Engaging learners with Blackboard Collaborate

How the Inclusion Team is using our web conferencing platform to engage students, enhance communication and improve outcomes.

Anne McLoughlin is  the leader of Edge Hill’s dyslexia programme.  The programme is a blended course – mostly online – delivered via our Blackboard VLE and the Collaborate web conferencing system, with some face to face conference days.

I interviewed Anne in September.  This 10 minute recording* is a mini-case study:

[eshare version of the recording and transcript: http://www.eshare.edgehill.ac.uk/5767/]

Here are some highlights:

  • One of the aims of using Collaborate was to give a more engaging experience for remote learners;
  • Sessions delivered with Collaborate are recorded – thus students are able to re-visit the sessions;
  • Collaborate is used for student inductions – with presentations by Learning Services staff;
  • It’s also used for tutorials – attempting to give an equivalent experience to distance students;
  • Issues revolve around students confidence with technology and ‘Java’[2];
  • The Collaborate mobile app has been very reliable;
  • The LTD guides have been useful [3];
  • The support from LTD has been “really good” [4];
  • The feedback from students indicates that Collaborate has made them feel part of the University community.

And, finally, Anne’s advice to staff: “Have a go …, perhaps a small number [of students] to start with, and then just go for it!”  And really finally, Anne’s last word: “I love it …”

BestofTEL_SMALLAnne McLoughlin
Senior Lecturer
Faculty of Education
Professional Development
Extension:  7163
Telephone:  01695 657163
Email: mclougha@edgehill.ac.uk


Anne would be pleased to discuss her approach to using Collaborate with anyone at Edge Hill – her contact details are above.

If you have more general questions about the Collaborate service or any of the tools within the Learning Edge Suite contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on LTDSupport@edgehill.ac.uk or 01695 650754 x7754.

*Note that the recording was made on my mobile phone – illustrating the quality that is possible from a device most of us have in our pockets.

[1] Note that I’m creating a blog post on how to have a virtual office link at the end of your signature – so watch out for that in a few days time – or contact one of the LTD team if you want to do it now.

[2] Blackboard have removed the need for Java in the next version of Collaborate.

[3] We have many guides and resources – here are some that we understand have been very useful to colleagues:

Building and teaching in Learning Edge
Blackboard Collaborate: Audio and Video Equipment (Device Guide and Recommendations)
Planning Collaborate Session: An Overview
Introduction by Blackboard: Collaborate Web Conferencing Online Orientation
The LTD Best of TEL Blogs – such as: Collaborating all over the world

[4] Developing Digital Excellence sessions – such as:
Basic Introduction to Blackboard Collaborate (Student Services Webinar) 22/07/14

Collaborating all over the world

Using Blackboard Collaborate to support students based outside the UK

Pam Nicol has a number of roles at the University – this posting involves her work on the Masters in International Higher Education. Pam has been using Collaborate since it was introduced to the MIHE team about four years ago, and previously to that used the Wimba system.  This piece is derived from an interview I did with Pam on 6th August 2014.

“I teach on the Masters in International Higher Education – specifically a series of six sessions about strategic management, via Collaborate, to students located all over the world. Collaborate has been really useful – allowing me to present live and to recorded the sessions for students who can’t join at the time.

Bb Collab Image

Blackboard Collaborate ©

Collaborate is a great piece of technology – it’s been very reliable – it hasn’t let me down once!

When I was first asked to teach using web conferencing technologies I was quite nervous, but quite quickly it became evident how easy it was to use – to the extent that an IT novice like myself could use the technology quite effectively.

My introduction to the Collaborate system was hardly ideal – consisting of a quick run through from colleagues about half an hour before I was due to give a session. Needless to say, there were a few problems with that first session, but now I have a big ‘Press the Record Button’ above my monitor as a reminder!

The structure of my sessions are an hour for a lecture, then an hour for follow-up questions / individual tutorial. The six sessions are delivered around 5:30pm, for an hour, with tutorials / questions between 6:30 and 7:30. The twilight timing seems to fit in with students across multiple time zones.

Students use the mic or the chat window to ask questions during the session, and I remain online for up to an hour after the lecture to pick up on individual questions that students don’t want to raise in front of the group.

One of the main issues I’ve had to overcome is finding a quiet space – a shared office is not ideal. My currently favourite location is one of the small rooms in the SIC – as beyond 5pm it gets very quiet and I can borrow their headphones and camera.

