Enhancing Live Online Sessions with the New Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Part II: Updated Features and Faculty Feedback

Students watching online sessoin

During fall 2015, we introduced Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – an updated version of the existing web conferencing tool that can promote online collaboration and interaction. Blackboard Collaborate Ultra can be used to hold live class sessions, offer virtual office hours online, or conduct meetings with students or colleagues. One of the most exciting improvements in this release of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is that sessions open quickly directly in a web browser, with nothing to download or install in order to join a session.

This time, we want to discuss additional features that can enhance online synchronous courses as well as share feedback from the faculty and instructors who participated in beta testing or piloting Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. The beta testing program began in spring 2015 and allowed NIU faculty and instructors to explore the revised interface, test upgraded features, and provide feedback to Blackboard to continue improving the product. In the summer and fall 2015, faculty and instructors piloted Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in their courses. During that time, a number of existing features were enhanced and a few new ones were introduced.

Feedback from Faculty

A major advantage to using web conferencing is the ability to bridge distance so that students can participate from wherever they happen to be. Whether due to job demands, family obligations, transportation issues, or other causes, distance and travel time can represent a significant barrier to pursuing education. Web conferencing can address these concerns by allowing you to present material, engage in live discussion, and keep long distance students connected to live class sessions. This was supported by one of the faculty members,

This program will allow me the opportunity to communicate course content with the class in a timely manner so that no material is missed. A few years ago, I had an RN reservist who was pursuing a MS degree and was deployed to Germany.  I was able to Skype him into the class each week, but it was cumbersome and didn’t allow for him to see the other students well.  This program would successfully include a student unable to attend the course face-to-face.

Another faculty member expressed a similar sentiment,

I used the tool for a course offered to first-year graduate students, many of whom work full-time and are considered mid-career. Once the technology adjustment was made, they found it extremely useful to interact with the instructor without making the trek to the campus.

During the pilot courses, novice users of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra found it to be quite intuitive, with a short learning curve, making it easy for faculty and students to begin using it quickly,

I had never used Blackboard Collaborate, yet learning how to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra was very easy.  The process is very intuitive and the students also seemed to pick it up easily.

One common complaint expressed by faculty who are considering whether to put their courses online is that online teaching can be a somewhat impersonal experience, with little to no opportunity for faculty-to-student, student-to-content, or student-to-student interaction. However, as reported by one NIU instructor, her students seemed to enjoy this updated web conferencing tool,

Feedback from students was very positive- they told me that they really liked the convenience of being able to have this session online.  They also indicated that they felt they were able to get to know their classmates a little bit better.

In addition to presenting their own content to students, another potential application is for faculty and instructors to invite a guest lecturer to a class session to speak on an area of their specialization.  In one instance during the fall 2015 semester, a faculty member invited an expert in substance abuse to speak to her upper division psychology students in a face-to-face class. Because travel logistics and other obligations made an in-person appearance all but impossible, web conferencing offered a convenient solution. The guest speaker was able to join the class ‘virtually’ from her office at another institution. Students were able to ask the guest for clarification when necessary as well submit questions, thus benefiting from the guest speaker’s clinical and research experience,

I have used collaborate 2x – once in the workshop ….. to train on it and then also with a guest lecture.  Things went very smoothly in the class you taught and I was impressed with how participants could interact by raising hands and typing questions/comments.

Although a primary use of this web conferencing tool is for faculty and instructors to conduct live online session for their courses, an alternative use for Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is to hold online meetings with research associates and collaborators,

I have used it on several occasions both for teaching as well as to work on research projects with colleagues in other parts of the country.  I like the features of being able to share files on the screen as we discuss items.

New Features Added

Now that the core functionality is completed, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra continues to be updated with small additions on an ongoing basis. These changes do not significantly change the workflow for using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, but do improve the experience for both faculty and students. Here are a few of the tools or upgrades that were recently added:

