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Blackboard Collaborate: Teachers' experiences

University of Groningen Teachers’ experiences


"It is completely OK when it fails the first time… we can continue to try together"

Mohamed Khalil
Mohamed Khalil

Mohamed Khalil - Modern Foreign Languages Section, Language Centre UG.

At first I felt a bit scared and unsure about using an online platform for my teaching. I really like the personal connection and am not a personal fan of social media in general. On the other hand, I felt I should try it, before judging it.

My first online class did not go flawlessly and I felt disappointed. Of course, I used Nestor and Collaborate, but several things did not go the way I thought it would or wanted. Fortunately I did record the session so I could review it and learn from the experience. That really helped me out.

Students had been able to hear me and I eventually did do the lecture I wanted, but that was about all I could do. I did however feel I wanted to learn more and sought help with my colleagues Jeroen (van Engen) and Tessa (Hummel) who are more experienced in this field. They took the time to help me and we exchanged ideas. So, step by step, I started to learn how to do more.

The first time, a lot of things took too much time, but during my second class I knew how to do more things: how to share a file, use a whiteboard (to teach how to write Arabic letters you need a whiteboard!), how to divide students in different groups for speaking exercises, how to go from one group to the other to provide them with feedback. I also started to feel good. I started relaxing and making jokes with the students.

Now everything was perfect. it was lovely to be able to do this. I’ve given 3 classes up to today. And, even though there is a distance, I actually started to enjoy it. It has become a good experience.

Finally, I think we also need to remember that for our students it is a learning process as well. During the first class I did, I also noticed they were figuring things out like: how to mute the microphone, set up a session. We need to give attention to the students as well. As a teacher it is your job to talk to them, that it is completely OK when it fails the first time… we can continue to try together, feel free to ask any questions. Share your own uncertainty, we may both make mistakes, we can both learn.


“Use online classes, it's great! Do a trial run and make sure somebody is watching your baby”

Lisa Gaufman
Lisa Gaufman

Lisa Gaufman- Faculty of Arts

I taught 4 groups of students online, between 14-17 people each. Some students felt a bit uneasy about the transition and were reluctant to engage. Maybe also in part due to the fact that the session was being recorded even though I asked them whether everybody was ok with it, but most students did great! I tried to make some jokes to lighten the mood, but it's hard to keep up the morale. The pandemic causes a lot of anxiety, some of my students were also a bit ill, some international students were not sure when they could return home or if they would be able to make rent. This is a difficult time for everyone. Most students did not switch on their cameras and the ones who did, switched them off after they saw that the majority are black screens. It was difficult to gage the reaction to my input and it was sometimes slightly uncomfortable to wait for somebody to raise their hand and answer a question.

Luckily, setting up the Collaborate session was easy and intuitive. What I did was a trial session with my co-teaching colleagues Dr. De Jonge and Dr. Rachel Johnston-White where we practiced "raising hands" and sharing screens, whiteboards and presentations. After the dry run it was much easier.

For the actual class, I pretty much transferred the regular class to the virtual format. The most challenging part was to move a planned debate on political correctness into the virtual classroom. So I asked the opposing debate teams to split into 2 google documents where they sketched out their arguments and during the debate itself asked them to restrict themselves to one argument per person. This is where the "raise hand" function was vital and it worked like a charm, or like ping-pong :) A poll was also useful. It was easy to keep track of the answers and the students could see the results right away without counting hands in class. I could also target students with specific questions because the list of participants with their respective responses is right there. Presenting worked the same as in a real classroom, just less walking around and gesticulating. It's hard to talk to a screen, but you get used to that.

The chat function was also important. Given that I teach language specific classes (Russian), this is where I typed in the new words. If some students had issues with their audio, they could also type in their responses. Emojis rule!

The most difficult part for me was that I employ project-based learning techniques with reduced amount of frontal instruction and with virtual classrooms this is more difficult to do, even though a group work function is super helpful.

Still I would say to colleagues from the UG: Use it, it's great! Do a trial run and make sure somebody is watching your baby :) Also, warn your students about a potential disruption to the "virtual classroom". It was not the case this time, but it's just hats off to my partner who kept our son entertained.


“For students it is reassuring to know that we all are socially distancing, but also keeping our head cool”

Wander Jager
Wander Jager

Wander Jager - University College

I started teaching on the complexities of a contagious disease a few weeks ago, as part of my course on social complexity and networks at the University College Groningen. Having followed the novel Coronavirus outbreak since December, I realized last week that the moment had arrived to practice what I had preached a few weeks before: avoid group meetings. Hence I decided to go online, and I contacted a colleague at Educational Support and Innovation, someone I collaborated with in developing a Massive Online Open Course.

I was advised to make use of Collaborate Ultra in Nestor, and set up an online session. Because it was a presentation day for a group of students, we tested the tool a day in advance. Assigning students the "moderator" role gave them the opportunity to present their powerpoint presentations and show youtube videos.

The presentation went very well, also because everybody kept muted when not speaking. The chat function was used to ask questions, and that worked fine. I did miss the intensity of the discussions we have when we physically meet in our group of 25. But overall, I am happy that we have a system that allows us to keep in contact now we have to avoid physical interaction. Tomorrow I have two sessions with students, and the meetings were set up in about a minute, that is how easy it is. For the rest of my appointments, Skype is my friend. I hope that this helps some of you to keep in contact with our students, because for them it is reassuring to know that we all are socially distancing, but also keeping our head cool. I would like to wish everybody all the luck in these turbulent times.


“Do not be afraid of the unknown'"

Harjo de Poel
Harjo de Poel

Harjo de Poel - Faculty of Medical Sciences

Setting up a Blackboard Collaborate session went very well. I had 2 hours to search for an online alternative for my class that I had to give, but I got it up and running in half an hour. Once you're in, you simply start to try some stuff, bit of trial-and-error (which was actually mostly trial-and-success). As such, the students were also acquainted within 10 minutes or so. I taught 10 students, so it was a small group.

After creating the Collaborate session, I posted an announcement via the Nestor course environment first, explaining the procedure, how to log in and some rules. What I consider as very important is to set some rules before starting the online class. For instance: agree on 'Ether-discipline': mute mics when not talking etc. When the lecturer is already in discussion with someone else, do not interfere , but first 'raise your virtual hand'. And use ear/headphones to prevent audio feedback loops.

For this particular class the option to share screens was vital. This worked perfectly. It was easy to find out that with a simple click each student could be made 'presenter'. I ran the session with a student assistent, so we sometimes had to communicate with students at the same time, hence the parallel groups were also quite convenient.

Students were quite enthusiastic about the tool. Especially 'given the circumstances' it all went surprisingly well and fluent. Surprisingly I did not encounter much difference with teaching a face-to-face class. I do have to say that the setting of the class (computer practical) was quite fit for this tool. I did not even have to make big changes in what and how I teach.

What I mainly learned from the first attempt is that the main constraint is the connection quality and speed of each user's home network, and settings of his/her own computer. Hence, everyone needs to check for themselves whether and how it works before the class starts (and search for help themselves if things do not work properly). As a lecturer you can facilitate this by providing everyone the opportunity to 'play around' for a while first by opening the Collaborate session ahead of time.

My advice for my colleagues: do not be afraid of the unknown. And try to be as flexible as possible, both you and the students, especially in these times. Everyone knows it can be better, but also that we simply have to go for alternatives. Give your students and yourself (!) some time to get acquainted with things: It is not problematic if things will not go flawless right away, everyone will understand. Important: Communicate this with the students (to soothe them).

Last modified:20 April 2020 2.50 p.m.
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