Other issues I’ve experienced is unsuitable equipment that students or visiting lectures might try to use. We’ve also had some issues with visiting lecturers using Mac equipment. However, on the whole we’ve not had many issues with student’s equipment – noting that the instructions that Blackboard and Edge Hill have put in place to support students is very good (http://www.eshare.edgehill.ac.uk/1642/)– most students who are experiencing problems try to solve it themselves using the guides before they contact me.  A new guide is available via eShare on equipment that has been tested by Learning Services and is consdered to work well with Blackboard Collaborate (http://www.eshare.edgehill.ac.uk/5262/).

I’ve also noticed that teams in the Faculty of Health are more ready to try new technologies such as Collaborate.

I don’t think we would be able to deliver the qualification without Collaborate – I can’t see a way of getting students from all over the world involved in a class discussion except through web conferencing technologies.

My advice to staff thinking of doing some sessions with their students is just to have a go – and don’t get put off by the first few steps (that can be a little daunting for the novice). Also, write a script and print this out to have with you as you deliver – this is very useful for ‘filling in’ when there are gaps in the flow – and include comments such as what the weather’s been like recently. And if you are in a shared office, find somewhere else, or book a classroom.

My advice to the institution would be to see if Collaborate might be used to make courses that are not viable due to low numbers open to a wider audience.

And finally, one thing I’d really like is a feature to enable me to have a room available to invite students from anywhere in – not needing to setup a course area for them.”


BestofTEL_SMALLPam Nicol
Learning Facilitator
Student Services

Telephone:  01695 584190 x 4190
Email: nicolp@edgehill.ac.uk


It’s evident that Pam is very enthusiastic about the Collaborate technology – and she is demonstrating excellent practice in terms of delivery and recording. Pam would be pleased to discuss this with anyone at Edge Hill – her contact details are above.

I have also helped Pam achieve her final request above – using a tutor room in a course area. I’ll be creating a guide and blog post about this technique in a later posting, but it you want to know about this or any of the tools within the Learning Edge Suite contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on LTDSupport@edgehill.ac.uk or x7754.

What Equipment do I Need to Collaborate?

Classroom PCs with Blackboard Collaborate Logo insetBlackboard Collaborate is a real-time web conferencing and online learning tool that can be used to support teaching and learning and other collaborative projects, and is generating a great deal of interest within Faculties and Departments at Edge Hill University. There has been a major increase in its use for taught sessions, meetings and student support.Close-up of Plantronics Headset

Learning Technology Development (LTD) is often asked, “what equipment do I need to fully participate in a Blackboard Collaborate session?”  So we have come-up with a document and resources that allow you to “try before you buy”.

The eShare guide (LTD5032: Blackboard Collaborate: Audio and Video Equipment) outlines best practices and suggests equipment recommended by LTD based on our own experience of using it with Blackboard Collaborate.

Open boc with Blackboard Collaborate logo floating aboveNow, the try before you buy element comes from the investment made by Learning Services in quality equipment that you can borrow from the Library and testing it prior to your own or departmental purchase.

Want to learn more about Blackboard Collaborate and the benefits for staff and students who need real-time virtual collaboration.  Contact your LTDO for more information, consultation and any training you wish to explore.

Martin Baxter



Martin Baxter
Learning Technology Development Officer



Are you sitting comfortably? Start your dissertation the easy way!

Are you getting ready to start your dissertation? Here is an opportunity to learn some new skills in a place that suits you!

Not finding the results you require when searching online, on the library catalogue or journal databases? Then you need to attend the live webinar to gain some new skills which will improve your search strategy.

The session is called “Finding information for your dissertation” and will run online using Blackboard’s webinar tool Collaborate. You will need to book your place at least 24hrs prior to the session and ensure that you have set up your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone to access the session. Once you are booked onto the session you will be sent all the information you need to get set up. Please contact us by email if you are having any issues or phone the Learning Services Helpdesk on 01695 584286.

We will look at why information skills are important, systematic planning for conducting a search and managing the search process and results. This will be demonstrated via application sharing and web tours.

Participating in online webinars is a recognised digital skill for continued professional development, so it is well worth attending just for the experience!

“Finding information for your dissertation”
Thursday 27 March 2014, 3:30 pm
To book go to tinyurl.com/q5ovjwj

A Tidal Wave of Discussion …

How active discussion produced outstanding* results.

By David Callaghan

Online discussion forums are widely-used in online and blended courses at Edge Hill and increasingly course teams have been exploiting the benefits of these asynchronous online communication tools to support their face-to-face students’ learning. When used effectively, discussion forums have been found to support reflection, deep thinking, peer and collaborative learning (and more), but the challenges of stimulating the ‘right kind’ of participation (in any course type) presents an interesting topic for new and experienced academics to consider.

