By Chang Ge – Lecturer/ Digital Lead – Lincoln International Business School – Staff Profile
& Daniel Wakefield – Engagement Officer – Digital Education – Staff Profile
The recent weather conditions have, unfortunately, kept staff and students away from campus. However, this didn’t discourage the digital education team into cancel their Digital Education Sub Group (DESG) meeting. The team decided to use collaborate ultra, a video conferencing software, to hold the meeting over distance. This tool is already being utilised by several academics across university, especially when working with work-based distance learners.
Chang Ge, from the Lincoln International Business School, has had experience with using this software with her work based distance learners. Here are her opinions of the tool.
“The Work-Based Distance Learning team in University of Lincoln has used Blackboard Collaborate and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra extensively since 2015 in the context of supporting work-based distance learners. In the blended student-centred approach the WBDL team has adopted, we have found that it is an effective tool to engage with our learners online. It has proved to be an essential and effective tool to deliver online inductions, invite students to attend online drop-in sessions and deliver online tutorials.
Similar to Skype and Google Hangout, this tool allows us to use a webcam and audio facility to communicate with our students. Other functions such as Poll, Whiteboard, Screen Sharing and Screen Annotation have allowed us making live online sessions as interactive as, or sometimes even more interactive than in face-to-face sessions.
Blackboard Collaborate Ultra has some clear advantages on establishing active learning dynamics over many other online communication tools, for example, the poll can be used to quickly identify a yes or no answer from the students’ group. The whiteboard allows participants to write comments and raise questions that can be shared synchronously; the breakout rooms are available for students to work in separate groups and participate in a smaller group discussion with their peers. To overcome the geographic barrier and to allow WBDL students to flexibly access the online sessions, sessions are recorded and made available on Blackboard. This tool is not only a necessity for our learners to receive online tutor support, but also is essential for information acquisition and skills development.
Blackboard Collaborate Ultra has a user-friendly interface, the design of it has minimised the training it requires. It does not require installation: to make an online session happen, a link can be generated by the administrator, users can just click and connect. Students can play an important role in building the online community to facilitate sessions and run presentations live as part of online assessment activities. The same links that have been set up can be saved and used multiple times to allow activities taking place in virtual classrooms/meeting rooms.
Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is accessible by all users in University of Lincoln. To fulfil its potential, and see how it can be used widely and flexibly to support our learners and colleagues, why not test it in your own learning, teaching and working context – perhaps starting with a small group of students or colleagues, exploring those basic functions in a user friendly environment? Holding an online team meeting, having a 1:1 discussion or perhaps shadowing an experienced member to observe an online session. The WBDL team welcomes colleagues’ contact and would like further discussions with colleagues to explore and identify effective ways to incorporate technology in virtual classrooms and in online learning.”
The Digital Education Sub Group found this experience informative and a good alternative to meeting face to face. We had to place some protocols into place to ensure that the meeting gave everyone a chance to discuss and share their opinions. One of the useful features was sharing files and documents on everyone else’s screens. We could use the tools provided to highlight certain areas of the document to help highlight elements from our discussion.
The group had the option to share document and opinions via microphones and the instant chat feature. The person leading the section found it useful to ask people to type their questions and could use this as a reference to expand the discussion. We were also able to raise our hands if we had a question to allow audio control to be given over to that individual. These simple protocols helped the meeting run efficiently and smoothly.
Some elements which were learnt from this session mostly revolved around having sufficient facilities, away from the office, to support this style of meeting. Mostly having a headset and sufficient bandwidth to sustain the conversation.
This digital meeting shows how each tool we have can be used for a variety of purposes. Whether using it to collaborate with students or staff, this tool has a lot of practical uses. The digital team would like to run more meetings like this in the future to help support and encourage digital practice across the university.
If you are interested in learning how Chang Ge uses her collaborate ultra sessions to support and enhance students learning. You can watch a presentation about it here. :Chang Ge Presentation