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The two ways to set up Blackboard Collaborate sessions and how to choose

Blackboard Collaborate, or just Collaborate, is our main tool for running webinars or virtual classrooms. Anyone with editing access to a QMplus area can set up Collaborate sessions. There are, however, two ways of setting up sessions. You can use the Collaborate activity or the External Tool activity. Which should you use? This guide should help you choose.

The setup methods

Both of the setup methods are accessed by clicking on Add and activity or resource. Then you can choose either the Collaborate activity, or the External Tool activity.

Collaborate activity and external tool in the activity picker

The External Tool method is also sometimes referred to as "LTI". This is a technical term which stands for "Learning Tools Interoperability" and describes a technology that allows systems to communication with each other.

General recommendations

The External Tool activity method provides far more flexibility than the Collaborate activity method. However, that extra flexibility means that setting up a session is slightly more work. Using the Collaborate activity, you can set up a session very quickly but the features provided are limited or have fixed settings that might not suit your purposes.

The comparison table in the next section is provided to make it easy to see which features are provided by each method to allow you to choose the one that best suits your needs.

Comparison table

This table compares the features between the different methods. Full descriptions of the features are available in the next section.

Comparison of Collaborate activity versus external tool activity methods of setup
Collaborate activity External Tool activity
Maximum number of attendees 250 500
Works with QMplus groups
Direct links
Sessions appear in QMplus Calendar
Can use with activity completion
Schedule recurring sessions
Set session settings in advance
Control over downloading recordings
Anonymise chat in recordings
Control over chat privacy
Attendance report
Download poll results
Course room

Description of features

Maximum number of attendees

When using the Collaborate activity, the maximum number of participants is 250. The External Tool activity allows for up to 500 participants. However for these large sessions please note:

  • They must be scheduled one at a time, you cannot set a recurring session for over 250 participants
  • Some features are disabled for large sessions:
    • Participants cannot share audio or video or use the whiteboard – you can get round this by promoting individuals to be presenters
    • You cannot use breakout groups

Works with QMplus groups

If you are using the Collaborate activity you can set the group mode on the activity. This would allow you to create a Collaborate session per group from one activity link. Students go directly to their group session on clicking the activity link.

Note that this functionality is not related to break out groups in Collaborate. It is not possible to use QMplus groups to create break out groups during a Collaborate session.

If you are using the Collaborate activity, you can use a direct link to the activity to send to participants. This is not the same as a guest link. With direct links, attendees will still need to log in to QMplus to access the session.

Both methods allow the setup of guest links for a session which allow attendees to join without logging in to QMplus.

Sessions appear in QMplus Calendar

Sessions set up with the Collaborate activity will appear in the QMplus calendar. This makes it easy for attendees to see when sessions are happening.

Sessions set up the External Tool activity do not appear in the calendar.

Can use with activity completion

Activity completion is a feature on QMplus which can be used to monitor student progress and help students stay on track. It is possible to set activity completion if you are using the Collaborate activity.

Schedule recurring sessions

The External Tool allows you to schedule recurring sessions. This can be a great timesaver if you run sessions at the same time every week.

Using the Collaborate activity means setting up sessions one at a time.

Set session settings in advance

The External Tool allows you to set up some session features in advance.

Using the Collaborate activity means you have to change some of session settings in the session itself if the defaults are not what you want. It is very easy to forget to do this! By default, participants entering a session set up with the Collaborate activity cannot share audio/video or use the chat or whiteboard. You have to remember to turn these features on when you start your session.

Control over recording downloads

When using the Collaborate activity, all recordings are downloadable. If you use the External Tool activity you can control whether the session recordings can be downloaded or not. Moderators are always able to download recordings.

Anonymise chat in recordings

Using the External Tool activity, you can set the chat in the recording to be anonymous. Attendee names will always be shown in recordings made with the Collaborate activity.

It is not possible to make the chat anonymous in the live session.

Control over chat privacy

Using the Collaborate activity, all chat is supervised by moderators. This means participants cannot chat privately to each other without a moderator being able to see that chat. Chats between moderators and participants are always private and cannot be seen by other participants.

If you use the External Tool activity you can configure the session to allow private chat without supervision.

Private chats are never recorded.

Attendance report

If you are using the External Tool activity, you can see a detailed attendance report for all attendees. This can be downloaded in spreadsheet format.

Attendance reports are not available when using the Collaborate activity. You can use activity completion as a rough form of attendance monitoring but this will only log who launched the Collaborate session and will not tell you how long they spent in the session.

Download poll results

When using the External Tool activity you can download the results of any polls that you used in your session. This is not possible with the Collaborate activity.

Course room

The External Tool activity provides an extra feature called the Course Room. This is a Collaborate session that is always available and can be used at any time. It can be configured so that students can use it without staff being there. It is also possible to turn off the Course Room feature if you do not want it.

It is possible to create a similar type of feature when using the Collaborate activity but this requires some specialised configuration of the activity. The Course Room feature provided by the External Tool is much easier to use.

Did this answer your query? If not, you can raise a ticket on the online Helpdesk or email: its-helpdesk@qmul.ac.uk . Alternatively you can also request a particular guide or highlight an error in this guide using our guides request tracker.

Produced by the the E-Learning Unit at Queen Mary University of London.
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