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Blackboard Web Conferencing Software Update To Include iOS Support

Blackboard has updated its Web conferencing application to add mobile support, user-oriented improvements, and tighter integration with learning management systems, including Moodle. Version 12 of Blackboard Collaborate is available now; the mobile app is expected to be available later this summer. The announcement came during the Blackboard Collaborate Connections Summit being held this week in New Orleans as part of BbWorld, the company's annual user conference.

The new release will let students join live sessions from an iPad or iPhone through a link made available in an e-mail, via calendar invite, or on a learning management system. The Web conferencing session can include both desktop participants and mobile users. According to the company, when the user clicks a join link, the Collaborate mobile app automatically launches and the user is added to the session. Participation can include text chat and audio, the use of emoticons, sharing of content, yes/no and multiple choice polls, hand raising to get instructor attention, and participant list and status. Instructors can place students in breakout rooms for group work or discussion, and the user can set an "away" status.

Mobile support encompasses iOS devices, the iPad 2, iPad 3, and iPhone 4 and newer.

  Collaborate 12 will let students join live sessions from an iPad or iPhone through a link made available in an e-mail, via calendar invite, or on a learning management system.
Collaborate 12 will let students join live sessions from an iPad or iPhone through a link made available in an e-mail, via calendar invite, or on a learning management system.
 

"Everything in our society is going mobile, and we believe that education needs to do the same," said Mark Gensimore, vice president of business and professional development at blendedschools.net. "Blackboard Collaborate Mobile is an essential piece of that puzzle for us." This organization provides online K-12 curriculum and professional development to school districts.

Among user enhancements are echo cancellation and improved classroom management and closed captioning. Echo cancellation is meant to eliminate audio problems for scenarios where a single speaker is talking at any given moment. An automatic gain control feature modulates the volume to make it uniform across speakers. Users participate using computer speakers and built-in microphone. If the setting is an environment with background noise, the company suggests the use of a headset. If there's no reliable Internet access, the use of a teleconference line is suggested.

Blackboard's Collaborate 12 also provides new classroom management functions, such as improved chat, which lets the instructor check in with students for their comprehension of material, view public and private chat in a single window, and move more quickly to private chat tabs for responses. They can also turn off chat notifications about people entering and leaving the collaboration "room."

The revamped closed captioning provides more viewing options for font size, color, and contrast.

The new release also integrates with Blackboard Learn and joule, Moodlerooms' version of the open source LMS Moodle. The Blackboard integration is handled through a building block. The feature allows an instructor to automatically assign credit to a student in the Grade Center for attending a live Web session or viewing a recorded one. All Web conferencing sessions appear in the Blackboard Learn Calendar with a link to launch the session directly from the calendar. The new building block also lets the instructor provide recording links to people who aren't enrolled in the course, such as guest speakers.

On the Moodle front, the new work is undergoing an evaluation process involving Moodle providers Moodlerooms, Netspot, and Remote-Learner to certify integration with various Moodle platforms. Blackboard acquired Moodlerooms earlier this year.

The new release will also include tools to help administrators manage sessions and recordings. They'll be able to search by course ID, course name, session name, date range, and instructor and to delete sessions across all courses and nodes, allowing for simpler recording cleanup at end of the semester or term.

"Technology should make education simpler and more accessible, and that's the focus of this new release," said Maurice Heiblum, president of Blackboard Collaborate. "We are continually focused on bringing innovation that helps users interact more easily, whether it's online, through an LMS or on a mobile device."

Editor's note: This article has been modified since its original publication to correct a factual error related to the availability of Blackboard COllaborate 12. [Last updated July 11, 2012 at 9:16 a.m.] --David Nagel

 

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