Blackboard Collaborate is a tool for synchronous communication that may include audio, video, screen sharing, polls, text chat, breakout rooms, whiteboard, slides, images. Be sure to think about students' needs for interactivity: this video documents some thoughts students have about synchronous virtual classes.
Why use it?
Collaborate Ultra is a good tool for virtual meetings, office hours, student workgroups, live class sessions, webinars up to about 100 people, holding class during inclement weather, guest speakers, virtual debates, and so on. See more details in this blog post.
How can I get it turned on in a Blackboard course?
We already added Collaborate Ultra under Communication in the standard Blackboard template for all courses. But in case you have an older course or had removed it, here is how to add it:
Under Control Panel, click “Customization” and then “Tool Availability”
Check the 2 boxes to the right of “Blackboard Collaborate Ultra”
Click Submit at the top or bottom of the page.
You will then be able to see Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in the “Course Tools” control panel:
I don’t have a Blackboard Course...
We can set you up a room (or multiple rooms) to use whenever you need it, or we can set you up a Blackboard course to use for this and other group, committee, research, or other work. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that for now, BlackBoard Collaborate works best with GOOGLE CHROME not Internet Explorer or Safari. It also works with the Bb Student app on iOS and Android mobile phones. (See more detailed system requirement information.)
See more details about Collaborate technical specs, including maximum users.
Here is a link to tips for faculty using the BlackBoard Collaborate platform for the first time - https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Collaborate/Ultra/Moderator
Please test your system and review the tips for getting started before entering your first session.
For presenters who wish to share your screen, you will need to download and install a Google Chrome extension the first time you do so. It does not require a browser or system reboot and takes only a minute. Collaborate will automatically do this for you. Screen sharing is accessed via the purple arrow icon in the lower right, for presenters or moderators. (See much more below!!)
Audio: Computer or Telephone
We highly recommend you and students plug in earbuds, headphones, or a USB headset and make sure audio is going out of them before entering the Collaborate room. You will have more control over the volume and it will be easier to hear all participants this way.
For those who have problems connecting to audio via the computer, a telephone number and PIN code are provided. However, this option still requires that all participants can first connect to the Collaborate Ultra room via a tablet, smartphone or computer browser. It is not possible to only connect via the phone. The PIN number that is provided is unique to each individual, and can only be accessed from within the room, so all participants must first enter the room via a web-enabled device.
Once connected to the room, the phone number and PIN code are found using the 3 line “hamburger” in the upper left of the session screen:
If you do not have a laptop, monitor with built in audio/microphone, or Mac with built-in microphone and/or webcam, email email@example.com to make a request
Starting up a Collaborate Session
After enabling Collaborate Ultra, the tool is available to faculty under Course Tools/Student Tools, and students via Student Tools. Upon clicking to launch the Collaborate tool, you will be presented with the option “Create Session” to create rooms for your course.
Click Create Session to set up your Course Room.
How to enter the room:
In Google Chrome, ideally, enter your Blackboard course, click the Collaborate Ultra tool link, and then click “Create Session” to create a virtual room.
We recommend you start by creating a session called "course room" or something like that. Here are some recommended settings:
By checking "No End (Open Session" you can create 1 room that can be used any time throughout the entire semester.
Launch Collaborate: click the name of an open/available room.
Guest Access/ Guest Link
The Guest Access can be used in a pinch to send a link to students for them to access the course. Sometimes, students will have difficulty entering the session from within Blackboard. This link allows the student to access the session quickly as a guest. This is also useful for a guest speaker.
Check the "Guest Access" box, and you will then see a guest link, which you can copy and paste into an email to the guest speaker. That person will then be able to join the session.
You should also choose "Presenter" for the guest to have the ability to share slides and/or computer screen.
The rest of the settings may vary according to you and your students' needs:
- If you wanted to host a "webinar" - you could uncheck allowing participants to share audio and/or video, or drawing on whiteboard/files.
- If you want to allow student groups to collaborate and communicate with one another using Collaborate Ultra, you may want to create a session that has the "Default Participant Role" set to "Presenter" - so that students can use that room to best communicate with one another.
Note: if you add a "Course Link" within your course, you must choose the "Blackboard Collaborate Ultra" option. Do not choose "Blackboard Collaborate" - as that is an out of date link to an older version of the plug-in.
Initial Microphone and Video Setup
Launch Collaborate: click the name of an open/available room.
Next, set up your microphone and camera. There will be a notice at the top of your screen - click the grey Yes button on the right to set up your microphone and camera.
The image above shows some of the other icons you see once other people have entered the session. A primary icon you will want to explore is the purple arrow icon in the far lower right, which opens the text chat, participants list, and sharing settings for screen sharing or document sharing.
If you see a message (for example in Firefox) stating "it looks like we don't have permission to access your microphone and camera" click the camera icon in the upper left next to the URL address:
If you are having difficulties using Safari on a Mac, follow these instructions.
If you are having difficulties using Chrome, follow these instructions.
In the middle of the screen are basic icons for mute/unmute microphone, and start/stop webcam, as well as raise hand.
Change A/V Settings
If you want to change audio/video settings later, you can click the purple icon in the lower right (seen above), then click “Settings” and then click “Audio and Video Settings” - where you can set up your camera and microphone, or choose to switch between computer and telephone audio and set microphone and speaker volumes. If you want to get the phone number and PIN for others to call in, click the “Use your phone for audio” icon.
If you'd like to show participants slides or files, there are two main ways to share content. Both are accessed by clicking the Share Content icon in the lower right (after you have opened the purple double arrow window in the far lower right)
Share Files: upload PPT slides, Word, PDF, etc.
This is the BEST option if you are running a meeting and want to be able to see BOTH the files/slides AND your video participants. It also allows for annotation of the content on the screen.
