13 September 2020

First 'teaching' session on Collaborate

Later this month, teaching will start. And the face to face teaching will be quite different from before. No full labs anymore! And now we suddenly have one-way systems and PVC shields and facemasks and hand sanitiser and whatnot. But all of that is rather low-tech. The online teaching will be a bit less intuitive I suppose! We are supposed to use various platforms for various uses: pre-recorded material on Panopto, live sessions with students on Blackboard Collaborate, and staff meetings on Teams. And Blackboard Collaborate is new to all of us. We'd better know how it works before we rely on it! 

My first session was going to be a 'Lunchtime Seminar' for the other staff about my dissertation module. Everybody teaches on it, and it will, inevitably, be a bit different from last year. And all the work so far on it had been done by just me. Soon everyone would have to chip in! And we use these Lunchtime sessions to spread information and discuss things. How do various modules run, how should you use a discussion forum in your teaching, are open book exams a good idea and how; that sort of things. And we had initially done the in person, of course, but then when lockdown happened we moved them to Microsoft Teams. But with us needing to be able to work Collaborate, we had started moving them to that platform, so we could practise a bit. So it was my turn! I had made a PowerPoint presentation for it, and created a Collaborate session. I had been in such sessions before, but never yet lead one. 

The problem with these sessions is that you can create them, and people can log onto them, but they are invisible to all, except people with certain authorisation on the Blackboard site in which the session takes place, until 15 minutes before the start, and they don't show up in your online diary. If you want all ~30 staff to be aware of your session, you have to put it in their diaries! But that means it shows up as a Teams meeting. So if you run a Collaborate session, for now the routine is that you get your session ready while also keeping an eye on Teams, as invariably there are people who just click on the Teams meeting in their diary, and thus end up in the wrong place. I hope we can find a more elegant solution to this! 

Anyway. I had practiced 'share screen' beforehand to be ready. And I had not disabled any functionality in Collaborate! You can curb people's freedoms, like being able to comment in the session chat. But I wanted comments. 

When we had most people there (we had had to pull some three out of the Teams meeting) I started. I hit 'record' (for those who couldn't make it) and began explaining how the module ran! And then after a few slides one of my colleagues butte din and said my slides weren't moving. They were moving for me! Oh dear. Someone told me I was sharing my screen, but that it all worked better if I would upload the file and share the file. So I did! Uploaded it on my usual rural broadband speed. But then we were go again! 

There was an (entirely decorative) picture of sea ice in my presentation, and as I hadn't disabled any functionality, immediately people started to draw polar bears on it. I could see why you would not want to give students that possibility! They could be drawing much more distracting things. 

When I was done, there were some very good questions and comments. I suppose my colleagues learned something, about what to expect from my module, but I think I learned more! It had been a good session. And I am now a bit more competent in Collaborate. I stopped the recording, and realised I did not know where it would go. I supposed it had to load first, and then would appear on the 'session' page. And in time it did! And I managed to extract a link I could send people. 

It's not anything like a routine yet, but this was good practice! I feel better prepared now. And I have to now also incorporate the good suggestions from my colleagues...

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