Creative Tips for Teaching through Blackboard Collaborate™ 3 of 3

My final 10 musings on using Blackboard Collaborate™ Thanks for reading!

  1. Use the Forum. Encourage asynchronous discussions. As participants are busy with life and deadlines, it can be a challenge to generate engagement here. Remind them to use the forum as a solid sounding board that they can draw from to prep for assignments. Also, invite everyone to feed queries and comments onto the forum instead of emailing you directly. If some students still email, ask them to copy and paste onto the forum before you reply. Everyone can then benefit from questions or clarifications. Also, relay back to forum entries to invite dialogue during synchronous sessions.

post-it-1502622.  Send out Regular Reminders/Announcements. We all need gentle reminders to press the Talk Button before breaking out into groups or populating the public page with comments

3.  Wait time. Allow for wait time throughout for dialogical engagement. Just because you have a set time to get through, don’t feel you have to rush it. So what if you don’t get through every slide! Quality over quantity rules. Follow up by using the forum as a means of engaging the group with the remaining slides you haven’t covered.

characters-10365014. Loop back on chat box comments: Ask participants to loop back on their peer ideas and develop one idea on the whiteboard/public page. I once had a group of 400 participants online and in an effort to keep it as interactive as I could, I decided to put up a key organising question on a public page and then asked them to respond to it in the chat box. I knew I didn’t have enough time to scan through all the replies so I asked the group to do it. They then used the whiteboard to identify emerging threads from the feed. This way you avoid the experience of a meaningless doss attack!

blog-10278615. Kick-start Reflective Blogging. The idea here is to create and develop a critical discourse within the group. As participants become familiar with evaluating, reviewing, reflecting, and revising their own thoughts, they begin the process of critical reflection. Encourage a discussion on other contributions and reply back to the comments made by others on their blogs.

6.  Screenshot Blog Points. Ask everyone to post and share with the group, a screenshot of one point from their blogs. This is a good way to stimulate further reflection.

7. Save Everything – especially all chat box messages and links. I screen shoot comments on the whiteboard or cut and paste from the chat box to create as a transcript that can be then posted on the forum asynchronously. It’s a great resource to draw on to inspire blogs and develop research questions. It’s also a good exercise for yourself to go back on transcripts to develop threads out for future sessions.

callout-303688.  Post Participant Quotes on a future slides. Use a quote from a participant’s forum or blog to deepen critical thinking. This helps to encapsulate group perspectives on the particular topic.

ipad-527611_19209. Invite Participants to Present a portion of the next Blackboard session on their findings, emerging research or blog thoughts.

10. blog-1186593_1920   Blog-it! If participants give vague, oblique or challenging responses that time doesn’t allow you answer, ask them to follow the point up as a blog. This can be so rewarding.



Creative Tips for Teaching through Blackboard Collaborate™ 2 of 3

Hi folks! Here’s my second helping on my next 10 tips for using  Blackboard Collaborate™ in more collaborative ways. These are all based on my own experiences and thoughts. Hope you find them useful!

1. Be an academic provocateur!  Provoke critical thinking and opens up a lively discussion during your session or on social media. Sparking debate is what we want after all! I think Marcia Tucker sums it up well. If we agree that teaching is in fact an art form, then online teaching should mirror this,

as a process, an interface, a tool, an ‘agent provocateur’ whose role, rather than being didactic, is to get people to see and think for themselves.”

—Marcia Tucker

2. Quit Summarising! To save time, try not to summarise group ideas on the whiteboard. Instead, ask participants to populate it with theirs. This is especially useful for smaller groups who could be microphone shy.

3. Mind-map. Write the subject topic in centre of a whiteboard page and invite the group to use the text box or highlighter to brainstorm. This works well as an entry point but also effectively checks for understanding. I love using this for all types of groups as it allows me to estimate the level of a group and gauges how much time I’ll need to spend on subsequent slides.

4. Different Platforms. Bear mindful that participants use a multitude of devices in accessing Blackboard. I’ve noticed for example, that participants who use tablets can’t, to date, use the whiteboard. In such cases, encourage participants to diversify more and use their chat box or mic and keep the flow going.

5. Spin a little more. Allow the break out chat rooms to spin a little and say so. There can be an unintentional tendency here to rush this process (and I’ve been guilty of doing this) A good chat takes time to unfold.

6. Maximise chat box messages. Play down allocating the importance of the question and answer section at the end.  It’s often the case that we are all tired at the end and the opportunity for recapturing the creative momentum of an earlier comment or question can be lost. Invite questions and comments throughout.

7. Multi-context. Read participant comments while others are writing on the whiteboard. This saves a lot of time and helps those who are not writing to stay on task, not to mention benefit the whole group with a diversity of ideas while  formulating their whiteboard responses.

8. Compose Key organising questions! This is especially useful for Breakout groups. By creating task-based questions that are grounded in context, more critical thinking is evoked and avoids simple recall or going off task.

9. Assign Roles. Once participants are familiar with your online teaching style, you can assign roles such as ‘reporters’ to either give feedback on a public page, chatbox or the mic. You could also add roles of ‘summarizers’, ‘provocateurs’ or ‘devil advocates’ to inspire even more discussion. The hope is that then spills over asynchronously in the forum or on blogs.

10. Final thought for this week, remember it’s a collaborative environment, so be yourself and enjoy it!

Featured image: Question Mark. Marco BellucciFlickr.

Creative Tips for Teaching through Blackboard Collaborate™ 1 of 3

Here are some tips I’d like to share with you on using Blackboard Collaborate™. I’ll be using the term ‘participant’ instead of ‘student’ as I’m promoting the key word ‘collaboration’ here, especially at Higher Education. I’ve 30 in total, but thought I’d share the first 10 with you:

  1. Loose Privilege Control: Develop a culture of ‘participant-controlled spaces’ i.e. give out more privilege rights i.e. audio/video, chat box, whiteboard and application sharing permissions to all participants from the onset.


