The University of Windsor offers a new tool primarily to enhance online collaboration.
Blackboard Collaborate provides the campus with free access to virtual classroom and webconferencing facilities.
“This is a major step forward in enhancing our support for online, distance, and blended learning,” says Nick Baker, a learning specialist in the Centre for Teaching and Learning who was involved in the selection and piloting of the online collaboration tools.
“Basically, Blackboard Collaborate provides faculty, staff, and students with access to a highly flexible virtual classroom or office equipped with video and audio, where they can share ideas and collaborate in real time.”
Blackboard’s virtual classrooms have a whiteboard for sharing presentations or lectures, text chatting, desktop and application sharing tools, web-tours, polling, and even a quizzing module. All material and communications can also be recorded so that students can go back and review the class material as needed. Students and instructors can access the virtual classroom and recordings from a link in their CLEW sites, but the software is also flexible enough to be used outside of CLEW.
Faculty and students are already using the Collaborate environment to record lectures, facilitate group meetings, provide virtual office hours, provide flexibility in class attendance (for example when students or faculty are away or for snow days), allow remote students to virtually attend on-campus lectures, communicate with distance students, collaborate with researchers, bring in guest speakers, and make virtual presentations.
To access Collaborate, users only require a computer with internet access (it will even work on dial-up connections), and for more interactivity, speakers, a microphone, and webcam.
“The reality of the modern student is that while it may be desirable, coming to a physical classroom or meeting with groups face to face is not always possible and so virtual classrooms are becoming ubiquitous in higher education. Without the support of tools like this, many students will either be strongly disadvantaged or unable to participate and learn to their potential,” Baker said.
For more information on Blackboard Collaborate, or to get access to your own virtual classroom, e-mail Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-253-3000, ext. 4925. Also check the CTL’s events page for upcoming workshops to help you use the virtual classroom.