We take our role in your daily instruction seriously and ensuring that we’re putting the best product in your hands is extremely important for all of us at Blackboard. As you’re navigating the rapidly changing landscape, we are focused on equipping you with a customizable and flexible virtual classroom so you’re prepared for what’s next, whatever that may look like at your institution. In our March 2021 Blackboard Collaborate Roadmap Webinar, Yolene Ors, Product Manager, showcased the brand-new features you can use (or use soon!) to personalize your teaching in our virtual classroom.
What recent innovations in Blackboard Collaborate do you think are most important for our clients to know about today?
The use of virtual classroom technology was growing even before the COVID-19 pandemic shifted instructional models. When the shift happened, we saw the number of minutes spent in Blackboard Collaborate increase by 48x in 2020 compared to the prior year.
This sharp increase in use made me think differently about our virtual classroom. I wanted to lead our product team in a way that truly could make a difference for learners and educators. I started thinking about new ways to engage, how to create the most inclusive experience possible, and how to make the transition to remote instruction as seamless as possible for everyone.
These are the highlights that I’m most proud of:
- Making digital engagement and social learning easier with the “chat mention” feature in chat. It may sound simple, but that personal outreach and connection is so important when everyone is learning remotely.
- Helping instructors be more efficient with intuitive tools so they can easily customize their settings, download poll results and share session recordings.
- Supporting learners and students directly inside the virtual classroom with the support chatbot.
The Blackboard Collaborate Release Notes are the best place to look for the full list of last year’s innovations.
The Gallery View is one thing on the roadmap that clients are eager to leverage in order to engage students. Can you tell us more about it?
We are just as eager as our clients are for this! With Gallery View, instructors will have another way to engage students and assess student comprehension. My team has been focused on leveraging user research, as well as academic research on video-conferencing fatigue to shape this really cool new feature.
The initial release is planned to allow instructors to see up to 25 cameras at the same time and browse through pages of 25 participants videos (up to 250 participants can have their camera on!), but with the right controls in place to manage an effective virtual classroom. For example, the active speaker will always be in view. For instructors and moderators, it’s easy to find a specific student because the gallery is in order by role (moderator, presenter) and then alphabetical from there.
I’m also proud of the personalization this feature brings the classroom.
- Each user can choose how many webcams they want to see, adjust their size and tweak throughout the session so they can adapt their experience to their own preference, bandwidth, propensity for distraction, level of tiredness and visual overload.
- When Gallery View will be available for all participants, moderators will still fully be in control of the feature. They will decide, whenever they want, to see all their students with Gallery View but deactivate this view for students so they’d see only 4 videos and not get distracted.
We are planning an April 2021 release for the first version, which allows for the moderators to have Gallery View, and will then expand the capability to all participants thereafter.
Inclusive access is critical for helping all learners succeed. What are you working on in this area for Blackboard Collaborate?
Blackboard Collaborate allows moderators to use live captioners in a session, and also to add captions to recordings, thus allowing institutions to be compliant with accessibility regulations. However, many institutions don’t have the resources needed to meet their compliance obligations, and we want to help by lowering the burden on them. We’re working on providing AI-powered captions for recordings. These could be used immediately by students, or simply serve as as starting point for human improvement.
What are some things on the horizon that can help academic support staff?
Two things jumped out to the attendees during our live webinar in this area.
First, we are working on a bulk transfer for recordings that allows schools to balance their need to manage storage while also adhering to archival and retention policies.
Second, participants can now troubleshoot common issues via a chatbot while still in their session. With the new access to support, attendees can troubleshoot first and contact their institution administrator for support after, if necessary. Due to the success rate of the chatbot, we’ve just incorporated it onto more pages to help support session participants.
Institutions leveraging Blackboard Learn have taken advantage of the deep integration, including the advanced automated attendance features. We will expand these synergies and efficiencies and have started working on integrating Blackboard Learn groups as breakout groups in Blackboard Collaborate, which is getting a lot of excitement from our users.
During the webinar, you spent a lot of time gathering feedback from attendees. How can others provide feedback into the roadmap and development process?
Seeing people engage, answer polls, use instant feedback status and share their opinions was the highlight of the session for me. We have received a lot of interest in the Blackboard Collaborate Product Research Group, which allows you to engage with us around research, pilot programs, and get insider scoops on features we are developing. If you are interested, you can sign up here.
Statements regarding our product development initiatives, including new products and future product upgrades, updates or enhancements represent our current intentions, but may be modified, delayed or abandoned without prior notice and there is no assurance that such offering, upgrades, updates or functionality will become available unless and until they have been made generally available to our customers.