alan used the RIN paper If you build it, will they come? How researchers perceive and use web 2.0 and his response to it (Cann, A., Dimitriou, K. & Hooley, T. (2011) Social Media: A Guide for Researchers. London: Research Information Network.) as the basis for the talk. He used a couple of case studies and quotations from researchers about social media to raise a number of different issues. For example he introduced the Visitors and Residents principle – Residents are much more comfortable with social media and live out a portion of their identity online whereas Visitors see social networking as tools that you use (and leave). There’s a good introduction to it by Dave White from the University of Oxford. [Dave gave the previous Netskills online talk on The Rhetoric of Openness.]

Alan also talked about some other interesting ideas: A holistic view of social media – it’s all an incremental process including the QA of knowledge, information overload being more filter failure (ignore or read or park or discard!), filter bubbles, bad networks, web personalisation and more.

A lot to follow up and some good book recommendations too! I’ll share the recorded session links with you as soon as I have them.

I’ve also just spotted Emma Cragg’s notes on the session – these are great – page 1 and page 2.

My Thoughts on running an Elluminate meeting

Way back in February I mentioned that I’d been tasked with organising an online meeting. Time just seems to have disappeared between then and now but on Wednesday I finally had the chance to run the much anticipated JISC Observatory Moot using Elluminate.

It all sounds very grand (‘moot’ has two relevant meanings here: “to present or introduce (any point, subject, project, etc.) for discussion” and “a gathering“) and it did end up being more than just an online meeting. In this post I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the meeting itself and lessons learnt.

JISC Observatory

First a little background – The JISC Observatory is a JISC-funded initiative to systematise the way in which the JISC anticipates and responds to projected future trends and scenarios in the context of the use of technology in Higher and Further Education, and Research in the UK. It is a collaboration between the two JISC Innovation Support Centres: CETIS and UKOLN. With JISC, UKOLN and CETIS that makes for quite a large virtual team. The moot was an opportunity to discuss possible topics for TechWatch reports. Our first on Augmented Reality for Smartphones has recently been released.

It was likely that there were going to be a fair number of people interested in this and so an online meeting seemed like a sensible option (to save costs, be greener etc.).

Here’s some of the steps I went through:

Choosing Elluminate

Participants boxAfter looking at some different online meeting/conferencing services (Gotomeeting, JANET Videoconferencing Service (JVCS) ) I opted for Elluminate. The first reason being that I already have experience of using Elluminate, the second being that the University of Bath currently have an Elluminate pilot running
so licencing costs would be covered. I also felt that Elluminate would offer the functionality that we would require, and hopefully the scalability.

Getting a Team on Board

Although I’d used Elluminate a fair amount as a presenter and a participant this was to be my first stab at moderating and chairing a session. We have a really good e-learning team at the University of Bath and it seemed a shame not to use them. I asked Julian Prior from the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Office and Marie Salter (e-learning Developments Manager) if they could give me a hand. They were great support and did a lot of the ‘backroom’ stuff e.g. they set up the meeting, offered technical support, monitored audio levels etc. I also had support from my colleagues Paul Walk (UKOLN deputy director and responsible for UKOLN’s role in the JISC Observatory), Brian Kelly and Thom Bunting who all helped discuss ideas and test the set up.

Responsibilities

Prior to the meeting we made sure that we clearly define responsibilities. A possible list of responsibilities might include:

  • Defining purpose and outcomes of session
  • Preparing main ppt
  • Preparing schedule
  • Organising date
  • Listing any web tours or urls needed
  • Chairing session
  • Sending out intro info on Elluminate
  • Sending out guidelines and agenda for meeting
  • Scheduling meeting room
  • Ensuring all users are set up correctly
  • Preparing and facilitating warm up session and Elluminate training
  • Recording session
  • Facilitating questions
  • Supporting the whole session (monitoring hand raising, controlling use of microphone, managing text chat, managing poll and publishing results)
  • Watching for technical problems
  • Capturing feedback on session

For the meeting itself we needed an agenda and a team of ‘champions’ who would present TechWatch report topics. The topics and champions were agreed – they were each asked to prepare a 3 minute pitch and we would allow time for brief questions. After some consideration it was decided that for the meeting to be a success the key was strong moderation and chairing, in other words we wanted to retain control over the session.

An agenda was put together and all the slides were combined to avoid having to open up different sets of slides. It was agreed that only the moderators would have microphone privileges and that we would assign the use of the mic to other speakers when appropriate. This would avoid significant audio problems. Users of Elluminate will know that the most common audio problem is an echo caused by people leaving their microphone on when not speaking.

