After inclement weather canceled three morning classes, Dr. Anne Spence knew she had to find an alternate way to meet with her freshman engineering students before the next snow event. “I was forced to a point where I could not afford to lose class,” she said.
Spence, the Undergraduate Program Director for Mechanical Engineering, opted to use Blackboard Collaborate, a web conferencing and virtual classroom platform. One day before the expected snowfall, Spence reminded her students about the contingency plan: The 8 AM students would meet online if the University opened at 10 AM and the 10 AM section would meet online if the University opened at noon. If the entire campus was closed, Spence would host one session at 1 PM for all sections.
When snow delayed the campus opening again, the contingency plan kicked in. Spence met with her students using Bb Collaborate. The teaching assistants ran the lecture, sharing their desktop screen with the class to demonstrate MATLAB and review problems from the textbook, while Spence monitored the chat room and answered questions. The session was recorded, which allowed students who missed the session to watch it later and supported those who wanted or needed to review key points from the class.
The plan worked. Spence reported an 80% attendance for her virtual classroom, and the post-session feedback from students has been very positive. Now Spence is considering Bb Collaborate for virtual office hours. The program’s assistant director, Jamie Gurganus proposed Bb Collaborate as backchannel where students can ask questions of teaching assistants during lecture.
At UMBC, Bb Collaborate is available to all faculty and community leaders in all Blackboard courses and organizations. Spence recommended practicing ahead of a live session and, if possible with large courses, having an assistant to help manage the conversation. It’s also important, said Spence, to both remind students that the contingency plan for a snow day is to use Bb Collaborate and to provide instructions on how to access the virtual classroom.
Fully integrated into the Blackboard Learn system, Bb Collaborate supports PowerPoint, whiteboard usage, desktop and application sharing, audio and video, polling, and breakout rooms for small group activities. Since Fall 2014, UMBC has created nearly 1,000 sessions and supported more than 4,000 attendees. After adopting Bb Collaborate in 2012, UMBC has hosted more than 15,000 students in 4,716 sessions.
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