When the Blackboard Collaborate Connections Summit 2011 team began planning for our annual conference this summer in Las Vegas, we held a group brainstorming exercise in hopes of picking the perfect theme.  We threw out some fun ideas such as “Viva Collaboration” and “Collaboration: A Safe Bet” and some real clunkers too, like “Cirque du Collaboration.”  But after the brainstorming session ended and we had some time to take a step back to truly reflect on the goal of this year’s conference, the real theme hit us like a blackjack savant hits on a 16 – the theme obviously should be one of coming together.

Before last summer when Blackboard acquired Elluminate and Wimba, I’m proud to say that both companies had a wonderful track record of listening to and recognizing its customers.  Elluminate highlighted its customer successes via its annual Centers of Excellence awards and Wimba brought its customers together each year at its annual Connect conferences which were highlighted by its Hall of Fame induction ceremonies – yes, the ones at which I donned a purple velvet tuxedo jacket when emcee’ing.

So this summer – now that Elluminate and Wimba share one united group of customers – the theme of coming together makes perfect sense.  Therefore, the program at our first combined user conference focuses on events and activities that highlight togetherness.

After our pre-conference workshops give both Elluminate and Wimba customers a chance to brush up on their skills or to become certified trainers, our customers will be some of the first to hear more about Blackboard Collaborate 11, our new, combined collaboration platform. Maurice Heiblum, our division’s fearless leader, then officially kicks off the conference with his opening keynote which will similarly highlight the efforts we as a single division have made – together – to ensure we have the same customer focus that both companies demonstrated before the acquisition.

And then the awards ceremony.  I can’t wait to wear my purple tuxedo jacket again (which is now more appropriate than ever because purple is our division’s new color) and praise and congratulate the first class of our new, unified Blackboard Hall of Fame for Excellence in Collaboration.  From there, our sessions begin.  Nearly 100 customers of all Blackboard Collaborate products will share tips and tricks for effective collaboration, examples of using collaboration to improve student outcomes and/or save time and money, provide methods of fostering adoption, and give numerous other examples about how collaboration technologies allowed them to achieve their goals.  That’s the part I’m most excited for.  As the Senior Manager of Customer Programs and our division’s primary customer advocate, these are the stories I live to hear.

During the second day of Connections, our own Valerie Schreiner and Annie Chechitelli will share more about our next-generation product, but I won’t tell you all about it here – you need to come to Vegas to find out!

Finally, the Connections Summit concludes with our closing keynote by Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.  Cator is a world-renowned voice of educators and speaks about the future of education but in very tangible, practical terms.  She’ll discus “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology” in which she’ll articulate a vision for a 21st-century model of learning.

I look forward to seeing hundreds of Blackboard Collaborate customers from around the world coming together July 11-13 in Las Vegas.  And even though it never got formally approved, I’ll say it anyway:  Viva Collaboration!


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