eCoaching Tip 112 Bb Collaborate – Add Variety and Spark with Real-Time Interaction   

September 30 2013

eCoaching Tip 112 Bb Collaborate – Add Variety and Spark with Real-Time Interaction

Students’ Reactions to Bb Collaborate

“Most enjoyable class”  “Pleasantly surprised.”  “An exciting and challenging learning environment.” “I feel part of a class now.” These are just a sampling of comments from students using live classroom tools with synchronous real time dialogue and exchanges.

Bb Collaborate is now accessible in all Blackboard course sites. This means it has never been easier to add spontaneous interaction to your teaching and learning with your students.  For those of you familiar with Wimba Classroom, you will find Bb Collaborate is very similar to Wimba Classroom. The best analogy is that it is a bit like driving a different car. You might have a few anxious moments before you find the windshield wipers in a sudden downpour, but the Bb Collaborate environment is essentially a new and improved Wimba Classroom.

This tip shares ideas from two faculty who find that a live classroom enables them to do things that they really couldn’t do otherwise. Our two guest faculty for this tip are Becky Morrow, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, who regularly teaches Core Science Biology and Doug Shields, a former council president of the Pittsburgh City Council who taught an elective course in Political Leadership last spring (2013).

Best Learning Goals Matched to Bb Collaborate

What are some of the best ways to use Bb Collaborate? What teaching and learning goals make sense for this tool?  One of the best uses of this tool is to provide real time interaction opportunities for students. It is a great tool for adding variety to online courses, going beyond just reading and writing exchanges and for building community and understanding.

Before we start with ideas from our two guest faculty for this tip, here are some common concerns from faculty in previous years and how students are now responding:

  • “How can I find a synchronous time that is convenient for all my students?” The answer is, you won’t, but it is O.K. What do students say?
    • “I travel on a weekly basis, but I was able to carve out the time to attend the weekly session.”
    • “Even if I have a conflict with the scheduled live session time, the archived sessions are available and very easy to access and review, and I post a journal entry sharing my thoughts and understandings of the session topic.”
  • “What about technical issues?” You may wonder about the following: “How do my students learn how to use Bb Collaborate? What do I do if there is a problem?”  Here are some of the students’ responses. Then read on for ideas on taking this out of your worry zone.
    • “Technology was easy to use.”
    • “There were never issues about connecting and interacting.”
    • “It was great to be able to go back and review material.”
    • From Becky Morrow, “At first if students haven’t used the live classroom before, they are a little apprehensive, but once they get involved and see how easy it is, students react very positively, making comments such as “It’s really nice” or “This was really fun.”
  • What does the live classroom add to the course? The real time interaction of live classrooms provides a way to capture and develop insights from the group interactions and then share them immediately. This means students can get feedback from other students and the instructor and refine their ideas and insights in a matter of minutes. This process can only happen over many hours and days in the discussion area. Having both types of expression and thinking tools – synchronous and asynchronous enriches learning. Here are some students’ comments.
    • The live classroom allows “more engagement and allows “true conversation to take place.”

o   The live classroom was an “improvement in “leaps and bounds” over the typical Bb discussion board format. In the chat room I want to post something because I feel as if I actually have something to say, not just to meet a requirement.”  (This is really exciting, I think.)

Now here are the observations and experiences for using the live classroom from our two guest faculty. Thanks so much again for sharing, Becky and Doug…

Becky Morrow – Core Science Biology

Becky Morrow shared her use of the live classroom with me and I was surprised to hear that she has been using some version of the live classroom for over 7 years. She hasn’t used Bb Collaborate yet, but will be using it for Term 2 this fall.

Why does she use it? Becky said that in addition to the goals of teaching biology content, she focuses on teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills. She uses case studies as her primary teaching strategy. Becky finds that the live classroom is the best way for her to mirror, to model,toillustrate the steps in problem-solving a case. By working through a case in the live classroom, she shares a thinking process that she expects of her students and guides them through the process steps for problem-solving cases. This is the process, then, that they use in completing cases independently. Becky noted, that given the opportunity for real time discussion, the time in the live classroom is a conversation, not just listening to the instructor. Some of the live classroom events have points associated with them. The students who participate in the live session earn their points at that time. Students who are not able to attend the live event, for example, on the urinary system, review the archive and post their notes or comments in the discussion forum.

Becky talked about how the use of the audio function — the ability of students to talk real time in the classroom — evolved for her students.  Interestingly, she noted, that for her students, the chat function works best for the spontaneous questioning and commenting and sharing. With the chat function, Becky noted,  “I can have multiple students commenting and talking at one time.  Rarely, if ever do students use the microphone as it slows everything down.” Becky did note that with a very active chat dialogue that she is often “multi-tasking to the max.”  To address this, her next goal is to try using the small group breakout features within Bb Collaborate, and have the students participate more in the summarizing, analyzing, and commenting.

