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KCeL Best Practices

Best Practices Using Blackboard Advanced Communication Tools:  Blackboard Collaborate Ultra


  1. Overview
  2. General Best Practices
  3. Session preparation
  4. Scheduling and sharing links
  5. Accessibility
  6. Teaching and facilitating with Collaborate
  7. Additional Resources



Blackboard’s Collaborate Ultra is an online web conferencing tool that faculty can use for virtual office hours, synchronous class meetings, guest speakers, and more. It has a chat feature, whiteboard, file and screen sharing, and breakout rooms. It also allows for recording and sharing links to recorded sessions.

 Below are some best practices for using Blackboard Ultra Collaborate in your courses.

1.    General Best Practices

  • Schedule synchronous class sessions judiciously.
    Keep in mind that not all students may be able to attend a synchronous session and that beginning in Fall 2020 any synchronous sessions you want to hold in an online course must be listed in the schedule of classes for students. Be sure to make all the materials available to all students, regardless of whether they attend a synchronous session.

  • Connect with your audience.
    Before launching into class session tasks, break the ice first by asking for brief introductions or by asking a question. Address specific people with specific questions to keep a personal connection going. This also conveys a sense of care and promotes an equitable classroom experience.

  • Practice on-screen etiquette.
    Wear professional attire. Web-conference in a quiet place. Be aware of what is behind you and arrange your on-screen environment. Join early to check audio and video, upload any files, and practice using tools. Mute yourself when not speaking.

  • Slow your pace.
    Speak at a slightly slower pace due a few second delay. If you're hosting, pause after asking a question. If you’re a participant, signal with your hand or in the chat by saying ‘question’ or ‘comment’ and wait a few seconds before continuing.

  • Share responsibilities.
    Divide facilitation tasks between you and your co-host. For example, one may be assigned to watch the chat for questions or volunteer to take on tech troubleshooting.

  • Use soft light.
    Use light from a window or lamps to light yourself from the front. To avoid silhouette, don’t record with a window behind you. Arrange the light to your liking and ask for feedback from a friend. The main goal is a clear image. If you want to go further, look for an inexpensive light kit.

  • Position your webcam appropriately.
    Place your camera at or above eye-level, and far enough away to capture your shoulders and face.

  • Close other software applications and streaming services.
    For smoothest performance, close applications you don’t need; limit video during the session; limit recording; limit sharing applications and screens; and convert content that will be shared during the event to PDF.

  • Test the sound and consider using headphones.
    Create a test recording to check the sound quality of your built-in mic. Use headphones to cut down on background noise.

  • Be aware of connectivity and equipment.
    Use a hard-wired connection, if possible. If using Wifi, get close to the router. Use up-to-date Internet browsers. On a mobile, use Safari for iOS and Chrome for Android. Note that you can’t share screens on mobiles when using Collaborate Ultra, but you can share a Powerpoint or PDF.

  • Write a script and practice until it flows before recording.
    When using Collaborate to record, first write down what you are going to present to save time and false starts.

2.    Session Preparation

  • Create a timeline to plan the tasks you’ll need to complete before, during, and after the session, and make a list of the students’ activities.

  • Share content ahead of time to help keep meetings short and efficient and to help make the session accessible for all students. Many students, not only those with disabilities, will appreciate having an outline, notes, or other session-related materials ahead of the session.

  • Make it collaborative: facilitate a discussion or activity on content you’ve shared prior to the session, or present content and intersperse it with participatory activities.

  • Have poll text ready. If you plan to run a poll, have the text you want to use ready so you can just copy and paste.

  • Give attendees 5-10 minutes to join and get settled. They may be running from another session, having connection issues, or learning to use Collaborate.

3.    Scheduling and Sharing Session Links

  • Let attendees know what to expect - how to find the session, what it’s about and any expectations you have for them during the session. Let them join early.

  • Share guest links mindfully. Guest links are public links. Anybody with the link can join your session and take part. Don't share links in public places like on social media. Use the Invite attendee feature to create secure links that can't be shared. If your session is in your course, everyone in the course has secure access to the session that can't be shared.

  • Be selective with participant permissions (found under Session Settings). Turn on or off participants’ ability to chat, share video, share audio, and use the whiteboard. If you want to let a participant talk or chat, promote the participant to presenter.

4.    Accessibility

  • Make content accessible. Consult KCeL’s web page on making content accessible to learn more.

  • Share content ahead of time (e.g., presentation files, recordings) to allow attendees more time to review materials.

  • Upload presentations to Collaborate. Screen reader users can access text from PowerPoint and PDF files shared in the session. This provides an easy way to follow along as slides change. Moderators and presenters must select Share Files and upload the files to Collaborate for screen readers to access the text.

  • Describe annotations. When you share files or the whiteboard, you can let attendees mark on them. Describe edits for attendees with visual impairments.

  • Provide captions by assigning a captioner during the live session or add captions to the recording later.

  • Share materials from the session right away. Put recordings, presentations files, and transcripts where attendees can find them and review.

5.    Teaching and Facilitating with Collaborate

  • Teaching and learning activities
    Rather than replicating instructor-led face to face lectures, consider using Blackboard Collaborate for active learning strategies. Think about the successful activities in your face to face courses and how you might be able to bring them online. You might want to flip the synchronous session by asking students to come prepared to discuss topics they have already explored or give students the opportunity to lead a discussion.

  • Try to include the following methods to engage student: Role plays, think-pair-share activities, fishbowl discussions; debates; group presentations; collaborative writing activities; and perspective-taking discussions, in which individuals are asked to represent the point of view of another person (e.g., a theorist they are learning about in class).

  • Virtual office hours
    Collaborate is also a great tool for setting up virtual office hours in your online courses. Watch this short video tutorial to get started.

  • Guest speakers
    Guest speakers can easily be brought into your virtual classroom. Invite them in by sending them a guest link and make them a presenter in your session. They can share their screens and upload files, but can't modify other users' permissions the way a moderator can.

    Some pedagogical methods to have guest speakers involved in your session include: discuss pre-set questions during a live interaction with a guest speaker; ask a guest to be a debate moderator during a live class debate; and ask students to develop questions ahead of time to send to a guest speaker. The guest can then answer the questions during an asynchronous recorded session that can later be shared with students via a link to the recording.

    Tips for facilitating a class session

  • Invite collaboration. Ways to invite collaboration can include: promoting a participant to presenter, incorporating polling questions, or adding a question and answer period to the session.

  • Be adventurous. Instead of replicating a face to face instructor-led lecture, try making your sessions participatory and active.

  • Plan to be flexible. Recognize that not all online students may be able to participate in a synchronous session. Make it optional to attend. Also - ask participants to enter the session 10 minutes ahead to get settled with the technology and have a plan for those who may experience technical problems.

  • Establish ground rules. Consider asking students to help co-create ground rules for the group prior to the session (e.g., Should people raise their hand to request to talk or just jump in?).

  • Highlight key points. Highlight the main points in your presentation and move forward with the arrows. Use annotation tools on the whiteboard or in presentations.

  • Keep the attendees panel open. This will allow you to tell who is away, has the mic on, or has network issues.

  • Know how to remove participants’ permissions. You can remove permissions to use audio, video, or chat. If you turn them off and want one participant to speak, promote them to presenter.

  • Remove unwanted attendees. To remove an attendee: to go to the Attendees panel > select Attendee controls > select Remove.

6.    Additional Resources

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Text-Based Tutorial

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Video Tutorial

KCeL Web Page on Making Courses Accessible