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Blackboard Collaborate: Setting up your online lectures

In all cases we advise you to first practice (for example, with some colleagues) before switching to an online session. Be aware well in advance how you can share a powerpoint, respond to chat messages or how to use the camera and microphone. It typically requires about 10-30 minutes (depending on your digital skills) and you will feel much more confident hosting your online session.

Before you start

Setting up online teaching in Blackboard Collaborate requires a good structure. Some basic tips (see also Harvard University - Best Practices):

  1. Always set and express ground rules prior and at the start of online teaching: who can speak when? How can students voice (or write) their questions? At what point will you answer/ address those questions? Having a set of ground rules greatly improves the quality of any online communication. Remember, this might be new for both you and the students so spend some time talking through the process.
  2. Determine your priorities: what is at the top of your list of things you really want to achieve in your session? What is less important, or what could be skipped? Making these choices and communicating them to students in advance helps the proceeding of the online class. This avoids confusion and helps focus all participants' attention on the course goals.
  3. Use the various possibilities of Blackboard Collaborate. Check out features such as presenting, recording, polling, break-out sessions, etc. and ask yourself if they can help you reach your goal. Prepare polls and presentations in advance.
  4. ‘You help me, I help you’. Especially with large groups, having a colleague act as a moderator can be very helpful. They can help with the technical moderation (for instance mute accidental ‘open ‘ microphones which interfere) but also for instance collecting questions for you to answer (so that you are not constantly having to check the chat box). In return you can later help your colleague with their sessions!
  5. Turn off sound notifications in Collaborate in all cases. They become annoying very quickly when, with every entry of a student, or every sentence they type in the chatbox, an (audio) notification goes off on your end.
  6. Record your session (and tell this to the students). You can always decide later how and when you want to use it, but can only record once!
  7. Stress to students that they log in 10 minutes prior to your session. Nothing as annoying as participants slowly coming in when you have already started.
  8. Resist the temptation to be the only one talking for 1-2 hours (even in large groups!). Having to listen to someone speak for a long period of time online is very challenging for your students, regardless of the subject or your experience as speaker. Remember the medium is different than face-to-face. Though you may find it challenging, do try to incorporate moments for questions (well-structured), polling or break-out sessions.

For a quick guide on how to use breakout groups in Collaborate, you can watch this video:

Students do their own group work (<10)

  1. Set up a Collaborate session and create breakout rooms for each group. See the quickstart guide.
  2. Even in small groups, establish the ground rules.
  3. Consider using break-out sessions (sessions where students are dispersed into smaller groups for discussion or working on a question) and visiting the break-out sessions and check what they are discussing.
  4. You can call students back to the main room if you want to discuss something with the whole group.

Small groups (<30)

  1. Set up a Collaborate session and create breakout rooms for each group.
  2. Even in small groups, establish the ground rules.
  3. Consider using break-out sessions (sessions where students are dispersed into smaller groups for discussion or working on a question) and visiting the break-out sessions and check what they are discussing.
  4. Build in moments where students can ‘raise their hand’ for questions. When a group is not too big, you can also choose to have students raise their hand while you are talking.
  5. Build in moments for group discussions and moderate who can speak first (raise hand, let the person speak, have others react to that). If you pick one person to start, you can lower other peoples hands for that moment yourself.

Large groups (>30-250)

  1. For large groups having a colleague as moderator helps and collects any questions and voices them to you at a certain moment. This means the students do not go on microphone (you can even deselect this in the settings).
  2. Setting ground rules for students becomes very important such as:
    • Do not activate your microphone unasked
    • Do not use your webcam
    • Be very explicit on how and when you can take questions and answer them. Always have them raise hands and predetermine when they are allowed to do so.
  3. Consider using break-out sessions (sessions where students are dispersed into smaller groups for discussion or working on a question) and have your colleague help you to visit the break-out sessions and check what they are discussing. Or let students summarize their output in the central session.
  4. Use the polling option to collect opinions or to test whether students understood what you have just explained.

Very large groups (>250)

  1. For very large groups advice is to use the same solution as for large groups with the following adjustments: record the session, communicate to all students that possibly not all students can attend the live session but watch afterwards.
  2. Set up one or two seperate Q&A Collaborate sessions for students who could not attend the live session.

Students giving presentations

  1. Have the presenting students log in 30 minutes prior to the session.
  2. Change their role from participant to presenter.
  3. Upload their powerpoint through file sharing for them. (This ensures there are no multiple versions of the same powerpoint in the file sharing box).
  4. Only the presenter(s) use microphone during presentation.
  5. Don’t forget to mute your own microphone during their presentation and to activate it after.
  6. Moderate the discussion or questions after the presentation for them (let students raise hands, give them turns, have the presenter(s) answer).
  7. When several groups or students present, keep time for them (or use the platform’s timer setting!), make sure the student(s) who just presented mute mic’s afterwards and the next student(s) turn theirs on.
Last modified:02 September 2020 3.49 p.m.
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