I’ve discussed, interviewed and blogged about online discussion before – but always as an ‘interested’ observer of practice – rather than a ‘committed’ stakeholder. This reminds me of Storming Norman Schwarzkopf’s definition of commitment (he got international leaders to ‘commit’ 750,000 infantry to Operation Desert Storm) – his definition:

“If you want to know the difference between being involved and being committed think of a ham and egg breakfast.  The chicken is involved but the pig’s committed.”

Schwarzkopf in Bannister (2013:3m15s)

Having recently led a dissertation module for a large cohort of 60 online students, I’d like to share my personal experience of being a ‘committed’ discussion board leader.

It didn’t start well.  I had struggled to get any useful discussion in similar ‘dissertation’ modules – perhaps because the students were focussed on their own research and didn’t envisage much use knowing what others’ were doing. Further, at the first conference day (in January) when the students were physically present, my question about what type of technology would help their learning elicited little interest.

A good start

YouTubeWelcomeAgainst this backdrop, my eternal enthusiasm and experience as a Learning Technologist, which told me the right use of this technology could make a difference, prompted my ‘commitment’ to kick in. In a few hours I had:

  • Created a couple of discussion boards (or as Blackboard calls them, Forums);
  • Encouraged students to contribute via the Forum descriptions;
  • Very quickly ‘thrown together’ a two minute video to welcome students to the module –  and within the first 20 seconds has asked them to subscribe to the General and Introduction Chapter discussions;
  • Sent out an announcement (ticking ‘Send a copy of this announcement immediately’) to all students with a link to the welcome video.

The first post arrived about an hour after my announcement went out – with a student offering a YouTube video on ‘Praise’ that they mentioned at the induction a few days earlier.  A trickle soon turned into a torrent, and within a few days the General and Introduction forums became very active with around half the students making postings to the forums.  During the first three months there were over 1,000 postings to the discussion boards – creating what I regard as a very effective support mechanism for distance students.  At the end of the course over two thirds of the cohort were active participants in the discussions and the cohort had made a total of 2,573 posts.


From observing excellent practice in the Faculty of Education by Deborah Humphreys (see earlier post: ‘The secrets of Online Discussion’) and Wendy Dixon (UG Professional Development) what comes across clearly is the need to have a presence (Garrison, et al., 2000) – checking the forums frequently and replying promptly to posts (Hodges & Cowan, 2012) – perhaps with further questions or thoughts to encourage further discussion.  As I had subscribed to the two forums I was notified the instant someone posted – so frequent checking wasn’t necessary – and I was able to respond very quickly to postings, especially if some redirection was required.

My driver for responding quickly was informed by Gilly Salmon’s (2004) model suggesting that tutors should be very involved in the early stages of an online discussion and that as time goes on the tutor can move from being a leader to become more of a facilitator and ‘encourager’ chiming with Sugata Mitra’s ‘Granny Cloud’.  My aim was to step back and allow the community to respond to posts.  Others’ have developed this with the analogy of a ‘ghost in the wings’ (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2007); there is evidence that this happened in this course – moving from superficial notes about spelling mistakes etc. through to, towards the end of the course, some very insightful and effective comments on peers draft chapters.

Regarding the ‘Community’, during my telephone tutorials I sometimes asked how the group knew each other before the course and was rather surprised to hear that most of them had never met until the conference day – challenging my notion that creating an ‘online’ community was more challenging than in a classroom.  This echoes Pelz’s notion that ‘… online students bond earlier and ‘better’ than students sitting in the same classroom’ (2004:41).

Reflecting on how I engaged with the discussion, here are some of the things I did, indeed continue to do, that help create such a lively and useful discussion:

  • Use my postings to model what I want the students to do;
  • Post links to resources or uploaded materials – from Edge Hill and beyond;
  • Acknowledge valuable contributions from students publically on the discussion board – especially those that offered critique of their peers’ drafts (note many of my postings began ‘With thanks to Alice, Bernard and Cath for their insightful contributions’ …);
  • Sending private thanks to people who consistently made useful contributions;
  • Prioritising my time in order to respond to drafts that students had posted on the discussion board – thus encouraging more postings to a public arena and posting back comments on drafts so that instead of feedback being to a cohort of one it was to the cohort of all;
  • When to jump in? At the beginning I found balancing waiting for students to respond versus replying myself to unanswered postings a difficult balance . Towards the end of the course I tried to leave for two days before I responded;
  • Using the notification tool to thank all those that had been engaging;
  • Using the same tool to invite contribution from those who weren’t engaging;
  • Using the same tool to find those who were not engaging at all, and send an email to their personal email address;
  • Ditto, but phone them;
  • Ditto, but using their mobile phones;
  • If questionable practice arises, drown it out with a quick ‘here’s a much better alternative’ (redirection – I’m sure there’s some psychology link here);
  • When I have a tutorial with students, I ask them to summarise what they think would be useful for others’ to hear and post this on the relevant discussion.


