Newsletter 22 – Online Virtual Classrooms

Instructional Technology Newsletter 22

Blackboard Collaborate – Online Virtual Classrooms

Rachel Potter, Dean, College of Education

March 2017

Synchronous course sessions via Blackboard Collaborate provide the opportunity to enhance otherwise asynchronous courses with live, interactive sessions.  Whether offered as optional supplements, or required as part of course expectations, using anywhere from 1 to 6 sessions can enrich the course experience of students. Since our online, adult, and graduate students typically work during the day, planning these sessions for evenings or weekends is essential to make the course accessible.

In many ways, these sessions allow for some replication of traditional in-class experiences.  Students can speak directly with the instructor or peers, students can work in small groups in “break out rooms,” the instructor can provide lecture content or facilitate interactive discussion, and assessment “in the moment” is just as easily done as in a classroom.

There is little additional preparation required for teaching a BBC session as opposed to teaching in a brick-and-mortar classroom.  As an instructor, I log in early so students are quickly assured they are in the right place.  Additionally, I have my PowerPoint prepared in advance to upload (the upload process can take several minutes) with “check for understanding” questions embedded every few slides. Just before the session starts, I click “record,” and I archive the session so that absent students can watch it after the fact. With creative thinking, and an openness to exploring the capabilities of this tool, Blackboard Collaborate allows an online course to have some of the same interactivity of a traditional class. 

OIT will be offering Blackboard Collaborate Introduction and Refresher sessions online for Faculty as follows:

Sat, 3 Dec 1-2 PM
Mon, 5 Dec 6-7 PM
Tue, 6 Dec 10-11 AM
Thu, 8 Dec, 7-8 PM

Click here to join a session to try out something new or refresh your skills.

OIT will also be offering Blackboard Collaborate Test Your Technology sessions for Students in January, dates and times TBA.

From an instructor’s perspective, my most-used features of Blackboard Collaborate are the timer, the chat box, the “hands up” button, and the polling feature.

As the instructor, I am able to set a visual timer on the screen, either just for my use, or visible to the class group.  I can choose for a timer that counts up or counts down, and I can elect for a tone to sound when the time is finished.  I use this feature when I log in before class begins, so that students know precisely when to expect me to start the class.  I also often will use timed breaks during long class sessions, or make use of the timer while students are doing breakout activities or independent work mid-class.
To use the timer feature: tools>timer>start timer>select time, countdown time, tone, visibility>start

I have found that a number of students, particularly those in younger generations, feel less comfortable using a microphone than “texting” via the chat box.  By allowing this type of verbal expression as an alternative to speaking, I actually am able to solicit greater participation and engagement with students conversationally and through discussion.  Also, when a class is larger, I can disable the microphone feature entirely so that chatting is the only communication option (this prevents several folks trying to speak at once and sound-delay issues). I also sometimes am teaching with a partner or guest speaker and there is a separate chat box for the moderators to use with one another that is not visible to the students/participants.
To use the chat feature: simply type in the chat field and click enter

Hands up Button (and nearby buttons)
The “hands up” button, and those buttons nearby, offer several ways for a student to non-verbally express or react to something in the session, to note that he or she has stepped away, or to raise a hand for the instructor’s attention.  The buttons are located on the left side of the screen under “participants.” As an instructor, I use these to check for understanding, cue a student-initiated response, and to get immediate feedback.  Some of the feedback options include: smiley, LOL, Applause, Confusion, Approval, Disapproval, Slower, or Faster.
To use these buttons’ features: click on the icon; for the “show emotion” icon, select the desired option

