Blackboard Collaborate is our supported webinar (online seminar) platform, allowing for synchronous text, voice and video chat, remote delivery of presentations and real-time discussion activities. In this case study, we look at the way that the Education Department used Collaborate Ultra to enable both remote participants and a remote presenter to interact with an on-campus workshop.
Key words: blended synchronous learning, webinar, web conferencing, collaborate, collaborate ultra
Case study courtesy of Dr Zoe Handley, Senior Lecturer in Education and workshop organiser.
Aims and Objectives
The use of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra aimed to:
- Allow remote presenter to present at an in-person workshop, to both remote and in-room attendees
- Allow remote attendees to view and interact with both the remote and in-room presentations
- Create recordings of sessions for dissemination post-event
- Provide a smooth, professional experience for all involved.
In June 2017 the Department of Education held an all-day, on-campus workshop: FLOW – Fluency in Oral interaction Workshop. The workshop was split into two parts: a morning training session on PRAAT language analytics software, and an afternoon session of four consecutive PowerPoint presentations. Each presentation was given by a language acquisition researcher, detailing challenges they’d faced when measuring oral fluency. Each presentation was followed by a brief Q&A session.
One of the four afternoon speakers was not able to attend the workshop in person and needed to present remotely from North America. There was also a requirement for the workshop to be open to remote attendees. Webinar platform Collaborate Ultra was used to facilitate the connection between the in-room and remote workshop members in the afternoon session; no such set up was required for the campus-only morning session.
Blackboard’s Collaborate Ultra webinar platform was selected for use in the “hybrid” workshop as:
- Workshop organiser was already somewhat familiar with it
- Runs in-browser, no need to download additional files to access
- Is one of the two centrally supported webinar platforms at UoY, the other being Google Hangouts
- Hangouts rejected as limited to only 25 remote attendees, requires Google account to use and doesn’t allow session recording by default (have to use “Hangouts on Air“).
Collaborate is designed for use by single users connecting via their own, individual device. Having many users connect to a Collaborate session via one device (as facilitated by our in-room, on-campus workshop setup) was an atypical, “hybrid” scenario requiring a much higher level of organisation and management than a standard webinar session.
- Workshop organiser reached out to the E-Learning Development Team (ELDT) for guidance on facilitating the remote element of workshop
- Email correspondence used to help ELDT ascertain the desired workshop set up and requirements
- ELDT created VLE site to house Collaborate session, also created checklist for organiser to use both before and during workshop
- Demo workshop session organised with ELDT, workshop organiser and remote presenter attending. This demo session was used to test the physical room and equipment configurations (hardware and software), as well as allow presenters some practice with Collaborate.
The demo workshop session was then held as planned, using both the physical room and equipment that was planned for use on the actual day of the workshop:
- Physical room found suitable, had good quality projector and speaker set up with available HDMI connectors
- Set up and tested organiser laptop with Collaborate, wireless lapel microphone and HDMI connection to in-room projector/speakers
- Remote presenter joined Collaborate session, tested own microphone and uploaded/presented PowerPoint file
- Collaborate Ultra session’s configuration set: participant audio and video sharing disabled, text chat only. Participants blocked from drawing on shared files. Visual and audio notifications disabled on organiser laptop to limit interruption of presentations on the day
- Agreement from ELDT that a team member would attend workshop both in person and via Collaborate on the day, to assist with managing session.
Following up from the success of the demo workshop session, organiser published advert for workshop which included a Google Form to collect contact details of interested remote participants. These contacts were sent joining instructions including a direct guest link to webinar room and a link to Collaborate participant guide.
On day of workshop:
Half an hour before afternoon workshop session started:
- Powerpoint slidedecks for all presenters uploaded into Collaborate room
- Organiser laptop connected to lapel microphone and to in-room projector via HDMI, displayed PowerPoint slides through Collaborate
- Remote presenter given presenter rights as they entered the room
- First presenter given lapel microphone
- Welcome slide shared in Collaborate, detailing how to access text chat function.
- In-person participants (n≈20) entered physical meeting room, remote participants (n≈5) joined through Collaborate
- Remote participants greeted via text chat as they entered the Collaborate room
- Session recording started
- Presentations began. Responsibility of moderating Collaborate text chat throughout was shared between the attending ELDT member and session organiser (when not presenting herself). Same moderators also switched between each slide for the presenters, to stop them being required to remain stood by organiser’s laptop
- Each presenter presented in turn with short Q&A sessions in between. Questions were taken from both in-room and remote attendees
- In-person attendees spoke their questions into the passed-around lapel microphone
- Remote attendees typed questions into Collaborate text chat
- Presenter repeated each question before answering
- Session recording ended.
