During this summer we are implementing a new Blackboard product called Collaborate. Collaborate is a virtual classroom tool which is about facilitating synchronous (at the same time) online interactions with students. Blackboard sites are typically accessed by students at different times, and tools such as the blogs, wikis, discussion boards and tests support asynchronous interaction on the Blackboard sites. Asynchronous activities allow flexibility in terms of interaction, but sometimes a synchronous learning activity is needed.
Until now, the Blackboard synchronous learning tool has been limited. Blackboard Collaborate will provide staff with a modern, powerful tool to facilitate synchronous learning activities. Its features include sharing audio, webcam video, presentations in a white board, and a chat window which includes a polling feature. It is possible to share your desktop or other applications with students and split students into breakout room groups. Sessions can be recorded to allow playback later by students who miss the session. Staff facilitating sessions have control over a variety of options which can be used to manage the classroom environment and create the type of session that is appropriate for their teaching needs.
Staff can invite people from outside of the university to participate in Collaborate sessions as well. This can be used to include guest speakers, workplace mentors, and other folks who do not have university acounts in the sessions. It can be used for teaching and learning purposes, but will also be used for other purposes such as staff development, student support and business needs.
We are in the process of implementing the rollout of Collaborate right now, and will be running pilot use cases over the summer to ensure that we are prepared to support wider use in the autumn. We will provide more information about Collaborate as the summer continues.