This is my absolute favorite feature of BBC. The polling feature provides a means for students to respond to a question or prompt by clicking yes, no, or a letter (multiple choice). During my class presentation, I am able to pose a question to my students to check for understanding (or to make sure they are “present” and attending). The student selects their answer.  As the instructor, I set up the feature in advance to the “multiple choice A-D” setting and I also elect to have the answers only visible to me as the instructor. There are other set-up options available based on instructor preference. After checking student responses, I clear their answers, and I am ready for the next question when it comes up.
By asking students questions as I go, I receive immediate feedback regarding the need for me to re-teach or clarify.  In contrast, only assessing students at the end does not allow me to become aware of misunderstandings as they occur and to address them before moving forward in the lesson.  If I notice that students are getting polling questions wrong, I have an immediate opportunity to provide correction “in the moment.” I typically have a question or two embedded in my PowerPoint every few slides. Since I record my sessions, students who are “absent” can watch the recording, and submit their responses to these questions as proof that they watched the session. During a live session, I can also see who is not participating (for example, a student who logged in but has left his or her computer unattended while running errands “appears” to be present unless you solicit participation in some way; polling is a great way to approach that).
To use the polling feature (instructor, before class): tools>polling>select polling type and visibility
To use the polling feature (students): the student clicks on the polling button, which then shows a drop-down menu of response choices; the student selects his or her response

Following is documentation about Blackboard Collaborate and how to use it. This information is also available at

For every Blackboard course, Blackboard Collaborate generates two types of rooms that require no scheduling. To access these sessions, click on Control Panel, Tools, Blackboard Collaborate.

If you want your students to be able to see this screen, click on the little + sign at the upper left of your Content Menu to Add Tool. Type in the name of the Tool “Blackboard Collaborate Sessions” and choose the Blackboard Collaborate Scheduling Manager tool. Click on “Available to Users”.

Course Room: A default room provided for your course that lasts as long as the duration of your course. Default settings can be modified so that users enter the session with a role the Instructor chooses.

  • By default, students enter your Course Room as participants. Instructors and administrators enter as moderators. You can allow all participants to join as moderators so that collaboration can start without your presence.
  • You as a moderator can restrict access to the Course Room.
  • Use your Course Room to acclimate students to your course setup, introduce new concepts, host Q and A sessions, lead study sessions, and grade group presentations.
  • NOTE: A recorded session in your course Room will not be copied or exported with your course. If you wish to record a Blackboard Collaborate Session that will persist after the Course and be able to be re-used in the future, follow the instructions here:

My Room: A default room provided for each instructor that lasts as long you retain an account on the system. By default, the room is titled with your name and is always available.

  • My Room is accessible from any course where you have the instructor role.
  • You can disallow participants from a certain course to enter your room.
  • By default, students enter your room as participants. You can allow all students to join as moderators or only allow select users from a course you teach to join your room.
  • Use My Room to provide office hours or help to users across all your courses. When privacy is a concern, create a new session and restrict access to only the user you need to discuss an issue with.

 Edit Room

You can customize any of your rooms. Click Edit Room to adjust settings for simultaneous speakers, private messages, the recording options, and more. The default number of simultaneous speakers is set to 3, but you can change this to any number up to 6. Remember you are one of the six!  The default “All Permissions” is set to Off. This means when your students enter the room, by default they cannot chat or talk. By default, everyone in the course has access to the Course Room, and all students are Participants. You can change these defaults if you wish.\

Add a Course Link

Click Add Link to create a course link to a room or recorded session in one of your course areas, such as a content area or folder. When you add a course link, students can access the room at a designated time alongside the relevant content in your course.

You can put date restrictions on the link, enter a Description or a Comment, and make it Required rather than Suggested. The links will look like this to your students:


Invite Guests

You can send guests a URL to access your Blackboard Collaborate session. In the pop-up window, add your guests’ email addresses and click Send Invitations. In the email from you, your guests will be able to view the session details such as when the session starts and ends. After clicking the URL, they can access the same Join Room link as your students to initiate Blackboard Collaborate.

Schedule a Session

You can create individual sessions for test reviews, specific group activity, and for touring and discussing content in your course. When privacy is a concern, create a new session and restrict access to only the user you need to discuss an issue with. Click the Set Defaults link to create settings you can use whenever you create new sessions. For example, you may always want six simultaneous speakers and want recordings of the sessions to start automatically.

Session Information Settings

Provide a descriptive name to help students easily select which session to enter. Session names must begin with a letter or a digit.

You can set the session to start and stop at designated times, and repeat at regular intervals. For example, you might host a session every Monday at a set time where you introduce a new chapter and objectives for the week. The start time you provide must fall in 15 minute increments, such as 0, 15, 30, and 45.

You can allow students to enter a session before the start time.


Click the quick tip icon to learn more about your selections.