  • Content Zoom: Individual users can now control the zoom level of the content, which makes it easier for participants to view content at a size appropriate for their screen-size. Participants can choose between ‘best fit’, ‘actual size’, and ‘zoom in’ or ‘zoom out’.
  • Private messaging between Moderators and Presenters: Within the general chat window, Moderators and Presenters now can access a private chat feature to other moderators and presenters. This helps you coordinate with other faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants, or support staff who are assisting with your session.
  • Visual indicator when you are sharing video: All participants can be more aware now of whether or not they are broadcasting their web camera. When your video feed is on, you will see an ‘eye’ beside your avatar image
  • Participant connection indicator: Faculty and instructors can now tell at-a-glance who is in their session and who might be having trouble connecting. New indicators have been added that inform faculty when someone is in the process of joining their session, if users are connected, and how strong their connection is. This is as easy as hovering a pointer over participants in the ‘Participant’ panel to see the indicators.
  • Audio via telephone: If faculty or students do not have access to a microphone, they can still participate via the new integrated ‘telephony’. Now, faculty and students have the ability to call in to a live session using their phone, where they can listen or speak to session participants.
  • Audio indicator: For those participants who are using a microphone, an indicator icon (dark microphone) appears beside their name and photo in the ‘Participant’ panel, permitting faculty to identify who is speaking and who has turned off their audio. This can be important as the indicator will move to whoever the current speaker is as a discussion unfolds.
  • Mobile access: Students and other participants can participate in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Sessions from any iOS, Android, or Windows Mobile device using the free Bb Student app.

 

Final Thoughts

The consensus opinion among faculty who commented on their experiences using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra was favorable. Here are a few other comments from faculty who have tried Blackboard Collaborate Ultra:

I enjoyed using the technology and I feel like it has a great deal of promise.  I am looking forward to using it in the future.

The technology seemed to work well and everyone who has used it liked the overall look and feel. Overall, very positive, very easy to use. Love it.

I am so glad that this program is available and I am looking forward to using this again in the future!

For the pilot, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center had to manually create Blackboard Collaborate Ultra sessions. It will be available for everyone and integrated in Blackboard beginning in summer 2016. If you would like to try it early, or for more information, training, or consultation on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator for the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at dcabrera@niu.edu or 815-753-0613.

 

Photo Credit: www.laudio-lucistore.It

 

 

NIU Brings lynda.com to Campus

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Lynda

Northern Illinois University students, faculty, and staff are the beneficiaries of a campus-wide license agreement recently signed by NIU and lynda.com. Lynda.com, founded in 1995, is a leading online learning company that helps users ‘…. learn business, software, technology and creative skills to achieve personal and professional goals’ (source: lynda.com/aboutus). They have become one of the most popular and successful video learning service available, offering members access to a broad and varied video library of engaging, top-quality courses taught by recognized industry experts.

Members of this subscription-based company range from individuals committed to life-long learning, to corporate, academic, and government institutions. The campus-wide agreement provides the NIU community unlimited access to lynda.com’s extensive collection of courses on many subjects. These include 3D + Animation, Business, Audio + Music, Business, CAD, Design, Developer, Education + Elearning, IT, Marketing, Photography, Video, and Web. Within each of these subject areas are multiple topics. Each course can offer a range of video tutorials, documents, and exercises. Under the topic of Education and Elearning, there are 170 courses and more than 7,000 video tutorials. A sampling of video tutorial titles includes Universal Principles of Design, Teacher Tech Tips, College Prep: Writing a Strong Essay, Student Tools, Microsoft Excel/Word/PowerPoint, Captivate, and Prezi. Although there are other websites that host tutorials on a plethora of subjects, such as YouTube, a common complaint is the lack of consistent quality.

With the availability of this new resource, faculty and instructors may want to consider how they might supplement and enhance their own instruction as they prepare for the spring semester. One possible scenario might have students viewing tutorials that build skills to better complete a course assignment. For example, an assignment might require students to create a class presentation. The course instructor might include links to tutorials on using PowerPoint or Prezi. In another scenario, an instructor might offer students an option to complete an assignment in a video format rather than submitting a more conventional MS Word document. Students with limited experience capturing, editing, and encoding video could benefit by reviewing one of more video tutorials on this subject. Faculty have the option to create and share a playlist of tutorials on a specific topic for their students. Students also have options, including the ability to take notes that synch with video tutorials, which can assist in the learning process.

Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to explore this resource that NIU has made available. Please note that it is necessary to enter lynda.com by going through the NIU portal go.niu.edu/lynda and then logging in with the NIU Account ID and password. For those individuals who have a current subscription account with lynda.com, they will be asked to migrate their previous account information to a new NIU account. Once logged in to lynda.com, users can browse the online training library, watch training courses, manage training courses and their account, and even problem solve with a lynda.com specialist.

