Collaborating across the country (and beyond) with Collaborate by Dr Mark Shanahan

10 Days before the US election, almost 40 students and four academics from across England came together to debate the Trump v Clinton fight for the White House, using Blackboard’s Collaborate platform, writes Politics & IR Director of Teaching & Learning, Mark Shanahan. I’d first come across collaborate at a TEL Showcase event, and had discussed its potential use with colleagues from other universities at the British International Studies Association’s Teaching and Learning conference at Newcastle University in September. When the university was looking for innovative Week 6 events, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to land on the political theme of the day and get students and lecturers from a range of universities talking – all without the need for anyone to book a room or a coach…or even (in theory) get out of bed.  

The benefit of using Blackboard’s Collaborate tool was the relative ease with which we could bring academics from Reading, Manchester, De Montfort and Huddersfield Universities together both with their students and a US-based journalist for 90 minutes’ discussion of the US elections. The sound and picture quality wasn’t always perfect – but that was probably more down to user equipment than the tool itself.

Allied to the video content, we had a live chat stream which was incredibly popular. There was a constant flow of questions from students for the academic participants and comments and responses between the students themselves. There was actually so much chat going on that it wasn’t always able to quite keep up with the flow and bring it into our video/audio. We started early with a pre-chat, and ended up running well past our planned hour. We learned a lot. Between myself and Senior TEL advisor, Adam Bailey, we agreed it would have been great to capture both all the chat for future use (we got some), and more so to use screen capture technology to keep a record of the event. We also realised early on that we needed a chair/moderator to keep the event in shape – and I fell into that role.

The response from both students and academic participants after the event was very positive. All the students who responded to a brief Surveymonkey questionnaire after the event want to do more of these link-ups via Collaborate – and want them to be longer. Equally, my colleagues Pete Woodcock, Head of Politics at Huddersfield, Alison Statham a Senior Lecturer in Politics from de Montfort and Howell Williams who’s at Manchester are all keen to get in front of a webcam again – perhaps to pick over the bones of the US election, and definitely to look at other politics subjects where we can share our views and expose our students to opinions beyond their own institutions.

 

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