Best Practice when using Blackboard Collaborate

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Blackboard Collaborate has a 250 attendee limit. If you wish to use Blackboard Collaborate with more than 250 attendees view our guide.


Here is an example two slide Powerpoint file that could be used as a holding slide for attendees to view whilst they wait for a session to begin.

The content below is a slightly contextualised version of an excellent blog post by Lloyd Stock which on the Blackboard Community site.  Since that site in not publicly accessible this very useful content is copied and slightly edited for context below.  As we develop further experience at UoS we will provide relevant local examples of good practice.

Blackboard Collaborate permits text chat, polling and many other levels of functionality that translate to a more engaging participant experience.
Having set the expectation for increased engagement, it is important to know how to manage those expectations.
This post provides best practice advice as it pertains to webinars. All the suggestions should be weighed based on the discrete nuances of your objectives for each and every webinar.

This post focuses on best practice with a view to ensuring your webinars are engaging. It therefore mainly focuses on the ‘opportunity’ provided with Blackboard Collaborate. It is not designed to cover areas of ‘risk’ or bad practice, which are generally applicable to all use cases including webcasts, tutorials, office hours etc. As such the following are not dealt with in here or not in any detail:

  • The learning that takes place before and after the webinar
  • Technology problems and service outages
  • Contingency planning for presenters who cannot attend for personal reasons
  • Classroom management challenges
  • Content Best Practices

Webinar Models
Webinar styles can vary hugely and therefore it is unwise to make sweeping generalisations about what is optimal or to say what are the limits.
On the basis that ‘engagement’ is the overall objective of any webinar delivered through Blackboard Collaborate, the content below provides some guidelines for different sized webinars.
It is essential to understand the differences in the various webinars that you deliver based on a range of factors in order to be able to effectively translate those differences into your planning activities; Factors include:

  • Numbers of participants
  • Style of webinar i.e. one presenter, multiple presenters or interview style
  • Cultural nuances and expectations
  • Length
  • Learning/webinar objectives

Planning and Preparation

  • Preparation is king, as with anything else. Rushed and poorly planned sessions will not translate into engagement for participants.
  • Based on the model of webinar, assess the need for allowing for pre-session submission of questions via a forum or by email; set clear ground rules and expectations.
  • Have a clear communication plan which encompasses the following:
    • Sets expectations on the level of engagement, what will and what wont be on offer
    • For Global events, consider whether you will use a single time-zone from which participants should triangulate, or whether you commit to provide/rely on your scheduling tool to delineate each participants’ time
  • Consider the use of a ‘diagnostic’ session before the webinars; use the diagnostic to help orient delegates to the software and experience, as well as inform your own best practices for that cohort.
  • With multiple moderators, clearly delineate responsibilities for chairing, facilitation, and technical support.
  • For large webinars, consider the use of dry-runs to expose and plan for unknown risks.
  • Create scripts or outlines (whichever is appropriate) for your session; if you will not use a script, at least be clear with your opening and closing statements.
  • Be sure to punctuate the script with frequent questions in which you poll the audience for either yes/no or multiple option answers; interaction will not just happen, it should be part of your plan; there should be at least 1 poll every 15 minutes.
  • If you have more than one presenter, plan segues to provoke thoughtful reflection and continuity.
  • Where appropriate, allow 10 minutes for Q&A.
  • Keep content simple and remember that Blackboard Collaborate supports GIF animations from PowerPoint but not custom text animations or slide transitions.
  • Make your first slide a welcome with cues slide (follow this link for our example).
  • Think about the environment where you will be presenting from; is it quiet enough, will you be disturbed, will you disturb other people?
  • Use a headset that you know works, to maximise the quality of your audio experience.

Before the start

  • Get a glass of water.
  • Mute phones, close windows and doors.
  • Close background applications including Skype, video streaming/download services and close any private work.
  • If your session includes application sharing, open the application ahead of time, place the window on the primary monitor and resize the window so that you will have room to still see the sidebar panels of the Web Conferencing interface; close all other applications to protect your privacy.
  • Join the session 15-10 minutes before the start time.
  • Allow participants time to congregate and chat where possible; this builds momentum and the process of engagement.
  • Where appropriate, maximise the Blackboard Collaborate window so it fills your screen.
  • Conduct an audio check using the audio setup and make sure your microphone input is being registered; adjust as necessary.
  • Test your video and make sure there are no distractions in frame.
  • Encourage users to customise their profile image in order to establish their identity in the room and facilitate the feeling of community.
  • Bring up the Page Explorer/Slide Navigator so you can see your content in order.
  • If you are the facilitator, detach panels as necessary so you can maintain better visibility of the dialogue in chat and can avoid missing questions.
  • Make other facilitators, ‘moderators’, where necessary.

In Session

  • Begin talking & welcoming to seed the engagement process 5 minutes before the session starts; this will also help identify any audio problems that you or other participants might have.
  • Avoid un-announced silence throughout, but especially at the beginning. It creates anxiety for everyone involved.
  • Using a slide, conduct an audio check and indicate with graphics on the slide, the proper use of the polling feature; don’t expect people who are having problems hearing, to respond to the audible version of the question.
  • Using a slide, explain the ground-rules for the session.
  • Don’t forget where applicable, to start the recording, but don’t do so until after the audio check.  If you do make a recording, ensure that participants are regularly reminded of this.  Although a snackbar style message will pop up when you start recording, late arrivals will not have seen this and may not notice the recording icon.
  • As you begin your introduction, you may wish to start your webcam video; this helps to humanise the interaction. Beyond the introduction, the session should focus on shared content and interaction with participants, so in most cases, video should be used sparingly and selectively. If you are of the view that video should always be on, be careful not to rely on it as a replacement for creating real interaction. Also, be mindful that in environments where bandwidth is limited, use of video whilst sharing content, may impact audio fidelity and therefore actually diminish the overall experience.
  • If you are conducting introductions, consider use of the chat tool rather than audio. People can write their location and title/area of experience/area of interest more quickly than using audio (in a round of introductions) and it is less demanding for them and the facilitator.
  • Remember that without the benefit of body language it is necessary to put a good amount of effort into your delivery style. This may include enunciating words, varying your tone and intonation, slowing down/speeding up, and other such techniques. However, try to relax as well and if you are overwhelmed, feel at liberty to admit that; people are then more likely to accommodate the occasional stumble. Some presenters even stand up and walk around to help energise their delivery.
  • Use the pointer to direct attention to specific points/areas within your content. Bring the content alive by using the content editing tools.
  • Mute participant microphones if they have left them open unnecessarily or are causing a disturbance.
  • Call out comments/questions from the chat frame as appropriate and when doing so, refer to people by name in order to recognise their contribution.
  • If you have planned a comfort break, stop the recording and set a timer to set clear expectations on when you will recommence; start the recording again after you recommence.
  • As you transition between activities, bring people with you. Be sure to explain what will happen, what people should expect to see and hear and where appropriate, get consensus from participants, before making the transition.
  • As you wrap up, communicate using a slide as to how people can ask questions after the session and get access to the recording if there will be one; where appropriate, do this before a Q&A session so that people who choose to leave will understand what is expected of them and/or how they can get in touch with you if necessary.
  • Be sure to thank people for attending the webinar.
  • Stop the recording.