What is Blackboard Collaborate Ultra?
Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is the web conferencing tool integrated with Blackboard courses. Blackboard, including Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, is supported by BCTC (Baruch Computing and Technology Center).
This page is intended as an introductory resource for pedagogy and best practices. For technical support and detailed information about Blackboard and all of its teaching tools, reach out to BCTC.
You can find instructional links and tips for successful sessions on the BCTC Blackboard Collaborate Ultra web page. There are also official video tutorials online, such as this overview of the user interface, as well as many unofficial tutorials such as this more extensive introduction to the basics of the tool. Blackboard has also set up a test “Course Room” where you can log in as a guest and practice setting up a session.
Because Blackboard was created for use in educational institutions, it is designed to be compliant with FERPA (the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act), which mandates the protection of student data in the United States. This means that it has robust protections for the personally identifiable information and educational records of students, as defined by federal law. This also means that it is less vulnerable to interference from outside actors (you may have heard about recent “Zoombombing” incidents).
At the same time, you may also want to consider privacy issues other than student data to support the ability of your students to learn effectively. For example, consider carefully when/what you need to record sessions with students present. Students may need some space to try out ideas or talk through controversial topics and recording them may make it difficult to create that space. Similarly, consider remaining open to students attending with audio only to avoid disclosing information about their location through video.
If you plan to record a live session, which we encourage you to do to accommodate students who do not have the ability to attend, let students know at the beginning of the session both orally and in the “chat” box. Ask for them to indicate their consent to be recorded in the “chat” box as well. Sample text: “Message to all students: This session is being recorded. It will be shared with other members of the class. If you would like to opt out of having your image recorded, you may mute your webcam. If you do not consent to be recorded, send me a private message in the Chat and we will plan accordingly.”
Since Blackboard, and all of its tools, are supported by BCTC they are the best source of information about available settings and how to manage them. However, there are some settings/issues related to settings that have pedagogical implications and faculty have reached out to us with some helpful thoughts we can share:
- Blackboard Collaborate Ultra does not have as much flexibility with respect to changing settings as some other videoconferencing platforms, such as Zoom or WebEx. If you need/prefer a very customized experience you may want to explore those options.
- If you plan to hold a synchronous session (i.e. students are online with you at a set time), schedule the session to begin 10-15 minutes before your class starts. This will give students a chance to get into the room and make sure that their speakers, microphone, and/or video are set up properly. It also gives you a chance to greet them and chat, much like you would in a real classroom.
- You have the option of preventing students from downloading recorded sessions, meaning they can only watch recordings while online. Enabling this feature can protect privacy—yours or your students’. However, be aware that this may pose a problem for students whose slow internet speed makes streaming video difficult.
- There are some settings that you can change during a session and others that must be in place before the session begins. You can find out more about this on the Blackboard support website.
There are many useful guides to remote teaching, including the CTL’s Teaching with Zoom, but here are a few tips to get you started on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra:
- If you haven’t yet, consider surveying your class by email or other means to see what technology they have readily available. This can help you make important pedagogical choices such as whether or not to hold synchronous sessions.
- If you routinely use your iPad to “write” onscreen in your classroom practice, you may find that Blackboard Collaborate Ultra presents some challenges. Consider using Zoom instead, which has a built-in option for sharing iPad screens.
- Make use of the chat function to manage student questions. Students can post questions or comments while you or someone else is already speaking, then you can decide when to respond. Note that this can be distracting when you are speaking, and it may work better in smaller seminar-type classes. It may be worthwhile to ask a TA, if you have one, or a student to take on the role of “chat monitor” to voice if there are questions that arise that you have missed.
- Because students may not be able to see each other when having group discussion you should serve as the moderator. Keep an eye out for students using the “raise hand” function or who have unmuted their microphone in preparation for making a comment, and call on them to help them break into the conversation.
- In addition to being able to share your screen with students to show files (PowerPoint, PDF, JPEGs, PNGs, or GIFs) and audio/video/websites (via the Chrome browser), remember that you can also drop links to content you want them to have access to in the chat.
- Use the “Breakout groups” function for small group activities and discussions. These let students talk in smaller groups just as they would in class.
- Consider assigning discussion leaders for each session to encourage conversation.
- You may want to organize large classes into consistent peer groups. This may provide a sense of stability, allowing students to know they will have a familiar group of classmates to discuss, work, and touch base with.
- If possible, make discussion questions available in advance on Blackboard or by email so that students can access the questions if screen sharing does not work. If you share slides in advance, share them as PDFs, so that students will be able to access the material on their phones.
- If you are brand new to online teaching having one or more low-stakes practice sessions can be very helpful. You can always set up a class session and invite some of your colleagues to sign in. That way you can try out your materials and practice with the tech in front of a friendly audience.
As with remote pedagogy, there is lots of information already out there about videoconferencing and video classroom etiquette, including our Teaching with Zoom guide (see especially the “Run Your Class Live with Zoom” section), but here are a few general guidelines:
- Ask all students to mute their microphones when they enter the room. This will minimize distractions for others. They can unmute when it is time for them to speak.
- You may also want to remind students that they can use the “raise hand” or chat functions to ask questions while they are muted.
- If you are asking/allowing students to make themselves available on video as well, consider asking them to turn off their cameras during any lecture portions of your class. Again, this will minimize the possibility that students will be distracted by the goings-on in other people’s environments. (Turning off video also has the benefit of lowering the overall bandwidth of the session. This may help keep those with slower internet connections from experiencing disruptions in the session.)
- You can maintain a sense of community by asking students to provide a profile photo.
- If you have earbuds or a headphone set, wear them. Wearing earbuds or headphones will reduce the amount of noise that your computer will pick up, which will make it easier for your students to hear you. Similarly, you may want to advise your students to wear earbuds or headphones during the session.
Videoconferencing Tips from Elizabeth Gareis (Communication Studies)
Frequently Asked Questions about Blackboard Collaborate Ultra from York College
Thank you to all the Baruch faculty and staff who have contributed to this resource:
Seth Graves, Tamara Gubernat, Allison Lehr Samuels, Katherine Tsan, and Pamela Thielman (Center for Teaching and Learning)
Elizabeth Gareis and Stuart Davies (Communication Studies)
Annette Gourgey, Richard Holowczak, and Laetitia Placido (Zicklin School of Business)