Debrief session was held with session organiser post-event. Feedback was generally positive -particularly considering this was our first time running such a “hybrid” event- but there were clear improvements that could be made in future scenarios.
What worked well?
- Running a demo workshop to prepare/test both equipment and presenters. Great opportunity to identify and rectify potential issues in advance
- Google Forms was a good, easy-to-use tool for collecting remote participant details
- ELDT-provided templates for joining instruction email and “welcome” slide were well received; two less resources for organiser to create in advance
- ELDT-provided checklist for organiser tasks: the “before the day” material was well received and used, however the “on the day” section was less helpful – see below
- Having a dedicated staff member moderating the text chat in Collaborate was a good start (but having more could be preferable)
- In-person attendees generally gave positive feedback, enjoyed opportunity to join with people from all over the world and “do something a bit different”
- Smoothest presentation experience for all was from the remote presenter.
What didn’t work well?
- Collaborate Ultra does not allow sharing/playing of audio files, workaround had to be implemented: pasting direct URLs to sound files into text chat for remote participants
- ELDT-provided checklist for organiser tasks: the “on the day” material was too long/detailed to allow quick usage during the workshop. A shorter, quicker, “one page” reference guide would be preferable – see below
- Remembering to start/stop recording of session. Organiser remembered in this instance, but Ultra platform does not provide tools to prompt this activity
- Remote presenter disliked lack of immediate feedback from in-room audience when talking – Used to seeing their listeners (eye contact, heads nodding)
- In-person presenters disliked inability of Collaborate to work with clickers to switch PowerPoint slides
- In-person presenters sometimes forgot to pass microphone to audience members during Q&As, and sometimes forgot to repeat question before answering
- Remote participants had a good experience of the presentations themselves (particularly the remote presenter), but found Q&A sections hard to follow due to microphone management
- We were advised post-event that one remote participant based in China had been unable to connect to the session. Collaborate is not currently blocked in China, believe slow internet connection or other technical issue at fault but unfortunately had no opportunity for follow up.
Transferable lessons learned
The “Multi-way” communication type that this hybrid set up facilitates is difficult to manage smoothly without multiple tool-knowledgeable moderators being present in both the physical room and in the online webinar room. Consider having at least two or three such moderators, depending on session size:
- One moderator to cover text chat and transcribe/share audience questions
- Another to manage microphone etiquette, to limit opportunities for audio feedback, ensure speakers hold/wear microphone, etc
- Another to assist presenters with slide transitions*
*Note about slide transitions: This is only a requirement if your speakers need to roam away from the organiser laptop and the platform you’re using does not support clickers. Collaborate Ultra does have a “share application” feature which would allow direct sharing of PowerPoint and thus clicker-usage, but this option can cause session lag for remote attendees with poor connections. Use with caution.
Carefully prepare the session in advance:
- Do not attempt to improvise a hybrid session at short notice on the back of an already-planned physical session
- Run a demo session in the physical room, using the same hardware and software that will be used on the day. Have presenters and moderators attend demo if possible
- Pick a suitable webinar platform for your session, particularly when attendees may be located in countries with heavy internet restrictions or low internet speeds
- Upload any required files into the Collaborate room in advance
- Consider setting up a live webcam stream of the physical room for remote attendees; increases feeling of involvement and helps explain any un-expected noises or breaks in transmission. Also beneficial for remote presenters to see their audience
- Train presenters to use the webinar platform, give them opportunity to practice with the platform in own time
- Provide organisers with checklist for pre-session tasks, and a short, one page guide for use in-session
- Consider building in reminders to start/stop session recordings within PowerPoint slides, or other file types being presented
- “Welcome” slide deck template [Google Slides]
- “Joining Instructions” email template [Google Doc]
- Original checklist created the workshop organiser in this case study [Google Doc]
- Newly created, short replacement guides:
- Find out more about webinars and using Blackboard Collaborate:
- You can learn more about the topics discussed here in our TEL Handbook:
- Contact the E-Learning Development Team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more
- Visit our Development Opportunities page to view upcoming webinars on a range of TEL topics and to access recordings of past ones
- Follow us on Twitter for TEL-related news and tips.
Case Study last updated: February 2018