- Click "Share Files"
- Drag and drop the file(s) onto the "Add Files Here" box
- Files will convert to slides in Collaborate. This may take some time, depending on how large the file is/how many slides.
- To share, click once to select a file you have uploaded, and then click "Share Now" in the lower right.
- Click a slide on the right to select it OR use the white arrows to move between slides, just below the slides.
- You can annotate, drawing or typing on top of the slide content, using the tools in the upper right.
- To stop sharing at any time, click the Stop icon in the upper right:
Share Application (aka Share your screen!)
This is a good option if you have any trouble with files, or you need to show motion on your screen. It may also just be easier than uploading and sharing slides. You will need to install a Chrome extension the first time you share your screen. This takes just seconds, and automatically loads, without having to leave the session, so it is generally quite quick and harmless.
- Click Share Content tab in lower right.
- Click Share Application
- Choose between "Entire Screen" or "Just an Application"
- Entire screen is probably easier, and necessary if you will be switching between more than one application (Word, PowerPoint, PDF, web browser, SPSS, etc...) But if you will ONLY be showing PowerPoint or web sites in a web browser, you should choose "Just an Application"
- Also, choosing "Just an Application" is better if you are running a meeting and want to be able to see video of participants at the same time as sharing your application.
- Choose 1 and then click "Share"
- Share Entire Screen
- Similarly, if you choose to share your entire screen, you will be presented your screen options (likely just 1) and you then click Share.
- You may see a sort of infinite loop of screen feedback, that is kind of like a psychedelic journey into the digital void of your computer screen. Don't panic! Just click onto another tab, or open another application, and know that the participants are seeing EVERYTHING you do on your screen! You can open a new web browser or tab, open MS Word, PowerPoint, or any other application on your screen.
- Another option: if you want to keep seeing participants' videos at the bottom of your screen: move a different application window, browser tab or window on top of the Collaborate window, sizing it so that it is smaller than Collaborate, so that you can still see the videos at the bottom.
- You should see a little message at the bottom of your screen.
- You can click "Stop sharing" at any time to stop sharing your screen. OR you will also see the "Stop" icon in the upper right in your Bb Collaborate session window, and you can click that to stop sharing.
In order to manage students in the session, click on the Participant's icon in the lower right. There are several ways you can manage participants there:
Mute All - there is a handy “mute all” option when you click the icon with the circle around 3 dots:
You can see which participants have microphones enabled by the microphone icon to the left of their name. Likewise, when audio is broadcasting from a participant, their microphone turns black:
Using the circle around 3 dots menu icon to the right of a participant’s name, you can change the role: make participant, make presenter, make moderator, make captioner, remove from session, mute. Note that “make moderator” provides full instructor controls.
Once you click on the little purple icon/white arrows in the lower right, there is the chat. You can chat with everyone, or with a specific person:
Above you see the icons for the options: chat, participants list, sharing (screen, files, whiteboard, etc.), and settings.
Screen, Application, File sharing, Polling, Breakout Groups
All of these are accessed via the purple arrow icon in the lower right, and the sharing icon:
Whiteboard can be used for collaborative drawing, note taking, doodling.
Share Application is used to share your screen, desktop, or a specific application
Share Files: upload PDF, PPT files to share slides with students. You can also draw on them as you speak using tools at the top of the screen.
Polling: set up quick polls to get feedback from students, add engagement, check understanding, etc.
Breakout Groups: have students meet privately in groups to discuss, collaborate, build or work on activities - then bring them all back together in the main room to summarize. You can create groups and manually drag students into them, or there is an automated randomized setting to put them in groups.
Settings to establish BEFORE your Session:
In the gear wheel “Settings” you will want to make a few choices before your session, to establish what students will need to be able to do in the session:
For some types of class sessions, you may only want students to share audio and chat messages, whereas for others you may want all abilities checked.
The notification settings should also be set according to how you’d like to be notified of various user activity during the session. When you are sharing your screen, you may not see the rest of the room much, so having these set up will help alert you that someone sent a chat message or raised their hand.
Creating a Welcome Screen
When students enter Blackboard Collaborate for the first time, it is helpful to give them a Welcome Screen so they know how to manage the session. We have provided an image of one below that you can feel free to add to the beginning of your slide deck.
Recording Your Session
The 3 line “hamburger” in the upper left of your screen
is where you find the Record feature:
A message will be displayed at the top of the screen when recording is under way. There will also be a “stop recording” icon in the upper right of your screen.
After the recording has been processed on the server (usually at least a few hours) - it will be available in the Collaborate Ultra tool (back in your Blackboard course) by clicking the 3 lines in the upper left and then Recordings. NOTE: Students can automatically see the recordings here by navigating to these as well.
You may need to click the "Filter by" dropdown and select "Recordings in a Range" if your recordings are older and do not show up immediately. Put in an old date in the first date box (like 2017) - and then you will see all your recordings listed.
Use the 3 dot circle to the right of any recording to edit its name and/or get the link to copy and send to students to view the recording, or post in your Blackboard course. Anyone with the link will be able to view the recording, it does not require a login to view.
Please note: if you simply click on a recording title to view it, it will appear in your browser with this URL, which is not a sharable URL:
You need to use the above steps to get a sharable URL to give to students.
Latest Collaborate Feature Updates
Here are the latest updates to Collaborate from Blackboard. They are continuing to add new features regularly, so check this! Some recent changes/additions of note:
- there is now the ability to provide a phone number and PIN for people to call in without logging in on their computer
- you can rename the recordings
- new and improved access to status and feedback indicators for participants
Collaborate Server Status
Does Collaborate Ultra appear to be down? You can check the status of the servers here. (http://status.blackboard.com/services/collaborate-ultra---aws-us)