The most challenging aspect was keeping on top of all the discussion as there were so many students – as well as the pressure to produce polished responses that were instantly displayed to the whole cohort (Bair & Bair, 2011).  Also, constructing replies to questionable practice that re-directed the group without disenfranchising the poster was challenging.

Results, feedback and costs

The results were outstanding, with 57% of the cohort achieving a First Class mark for their TidalWave GradeBookdissertation.  I had grave concerns about collusion when I began marking as the first dozen or so scripts were outstanding, however, apart from some similarities referencing the Data Protection Act, each piece was highly original and very polished. This increased my concern about the cost to the students and their families of the many hours that each of them had put into this final piece; was I complicit in adding to their study burden by creating a demanding on line environment?

So, at graduation, I was rather concerned to meet those who I may have driven apart – but my concerns vanished as fathers, husbands and daughters came up to me and thanked me (rather enthusiastically) for the support, help and encouragement that I had given their loved ones.  I should point out, though, that most of what I was being thanked for was given by their fellow students – I had become a broker of peers rather than a purveyor of learning.

Research into wider aspects

I will be asking the students if I can explore their posts, our journey, to look at aspects such as how I may have facilitated my social presence in online forums (Savvidou, 2013), Sociability (Smith & Sivo, 2013) and the learners ‘Sense of Presence’ (Sung & Mayer, 2013).

I’m also interested in the emotional aspects of the discussion.  Cleveland-Innes and Campbell (2013) suggest that ‘…emotion must be considered, if not a central factor, at least as a ubiquitous, influential part of learning—online and otherwise’.  Another ethereal aspect was recently highlighted by a colleague who suggests that underpinning my pedagogy was/is my belief that the technology and how I was implementing it would benefit the student experience and improve outcomes and results – emphasising to me that my faith that it would work made it work – justifying my sometimes ‘evangelistic’ encouragement for others to do the same.  To me, this sounds rather like the ‘heart and soul’ of online learning.


At the outset I didn’t have an explicit rationale for using discussion boards – but as the course progressed the rational emerged:

  • Engage students with the course and the tutor;
  • Engage students with each other;
  • Benefit from an ‘active’ learning approach;
  • Build on relationships made during the conference day;
  • Reduce isolation for distance learners;
  • Share resources and materials found;
  • Capture conversations that others can share (note the search tool!);
  • Questions that may have been answered to just one person went to the entire cohort;
  • Look at drafts of others’ work – perhaps to inform their own writing;
  • Become more aware of other perspectives;
  • Have an audience in mind when creating their own drafts;
  • Comment on other students drafts;
  • Have a safe community to ask and answer questions within.

I was especially pleased to see in later weeks the confidence and trust in the community grow, as evidenced by students becoming ‘critical friends’ – making critical judgements of peers’ work – having a sense of empowerment.

If any of the above isn’t clear then ask me – my contact details are below.  Also, here is a technical guide to using the Blackboard ‘Discussion Boards / Forums’ from colleagues in Learning Technology Development.  Finally, both the Faculty of Education and Learning Technology Development are very keen to promote staff development in this area – so if your team might benefit from some bespoke training, please get in touch – contact details below.

I suggest that the support and guidance the students shared with each other via the discussion board and the collegiality created via their online discussion and Collaborate sessions was a significant factor in the cohort’s exemplary success *.  I encourage colleagues to try some of the ideas I’ve presented above in their courses – and will be pleased to discuss this further.   Please take a look at a presentation based on my and the students’ experiences – http://www.eshare.edgehill.ac.uk/id/document/9398

* 57% received a First Class grade in the dissertation module (n=47). 

BestofTEL_SMALLDavid Callaghan
Associate Tutor, Professional Development
Faculty of Education 

Learning Technology Development Officer
Learning Services


For further help, support and advice on how you can use Discussion, Tracking, Web Conferencing (Collaborate) and other tools within the Learning Edge Suite contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on LTDSupport@edgehill.ac.uk or x7754.  Also, see the LTD Guide about Blackboard Discussion Boards.

