Distance Education http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance Mon, 25 Jul 2016 18:41:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5 Mining quiz logs for suspicious behavior http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/mining-quiz-log-for-suspicious-behavior/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/mining-quiz-log-for-suspicious-behavior/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 18:40:58 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6848 Let me preface this post by saying that this is not a post for the faint hearted. And it’s really a stretch calling this one a “Best Practice,” but I wanted to use this platform to see if there were any wicked Excel macros writers or statisticians out there who are keen on using quiz log data to sniff out academic malfeasance.

Again, because this post is about using tools to identify suspicious quiz behavior, I’m simply going to give an overview of some techniques but not post the video I created as to keep the practices somewhat of a secret. If you would like to see the video, please feel free to email me.

Exporting quiz resultsExport the quiz log from the Grade area

In a recent Continuous Delivery release, D2L added a Quiz Event Export option that allows you to spit out a log of quiz activity in to a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file that you can work with in Excel. The benefit of doing this is that you an use Excel’s vast library of formulas, formatting options and more to make sense of the large files.

When you open the file in Excel, try exploring the Filter tool, Remove Duplicates, and other basic functions to make the file more useful. I’m going to suggest a couple ways to parse the info and you can do what you’d like. If you have some ideas, please, please, please share them either in the comments of by emailing me.

Filter results to view Quiz Entry and Quiz Completion

You can learn quite a bit by looking at just the quiz entry and completion information in the log. I filter the complete list to just show “Quiz Entry” and Quiz Completion” in the Event column, and it shows me the start and end times for the quiz attempts as well as the IP from with the attempt was taken. This can be a quick way to find students who are taking quizzes from the same IP at the same time, or give you a histogram showing the normal curve for time it takes to complete a quiz.

Filter shows quiz completion and quiz entry dates and times

While it might not indicate any wrongdoing, looking at the time to complete distribution can give you a better sense of how long the quiz should take, and may draw a critical eye to submissions that are several standard deviations away from the mean completion time.

histogram of quiz completion time frequencies

Histogram shows the almost normal curve of quiz completion times. Notice the outliers on the “very long” completion time, and the few in the 10 minute range as well.

There are probably a lot of other things you can do with Excel to explore the events log and the quiz results log, but that’s enough for one post. Again, if you’re an Excel Macros ninja, please let me know! I’d love to collaborate.

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Looking for more in-depth discussions? http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/looking-for-more-in-depth-discussions/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/looking-for-more-in-depth-discussions/#respond Mon, 18 Jul 2016 17:00:58 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6831 picture of someone writing on computerDoes the technique of asking students to post to a discussion and then respond to two classmates work for you, or do only a few students always seem to contribute to the bulk of the discussion? One of the most common concerns online instructors talk about is the lack of depth they are able to achieve in their online discussions. What can instructors do to design discussions that will inspire more thoughtful posts that dive into the topic at a deeper level?

I know that a number of online instructors at PCC have been successful with this, and I hope that some of you will share your strategies in a response post. I’d like to offer one technique recently shared by Julie Moore in her article “Using online protocols for discussions” (Online Classroom, May 2016 – access information below). Julie Moore, associate professor of instructional technology at Kennesaw State University, has adapted a number of “protocols” that help to engage students by asking them to express their thoughts from different perspectives. One of her favorites for getting students to engage and read more deeply into texts is called “The 4As.” It’s a protocol that has also been used widely by Critical Friends groups. Here are Julie’s steps for using the “4 As” approach.

Using the “4 As” in the online environment
Preparation

The instructor sets up five separate discussion threads, one each for the 4As and one for reflection. Pin these threads so they stay at the top of the discussion board. Use the following prompts as discussion topic titles:

picture of student blogging on computer

  1. Assumptions—What does the author assume in the text?
  2. Agree—What do you agree with in the text?
  3. Argue—What do you argue with in the text?
  4. Aspire or Act Upon—What in the text would you like to aspire to or act upon?
  5. Reflection
Assignment

Read the text. Respond to each of the 4As threads.

