Blackboard Review

Reviewed by:    André Spiteri

The Gist

Blackboard’s Collaborate is a web conferencing application built specifically with e-learning in mind. While its functionality is otherwise quite limited, features such as the interactive whiteboard, app sharing, electronic hand raising and moodle room integration make it the premier learning management system around. 

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Blackboard Highlights

  • Designed specifically for e-learning.
  • Live 24/7 customer support.
  • No downloads needed.

Pros

  • Browser-based.
  • Interactive whiteboard.
  • App sharing.
  • Personalized profiles.

Cons

  • Limited functionality outside of e-learning.
  • Initial setup can be tricky.

Features

In theory, Blackboard Collaborate could work well both for e-learning and for business meetings.

It contains all the basic features you’d expect from a solid web conferencing solution, including electronic hand raising, file sharing, real time annotations and live messaging.

However, in practical terms, Blackboard Collaborate has some limitations that make it simply unsuited for business meetings.

For one, while it’s possible to send messages to an individual user, the moderator can view all messages. This makes private one-on-one messaging impossible unless you’re sending it to the moderator.

It’s also not very big on security features, which may be an issue especially when sensitive or confidential information is on a meeting’s agenda.

On the other hand, Blackboard Collaborate is simply unparallelled when it comes to e-learning.

Purpose-built features include classroom chat, which can be disabled by the moderator as needed, and an interactive whiteboard that can be annotated and edited on the fly. In addition, the electronic hand raising feature tracks the order in which hands were raised, and also lets the moderator call on individual participants. This mimics what would happen in a real life classroom.

 Flexibility

Blackboard’s Collaborate is entirely browser-based. You can access a meeting from virtually any device, without the need to download and install any third party apps.

That said, you’ll need to do some tweaking before you’re up and running, which means using a third party device to access a session isn’t always practical or convenient. 

Security And Privacy

Because Blackboard Collaborate was primarily created with e-learning in mind, it’s not as big on security as other web conferencing solutions we reviewed.

While sessions can be encrypted, it’s also possible to run unencrypted sessions.

In addition, you only need to authenticate yourself the first time you use Blackboard Collaborate. Of course, while this may be less secure, it makes sense in an e-learning context. 

Ease Of Use

While Blackboard Collaborate is relatively easy to use, it does require some initial preparation the first time round. This can be trickier than it sounds.

When you log on for the first time, you’ll be directed to a Configuration Room where you’ll be asked to test your internet connection speed as well as your audio and video capabilities. You’ll also need to adjust some settings, including setting your proxy configuration.

Unfortunately, some of the setup instructions can be a bit convoluted and unclear, which means it may take a bit longer than expected to get yourself up and running. Thankfully, once you’re done, you shouldn’t need to repeat the process again unless you log on to a different device.

Joining a session or accessing pre-recorded materials is as simple as clicking on the link for the course you want to study. 

The interface is quite intuitive. A spotlight is automatically shone on the current speaker, and the display changes whenever a specific app or document is shared with the group, making it easy to follow what’s going on.

The workflows for event organizers are equally simple to use. Once again, however, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the platform first, which can be more time consuming than you’d think.

Customer Support 

Blackboard’s website has an extensive knowledge base divided into two parts: one for system administrators and developers and one dedicated to students and faculty.

You’ll need a login for the former, but the area dedicated to students and faculty is open to all and readily accessible even to non-users.

In the student area, you’ll find a wealth of information on setup and troubleshooting as well as information on best practices, instructions for first time users and training. There’s also an active community where you can discuss and attempt to resolve common issues.

If that’s not enough, you can open a support ticket, chat with a representative or get in touch via phone, toll free. Live customer support is available 24 hours a day all year round.

Conclusion 

On paper, Blackboard Collaborate has a comprehensive set of features that make it a great web conferencing solution. That said, it was built with e-learning in mind and is best suited for this application, primarily due to lower security and limited meeting-specific functionality. 

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Last Updated:    April 2016

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