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Digital education

Remote teaching tips: Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

2 April 2020

With the recent drastic changes to teaching over the past few weeks, Nicola Harris, Director of Learning and Teaching in the School of Law and Politics, has written some pointers for colleagues who are thinking of using the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra webinar tool for the first time, or are considering using advanced features such as breakout rooms.

“I held my first webinar sessions today using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, and they generally went really well. Here are just a few thoughts for other staff on the experience, in case they are also thinking about using webinars and would like some helpful tips.

• When you have a whole tutorial group in one “room” it is very hard to engage them. As you can only see four on the screen at once on Collaborate, it is easy for some to get left out. It helped to call on them by name.

• Group size matters. I had ten at a time and it was ok. 20 would be difficult for the activity I was running, unless you subdivided them into breakout groups (but as you will see below, I love breakout groups!).

• When someone talks, they cannot hear what anyone else says, so the problem of speaking over one another is much more pronounced than in real life. Maybe enforce use of the “hands up” button to allow students some structure to get their point across.

• The breakout rooms function is wonderful. As long as they are groups of 3 or 4 at max, they can all see each other, and they really get talking. I ran the discussions in separate rooms then brought them all back into the “main room” to feed back. You need to keep a close eye on whether people’s connections are breaking, leaving someone alone in a room, in which case you can swap them into another group, but it is all remarkably easy to do.

• It is far more tiring than you think. Definitely DO NOT arrange back to back sessions. Everyone will need a break for a cup of tea after one, I promise.

• Overall, I found it easier to use and more interactive than I expected, and the students loved the chance to see each other. I set the timings so that the “room” stayed open for 15 mins after teaching so that they could stay there and chat after the session if they wanted – they seemed to like this.

• Don’t worry about life encroaching. They loved it when my cats intervened, or someone’s mum could be heard shouting at them in the background!”

Nicola Harris

Thanks to Nicola for her tips. If you would like to give Blackboard Collaborate a go, we have information on how to get up and running quickly in our Teaching Contingency guidance for staff (within small group teaching).

For information around the breakout rooms function, please visit the guidance on Blackboard’s website.

For more information about the CESI, visit our team page on the intranet.