David Callaghan, 1st November 2013

An American General, a legendary radio producer, a former Times editor, a British composer, a cricket commentator. M. Bannister. [Web] [Sun 6 Jan 2013]. London: BBC.
Bair, D. E., and Bair, M. A. (2011). Paradoxes of online teaching. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(2), 1–15
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2, pp87–105.
Hodges, C. B. and Cowan, S. F. Preservice Teachers’ Views of Instructor Presence in Online Courses. (2012) Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education 28(4) pp139-145.
Mazzolini, M. and Maddison, S. (2007) When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49 (2) 193-213.
Pelz, B. (2004) Three principles of effective online pedagogy. Journal of the Asynchronous Learning Network, 8(3), pp33–46.
Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London: Routledge.
Savvidou, C. “‘Thanks for sharing your story’: the role of the teacher in facilitating social presence in online discussion.” Technology, Pedagogy and Education ahead-of-print (2013): 1-19.
Smith, J.A. and Sivo, S.A. (2012) “Predicting continued use of online teacher professional development and the influence of social presence and sociability.” British Journal of Educational Technology 43(6) pp871-882.
Wakefield, J. (2012) Granny army helps India’s school children via the cloud. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17114718 [accessed 11/04/2013].

LTD eShare Guide Recap (July-August)

eShare Recap Banner MW

Hey there folks, Mark here with your recap of all the latest LTD guide updates. Starting from August these feature posts will appear once a month to highlight any LTD guide updates added to eShare over the past 4 weeks! Well, just to skim the surface and name a few this month, we welcomed the addition of the new Turnitin app for Apple iPad, introduced the new super guide to the Blackboard Learning Module tool, kicked off an array of guides on feed readers, lifted the lid on Elluminate Plan for Blackboard Collaborate!

See the full reading list below to find out more information on everything we covered, and look out for the next eShare Guide Recap again next month.


Staff & Students:

Feel free to post a comment on here and let us know if these guides are helping you. You can also get in touch with us at ltdsupport@edgehill.ac.uk or call 01695 650754 if you have any questions or would simply like to know more about our staff and student guides.


Mark Wilcock
Learning Technology Development Officer


Learning Edge Upgrade Webinar: “Play it again, Sam”


We wanted to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who attended the Blackboard VLE Summer Upgrade webinar yesterday. We hope it met your expectations and that you came away with a better understanding of the new Blackboard tools at your disposal, as well as the benefits you can gain from the feature improvements.

As I mentioned during the webinar, the session is now available for everyone to watch again.  You have 2 options to replay the session, the first being YouTube:


Secondly, you can click on the following URL you access the entire session via Blackboard Collaborate:


Feel free to get in touch with us at ltdsupport@edgehill.ac.uk if you have any questions or would simply like to know more about the upgrade.


Mark Wilcock
Learning Technology Development Officer

A collaborative experience that engages everyone, every time, everywhere

It is now possible to engage with your students wherever they are. Keep them engaged offering them collaborative and interactive activities and a learning experience. This can be done all through the new platform Blackboard Collaborate.

Blackboard Collaborate Overview

It allows you to create virtual classrooms to deliver presentations, show videos, show websites, communicate synchronously in real time, and engage students in activities that can be presented online.

Mobile support is also available so students can access the online session through an iPhone or an iPad allowing them to access the session wherever they maybe.








The sessions can also be recorded to allow students to view the recording again and again.

Below is a link to a demonstration by a Blackboard Collaborate Advisor that gives further information on Blackboard Collaborate and the different ways it can be used.

Blackboard Collaborate Demonstration

If you have any questions or would like to find out more information you can contact me directly on 01695 650755 or irfan.mulla@edgehill.ac.uk

Irfan Mulla






Irfan Mulla

Learning Technology Development Officer (LTD)



Emerging Technologies Session: Using Audio and Video in Teaching and Learning

The next session in the Emerging Technologies staff development series will be an overview of using audio and video with your students.

It will run on Wednesday 7th December between 1 and 2pm and you can book on the staff development pages.

We’ll look at six possible uses of audio and video:

  • Online sessions
  • Recording sessions
  • Accessing educational content
  • Creating educational content
  • Student created content
  • Assignment feedback

The aim of the session is to help you think through what is possible, and what the benefits and challenges might be. We won’t have time to talk about all the technical details in the session, but will be able to provide more specific support and guidance after the session.

Picture of the author

Peter Beaumont
Learning Technologist