It was decided that I was to chair the questions and answers. I would do this by encouraging people to raise their hands and then inviting them to speak after assigning them the microphone. This worked well, though I probably should have asked people to introduce themselves just for clarity. In Elluminate the name of the person who is speaking is highlighted, this is fine as long as the speaker has picked an appropriate user name!

Functionality

Introducting Elluminate functionality

Before the moot we had quite a few discussions on use of chat, polls, video, break out rooms etc. It was agreed that as this was a first effort we should keep it simple. Chat was encouraged as a ‘back channel’ and was used very effectively during the session. Video was avoided, primarily to avoid bandwidth issues. The same went for break-out rooms, though I have seen these work really well (at the OU Online Conference last year). We decided to present a brief introduction to Elluminate and it’s functionality at the start of the session. This also gave us the opportunity to get people using the whiteboard and marking up where they were joining us from.

We also needed to have some form of voting system and would have liked to use the Elluminate polls. Unfortunately the polls only allow people to choose from up to 5 options (and we needed 8 ) and didn’t allow for any form of preferencing (or AV). The easiest option seemed to be having a timed private ballot where people clicked the green tick if they wanted to choose a topic. We also suggested to people that they try to limit themselves to 4 votes, primarily to avoid having a full-house of ticks for all the topics.

During the moot there was a little confusion initially and we ended up calling the first vote a trial run but after that people seemed to get the hang of things. I was concentrating on facilitating the votes and the other moderators were locking the votes and totting up the scored using the polling features. There is an option to publish the results to the whiteboard but as we’d carried out 8 votes it made more sense for them to rush into my room and hand me a piece of paper with the scores on. It made for a dramatic end to the session!

I’d have to say that we still have a fair amount to learn when it comes to using Elluminate’s polling and quiz facilities, maybe something to try out next time?

Encouraging participants to use the whiteboard

Conclusions

Overall I feel the session went really well. We had 27 participants and almost all were connected the whole time. There was a good deal of engagement and I think most people took the opportunity to ask a question or write something in the chat box. I’m sure that a lot of the panic (hopefully that was primarily in my head and not heard by the participants) will fade as I get more experienced at moderating sessions.

I made sure that I wrote some fairly comprehensive notes that I could read out during the session when explaining things. I also had a list of points that I needed to mention at various times, for example it was important to explain that the session was being recorded but would only be shared internally, and that the voting would be secret.

I hope that we’ll be able to run a similar online meeting sometime soon and we’ll be able to use our experience, and expand on it.

A few other things

While researching the moot I found the following JISC document very useful: Designing for participant engagement with Elluminate live’.

It has some excellent mind maps of how you can engage with your audience and make sure that the sessions are interactive. Interactivity is definitely the key to keeping your audience awake!

One of the TechWatch topic pitches

One of the TechWatch topic pitches

Elluminating

This morning as part of the UKOLN staff development series UKOLN staff (and others) were treated to an an introductory session on Elluminate entitled Running an Online Event using Elluminate Live! Usage Cases and Best Practices. Brian Kelly has written a blog post on the background to these sessions which we are opening up to external attendees when possible.

Elluminate Session

The session took place at a number of venues. It was presented by Julian Prior (E-Learning Development Officer) and Marie Salter (e-Developments Manager) from the University of Bath, from their office, using Elluminate. It was shown to a number of physical attendees in the UKOLN meeting room from where Brian Kelly moderated the session and assisted remote attendees. There were also a number of remote attendees attending from off site locations.

Elluminate itself is increasingly being used by JISC for meetings and for giving information about new calls so the presentation was very timely.

Julian kicked off with some interactive slides that gave everyone a feel for the software. For example he got remote participants to drag their names on to their location on a map and used the question facility to ask remote workers about the experiences they have had in the past with Elluminate. Julian then published the answers up for all to see.

Elluminate Questions

After we’d all warmed up Julian facilitated some discussion of best practices for moderators and users which included testing audio, encourage lots of interaction (icebreakers, polls, quizzes), checking accessibility, using V room as a practice suite, and more. Elluminate offer some very useful user guides and JISC has recently released some guidance on Elluminate use.

Key Features of Ellluminate

At Bath University Elluminate is currently running as pilot project untill July 2011 at which point they will decide if a full licence should be purchased. Julian explained that they have had a primarlily positive expereice so far so hopefully they will be able to carry the work on. He then gave some examples of how the software has been used at Bath during the pilot. Some of the most successful instances include running an online Q&A/open day session for the clinical psychology departement when a course was over subscribed, chemistry postgrads giving remote seminars and using Elluminate used for job interviews and interviews of foreign students.