Reflection

Read others’ texts in each of the threads. Do you notice any commonalities or similarities? What “Ah ha” ideas did you gain from reading others’ 4As? What was it like to read a text in this way?

If you give this a try, let us know how it works for you. I also encourage you to share your own favorite strategy for inspiring students to discuss at a deeper level in a response to this blog post.

Online Classroom logo
Resources

To learn about more protocols that Julie uses, please see the full article “Using online protocols for discussions,” available through our PCC subscription to “Online Classroom.” Here’s how to access these articles. Yes, the first time you access is cumbersome, not intuitive, but subsequent visits each month are easy. While you’re there, for a good read this summer check out some of the recent articles in the archives. Here are some sample articles…

May 2016

  • Using online protocols for discussions
  • Virtual reality in the classroom
  • Digital storytelling for enhanced learning
  • Teach reading skills with student-generated questions
  • Add interactivity to live sessions with “Dotstorming”

June 2016

  • What documentary filmmaking can teach us about course design
  • Green screen videos made easy
  • Continuous assessments for better learning
  • Snapchat for education
  • Benefits of video discussion

July 2016

  • Improve learning with student interviews
  • Tips for effective video instruction
  • Best systems for student collaboration
  • Scaffolding learning
  • The benefits of peer review
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Good formatting = Good accessibility http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/good-formatting-good-accessibility/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/good-formatting-good-accessibility/#comments Tue, 12 Jul 2016 15:16:45 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6765 Did you know, that just by using proper document formatting, you are making your document more accessible? It’s true. Microsoft Word, D2L and even this blog post editor have two essential document formatting tools : headings and lists.

""

Heading tool in MS Word

By using Headings and list formatting tools properly, your document will be more understandable to other technologies/machines, some of which are assistive technologies that make computer use possible for people with disabilities. Other possible technologies that could have better interaction with your document are mobile devices, as they will be able to format your document as it is intended. .

That’s it. It’s that easy.

For instructions on how to make headings and lists in MS Word, Google Docs, and D2L, see pcc.edu/access.

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Course Access History update http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/course-access-history-update/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/07/course-access-history-update/#respond Tue, 05 Jul 2016 15:53:21 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6756 This update takes the place of a Best Practice Post this week, but we think you’ll appreciate the new feature. In the May Continuous Delivery update, a new feature was added but wasn’t enabled until we could review it more closely. However, it’s an exciting one, and I have received a number of calls from faculty who are trying to decipher the difference between course access and system access. Previously, D2L tracked system access but only showed the last date of course attendance. It was only partly helpful because you couldn’t easily tell how active your students were in YOUR class.

Well, now you can. A new feature has been added to the User Progress tool that separates system access (access to D2L generally, including every course) and access to your course. This information has been added to the User Progress tool, which you can reach from the Classlist or via the Class Progress tool. Hopefully you’ve explored the Class Progress tool. It gives you a simple dashboard of student activity.

The class progress tool shows you student activity

With Class Progress, you can quickly see how much content a student has viewed, how many discussions are read/posted/or replied to, system login information, and a general “grades” view that shows graded course activity. But click on the student name, and you get more details for that individual.

Comparing class access to system access

You’ll notice the difference between Course Access and Login History can be vastly different. Login History shows all system logins over all time, so you may see some students with staggering numbers (especially if they used Chrome and got in a cyclical loop on the direct login page). Course Access just shows you the number of days the student has visited your course since we turned on the feature (June 26th, 2016), so don’t be surprised if the number is a little low because we missed the first couple days of Summer term. Sorry. :(

If you click on the Course Access option on the left menu, it takes you to a more detailed log of Course Access, which includes a summary of the number of days off between logins. Below, the example shows a total of 6 logins, and a few days off over the last week.

Detailed Course Access information shows days without logging in

Hopefully you’ll find tool helpful and it can give you a better sense of your students’ activity within your course.

