Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Distance Education Just Got A Little Closer!

Distance Education Just Got A Little Closer!

by Alan Regan & Varun Khanna

In my earlier post on Google Hangouts, I wrote about the benefits of using this new engaging online video tool to work in small groups (less than 15).

But, what if your group or class is more than 15? Pepperdine University's Technology & Learning group suggests Blackboard Collaborate as an online web conferencing platform.

With so many possible tools -- Courses (powered by Sakai), Google Hangouts, Bb Collaborate, Turnitin, Google Drive/Docs -- which tools do I choose?

Let's attempt to reduce the confusion surrounding all these technologies.

1. What is Courses (powered by Sakai)?
Courses (aka Sakai) is the official learning management system (LMS) used by Pepperdine University. It is the online destination where you might post your syllabus, send announcements to the class, administer tests & quizzes, assignments, gradebook, etc. In 2011, Pepperdine University moved over from Blackboard's learning management system to Courses (powered by Sakai). In short, it is the powerful brains behind

2. What is Blackboard Collaborate?
Blackboard Collaborate is an web conferencing platform that allows people to meet online.  It supports up to 200 people to attend a single meeting. Participants can take advantage of live audio, text chat, web camera video, shared whiteboard, application sharing, polling, and many other features.  Blackboard Collaborate is available as an optional tool within

3. What is Turnitin?
Turnitin is a plagiarism detection service that is also integrated into With this tool, professors and students can evaluate the amount of text in student papers that is similar to other sources.  It is a powerful way to educate students about academic integrity.  This service can be enabled by a professor within Assignments tool of Courses.

4. What are Google Hangouts, Drive/Docs, Google+, etc.
Google provides free applications that are hosted online in the cloud. Google Hangouts is a web conferencing service that allows small groups (up to 15 if you are using to interact using audio and video. Google Drive is an online storage solution that offers up to 30 GB of total storage space. Within Google Drive are Google Docs -- mini applications that are similar to Microsoft Office.  A Google Document is like Microsoft Word, Google Presentation is like Microsoft PowerPoint, and Google Spreadsheet is like Microsoft Excel.  They share many common features with the Microsoft Office suite, but are not as robust.  These online documents allow multiple people to work simultaneously on a project or paper and are saved automatically every few seconds. Finally, Google+ is a social networking service similar to Facebook.

Let us turn our focus back to Blackboard Collaborate.

10 Things You Always Wanted To Know About Blackboard Collaborate:

1. Plug in your microphone and headset FIRST. This is a very important first step. Be sure that you have connected your headset to your computer before you start a Blackboard Collaborate session.  (If you plug in after you've started a session, the software may not recognize your device!) We also recommend a headset to avoid a majority of audio issues. After you've connected to Blackboard Collaborate, run the Audio Wizard to confirm that everything is working properly.

2. Go to A quick scan will reveal whether your browser requires updates. To use Blackboard Collaborate your Java version must be the very latest. If you have an outdated version, click Fix It on browsercheck site.  Alternately, you can go directly to and download the latest version.

3. Log onto using your Wavenet credentials. If you have not already enabled the tool in your site, edit your tools and add it.  It will appear as "Elluminate Live! Bridge."

4. Click Elluminate Live Bridge in the left menu. On the next page you can either Create Session or View Past Recordings.

5.  To create a session follow simple instructions. Click Finish. On the next page you will see a "guest" link.  You can copy this link to distribute to guest speakers or outside participants.

6. On the main page, you'll see the session (if scheduled for today).  When the session is available, click the link and then click the "Join" button.  (Don't accidentally click the guest link!)

7. Blackboard Collaborate is an application. So, it may take a few minutes to load and open depending on your computer and network speed. It is also common that the window may be hidden behind your browser window.  Look for the purple icon in your Windows task bar or MacOS dock.

Important: Once you are in a Bb Collaborate session, check your audio and video. You will not have time during the online class. A best practice is to arrive and check your online session settings at least 15 minutes prior to the given class or meeting time. Your professor most likely will have the bridge (access to Blackboard Collaborate) open at least 30 minutes prior to your official login time.

8. Only 6 people may talk at any given time. So, if the class is 20 or 199 - only 6 people may have the "Talk" button selected. It is a best practice to turn your microphone off when you are not speaking. The group will get distracted and fall behind if all they can do is hear the theme song to Who's Smarter Than a 5th Grader playing on your TV.

9. There are group chat features as well as peer-to-peer chat within Collaborate. If you are posting in group chat -- keep your comments short, to the point and keeping in mind that the entire class can see what you are typing. Peer-to-peer chats cannot be seen by your class (but may be visible to the instructor!).

10. Be patient! Be proactive! And, then be patient again! All online interactive technology tools are a work-in-progress. Slides may take a few seconds to load. Blackboard collaborate will strip all animations out of a Powerpoint presentation. Raise your hand feature is a polite way of asking a question. It takes a few sessions to get used to any online interactive platform. Blackboard Collaborate is no different. Play around with all the features before you attend your first class. You can always call Pepperdine technical support on all five graduate campuses to assist you with a training session. And lastly, turn off your smart phones (we know it's hard but, give it a shot anyways!).

Helpful Resources:
  •     Blackboard Collaborate Support Phone Number: 866-388-8674 (toll-free)