Blackboard Collaborate Review

Great for online learning, and straightforward setup, however needs more hands-on tutorials

What is our primary use case?

Blackboard is our teaching environment, for both online and on campuses, for all the interfaces to content for the courseware.

When I'm teaching, in advance of the scheduled time for the students to meet, I upload to Collaborate the content (for example, PowerPoint). While I'm teaching, I do a go-to desktop utility, so that from my own desktop I'm driving the teaching using the desktop tools. Due to the focus of the classes, to teach, the design of the data structures require extracting meaningful Business Intelligence answers. I basically am able to simulate what I used to use in the industry using Cognos or Oracle Express, or those kinds of tools, live for class.

What is most valuable?

The solution allows me to connect and collaborate with my classes.

What needs improvement?

I'm disappointed in the behavior of the Ultra version of the solution. It's not exhibiting what I have my own hands on, on my own machine. The students are everywhere else, so it's important that they can follow what I'm showing. The product squeezes down the images to a smaller physical space. For zooming in, you can't really get the details of a model. It's just not feasible to visualize it properly for the students.

I'm not using one of the Oracle designer tools. I'm using MS Access, to assimilate, or to talk in terms of fact tables, dimension tables, running some queries. I know that the students are working on a laptop or sometimes even a cell phone. They cannot possibly see with these screens what I do. Meanwhile, I'm working on a Samsung big screen.

In the classroom, I don't have that challenge. We're not using Collaborate when the same course is taught in the classroom.

If there were maybe more tutorials outside of what I'm aware the university is suggesting, I would take more tutorials on effective ways to deliver content. I come from the industry and content was always needed when people that were observing were smart and involved and decision-makers instead of so passively just trying to pass the course. In my imagination, the tutorials would be a tool where the learners themselves can have much more hands-on learning during a Collaborate session.

For example, for online courses, when it comes to the final project, the presentation of the project is presumed that it will be in Collaborate, however, instead, the teachers accept that the students will move toward using Adobe Connect or Zoom. If the solution worked more like those applications, they'd be more likely to present their final project on it.

For how long have I used the solution?

I've been using the solution for about six years now.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability problems I face may be on my end. I have AT&T as a service provider for the internet. I've ordered it with the blue cord direct connect due to the fact that wireless would have too many long stalls and sometimes would just stop working altogether. Therefore, I've experienced freezing when working from a wireless connection. However, it may just be my connection.

On my Dell computer with the direct connect, I can keep a session going. I have observed that the students get knocked off and come back, and have to connect again.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

I'm not sure if Blackboard can scale, or is meant to. It's more of a teaching tool.

It doesn't have useability for multiple people that can work on the same product. When we used to have online meetings, when I was with Oracle, we could have multiple hands on the same database through the tools they offered. This doesn't offer that.

While the school has thousands of students, I'm only an adjunct professor with a few set classes. The duration of each course is only four weeks. We have ten scheduled connection time slots in those four weeks. 

I won't be doing more with Blackboard for any of the courses that I already have been teaching. If I'm going to be having meetings with the teams, we would use tools like Zoom or Team Viewer, or, if it comes down to what the documents are going to be, it would be Google Docs. That's how I extend the teaching to help the students. I don't extend the use of Blackboard itself.

Blackboard is the repository for all of the documents. I probably, of all the teachers that I know about, put more content in Blackboard than was ever there from the underlying base course.

How are customer service and technical support?

Typically, if we have issues, we contact technical support that is based at the university, which is more of an in-house team. That's become complicated now that a lot of the school has shut down due to COVID.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

I've previously used a solution at a different education institution called EyeLink. I also previously used a solution that had a web-user interface for a tool, however, I don't recall the name if it. 

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty straightforward. I just had to accept what it was that the admins were doing. The admins were learning what the tool could do, however, they didn't really get into what would be needed for teaching. Most of the teaching using Collaborate is limited to running PowerPoint.

What other advice do I have?

We use the latest version of the solution.

There's always, with any tool, a simple, basic way of using the tool as the vendor supports it. That's the basics. Complications come if you're going to add content that goes beyond what is normally covered. Complications could happen. However, Collaborate isn't too complicated. Their alternative was annoying. It still is. When I'm teaching now with Ultra, I do two connections to Collaborate. One is with Chrome so that I can get past the tunnel of mirrors effect where there's an image within an image within an image, and it's a distraction. I have a second connection through Firefox. The students only connect through whatever the operating system is on their devices for viewing and for talking.

I'd rate the solution seven out of ten.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Public Cloud
**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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