 

 

 

 

 

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Eight points to help make sense of OER http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/06/eight-points-to-help-make-sense-of-oer/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/06/eight-points-to-help-make-sense-of-oer/#respond Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:00:46 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6747 The amazing Jen Klaudinyi, PCC librarian

The amazing Jen Klaudinyi, PCC librarian

I recently sat down with the amazing Jen Klaudinyi, PCC librarian, to hear what she had to say about OER, or open educational resources. (If you are pressed for time, stop reading and go immediately to Jen’s pages on the PCC library web site.)

If you are like me and you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve been hearing a lot about OER (see blog posts by Andy Freed and Kaela Parks in this very space). Jen has been working on a project with the state of Oregon to increase the use of OER in classes.

Jen helped me formulate eight rules about OER:

Rule #1: If you have questions about OER, you don’t need to answer all of the questions on your own! There are experts in your organization, especially at the library. Are you worried about copyright issues? Completely open resources vs partially protected resources? Using primary sources? Instructors want a mix of things, usually, so when it gets complicated, ask.

Rule #2: It’s the Wild West! OER just means someone has created something and agreed to share it. You’ll find all kinds of stuff in all kinds of condition – finished, unfinished; plug ‘n play, raw ingredients; etc. Academic tech folks can help an instructor diagnose what the thing is and how to make it work. OER require we be solution-oriented.

Rule #3: Look for shared resources. See example from the PCC library web site.

Rule #4: Get away from “completist” thinking – look at what works and fill the gaps. Does it have to be a textbook? Could it be a video? What about students creating or curating their own learning resources? (CC license it!). Fits with constructivist learning theory. Don’t need to replicate the textbook!

Rule #5: OER efforts can reside in many parts of institutions (distance ed, academic tech, academic depts, and libraries). Often these efforts live in libraries, which touch all parts of the organization. Librarians also feel the anguish of students who can’t get what they need. Also it is similar to library instruction – connecting students with a plan to get resources.

Rule #6: Faculty can take the power back! – the power over their own curriculum. Textbook publishers are trying to control the curriculum (see a recent case where slaves were referred to as “immigrant workers”). Also the shift to employing part-time, contingent faculty has meant instructors have less time to develop curriculum so they rely more on textbooks (students bear the expense).

Rule #7: In Oregon, we have HB 2871, which is supposed to help promote OER and give students choice at the point of registration. Winter 2017 target at PCC to have this done, with $0 and $40 thresholds for courses.

Rule #8: In the sciences, there are lots of resources – don’t need textbooks necessarily. Question of quality: Beauty of the images is less important than students learning. A goal should be reducing or removing barriers to use.

So there you have it – your license to try incorporating some type of OER in your class. I’d recommend you start small – try to incorporate something small and simple in your class, and see how it goes. You can expand from there.

If you have more questions or thoughts about OER, PCC has formed a steering committee and you can contact any of these folks. Enjoy the journey!

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D2L CD update 10.6.2 for June 2016 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/06/d2l-cd-update-10-6-2-for-june-2016/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/06/d2l-cd-update-10-6-2-for-june-2016/#respond Wed, 08 Jun 2016 19:08:18 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6735 icon continuous deliveryThere are a few updates that you may notice in the coming CD update on Friday, June 24th that are worth mentioning. I think the one that is most exciting is an update to the rubric grading functionality. Here’s what the the release notes say:

When you click Save and Record in the rubric pop-up window, the Overall Score of a numeric rubric transfers automatically to the learner’s grade. Click Save if you do not want to transfer a numeric rubric score to the learner’s grade.

A score transfers automatically only when the rubric has an Overall Score.

I mean, the functionality sounds pretty good right? It was a feature request from faculty at another institution like ours and I’m sure we’ll benefit from it. There are also some updates to the Groups tool functionality that seem good but I don’t know who will be immediately happy about them.