The Division of Information Technology – Training and Communication will host an open forum about lynda.com on Thursday, November 19th, in the HSC Regency Room from 10:00 am to 10:30 am. Two NIU teaching staff will share how they have already used lynda.com in their own courses. In addition, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is planning on offering a number of workshops to assist faculty and staff to use lynda.com. These include an online webinar to introduce features of lynda.com in December and a hands-on workshop to be offered during the spring 2016 semester. Please visit  the Faculty Development’s Upcoming Programs webpage in order to register for one or both of these workshops.

For a series of instructional tutorials on how to use lynda.com, visit go.niu.edu/lyndahowto.

Faculty Student Relationships Tutorial

11-LAS-Reception-0819-SW-8_690x460The faculty student relationship can be one of the most gratifying experiences for college students.  Faculty who have positive relationships with their students during those interactions can help them succeed academically and increase their overall satisfaction with their educational experience at the university (Pascarella,1980; Fusani, 1994). However this can be achieved only when faculty demonstrate professional conduct in their interactions with students and promote a culture of mutual trust and respect.  NIU has a new online resource that can provide guidance, support, and recommendations to faculty to promote positive interaction, and help preserve the safety of students, faculty, and the institution. The ‘Faculty-Student Relationships: Maintaining Roles and Responsibilities’ online tutorial is now available for viewing by all teaching staff, including faculty, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants.

The tutorial content was originally developed for a faculty-student relationship workshop by NIU faculty/staff members Deborah Haliczer, Sarah Klaper and Toni Tollerud.  A major element of this material is the inclusion of Michael Davis’ Seven Step Guide to Ethical Decision making (Davis, 1999), which offers a practical framework for avoiding perceptions of improper relationships with students. Teaching faculty who are familiar these seven steps are better prepared to respond to challenging situations.

The material was compiled, formatted, and recorded as an instructional module by staff from the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. This resource was design to incorporate a number of features that enhance the learning experience. Users are not required to login, and no information is collected, stored, or shared. Once the session begins, it is self-running, automatically advancing from slide to slide. However, users have the option to advance the slides on their own, pause, go to a previous slide, or exit from the session by closing the browser tab. In addition to having an accompanying voice narration, the transcribed notes for each slide can be viewed on a side panel. Users can also download the entire transcription either as a MS Word or Adobe PDF version for their own review. This benefits a range of users and situations, including those who have a hearing impairment, whose first language is not English, or who cannot play the audio because they may be viewing it from a computer in a public setting, such as a library.

This self-running module was designed to incorporate a number of other features that enhance the learning experience. Interactive case scenarios are included that describe a range of situations that pose ethical dilemmas for teaching staff. An interactive quiz asks users to consider a ‘better’ response or action to take from among a list of possible options. While the posted options are not meant to represent an exhaustive list of possibilities, an explanation is provided for selecting one response over another. Users can also download a transcript of the case scenarios.

Faculty-Student Relationships Tutorial

The Faculty-Student Relationships: Maintaining Roles and Responsibilities’ online tutorial can be viewed either on a desktop/laptop computer, or on mobile devices. The tutorial can be viewed from http://go.niu.edu/Relation.

For more information on this tutorial, contact Dan Cabrera (dcabrera@niu.edu).

 

References

Davis, M. (1999). Ethics and the University. New York: Routledge Publishers, Inc.

Fusani, D. (1994). Extra-class Communication: Frequency, immediacy, self-disclosure, and satisfaction in student-faculty interaction outside the classroom. Journal of Applied Communications Research, 22, 232-255.

Pascarella, E. (1980). Student-faculty informal contact and college outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 50, 545-595.

Enhancing Live Online Sessions with the New Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

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Image01Personal interaction between you and your students is one of the most valuable elements of quality teaching and learning experiences. However, it can be challenging to maintain high levels of interaction when your students are not in a classroom, such as in blended or online courses, or with students who are not often on campus, like adult learners or commuting students. Web conferencing tools, when properly implemented, promote collaboration and interaction while still allowing flexibility in travel and space. These tools allow you to conduct live class sessions with students online as well as to offer virtual office hours to students who are not on campus. Students can use web conferencing to collaborate on group projects, as well.