Staff watching the Elluminate session at UKOLN

Elluminate has recently been bought out by Blackboard (along with Wimba) which has ruffled a few feathers as there may be changes on the cards. Alternatives out there include Instantpresenter, DimDim, Gotomeeting and Megameeting. There is also BigBlueButton (which I have blogged about in the past), which is an open source alternative and endorsed by the academic community.

The session was really interesting but unfortunately came to an ubrupt end when the fire alarm went off in the main University building!! Luckily all us remote participants got to stay inside in the comfort of our own homes!

A recording of the session is available and the slides are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

The Major Technical Issues Surrounding Screencasting

Yesterday I attended the JISC Digital Media Online training session on The Major Technical Issues Surrounding Screencasting, one of a series of four. The session, given in Elluminate by Zak Mensah and Gavin Brockis, peaked at 68 participants, so was very popular. For those who missed the session or want to catch up on previous JISC Digital Media Online Surgeries they are all archived on the Web site.

JISC Digital Media Screencast session in Elluminate

Gavin Brockis, responsible for screencasting at JISC Digital Media, started off with a lose definition of a Screencast – a video of what you are doing on your screen, often a demo of software. He explained that while the visual element is key the narration is voice that guides the viewer; the end result should be similar to sitting next to someone. Screencasts can be like mini TV programmes and JISC Digital Media produce some Screencasting advice notes and work flow documents to help you plan the process.

At the session today the focus was considering technical issues for example:

  • What peripheral devices will I need? e.g. headsets, microphone, USB microphones
  • What are my software options?
  • What master formats should I use?

The session approach taken was to look at some example screencasts and critique them. These were provided as a web tour in a pop up window (and also as a link.)

The three examples were a JDM Vimeo Online surgery – Microphone technique and placement screen cast created in Camtasia on a Mac, a University of Bristol guide to Blackboard 9 and a JDM introduction to screencasting workflow.

All three were created using Camtasia (a piece of commercial software) and all were very slick and professional. I would have liked to see a slightly more unpolished example too, maybe something created with a piece of free software, just for comparison.

Differences highlighted included how they dealt with captions (for subtitles it is possible in Camtasia to import script/slide notes in and then manually sync), enhanced screen actions, the microphones used, how talking heads were used, branding, length (don’t make it too long), clickable indexes and more.

As usual all of this is a balancing act and it makes sense to be realisitic about expectations of your audience and the time it takes to carry out the work. Commerical software is likely to yield more professional results but only if the creator has the skills and experience.

Key Technical Considerations

After the example screencasts Gavin ran us through the key technical considerations:

  1. Hardware and peripherals
  2. The range of software options
  3. Considerations for delivery
  4. Advance delivery options
  5. Choosing output screen resolution

Sometime was also spent looking at the components of a screencast:

  1. Placeholder image
  2. Title sequence
  3. Indent
  4. Content – screen capture, audio
  5. Outro
  6. Metadata

And periphery tools that could be used such as a Webcam, screen annotation tools (like screen draw – free online tool) and microphones (USB microphone or sound card system microphone?).

Software

The best way to decide on what software to go for is to look at what capabilities you will need to have, this will help you decide whether you go for commercial or free software? The main software options such as Camtasia and Captivate have a cost (both monetary and in the skill required to use them). However there are a number of free online screencasting tools including Camstudio, Jing and Screenr. These have limited abilities but may do the job. Another option may be to use a lecture capture service if one is available. JDM offer an advice sheet on tools available.

I have mentioned some of these in a previous post on screencasting.

Another useful tool mentioned was Handbrake – very helpful for changing formats.

Conclusions

The training session really was very well thought out and provided attendees with some excellent pointers to further resources such as the JDM Screencasting Workflow document. The Q&A session afterwards was carried out in the Elluminate chat facility, which seemed a little constrained for the number of attendees and questions. Maybe some of this could have been done by attendees raising hands and being allowed to speak?

Nonetheless it was a great session and I hope to attend more.

Amplifying Events from Santander

Brian Kelly is still over in Spain and today gave a keynote plenary talk on “Embedding and Sustaining University 2.0” at the University 2.0: the Extended University conference held at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo.

Unfortunately due to the hour difference I missed most of the talk but once again the event amplification was interesting.

The event was streamed on UIMP-TV, the streaming channel for the event. Although you could hear Brian in the background there was a translator talking over the top. A little difficult to watch if you don’t speak Spanish!

Brian Kelly giving his talk at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo - in UIMP-TV

For those of us watching the talk whose Spanish is sadly lacking (hey I got GCSE Spanish!) there was an Elluminate session just in English. I’ve used Elluminate several times before but this is the first time I’ve seen video used as well as slides. The video wasn’t particularly good quality but it gave a rough idea of how what the presenter was up to, which makes it feel a little more like you are there.