  • When you use the groups tool to automatically create discussion topics and threads, each of the threads will get consistent names to help with navigation later. The topics are created with the format <group category name> – <group prefix> <group number>. For example, Week 2 discussion – Group 2.
  • There’s a new way to create “groups of one,” something that isn’t that common, but for those who use it, they will like the functionality. I tried a couple times to describe it and failed, so here’s the actual text from the release notes.“There is a new group category type called Single user, member-specific groups. Using this group category creates a group with a single user where the first name and last name of the learner is the name of the group. When a new learner is enrolled in the course a group is automatically created for them. Instructors no longer have to rename groups of one.”
  • If you have already set up groups and need to add an additional one later because of new students, when you create the new group, additional discussion topics will be automatically added if you’ve set up the groups that way initially.

There are very few faculty using the Assignment Grader app, but there have been some improvements to the rubric grading workflow that should speed up the assessment of dropbox/assignments on the mobile app, which is available for iOS and Android tablets. It’s pretty sweet. If you have a tablet, I’d suggest checking it out. You can even do offline grading and submit the grades when you’re back online.

Coming this Fall (September 7th)

This update also includes some changes to tool language, but we are going to delay the implementation of these language changes until after Summer term. This will give everyone enough time to update any custom instructions you may have developed for your course, as well as all the documentation we maintain. As a preview, the following tools may be changing.

  • News will become Announcements
  • Dropbox will become Assignments (students and instructors often confuse the D2L Dropbox with the file storage system Dropbox)
  • Edit Course will become Course Admin
  • Pager will be called Instant Messenger

These changes were proposed after extensive user testing with new, first-time D2L users. Again, we do not intend to update these items until between summer and fall term so that we can update our help documentation and you can make any changes you need to your instructions.

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OER Accessibility http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/05/oer-accessibility/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/05/oer-accessibility/#respond Tue, 31 May 2016 17:45:08 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6725 Kaela Parks, Director of Disability Services

Kaela Parks, Director of Disability Services

Guest post by Kaela Parks, Director of Disability Services (DS)

I recently had the chance to offer information on accessibility to a group of folks who received funding through OpenOregon,.a state group  The list of funded projects was impressive and PCC was fortunate to have nine projects selected. The webinar was offered by myself and one of our PCC Accessibility Techs, Lisa Brandt. We shared information on what it can be like for students who experience disability impacting access to print, but also showcased some of the really cool projects and initiatives out there to support accessible OER development. You can see our slides here or check out the list of links and resources that were shared as a handout.

I guess one of the most critical pieces in my mind, as a director of disability services, but also as an instructor who has taught online and in-person, is that considering accessibility and usability is not only a civil rights issue – it is common sense. If our goal is to facilitate learning in a diverse student population, then of course we need to consider how well the materials and activities we are selecting will actually work for learners who have different needs. Relying on accommodation is no longer an effective strategy (see this risk statement from educause if you aren’t aware of the legal landscape). But I’m not saying we need to make things accessible to avoid a lawsuit, I’m saying we need to approach things with accessibility in mind from the start because we want to ensure students can actually focus on learning, rather than spending time waiting for adjustments and fixes along the way.

This is a big piece – the experience of students when they are forced to self-disclose and then wait for accommodation – often being rerouted to an “equally effective alternative” – this experience is often not good. This experience can serve to alienate and marginalize the learner. What it makes me think about is the idea that these negative experiences could have more to do with low completion rates than the presence of the disability itself.

As educational institutions we tend to capture data and write reports on the type and nature of accommodation we provide. We report on students with disabilities in terms of diagnoses on file, or number of accommodations used, and on costs to provide auxiliary aids and services. What we don’t tend to do, is capture data and write reports on the degree to which system level barriers or attitudinal barriers impact course completion. The focus is almost always on the impairments within the individual. This is flawed. The system that views accommodation as the only solution needed, is what keeps instructors from recognizing the need to understand and proactively prevent barriers. With OER we have the potential to disrupt the curricular workflow – to move away from a model where we adopt inaccessible content and count on DS to fix it – and move toward a model where faculty and DS work collaboratively to ensure accessibility from the beginning.50th anniversary logo for Disability Services

