By Ashley Festa

Blackboard Collaborate

A new tool to aid in distance learning and classroom mobility has been introduced at the University of the Incarnate Word, and one professor is already using it in his classes.

Blackboard Collaborate (formerly called Wimba) is being introduced in “blended learning classes,” said Marshall Eidson, UIW chief information officer. Instead of the traditional classroom setting, Collaborate facilitates participation by students and others who are unable to be physically present during instruction time.

Dr. Noah Kasraie, of the Dreeben School of Education, has been using the tool to teach students living in four different cities. Collaborate promotes student engagement in ways that regular online classes cannot do. For example, with the use of webcams, the professor can be seen and heard as he lectures, and when students speak, the camera on their computer will activate so they can interact with others in the class.

Other uses include recording lectures and archiving them on Blackboard, which promotes learning throughout the week because students can refer to them if necessary, Kasraie said. “It helps enhance teaching inside and outside the classroom.”

Eidson agrees. He says Blackboard Collaborate provides a more personal touch than a phone call because users can share desktops and access URLs and other information together, instantly. “We’re using the tool to make it more personal instead of less personal. That’s key.”

Because he has many nontraditional students, Kasraie finds that holding e-office hours, times when both student and professor can be online together, provides a solution for those overseas or with conflicting work schedules. A professor can also host an out-of-town guest speaker without the travel or costs involved.

A number of other challenges, such as defending a dissertation from overseas, interviewing new faculty without the cost of travel, and including professors from all over the world in research studies, will be made easier with Collaborate.

And all that’s required of a student is a computer with Internet connection and a microphone, said Ana Gonzalez, UIW director of instructional training. Video, including a webcam, is optional, and it’s simple enough that technology expertise is not necessary.