For Type, you can create a session that is shared with one or more additional courses that you teach. Select the courses you want to include.


To put links into your Course Modules for Blackboard Collaborate recorded sessions, follow the instructions here:

  1. Click on Tools, then Blackboard Collaborate.
  2. Click on Recordings. You may need to change the dates to find your recording.
  3. When you find the correct recording, hover over it and from the little down arrows choose Add Link.  Choose the Course Module (content area) where you want to put the link to the recording.
  4. NOTE: A recorded session in your course Room will not be automatically copied or exported with your course. If you wish to ensure a Blackboard Collaborate Session recording will persist after the Course and be able to be re-used in the future, follow the instructions here:

You can also convert recordings to MP3 and/or MP4 files for use outside your Blackboard course.

Before the Session:

Before you start a Blackboard Collaborate session, make sure of the following:

  1. Ensure you are using a device that can successfully join a Blackboard Collaborate session. Blackboard has documented the System Requirements here:
  2. Test your speakers/earbuds/earphones. Connect to or another site and make sure the volume is adjusted for your comfort.
  3. Test your microphone. On a PC, you can use Sound Recorder. Record a short test and then play it back to make sure your microphone is working successfully. On a MAC, you can use Quicktime Player (click on File and New Audio Recording).

Accessing Blackboard Collaborate:

From the Blackboard Collaborate Course Tool, click Join Room twice. If you have used Blackboard Collaborate before, and already have installed the Launcher, then open the meeting.collab file. This may be presented to you as shown below, or it may be in your downloads folder.

If you have not previously installed the Blackboard Collaborate Launcher, do so now following the instructions at Installing the Blackboard Collaborate Launcher.

Initiating the Session

Click on the link provided, or click on Join Room from Blackboard. The meeting.collab file will be downloaded to your Downloads Folder, and, depending upon your browser and settings, you will either double click on meeting.collab or be prompted to click on Open.

If you see this message, click on Run

Click on Keep if you get a message that looks like this:

Java will start and you’ll see a message that looks like this:


Choose your connection speed and click on OK. :

If you are working with a MAC and get a security error, contact OIT for the work around.

To get to the Blackboard Collaborate session, click on the little purple BbC icon in your system tray: icon

In order to make sure you can hear and be heard, run the Audio Setup Wizard.


The Audio Setup Wizard is accessible from the Audio menu which is located in the Audio & Video panel.
Steps for Configuring Your Audio
1. Open the Audio Setup Wizard by clicking the Audio & Video menu and clicking Audio Setup Wizard.
2. From the Select Audio Output Device dialog, choose the device that will play the session audio e.g. speakers.
3. Click OK
4. Click the Play button and adjust the volume slider so that you can clearly hear the pre-recorded message. ClickStop and then Yes to confirm you were able to hear the audio. If you were not able to hear the audio, click No and repeat the previous step.
5. Select the device you will use to send your audio during the session e.g. microphone.
6. Click OK
7. If you are using a headset or microphone just for you, select Single Talker. If you are using a single microphone to pick up multiple talkers in the same physical space, select Multiple Talkers.
8. Click Record and speak into the microphone using your normal speaking voice. Adjust the microphone slide bar so that it displays green bars with an occasional yellow bar. Red indicates that your audio is too loud or you microphone is too close to your mouth.
9. Click Play and confirm you can hear your recorded voice. You are now ready to participate in the audio portion of the session, but you must click on TALK to turn the microphone on.

Jump to Moderating the Session


The Audio Setup Wizard on a Mac computer is slightly different than that of a PC.
1. Open the Audio Setup Wizard in the same manner by clicking the Audio & Video Options menu located in the Audio & Video panel.
2. Proceed as described above if you wish to use the default microphone and speakers on your Mac.
3. If you want to use a different device, click the Open the Sound Preferences panel.
The Sound preferences panel has a screen for audio output or how you will hear the session audio and a screen for input or microphone for sending audio. Select the desired device for both Output and Input. Then close Sound preferences.
When you are sure you can hear and be heard, click on the Talk button at the left to make your microphone LIVE. Click on the Video button at the left to make your camera live.