With funding for faculty to develop accessible OER in high enrollment courses, (check out the funding opportunity through HECC if you haven’t already) we have a great opportunity to engage in professional development, to stretch and grow as educators.  We have an opportunity to push ourselves to create and cultivate more truly student-centered offerings. I am excited by open education projects because I know how important the curricular adoption process, as well as pedagogical choices, are to student experiences. The way we approach these decision points matters. A lot. The choices we make can move us toward greater social justice, or can serve to maintain the status quo. The choices we make can reduce barriers proactively, or can necessitate a continued reliance on accommodation. OER truly do provide an opportunity to improve the situation, and for those who are interested in learning more, the blog post I wrote on the intersection of accessibility and OER may help shed additional light.

The key thing to understand is that the way we achieve accessibility is by making sure we have really good structure in place. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have been curated over time with lots of stakeholder input and really do provide a very good indicator of what is needed, but the best approach is one that looks to not only standards but also end-user testing and input. For anyone who is not sure what this all means, I would suggest a review of the web accessibility handbook that Distance Education has published at www.pcc.edu/access. It is incredible!

The good news is that here at PCC, we have a wealth of training opportunities available. There are hands-on sessions offered by Instructional Support as well as opportunities for engagement from Disability Services, including workshops on approaching disability and accessibility as social justice issues. There are funding opportunities, best practices to learn from, and hands-on opportunities to support faculty in the exploration and use of accessible OER.

If you haven’t noticed it before, take a look at the footer of any PCC webpage- it says “Accessibility” and leads to accessibility related resources and events. And of course, for faculty who have questions or would like to chat – our team is available. We can meet up, attend department, division, or SAC meetings.

Additional Resources
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Updated Online Start Guide Data http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/05/updated-online-start-guide-data/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/05/updated-online-start-guide-data/#respond Tue, 24 May 2016 22:57:41 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6711 Back in November of 2015 we shared our initial results from the Start Guide. Those results compared first-time online students from 2014 who had not completed the Start Guide to first-time online students from 2015 who had. The results were overwhelmingly positive. However, we wondered if the trend would continue. Was the initial data an anomaly? So we have continued to work with Institutional Effectiveness to track the relative success of our Start Guide completers. It turns out, it wasn’t just dumb luck. We are happy to report that the Start Guide continues to contribute to the success of new online students.

The previous study compared spring term students from 2014 and 2015, and this latest data compares our fall term students from 2014 and 2015. The results are remarkably similar:

  • When comparing students who completed the Start Guide to first-time online students from fall 2014, the Start Guide completers had a higher pass rate: 71% vs 66%.
    fall1
  • Students who completed the Start Guide also completed the term with a higher GPA than first-time students from 2014: 2.5 vs 2.29.fall2
  • Students who completed the Start Guide withdrew from classes and received an F grade at a lower rate than first-time online students from fall 2014 as well. (F: 14.7% vs 17.4%, Withdraw: 10% vs. 11.2%)fall3
  • Students who completed the Start Guide in fall 2015 performed similarly to experienced online students from fall term 2015, with similar pass rates (71% vs 72%).fall4
  • Students who completed the Start Guide in fall 2015 performed similarly to experienced online students from fall term 2015, with similar GPAs (2.5 vs 2.45).fall5

Since we last posted about the Start Guide we have also presented about the project at several conferences. Now that the word is out, our colleagues at other schools seem to want a piece of the action, or at least learn from our experience. Of course, we’re happy to share! We have released a creative commons licensed version of the Start Guide (or Virtual Backpack) that can be imported to a number of other LMS platforms.  (The cartridge includes the content, quizzes, and organization, but it does not come with access to the Smarter Measure readiness assessment.) Also, for anyone who wants to enjoy the narrative version of our epic journey to Start Guide success, we have created a Virtual Backpack Project Summary document. It includes additional date, implementation details, and an appendix with login credentials for a demo version of the virtual backpack.