Blackboard recently released an updated version of Blackboard Collaborate, the web conferencing tool many have relied on to provide opportunities for live interaction and personal connection in online and blended courses. Named ‘Collaborate Ultra’, the updated version offers a modern and streamlined interface for participating in a session. Collaborate Ultra has improved audio and video quality, including the group view which allows up to 6 videos at a time. Present PowerPoint slides or share a PDF file with students, or try the easy-to-use application sharing feature, with thumbnails of each program you have running so you can be confident youwill share the correct one. Best of all, unlike the current version of Blackboard Collaborate, Ultra opens directly in a web browser, so there is nothing to install or download to join a session. No Java needed!

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center will be offering a preview to the new Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in November 2015. In this new hands-on workshop, you will be able to try the new Collaborate Ultra first-hand, and be among the first to explore this revised web conferencing tool before it becomes available campus-wide in 2016. Interested faculty and staff do not need any previous experience with Blackboard Collaborate or any other web conferencing system to quickly learn to present and communicate with Collaborate Ultra. Please check the Faculty Development Upcoming Faculty/Staff Programs webpage to register for this new workshop, ‘Preview of the New Blackboard Collaborate Ultra’.

For more information on registering for the workshop, go to http://go.niu.edu/programs. Contact us at facdev@niu.edu for more information on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, and look for more information about Ultra coming soon!

 

Developing and Posting Recorded Lectures with Adobe Presenter

woman watching a recorded lecture on a computerWhen preparing to teach online, one should consider how a myriad of face-to-face activities might be reconfigured. For example, in a face-to-face setting, lecturing is often a major method for distributing content. This is live or synchronous activity, where students can observe and listen to the instructor for new course concepts and ideas. One can also conduct lectures, albeit in an asynchronous manner, using tools that can match displayed content with an accompanying voice narration.

Adobe Presenter is a plug-in for PowerPoint that allows faculty to convert slide presentations, such as lectures or tutorials, into interactive videos that can be posted online. Adobe Presenter allows faculty to enrich their presentations by adding multimedia content such as text, images, audio, and video, as well as incorporating numerous interactions to better engage students.

For face-to-face classes, this technology can extend teaching opportunities beyond classroom time by making instruction available in an online setting. Faculty can also use a narrated lecture presentation to flip the classroom by asking students to view lectures online before coming to class. During face-to-face class meetings, students are ready to discuss or ask questions about the material, or engage in other learning activities. Recorded lectures can also be quite useful for courses that are primarily online, as an efficient means of distributing instructor developed content. Cynthia Paralejas, Instructional Designer for eLearning Services, reports that Adobe Presenter is one of the major tools they employ to produce audio slideshows for online courses they develop. According to Paralejas, “My overall assessment of Adobe Presenter is that it is a very helpful and intuitive tool that online courses should continue to utilize to develop quality lecture/audio slideshow presentations.”

When contemplating whether to use Adobe Presenter to create lecture presentations or brief tutorials, faculty should consider matching specific course objectives with each learning activity. For example, a possible range of learning objectives for students might include 1) being able to remember and recall specific facts and information, 2) demonstrate a deeper understanding of core course concepts, 3) or being able to apply/analyze/evaluate or create (from the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy). Depending on the nature of specific objectives, faculty might design new material, consider how they might sequence this new course material in their PowerPoint slide presentation, and perhaps incorporate relevant Adobe Presenter features. For example, faculty could ask students to temporarily halt a lecture presentation, and reflect on material just presented, before being asked to continue the presentation. Alternatively, faculty could incorporate a quick self-assessment by having students take a brief quiz on content just presented. The format of quiz items could be true/false, multiple choice, or fill in the blank. Other features might include annotating course content with audio and video materials, using a built-in video recording feature that combines slide content with faculty input, posting URL hyperlinks within slides to access content from websites that complement lecture material, or use video clips to present the content as an alternative to simple text. In addition, the transcript of the narration could be made available to students, supporting the principles of accessibility and Universal Design.

A primary benefit of this technology is its 24/7 online availability. Students can access content by logging into their Blackboard course, and viewing the presentation with a desktop or laptop computer using the pervasive ‘Flash Player’ plug-in. In addition, the current version of Adobe Presenter now allows users to view content through mobile devices not running the Flash Player.

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers specialized workshops periodically, Getting Started with Adobe Presenter (beginners), and Moving Beyond the Basics of Adobe Presenter (Intermediate Users), for faculty and staff who are interested in learning how to use this tool. In addition, one-on-one consultations are also available.

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