Photo (Left) Fraser McLeish is learning technologist and (Right) Jim Emery is lecturer in digital learning at Glasgow Caledonian University

Innovation in Teaching, Research and Practice Through Webinar Software


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Aug 07, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version

Having access to technology is one thing, but being able to use it in innovative ways to solve challenges in higher education, can make all the difference – especially when it comes to enhancing the student experience. Glasgow Caledonian University, an institution with 20,000 students that stands out for its world-leading research and widening participation, is a great example of how digital tools and resources can be applied in teaching, learning and research to produce outstanding results.

At Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), the increased use of learning technologies as a way of reaching the goal of transforming lives through education, is encouraged by their institutional strategy for 2020.

To achieve this, GCU is focusing on developing the digital learning environment and expanding the use of technology to enhance the student experience, develop digital capability, scale up the online and distance learning offering and increase the connectivity of campuses and communities.

Exploring Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

Since 2002, GCU has relied on Blackboard Learn as their main platform for teaching and learning. All university modules are available on the digital learning environment, which is integrated with several other software and applications such as Maple, for mathematics, and Leganto, for library activity.

“We want to encourage both staff and students to be more able users of digital technology, to enhance and to enrich their learning and teaching experience,” says Jim Emery, lecturer in digital learning at GCU.

One tool that is being used in a particularly innovative way is the web conferencing application Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. “Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is now our institutional platform for webinar software. One of the big attractions about it is the ease of access and the ease of use. The fact that the user interface is so simple was a key factor for us in determining that we would use the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra integration,” says Emery. “Collaborate Ultra is embedded in all modules, it’s available for online teaching, learning and research, it’s there to support and enhance the learning and teaching activity and possibly extend the scope of the traditional lecture as well.”

GCU’s academic staff are using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in a variety of ways. For example, to give students feedback, be it on an individual or group basis, or to facilitate and record meetings.

The solution has also made it possible to have external experts participate in class sessions during the day and evening, which has been very well-received by students. “Students actually want more time in the sessions. They are so engaged that they want to ask more and more questions,” says Fraser McLeish, learning technologist at GCU.

According to McLeish, the institution is now building up a variety of case studies to get a better understanding of how academic staff are using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and ResponseWare across the university. Here are some exciting examples.

Real Life Treatment Decisions Through a Virtual Hospital

GCU has an Interprofessional Simulation Center that helps students learn the clinical skills required for clinical practice in a safe environment. The center is fully equipped with state-of-the-art high fidelity simulators and recording equipment, and bespoke scenarios can be created in-house by the technical team and filmed using the SMOTSTM camera system.

The space includes an 18-bedded ward environment, briefing and debriefing rooms, a control room, nurses station, an intensive care suite and more. Students can practice their skills on simulated patients (actors), mannequins, single-task trainers or on other students.

Simulation centers like GCU’s can also be found at other higher education institutions. What makes GCU’s approach unique is the use of webinar software and polling tools to enable decision-making about how to treat a patient. Essentially, the academic practitioners ask problem-based scenario questions and the students can vote for their course of treatment.

However, as the Interprofessional Simulation Center can only get so many students through at a time, there was a need to create some sort of mass simulation scenario.

“Liz Simpson, the module leader, decided upon moving students to a large lecture theatre so they could watch the application in practice, ask questions about the procedure, and leave feedback via a Padlet Wall. These students were just about to qualify and go into hospitals, and that was the key to it all: to let them see what was actually going to happen in the next few months when they are doing it in a real-life scenario,” says McLeish.

GCU started this approach by using TurningPoint clickers, small student response system polling devices that learners can use to answer questions on campus. Now, they use TurningPoint’s interactive polling solution to vote online through their smartphones and other web-enabled devices.

“Students are getting to make real-life decisions as if they are in the hospital. The scenario they are put in is, essentially, that there’s been a deteriorating patient admitted into the hospital and they need to rapidly assess and manage the clinical emergency. They are given up to 10 seconds per decision and then they immediately see what the right answer was – basically see if the patient deteriorates or ultimately dies. The correct answer will determine the next course of treatment,” McLeish explains.

Recently, Lecturer Liz Simpson ran an “Applying Pathophysiology” lecture for the “Consolidating Professional Skills for Nursing Practice (Adult)” module to let students understand the altered physiology associated with the deteriorating patient. Student feedback on this and other projects was so positive that Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and TurningPoint have been adopted university-wide now.

International Collaborative Research

Although most lecturers at GCU are using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for teaching and learning purposes, there are research initiatives that are using it to enable international collaboration. According to Emery, research institutes at the university have been increasing their use of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. One example is setting up hybrid sessions where experts in different countries try to identify key treatments or agree to a key treatment switch.

One remarkable case is a project led by researcher Julie Duncan Millar to assist stroke survivors in their recovery. Up to 77% of stroke survivors experience a condition called upper limb disorder, so the project is aimed to explore measures in arm rehabilitation trials.

As a part of the project, a one-day “consensus meeting” needed to take place, where campus-based and online participants had to collaborate to create a treatment toolbox in real time. The meeting was set out to bring together stroke survivors, helpers, volunteers, health experts and lecturers, who needed to participate and vote for the treatments when required. The meeting recording would be made available after the event.

The six-hour session successfully took place using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. As the polling solution on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is still limited and did not meet the original remit, TurningPoint polling software was used for participants to vote. There was an initial requirement for keypad clickers and web-enabled devices. The questions were integrated into PowerPoint and the raw data was exported for convenient, further analysis. With the results also embedded into PowerPoint, it was possible to add narration at a later date. This narration would be converted into HTML5 via iSpring Converter Pro for viewing via a web browser.

“They could all vote whether a treatment solution was going to be usable or not, and from those results we’re building a smart toolbox, which is a selection of agreed treatments that could help the stroke survivors, a virtual toolbox on where agreed treatments for upper arm limb disorder treatment could be stored and shared,” says Emery.

Engaging Globally

For Emery, technology is enabling GCU to move from being a technology-enhanced learning university to a fully digital institution, not only in terms of content but also in terms of the geographical range.

With campuses in Glasgow, London and New York, and partners in Oman, Bangladesh, South Africa and Mauritius, GCU calls itself the ‘University for the Common Good,’ and one of its goals for 2020 is to engage globally with learners and communities. “Technology enables us to be a global player,” says McLeish. For example, GCU is the founding academic partner of an innovative higher education institution in Africa established to develop future leaders for the continent. Former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique, Dr. Graça Machel, hailed the African Leadership College in Mauritius the beginning of an “inspiring African story.”

For the next few years, Emery underlines the importance of creating and developing an equitable learning experience for the full range of students, regardless of how or where they access the virtual learning environment. “The more our activity is digital, the more we have to focus on providing engaging and challenging learning activities.”

McLeish envisions a scenario where education has less boundaries and more online collaboration. “There are many trends, such as virtual reality, that are becoming more viable due to the cost coming down, but for us the main challenge is to make sure that although technology may influence pedagogy, pedagogy comes first. Technology can then be dovetailed in a planned and sustainable way.”


4 Innovative Ways to Use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra 

  1. Inviting international experts to participate in a class
  2. Providing students with individual or group feedback 
  3. Enabling collaborative international research
  4. Facilitating and recording meetings with a wide range of participants (along with integrated polling software)   

Photos by: AFP – Andy Buchahan