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Mentoring? Coaching? Future steps for our mentor program http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/05/mentoring-coaching-future-steps-for-our-mentor-program/ Mon, 23 May 2016 17:00:01 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6689 Picture of our online faculty menter team

Meet the Mentors

Are you aware of our Online Faculty Mentor program? Do you know there’s a faculty mentor responsible for each discipline that has online courses? Mentors are responsible for a number of things, e.g. they guide new online instructors in the training and course development process. They work with instructors, department chairs and deans to provide guidance on the best starting D2L shell for a course that is based on a shared course shell. The mentor will often help get an older course into the most current D2L template.

At the end of the course development or revision process, mentors complete the PCC course review, based on the Quality Matters rubric. Karen Sorensen teams up with each mentor to provide feedback on the accessibility of a course, and the mentor sends the combined review complete with feedback and a recommendation to the division dean. It’s important to note that the dean makes the final approval of an online course as being ready to go live for our PCC students. As a final crucial step, our faculty mentors work with instructors during the first teach term to provide feedback and guidance along the way.

The focus of our mentoring program

From the mentor perspective, the crucial part of the process, as well as the most rewarding, is meeting with instructors to brainstorm strategies and provide guidance on course design and good pedagogical practices. Mentors are not the “gatekeepers” for good online instruction, but rather the catalysts. They are an energized group, ready to share ideas with any online instructor, including those new to online learning as well as experienced online instructors. They are happy to work cross-discipline as well, not typically in regards to course reviews, but in terms of sharing best pedagogical practices, e.g. at division or SAC meetings. I invite you to reach out to them. Involve them in your efforts to promote effective online teaching strategies.

Expanding our mentor program

The perception of mentors as peer “coaches” as opposed to “gatekeepers” is an important one to keep in mind. This is one of the needs or “gaps” that have been discussed regarding the mentor program. Related questions arise as well. How can we increase mentor/mentee involvement? As it is, the mentoring usually occurs over a relatively short time period, and most of the process is focused on course design and the review. This limitation is not the desired intent. How can we move to more of a longer term “coaching” model that involves sharing advanced level strategies in addition to entry level? How can we increase mentor involvement with the SAC? I welcome your ideas.

We’ve come a long way since the start of our mentor program in 2009, but we are now seeing opportunities and the need for further expansion. What will that look like beyond simply adding more mentors? I invite you to share your thoughts either through a response to this blog post, or in an email message to me.

Future steps… are you interested?

One simple step in the near future will be to add mentors in a few additional areas. Up to this point, mentors have come on board when we have a clear need in specific areas, largely through recommendations from deans and department chairs, and partially through previously demonstrated expertise with the QM rubric, course design, online teaching strategies, and accessibility. Another crucial characteristic of a faculty mentor is the strong ability to collaborate 1-1 in a mentor/mentee situation and to contribute as part of a team.

This process will continue, though I would like to open it up more to invite instructors to express interest. At the moment, I do foresee a future need for a mentor in a few specific areas:

  • Health, Fit/Tech, Nutrition, PE
  • Sciences (e.g. Geology, Chemistry)
  • Education, ECE
  • COMM
  • PHIL, PS, ECON
  • Art

Feel free to contact me if you might be interested sometime in the future, regardless of your subject area. I am happy to continue the discussion.

A salute to our former mentors

Last, but not least, special recognition to those who have served as Online Faculty Mentor…

  • Dan Dougherty, CIS
  • Gabe Hunter-Bernstein, Education
  • Florence Spraggins, AD
  • Chris Hughes, Math
  • Kathy Carrigan, Chemistry
  • Susan Watson, CAS
  • Amy Clubb, CAS
  • Rondi Schei, ECON, BA
  • Lori Wamsley, Education
  • Andrew Forshee, ECE
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Try Collaborate Ultra a better online rooms experience http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/05/try-collaborate-ultra-for-better-online-rooms-experience/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/05/try-collaborate-ultra-for-better-online-rooms-experience/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 17:00:08 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=6671 I admit I’ve been fretting over this post and the software for some time. Blackboard finally released a Java-free, launcher-free version of the Collaborate software last year after what seemed like an eternity of complaints from help desk staff around the world. Unfortunately, they named it BB Collaborate Ultra. Yes, BB Ultra. I can’t be the only person who shudders at a product whose name is so similar to MKUltra, the CIA mind control program using drugs on unwilling participants. I’ve hesitated in announcing that we have access to the software partly because of the poorly thought out name, but also because the software is still in active development.