Brian Kelly giving his talk at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo - in Elluminate

Once again there was lots of Twitter action on the #uimpuni20 hashtag and live blogging from Kirsty.

Brian’s slides are available from Slideshare and embedded below.

Squirmy Creatures: My first Online Presentation

On Monday I presented my first Webinar for Regional Support Centre Eastern on Blogs, Wikis and more: Web 2.0 demystified for information professionals. Earlier today I presented my second Webinar, also for RSC Eastern on Blogs, Wikis and more: Web 2.0 demystified for learning and teaching professionals. We had almost 20 people for each webinar – at the second apparently nine people were sat round a conference phone listening in. It was really exciting stuff (for me – not too sure about the participants!). Not quite a baptism of fire but still  a big learning experience.

I’ve blogged about my previous attempts at using Elluminate but, despite the practice, actually presenting for a whole hour was quite an experience.

elluminate1

The screen dump above shows the Elluminate application and the Colchester Institute Web cam.

A few thoughts and lessons learnt…

1. It’s quiet out there

Presenting to an audience who you can’t look at or hear is very strange. There’s no body language, eye contact or verbal utterances to help you know you’re pitching it at the right level. For all you know you could be talking to yourself. You just have to believe that they are still there and are still listening. I did ask for questions at certain points but it’s probably a difficult environment in which to do that. Maybe I’ll get some questions by email.

Lesson Learnt: Have faith, they are still listening, well..at least one person is so you’ll just have to keep going.

2. An hour in Webinar time seems to be shorter than an hour in real time

I had a quite a lot prepared but the time just seemed to fly by and the participants didn’t get very long to ‘try stuff out’. Although I’d rather have too much stuff than nothing to say maybe it’s better not to try to cover too much. I didn’t read anything out from notes, Web 2.0 stuff is something I talk about a lot and it felt more natural to just talk rather than read. I hope the participants feel this worked OK.

Lesson Learnt: The time flies by when you are talking to yourself!

3. You need a good admin team

The RSC Eastern team (Maryse Fisher and Shri Footring) were great. They did a fab job of getting people to sign up for the sessions and were great support. Some really useful notes on how to plan a successful Webinar are available from Techsoup – RSC eastern have obviously read them.

Lesson Learnt: A good admin team are key.

4. Make sure there are no distractions

It’s a real worry that someone will ring your doorbell or call you up while you are presenting. I actually hid my land line phone so I wouldn’t be able to hear it if it rang.  The problem was I couldn’t find it afterwards!

Lesson Learnt: Remember where you’ve hidden your phone!

5. Little things can throw you

During my first presentation the ‘hand raised’ icon lit up and started beeping. This completely threw me, I wasn’t 100% sure other moderators could see it or were able to deal with it. It was almost like when someone presses the ‘call air hostess’ button on a plane and you suddenly get quite agitated. You want to know what’s the problem, is someone going to sort it out? I found I just couldn’t relax till the the icon went back to normal.

Lesson Learnt: Ignore other stuff that’s going on and focus on your slides.

6. Having a Participant view wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped

I had my laptop set up to show the participant’s view. It was good to glance at and check they could see the same things but there just wasn’t the time to scrutinise it. During my first presentation I was a little concerned people could see my comments to the other moderators (it wasn’t that I was saying anything particularly private I just didn’t want them to see my general paranoia!) but I didn’t get a chance to check.

Lesson Learnt: Let the other moderators deal with the stuff that is going on. Sending messages to only the moderators does what it says on the tin.

7. Try to block out the chat pane

I was confused over whether I should check the chat pane or ignore it. I found it a bit of a distraction really. Maybe I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I thought. Or maybe when you are presenting you just need to go into a ‘zone’ and checking a chat pane keeps dragging you out of it.

Lesson Learnt: Ditto what it says in point 5.

8. I don’t want to listen to what I’ve said

I remember last year I gave a presentation which didn’t go according to plan. Nothing really happened, I just felt it went wrong. The presentation was recorded and I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. When I eventually did it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it was. People who are watching (or listening) can’t see what’s going on in your head or the squirmy creatures in your tummy. That said the vast majority of us don’t like watching (or listening) to ourselves. For that reason I won’t be able to listen to my Webinar. However if you are interested in listening to (and looking out for my mistakes) the Elluminate sessions are available at from the RSC Eastern site.

These thoughts may not be of great use to those of you about to give your first online presentation but they may make you feel that you are not alone. Squirmy creatures happens to all of us!

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