Center for Information Technology Services

A New Web Conferencing Tool is Available for Use

A new Web conferencing tool has been used for the first time here at UM during the Spring semester.

Blackboard Collaborate is a virtual learning environment that includes audio, video, application sharing, and content display for participation in a class session from a remote location. Students can raise their hands in a virtual fashion by clicking on an icon. The platform also includes instant messaging, voice interaction, and the ability to record classroom sessions for playback later.  All the features of this tool are available for non-classroom use as well, with web conferences easy to initiate from outside of the Blackboard environment.  

The University’s Center for Information Technology Services worked with the schools to select Blackboard Collaborate, which incorporates the best features of two formerly competing products: Wimba and Elluminate. A feature of interest to many is the fact that Collaborate can also be accessed directly, outside of the traditional Blackboard Learn environment.

The University has purchased an enterprise license so there are no restrictions on Blackboard Collaborate’s use. A toll-free number has been purchased so that virtual meetings and class sessions can also be accessed via telephone at no charge.

School of Dentistry Pioneers Use of Collaborate

For roughly the past two years the Dental School’s faculty and students have used WebEx for live, interactive, virtual learning; but as soon as Collaborate became available, they rushed to pilot it. The School of Dentistry Dental Hygiene program depends upon distance education technologies to serve students at their two satellite teaching locations, in Perryville and Princess Anne, Maryland, and they saw Collaborate as a superior solution for their needs.

Targeting the Spring 2012 semester for their live trial, Instructional Technology Specialists, a Training Specialist, and brave faculty members came together to quickly learn how to utilize Blackboard Collaborate to fulfill the needs of the Dental Hygiene courses.  The Dental School’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), which is affiliated with CITS, provided hands-on training in Blackboard Collaborate to faculty members as well as training documentation and tutorials for faculty and students.  Following their comprehensive training, faculty members created a trial session that provided drop-in times within Blackboard Collaborate for hygiene students. 

Not only has the School of Dentistry received positive feedback about the ease of use and functionality of the product from faculty members, but similar feedback has been received from their hygiene students as well.  A member of OIT recently wrote: “We attribute our successful implementation to great teamwork by all parties involved, including the support provided by CITS and Blackboard.  We look forward to further utilizing Blackboard Collaborate throughout the School of Dentistry.” 

CITS plans to learn from the experiences of the School of Dentistry and other early adopters, and develop instructional and training materials for a general campus-wide rollout in the fall.