Connecting and interacting gets easier with the new and improved Blackboard Collaborate
In 2011, Blackboard released a new collaboration platform designed specifically for education, called Blackboard Collaborate. The platform is a combination of the previously acquired Elluminate and Wimba solutions. Drawing upon the strengths of both, the Collaborate platform has advanced beyond web conferencing to deliver voice authoring, instant messaging, and more recently, mobile collaboration. Being a relatively new platform, it has had its fair share of hiccups. However, Ovum believes that Blackboard has done a commendable job of listening to its clients and making necessary improvements. With collaboration and engagement being two increasingly important themes in higher education, Blackboard is headed in the right direction with its Collaborate platform.
Extending the teaching and learning experience outside of the classroom
The ability to share ideas, demonstrate work, and collaborate is essential to higher education, and technologies such as web conferencing have become invaluable. These technologies enable institutions to provide a set of tools to educators that can extend the reach of their institution or improve its ability to serve learners. Blackboard Collaborate offers the potential for constructive student interactions that may not have previously been possible. Ovum believes that Blackboard Collaborate encourages faculty and students to experiment with new pedagogical techniques to facilitate engagement. With no limit to the number of joiners to a single session, the platform opens the door to a number of activities that can improve student engagement and overall comprehension beyond the traditional bricks-and-mortar setting. Blackboard Collaborate has opened up new methods of realtime collaboration that is keeping students engaged and, as a result, improving outcomes.
The trials and tribulations of Collaborate
Since acquiring Elluminate and Wimba, Blackboard has been challenged not only to create a unique collaborative platform, but also to build a culture of collaboration in the higher education industry. While web conferencing may be popular, there is still some resistance to teach and learn using it. This is due, in part, to anxieties surrounding the training required, equipment costs, and connectivity. Blackboard is working to address these anxieties by providing clients with the necessary support and product development, as well as offering a free eight-week Cohort program to get started. The platform is delivered via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, which means institutions do not need to deploy the equipment and software. There were also problems with the audio and numerous complaints by clients about echoing; Blackboard has solved these and echo cancellation is just one of several improvements to the Collaborate platform. The platform now has enhanced mobile capabilities, works on a cellular or Wi-Fi network, and can be connected to via any learning management system (LMS).
End users are happy with Collaborate
Ovum recently spoke with some Blackboard Collaborate clients, many of whom were previously Elluminate or Wimba customers. They expressed some concern about the support from Blackboard being a little slow to emerge following the acquisitions, though they felt Blackboard had traveled in leaps and bounds since then. Ovum argues that this is to be expected following any acquisition, given that a company needs to find its feet during a transitional period. Some clients stated that faculty had found the platform challenging to use at the beginning and some functionality, such as instant messaging, is still not being used. Having said that, overall these institutions have not had to convince faculty or students to use the Collaborate platform. The clients found most of the features easy to use, the user interface engaging, and the step-by-step usage guide for faculty helpful. With improvements not only to mobile capabilities and echo cancellation, but to also in-session quality, Collaborate is making an impression on a greater number of end users. With Elluminate set to expire by September 2013 and Wimba by January 2015, Blackboard has some time to work on further enhancements to the Collaborate platform. These include improving mobile capabilities, making recordings available more quickly, improvements to telephone integration, and greater tracking of student activity. In an earlier report, Ovum recommended that existing Blackboard Learn Customers use Collaborate instead of Skype. Ovum now believes that with greater integration with a range of LMSs, such as Moodle and Desire2Learn, institutions should consider using Collaborate regardless of the LMS they use, if they want to extend the teaching and learning experience globally.
Navneet Johal, Associate Analyst, Education Technology
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