With more and more instruction taking place online, faculty are increasingly seeking online tools and strategies that can promote communication, interaction, and live collaboration from faculty-to-student, student-to-student, and student-to-content. Web conferencing is an online tool that allows multiple users to view content, exchange ideas, and work collaboratively. Web conferencing can include online “real time’ (synchronous) activities such as conducting lectures, inviting guest speakers to share their expertise from a remote location, pushing out content for students to download for review, holding weekly office hours, offering a venue where colleagues can hold meetings to discuss professional or research interests, or providing students with a virtual location to conduct collaborative activities for group assignments. Faculty wanting to utilize useful online resources during a session can take their students on a web tour, walk them through specific websites, or allow students to explore on their own. Regular web conferencing sessions in online courses can help to foster a learning community among students who may never meet face-to-face. Thus, web conferencing is recognized not only as a mechanism to distribute content, but as an opportunity to implement learning strategies that engage students, increase interactivity, and promote collaboration.
Blackboard Collaborate is a web conferencing tool that integrates seamlessly with Backboard, the course management system used by Northern Illinois University. Blackboard Collaborate was deployed in the Summer 2012 semester and will replace Wimba Classroom, the previous web conferencing tool used in Blackboard, by the Spring 2013 semester.
Faculty using Blackboard Collaborate can upload lecture materials including notes, PowerPoint slides, websites, images, video or audio sources as a jumping off point for a more comprehensive discussion of content. Faculty also have the ability to annotate over their content by using tools to point out/highlight specific aspects of their slides. New content or comments derived from real time class discussions can be added right onto the slides using a text editor and saved for future review by students.
Faculty can also “share” a view from their own computer for the purpose of demonstrating software applications or walk students through a procedure or process on the student’s computer. For example, faculty may wish to demonstrate how to use a particular software on their own computer or allow students to demonstrate something on their computers, and receive immediate feedback on their performance, all of which can be viewed by every participant.
There are a number of ways that students can communicate during live online sessions. Faculty can configure optional settings permitting students to engage in two-way audio conversation using a microphone, include a video feed from a webcam, or simply type comments or questions in the Chat area. These messages can be viewed by all participants, or sent as a private chat to faculty, if that is preferred. This last option can be especially helpful if a student is hesitant to ask a question in “public” during an online session. Students can communicate using clearly labeled buttons to express feelings/sentiments (emoticons), raise their hand, or respond to polling questions asked by faculty.
Faculty can still assign group activities during Blackboard Collaborate sessions as they would in face-to-face settings by having students meet in virtual “Breakout” rooms for a given period of time. Students can collaborate on the assignment with group members, with faculty having the option to monitor activity in any of the breakout rooms. Students can then return to the main session area to share their findings.
Faculty have the option of recording live synchronous web conferencing sessions and making the archived recordings available for review. This offers participants of Blackboard Collaborate sessions benefits that are both synchronous (live interaction) and asynchronous (students can review the session at their convenience).
Students can also choose to participate in web conferencing sessions from a mobile device (iPhone/iPad) using a free mobile app. Students connect directly from Blackboard on their mobile device, using the NIU Mobile App or Blackboard Mobile Learn app.
Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers a number of face-to-face and online Blackboard Collaborate workshops as well as one-on-one consultations. For more information about Blackboard Collaborate including a brief video of the Blackboard Collaborate Mobile Web Conferencing, check the “Blackboard Collaborate: Next Generation Web Conferencing” page on the Teaching with Blackboard website or contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.