Note: To run Blackboard Collaborate / Elluminate you may need to have the latest Java: If you get a Java Error message, then follow these instructions: Go to Control Panel, Java and Open. Then under General, About, if you are NOT running the latest Java, click on Close, then click on the Update tab, then click on Update Now. This will install the latest version of Java.

If you wish to record this session, choose “Yes” when asked or click on the Record button at the upper right of the screen at any time during the session.
A good tutorial on how to moderate a Blackboard Collaborate Session is available here:


Options for the Main Screen:

LoadContentRecord      LoadContent


Loading Content: If you have PowerPoint slides you can preload them into your Session and then control the slide progress while still being able to see the chat window and other Blackboard Collaborate Controls. Click on Load Content and Browse for your PowerPoint slides. A Page Explorer Pane will pop up. You will need to move this pane, or minimize it (click on minimize icon at upper right) so it will not block your slideshow. The left and right arrows at the top left of the Page Explorer Pane will move the slideshow backwards and forwards. If you want to skip ahead or look back without your students seeing the in between slides, temporarily unclick Follow.

Recording a Session: To record the session, click on Record. A little red button will show when the session is recording. To stop or pause the recording click on Recording and confirm with Yes. The session recording will not be created until all the participants have left the room. So make sure all of your students are out of the room before you exit the session. If you have a tardy student, you can kick them out of the session with Tools, Moderator, Remove Participant.

NOTE: A recorded session in your course Room will not be copied or exported with your course. If you wish to record a Blackboard Collaborate Session that will persist after the Course and be able to be re-used in the future, record it in your personal Room and then add a link to that session to a content area in the Course.

White Board: You can import images or type text into your white board space “on the fly”. Tools at the left of the space are available to you and can be made available to your students. More information is here:

Application Sharing: You can share your entire desktop, or specific applications. For example, if you want to demonstrate putting a formula into an excel spreadsheet, you can do this with Application Sharing. Application Sharing your PowerPoint is slower than if you used Load Content, but you may want to use Application Sharing for your PowerPoint slideshow if you have are presenting “live” to an audience and using a clicker. If you are Application Sharing PowerPoint on one monitor, you may find it easier to navigate if you present the slide show in Windowed Mode:

Web Tour: You can direct your students to a website, using web tour. Fill in the entire url. Once your students have been directed to the website, they can click on anything. This might be useful, for example, if you want them to view a YouTube video. You can tell your students to watch the video, then re-assemble in the Blackboard Collaborate session after they have finished viewing it.

Setting Global Permissions: All participants when initially entering the Session will have the Global Permissions that have been set for the session. The default is that they will have no permissions and will only be able to see and hear what you are displaying in the room when they first arrive. To change the permissions for all Participants at once, click on Global Permissions (at the upper right of the Participant Pane) and make sure there is a little light blue square around each permission you are granting.
Chat: If you enable chat, your students can use the chat pane to talk to the entire room. If you do not enable chat, they can only chat privately to the Moderator.
Polling: You can poll your students with Yes/No or Multiple Choice Polls. You can choose to hide the students’ responses from each other, and you can choose to publish the results to the Whiteboard.

Conversational Mode: If you enable your students’ microphones and cameras, you can enable a more conversational session. There is a limit of six simultaneous microphones and cameras. To change the default settings, click on Tools, Audio, Maximum Simultaneous Talkers and Tools, Video, Maximum Simultaneous Cameras.
Breakout Rooms: You can create Breakout rooms, direct your students there, and force a return to the main room from Tools, Breakout Rooms.

About the Committee:
The Instructional Technology Committee at Mary Baldwin College is a faculty committee made up of representatives from the faculty and Instructional Technology staff at MBC. Members of the Current Committee are:Pam Bailey
Paul Callo
Carol Creager
Doris Dodson
George Guba
Joe Johnson

Carolyn Moore 
Reid Oechslin
Beverly Riddell
Kari Salois
The charter of the committee is to:

  • Provide a forum for input to the Instructional Technology staff on the relative value of technological improvements from a pedagogical perspective.
  • Be a champion and example for technology enhanced teaching within their schools
  • Try out new technologies that seem promising
  • Develop and share best practices & rubrics for technology enhanced teaching
  • Recommend equipment and management for mixed use (instructional and non-instructional) space
  • This committee meets as necessary.