Other tools that Becky uses in her course are short pre-recorded video segments, reading assignments, discussion forums, and independently worked case studies within the testing function of Blackboard. To do that, she gives them the background on the case and they do one question at a time just as she models the process in the live classroom.

As for advice for faculty who would like to get started with Bb Collaborate and similar tools, Becky suggested starting with an informal meeting, such as a conversation on an issue in the week’s topics. Sometimes, a good topic is to discuss is an upcoming assignment. Students always have questions about assignments and they like to get more of an instructor’s thinking about an assignment.

Doug Shields in Political Leadership

Teaching Political Leadership was a wholly new experience for Doug, and he embraced it enthusiastically, learning not only the live classroom tool, but also recording interviews with political figures in the Pittsburgh area. He used these tools, in addition to the traditional reading and writing assignments.

One special interview that he arranged was a live classroom event with Joseph Sestak, a former U.S. Navy three-star Admiral and a US House of Representative from Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district from 2007 to 2011. Students prepared a background dossier and questions for Sestak prior to the live event and then did a follow-up assignment. Two military students knew Sestak as the commander of the initial group going into Afghanistan post 9/11.  The topic of the live event was the “use of force in political leadership.” A timely and very engaging topic. Other pre-recorded Q&A interviews featured Allan Meltzer, professor of Political Economy at Carnegie-Mellon and both Democratic and Republican figures from the Pittsburgh area.

As for advice for faculty who would like to get started, Doug suggested the following approach, “Jump in, the water’s fun!”

Doug added that the archives of the live classroom are a benefit traditionally not available with the face-to-face classroom. He noted that, “It is hard to repeat the performance; you lose the moment.”  For those who can’t make the event, they can still retrieve the event and almost “be in” the experience. Doug did have a few challenges with time zones, as he had a student in Hawaii, a student in California as well as the more local Pennsylvania students.

Summing up the value of the live classroom experiences, Doug noted that the interaction in the live classroom supported energetic discussion of how the class themes of discipline, willingness to learn, and being nimble and quick transfer into any kind of leadership positions.

Providing Variety in learning Experiences – Best Practice #4 of Ten Best Practices

One of the original purposes of this tip was to refresh strategies on how to implement Best Practice #4 — Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences. This tip on Bb Collaborate and the strategies used by Becky and Doug address one approach for holding large group events. Becky’s goals for using the breakout rooms will be one way of students working in small groups.

As a quick reminder, here are strategies for designing learning experiences using different size groups:

  • Individual work: Tools such as journals and personal blogs support individual creation and reflection. Combined with small group work, these tools can also support sharing of ideas and innovative and critical thinking.
  • Small groups: Working in small groups is particularly recommended early in the course to begin building community and personal networks. Small groups of two or three are very effective for working on problem-solving scenarios and more complex case studies.
  • Large groups: Bb Collaborate is one way of designing in large group activities such as expert visits, virtual conferences. It is also a great way to do real-time project planning, brainstorming and presentations.

Our brains like variety and these different types of learning experiences also tap into students’ own varied skills and abilities.

Wrap Up

Students’ respond well to the ability to interact directly and spontaneously with an instructor and with other students.  It helps build intimacy and community among students as it adds other layers of our personalities, such as our voices and our interactions, insights in a spontaneous main “room” or “chat room.”  People do feel part of a group while in the live classroom, overcoming the common feelings of distance in online settings.

Contact Assistant Director of Learning Management, Mark Prestopnik, 412.396.1319, for assistance with adding Blackboard Collaborate to your course and to practice its use.

Ready to Start

Getting started with Bb Collaborate has never been easier. Visit Educational Technology’s “Workshops/ Webinar Calendar” page to sign up for optional training (on-campus, via webinar, and self-paced).

FAQs and screen shot PDFs are available at the Blackboard Help: Bb Collaboratesite. You may also find the references below of interest. Tip 97 from 2012 is an FAQ on Getting Started with and Using the Live Classroom. This tip is great supplementary reading to this tip. The Blackboard Collaborate portal site also features stories about how other universities are using this tool.


Boettcher, J. V. (2012) eCoaching Tip 97: An FAQ on Getting Started with and Using the Live Classroom.

Blackboard Collaborate| Best Practices (2013)

Boettcher, J. V. (2007) eCoaching Tip 39: A Story of Real Time Gatherings with a Duquesne Faculty Member  This is a bit old, but ideas are still relevant.

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher