New Blackboard version enhances lecture experience

OUM will soon be upgrading the version of Blackboard Collaborate currently used to conduct online lectures.

Collaborate Ultra has been developed by Blackboard as a web-based utility to replace the Collaborate desktop application, which is no longer under active development.

Collaborate Ultra has several advantages over the older Collaborate:

  1. it runs in a web browser with no additional software to download,
  2. the mobile app supports playback of recordings, as well as attending live sessions, and
  3. it natively supports the upload of PowerPoint presentations and PDFs without additional software, which will make life easier for instructors.

Collaborate Ultra preserves some of the best features of Collaborate, such as elegant handling of low bandwidth and spotty internet connections. It currently does not support downloading recordings or mp3-only versions, but recordings may be viewed via the mobile app.

“Perhaps the most important change with Collaborate Ultra is that it works best with Firefox or Chrome,” says Greg Beber, OUM’s Chief Information Officer. “Those browsers support something called WebRTC to enable voice and video communication. Safari and Microsoft browsers will work, but they use Flash to enable voice/video, which isn’t as efficient as WebRTC,” he adds.

The one exception is the Application Sharing feature in Collaborate Ultra — that only works via WebRTC. Consequently, moderators who want to share screens with their class must use Firefox or Chrome. To use only the whiteboard or to upload files (like PowerPoint presentations), any browser will work, but Firefox and Chrome might provide a better experience.

In order to give users the chance to become familiar with Collaborate Ultra, explanatory materials and a test room are being provided where they can log in and look around.

Here is a comprehensive help page designed for participants: Participant Help Guide

And here is an introductory walk-through: Video Walk-Through for Participants

To use Ultra on mobile devices, see the following app: Mobile App for Participants

Finally, here is a link to the test room course in Moodle: Collaborate Ultra Test Room

Users who join the Collaborate Ultra Test Room will enter as a moderator. This gives the opportunity to access the whiteboard and present documents, even if others are not in the room. Since OUM students will usually have participant privileges, that is the view demonstrated in the Walk-Through Video.

Implementation timeframe

A firm date has not been established when OUM will make the switch to Collaborate Ultra. While the switch is anticipated to be in the near future, time is being taken to assure that users get the opportunity to test and get used to it.

“Please take time to explore this new version and let us know if you experience any issues,” says Greg. “Support will be available to help troubleshoot, or to join you in a session for a walk-through. Our goal is to ensure that everyone is familiar and comfortable with Collaborate Ultra before it is actually used to deliver lectures. As always, your feedback is welcomed and encouraged.”