Many thanks to John Blase and the rest of the team for the excellent session last week exploring how tutors on the online MSc in Haematopathology programme have been using Blackboard Collaborate to deliver live learning and teaching seminars for their students who are scattered across the world. The team are currently using it to deliver live lectures, software demos and small group meetings with plans to explore using the platform for student-led presentations and sessions.
The software allows presenters to communicate with students in real time to deliver presentations, with in-built functionality for two-way communication, text chats, polls etc. Driven by the desire to save staff time devoted to answering individual queries, as well as to improve the students’ learning experience with increased interaction and engagement, this has allowed the team to address complex issues with students, some of which (e.g. using a piece of software) are best dealt with visually with the opportunity for students to ask questions, check understanding etc. The team reflected that this has vastly improved the teaching experience and students’ ability to grasp key concepts and develop important skills compared with other text only tools traditionally used for distance education.
The software features a range of tools to support online real time delivery and interactions including:
- Communication – Presenters’ video – useful for adding a “personal” face for distance learners. Audio can be shared allowing students as well as instructors to talk
- Interaction – students can use private or public text chats, can respond to questions through hand raising and polls, small group activities can be supported through Break Out rooms facilitated and managed by the instructor. The system also allows screensharing for interactive, real time demos.
- Create learning resources - the software allows you to import or create resources from scratch and sessions can be recorded for access at a later date either for revision or to allow those who could not attend live to catch up later.
- Accessibility – with many learners in remote places with less than ideal connection speeds the system allows everyone to keep up with the event through clever buffering and / or slowing down and speeding up of content as required.
The team identified a number of benefits that have emerged from using this approach with the most notable one being the positive student reaction and associated improvement in their performance. Coupled with this, staff have reported that they have found it easier to teach many subjects, particularly core or “threshold” concepts. Apparently this has “transformed” their approach to distance teaching, allowing areas of difficulty to be easily identified as they crop up and saving multiple support e-mails.
The session was attended by a small but beautifully formed number of interested academics and support staff and the question now emerges “what do we do next?” We feel that the first step is to collect expressions of interest and examples where this approach would bring benefit or is being considered. Please do get in touch if you are looking at this or feel that you could benefit from this, so we can assess interest and, if appropriate start to build a case for providing this centrally in one form or another firstname.lastname@example.org
There are lots of other systems that will do a similar job of web conferencing such as Adobe Connect, Big Blue Button but if you are really keen for a demo of Collaborate then go their website and sign up for a free 30 day demo: http://www.blackboard.com/platforms/collaborate/overview.aspx