Teaching Online in Real Time with Blackboard Collaborate

The university recently announced the acquisition of Blackboard Collaborate software as an institutional Webinar/Webconferencing solution.

This will extend our online learning “tool kit” as Collaborate allows for the creation of live (synchronous) virtual classrooms and meetings, where participants can remotely access audio, video, presentations, whiteboards, live polling and shared desktops, among other features. While Collaborate has not yet been rolled out across our three campuses, a few pilot projects are underway, including the first undergraduate fully online course to use this new webinar software, as part of the OUCI initative.

Dr. Franco Taverna of the Dept. of Human Biology is leading the way, teaching Introduction to Neurobehaviouralbiology to over 100 students, with classes held live online each week using this new interactive learning space for presentation, student questions and group activities, etc.  A recent article in the Varsity presents a student perspective on the virtual classroom and included the following comment from journalist Omar Bitar:

One of my favorite features is the “raise-hand” button that I usually use when I have an inquiry or comment to make. This particular feature, at least in my opinion, ensures that even though we may all be dispersed geographically, we are at least as interactive as we would be in a lecture hall.

In addition to the instructor’s weekly webinars, four Teaching Assistants use Collaborate to run smaller tutorial sections that also leverage the “break out room” function, white board and polling tools to ensure all students are actively engaged in learning. As part of the redesign process, Dr. Taverna attended the CTSI Course Design Institute and followed up with regular team planning meetings to ensure the new online format would address course goals and learning outcomes effectively.

In his summary comments in the Varsity article the student author notes his belief that “further incorporation of webinar-based courses at the University of Toronto can have a great impact on its educational system and provide a whole new innovative, immersive, and modern means of instruction.” As the fully online course has only launched as of January 2013,  we are still in the early days of learning about the affordances of this new platform. However, all signs are positive and we look forward to further explorations by other faculty in the coming months.  For more  details about the licencing arrangements and contact information regarding implementation, please see a recent  Academic and Collaborative Technologies blog post.

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