But BB Collaborate Ultra is a departure from the previous Java-based Collaborate web conferencing software in a couple important ways.

  • It is built to be browser based, using WebRTC instead of Java (or the pre-packaged JVM launcher).
  • It is a complete redesign of the software from the ground up. The only thing it shares with the previous “classic” version of Collaborate is the name. And I suppose the “web conferencing” functionality.
  • It has an almost stupidly simple interface. In some cases, the settings are so “obviously” nested in the plain interface that it is confusing. Sometimes you have to untrain yourself from expecting complexity.
  • It has way fewer features and way less functionality  than the “classic” version of Collaborate. note: this is a positive for 70% of our users
  • It is being actively and rapidly developed and new features are added every month.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the development model of continuous delivery and unauthorized experimentation (MKUltra) on unwilling test subjects, but in this case, we’re inviting you to participate. And I’m actually pretty excited by this development model. Each month, according to the release notes, Blackboard has both fixed bugs and added new features based on the needs of users. The platform, as of now, lacks many of the features we are used to from the “classic” version, but those features aren’t necessary for most users. In fact, the removal of all the clutter allows students to more easily use the software without a guided training sessions and 30 minutes troubleshooting Java.

So, we’ve released the link to BB Collaborate Ultra in our D2L Brightspace environment, but you can still use the classic environment if you really like the functionality of that version. And you don’t mind that so many of your students need tech support just to get in to your meetings. But if you’re ready for something a little less painful for your students, consider trying Collaborate Ultra.

Note: We also have Collaborate training available.

Add Collaborate Ultra to your course

For now, Collaborate Ultra can be added as a link to the Content area in the course if you want to try it out. We can help you add a menu link in the navbar if you like it.

  1. Go to the Content area and pick a module where you want to add the link to the Collaborate Ultra room. You can even add a new module if you’d like.
  2. Click on the Add Existing Activities button and select External Learning Tools.
    add external learning tools in content by clickingon the Add Existing Activities button
  3. The link will appear in your content. Click on it to load the Collaborate Ultra interface to schedule meetings.
  4. Click on the plus button to add a meeting.
    add a session button
  5. For simplicity, you can create an “Open room” that has no specific end date or time, or you can create very specific dates and times that repeat if you have designated office hours. Once you have your meeting named and your hours set, click the Save button.
    setting up a meeting is much easier now
  6. You’ll now see your meeting in the schedule.
Exploring the new interface

I strongly encourage you to just try out the interface yourself. It’s more exciting with people in it, but it’s very clean and elegant compared to the previous version. Just to tantalize you, here are some examples of the interface.

  • The interface is very video friendly
    Connect with your students, even if they are bears
  • The whiteboard is as easy to use as before, and is a great way to explain complex ideas in another format.
    The whiteboard can help communicate some ideas well
  • When you record your session, it is recorded as an MP4 file, so your students can much more easily watch the videos without LOOOONG delays, skipping, and they can even watch on their mobile devices.
    Record your session as an MP4 file
Give us feedback!

If the BBUltra has taken effect, you should feel compelled to go try this out. We’d love to hear if the tool works for you. We’d also love to hear if it doesn’t and why. We can get that feedback to the vendor. You can either email me or leave feedback here.  If you’re already using Collaborate for group work, please let us know.

Update (5/19/16)

To access a recording, you’ll need to click on the menu icon at the top-left of the interface and select recordings. Here’s what that looks like.

the menu button at the top of the frame lets you access recordings

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