  1. Create a Culture of Dialogical Learning: Tell participants to feel free to jump in at any time and add their ideas to the slides – after all, the aim is to encourage them to populate the white screen with their ideas. Remember, your slides are not sacrosanct! Slides should be interactively and creatively engaged with. Otherwise we’re back to that old parable of pouring new wine into old wineskins or worse, continue to suffer from powerpointitis!
  1. Model Skills: Show participants how to use the writing tool on the page. I’d advise you do this in your first session to get them used to your style. You could already have a box ready on screen with instructions like:

To type on the page

Select the icon to the left with the A and 3 lines on it.

Place your cursor on the screen &

Type into the box.

This can be especially exciting with larger groups as it encourages inclusive engagement and the sharing of resources throughout the session, not to mention gauge the level of the group.

  1. Turn your Video On! Take the plunge and put your video permission on in the first session so that participants can actually see whose teaching! You’ll be surprised at how this can increase more personalised learning. Once you scaffold this, invite participants to follow suit and introduce themselves via webcam to ‘unknown faceless others’ so as to build up a trust and an online learning community.
  1. Identify Expectations: In the first session, invite participants to identify what they think they will learn from the course. This promotes open discussion, cuts through any confusion and kills the prescriptive model of learning early on.
  1. Ease into Sessions: Encourage free chat in the opening few seconds to ease students into the virtual classroom. Use a public page as a starter to find out a little about them e.g. what they teach, study etc.
  1. Icebreakers: While participants are waiting for a lesson to start, use an icebreaker to enthuse them to engage e.g. invite them to star pinpoint where they are tuning in from on a slide with a global map (or if only teaching within one country, a map of that)
  1. Regular Check-ins: Randomly check for understanding and test group dynamics throughout the course by using a public page and ask them to comment on how they think they’re all doing on the course so far.
  1. Posting Links: Encourage participants to post links throughout the session as a resource base for further exploration. I often revisit these links and then later post them onto the forum for deeper discussion.
  1. twitter-667462  Tweet! Set up a twitter account for the course and tweet regularly to update the group on international practice, blogs and research journals. You could even use this account to serve as an entry point to a particular session.


Featured Image: ITECatSFSU

Start off by backing up your points!

‘I just don’t know where to start’ is by far the most common response I get from both undergrad and postgraduate students. They often give up before they even begin the process of answering an assignment question. I often think this is spurred on by prior negative experiences around testing learning through written assignments. It’s not a question of not wanting to do their best. As creatures of habit, we don’t like the sound of having our work cut out for us; be it constructing a research question or getting to grips with an assignment title for that term paper. In such cases, we are burdened by the wish to quickly attain a far distant product rather than focus and work on the process before us.

Initial blocking begins when students don’t deconstruct questions. A certain amount of performing to lecturer begins when students first impulse is to scamper and regurgitate your own lecture notes without going any deeper. Students know that they need to enter into and engage with the particular discourse of their field but this doesn’t help relieve the distress of feeling they need to climb an academic Everest and can’t make out which route to take. Old familiar chestnut cues and habits kick in. Valuable time is lost in an effort to put the journey off to a fallacious better day or decide to detour to the nearby town of procrastination. We’ve all been there.

It’s not just about relearning and resetting old patterns. We need to unlearn strategies that simply don’t work. We wouldn’t use an app if we deemed it to be of substandard quality – we’d simply download another one. Why, then, do we sell ourselves short when it comes to repeating the same old unworkable strategies that simply get us nowhere?

For me, it’s a question of scaffolding and instilling confidence in students. Getting them to tease out the facets of a assignment while maintaining a sense of possiblity and meaningful contribution they can bring to answering it. Articulating our expressed perspectives in relation to a title is a good starting point. This brings me back to my adolescent days of hashing out challenging questions with my mother. She’d simply put the onus back on us to own and develop our own lines of thinking by asking us to ‘back up our statements’. Sounds simple now but not a bad rule of thumb when it comes to tackling an assignment paper!

I don’t believe the majority of students go out to simply cut, paste and plagiarise their way through essays (although some admittedly, unashamedly do). Many plagiarise by default. Thinking back, I don’t remember learning how to properly paraphrase in secondary school or for that matter, learning how to structure an essay from a solid theoretical framework until I well into my masters. Only then did I learn to to scale back and make my evolving points clear and cohesive. I learnt to draft and endlessly redraft, speak them aloud, punctuate when I ran out of breath, and enact a Zorro style of editing when I felt paragraphs needed a more cablese style.

Zorro. Ben Hannis Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I don’t like the term ‘binge writing’ but there is something to be said in downloading a Pomodoro and setting yourself 20-40 minutes of pure webbed thinking that turns into focused writing.

Pomodoro. Michael Mayer Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I encourage students to shed the need to edit while they write. Dr Barbara Oakley puts it brilliantly by using the analogy that at the table of writing, we shouldn’t clear up as we eat. I can’t stress this enough. Why edit while you write? It seems fruitless to use up such valuable mental real estate while you’re trying to digest and develop your evolving argument. Writing for a solid 40 minutes in the morning for three days in a row helps support free flow writing without the shackles of spillchick killing your creative buzz. I suggest students then take mental breaks from the writing for two days and then come back to it on a Friday or Saturday with fresh eyes.

I’m not denying that structuring in the form of fronting points, coherence and cohesion are writing skills that need to be taught but by applying the ‘backing up your statement’ idea, students can start to overcome the threat of plagiarising by citing as they write.