With the mass adoption of online learning, a variety of digital web conferencing tools have surfaced to replace teacher-led sessions such as tutorials and workshops. While there are several different tools that make this possible, the Flinders University recommended, supported and promoted tool is Collaborate. Collaborate is part of the FLO ecosystem, which means the technology is both a key part of online learning and teaching and a supported tool at Flinders.
While similar online communication tools like Zoom and Skype are often initially freely available, when teaching with groups of students there are certain limits and drawbacks that detract from our ability to ‘just teach’. While these tools serve a purpose for creating meetings or for social networking, Collaborate was created specifically to serve as a teaching and learning tool in academic settings.
It is important to emphasise that we do not recommend using unsupported third-party tools for learning and teaching activities. Using the core and recommended technologies that Flinders supports ensures that students have access to equitable experiences for their online learning, just like we would expect in a classroom. By using Collaborate and other supported technologies we avoid big issues, such as:
- a lack of institutional licence – no troubleshooting or support for students or staff
- onus is on individual to understand all privacy issues around data storage
- students and staff are signing an agreement of use that may have changing conditions
- these tools are rapidly changing in features, support and pricing.
There are other compelling reasons to use Collaborate for teaching online at Flinders:
- Collaborate allows you to upload teaching material directly to your tutorial/workshop/lecture session. While you remain in control of the content, it is not dependent on your computer screen. Other tools require use of screen sharing which requires a fast internet connection, and for you to look at the content you are presenting to students. Through Collaborate, uploaded content is visible regardless of what you have on screen and is stable and faster for students with low internet bandwidth. As an added bonus, material is stored in Collaborate for use in repeat tutorials.
- When you record your workshop or tutorial in Collaborate the session is automatically available to students from the same interface. This is helpful for students whose internet connection is temperamental or slow as they can go back and re-watch important parts of the session they might have missed. With other tools, the recordings are often stored in a different location, accessible only to the host.
- If you or your students have low bandwidth or unreliable internet connections, Collaborate enables you to disable video for host and participants so teaching can continue – even over mobile broadband connections. While we continue to recommend video presence in all tutorial sessions, sometimes the technology simply won’t enable us to do this. Collaborate allows us to make these decisions depending on the internet ‘quality’ of our session.
- If your regular tutorial or workshop session has components where students need to share material, or indeed co-create material with you in real time, Collaborate empowers us to enable multiple presenters. In fact, for student presentation sessions it is possible to bring multiple marker/moderators to the forum to give feedback. In Collaborate you have complete control over who, and how many, can present content to the group. As a more advanced feature, this can also be done in breakout groups to enhance learning through student peer assessment and feedback.
- In Collaborate, you and your students can interact with features for collaboration such as the whiteboard. This means students can write, draw and add content based on your needs for the session. In addition, you have granular control over what students, presenters and moderators can do in a Collaborate session. In other products, this level of control and interaction often requires expensive paid plans or is not available at all.
- Collaborate is accessed directly through topic sites in FLO. This means that students know where to go to find their tutorial sessions, along with their other learning resources. Students navigate through FLO before coming to class, meaning they are more likely to interact with topic content generally.
- Collaborate gives us the capacity to do secure online student consultations. This functionality is significant for some topics. By using Collaborate, privacy can be assured. This can’t be automatically said to be true of other platforms.
- Collaborate is accessible in most modern web browsers. We recommend Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. For almost all students there will be no additional downloads necessary to get started with Collaborate. With other platforms, there are often downloaded applications that require particular operating systems and external user accounts which can be a privacy and accessibility concern for students.
- Collaborate is fast becoming part of the vocabulary for students. ‘Tutes’ are being replace with ‘Collaborate Sessions’ and students are becoming increasingly fluent with using Collaborate sessions for online learning. This developing affinity is significant when considering how you will engage with online teaching.
- Finally, scheduling tutorials, both recurring and course room ‘open’ access, is simple and integrated in Collaborate. Appropriate tutorial or workshop sessions are easy to locate and access. In addition, students do not have to access a separate link or email, or create an additional account, to access Collaborate. The same cannot be said for alternative software like Zoom or Skype.
Though many of us would prefer to be in a physical classroom, Collaborate is a good runner-up for the teaching experience. Students can share content and exchange dialogue with you in a secure and supported environment. There are clear privacy guidelines, and clarity around who and what access is required to use Collaborate. The more comfortable you become with Collaborate the more opportunities surface.
If you need additional support using, setting up or promoting any of the core or recommended technologies for online teaching contact your eLearning support team via ServiceOne.
Written by Aidan Cornelius-Bell and Angela Brown
Learning Designers (HASS) – CILT