Spring Synchronicity

spring flowers and grass

It seems odd to be talking about "Spring" during one of the coldest spells of Winter, but it is a-coming! This year the UMB SSW teaching and learning community will have a major upgrade to the Collaborate synchronous virtual meeting software. The upgrade to Ultra is now complete, and any/all courses in Blackboard have the ability to add the Collaborate Ultra tool to your course toolset. The IDEA Team has put together some documentation for faculty and for students, as this tool has a lot of potential uses. For those not familiar, Collaborate is audio-video virtual meeting software as a service, much like Go2Meeting, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Whereby.com, Webex, etc. But unlike those, it is integrated with Blackboard and single sign-on, so that you can click into it from Blackboard and start using it immediately. Unlike the older version, which required a file download and special software, this new version works with just a web browser (Google Chrome being the preferred browser for full functionality.)

Here are a few ideas for how the SSW community might use Collaborate Ultra:

    • Virtual Office hours: instructors can be available for students to drop into the virtual room for questions or help. Sure you can do this in your actual office, but perhaps you have students who could use these during later evening hours - and this could enable you to host office hours during other time periods or from other locations beyond just the school/office.

    • Group activities: each course has a "Course Room" by default which can be enabled so that students or instructors can easily enter the virtual room at any time to meet. Also, instructors can set up special "rooms" for groups, so that each group can meet on its own schedule. Groups can share audio, video, screens, documents or a whiteboard to use for collaborative doodling. You can also set up a collaborative document, such as a Google Doc, Spreadsheet or Slides, which students can work on together while they talk in Collaborate.

    • Guest speakers: by using the Guest link, you can easily invite and have guests speak in your class while saving the travel time and money. Also, if they aren't available during the specific time of your class, you could have a conversation with a guest and record that, then make it available to students. Speakers can upload slides or share their screen to elaborate on the topic of their expertise.

    • Committee meetings: scheduling committee meetings can be difficult - and even more difficult when people are traveling or work in separate offices. Not to mention that using those conference call phone boomerangs leaves the remote participants at a huge disadvantage which leads to uneven engagement. How do you level this out? Host virtual meetings - where EVERYONE in the meeting connects from their home or office using Collaborate. You can also record the meeting for those who have to miss it. Use the polling feature to get quick votes. Various members can share their desktop to show a document they have been working on, or all meeting members can refer to one common document.

    • On the Fly Recordings: need to record a quick bit of lecture to show a concept? You can use Collaborate to record yourself talking with slides, while drawing on them, and with or without video from your webcam. Then make the recording available to students. (Be sure to record a couple very short tests to check this out first!)

    • Snow day classes: want to maintain the continuity even though the 4 foot snow storms keep coming? Collaborate can be used to host live streaming interactive class sessions, and record them.

We know you'll think of even more good uses for this handy tool - so please let us know when you do! Meanwhile, be sure to check the guides linked above for instructions on adding Collaborate Ultra to your course, and check the Events calendar for our Collaborate roll-out events leading up to the start of the Spring term. Enjoy Spring!

PS, if anyone knows which bird has a song, which is played on the saxophone at the beginning of the song above (tee tee too too), please email ideateam@ssw.umaryland.edu