Truthfully, as part of my job, I’m pre-ordained to encourage the use of online modes of course delivery. But to be completely honest, the first time I attended a meeting on Blackboard Collaborate, I hated it. I hated it because it was outside of any way in which I had learned in the past. It seemed too informal in some way. I have evolved to understand that part of the appeal of it is indeed the informal nature of the delivery. Can all courses benefit from online delivery? Perhaps no (but we’re working on it…), but in the cases where it works, it really works.
Blackboard Collaborate is an online collaboration platform providing web conferencing, mobile collaboration, instant messaging, and voice authoring capabilities. It combines web-conferencing with the ability of a moderator to present materials and have interaction with the participants. Users can interact in a virtual classroom using a variety of tools built right into the interface. It’s available from your desktop, as well as any tablets and mobile devices. You can attend class absolutely anywhere! Convenience isn’t the only reason I love going to class in Blackboard Collaborate though.
1) The session is recorded. I can go back after and review anything we talked about, any PowerPoint slides that were shown, hear any of the interactions between the instructor and participants and can access those recordings again at any time. This is great for folks like me who get distracted and like to go back and listen to/read the main points again and again until they make sense. It’s also great for those who can’t complete the entire class for one reason or another, but want to engage with the material afterward.
2) I am encouraged to interact with my fellow classmates. There are various ways to interact within the Blackboard Collaborate interface- video, audio, chat, whiteboard collaboration- and I find that some of my most engaged learning of the material comes from the “oh I never thought of it that way…” ideas I read in the chat lines from my fellow participants. Sitting in your traditional classroom, you are often afforded specific times to group together and discuss what you’ve learned. This has the potential to be kind of stifling at times to students who can’t verbalize a point they thought of five minutes ago, or they may be too reserved to voice their ideas out loud in a group setting face-to-face. However, the relative ‘anonymity’ of a Blackboard Collaborate session takes that apprehension away and provides a few options of communication. And even for those of us who don’t hesitate to speak up, you can do so in the chat without interrupting the lesson. Perhaps someone was thinking along the same lines as you and just happened to read your post. Better yet, maybe someone read your post and disagrees- now you can discuss, in real time, without disrupting the presented materials. The instructor has the option as well to bring your discussion into the larger class forum.
3) I’ve found great camaraderie with my fellow participants. Often there is someone in the session who requires some more clarification on a particular subject. I’ve watched as fellow participants step in and, in a sense, teach their peers. This is brilliant stuff. I’ve been able to take my interactions with participants from my Blackboard Collaborate sessions and grow my relationships with these people over other social media platforms- I chat with them on Twitter, we email about similar interests and projects etc. Sure, this happens in the traditional classroom settings as well, but I find the online setting encourages even the more hesitant people to become more integrated with their classmates.
Blackboard Collaborate is simple to use. It’s very intuitive in its processes and doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise to be able to jump on and attend a session. Some of our colleagues are using Blackboard Collaborate at University of Windsor to make it easier for their students to get access to office hours, or meeting times. Some are using it as an online meeting and collaborative environment to meet group project objectives. The possibilities for it are vast, and once you’re able to attend a session using Blackboard Collaborate, you’ll understand what I mean when I say there are reasons I love going to class in Blackboard Collaborate over a traditional classroom!