Blackboard is an education company that provides learning management systems for college and universities. The company is headquartered in Washington DC and has been around since 1997. The company's current leadership, under Jay Bhatt, has been in place since 2012. The company provides education, mobile, communication, and commerce software for educational purposes. The software LMS is used by over 17,000 schools and organizations in over 100 countries. 3/4 of American colleges and universities use Blackboard. About half of K-12 schools use Blackboard as part of its core LMS infrastructure.
Blackboard collaborate is the conferencing tool that colleges and universities use to host MOOCs and online interactions. It is a pretty robust platform that integrates well with most college and universities using some sort of LMS. The service includes Outlook integration, Office integration, and other resources to manage a conference. Additionally, it supports a maximum of 1000 participants.
- Use with any learning management system
- Mobile apps
One strength that Blackboard Collaborate has over its other educational competitors is that it can be used with any learning management system. This was a powerful tool, whereas iLinc is limited in the number of LMS systems that it can be used with (such as Moodle). This is a great tool because an institution can choose a new collaboration nexus without having to change their LMS system that students are familiar with.
We liked the tools that are available for participants and administrators. There is a chat session that students can use to ask questions during a web conferencing event. This includes entrant information about the student and there are even emoticons that students can use to make the chant more engaging. Facilitators can also control who is participating in the session. If a student has a really good question, the facilitator can enable that student to participate.
Additionally, there are some powerful meeting analytics tools. The Session Administration System tools give administrators powerful resources. These give the admin the ability to manage user, schedule web conferencing, and track learners with robust "out-of-the-box" analytics.
We also felt like the system is great for professors and teachers who want to develop their own facilitating resources. With Blackboard Collaborate, it works well with Microsoft Office. You can upload your PowerPoint slides. There are also powerful annotation tools so that the facilitator can markup their content on the fly, giving students the important details during a class.
Blackboard Collaborate also has some powerful mobile apps available, too. There are apps available for the iPhone and iPad, Google Android, and Kindle Fire. Many web conferencing participants can benefit from the Kindle Fire app if their class e-books are also on their Kindle. While the apps are only rated a 3 on both Android and iOS, we felt like Blackboard Collaborate probably has the best tools in the industry when it comes to mobile compatibility.
We saw a really neat tool that was built in with Blackboard Collaborate...the Plan tool. This is a session-planning tool that lets the facilitator organize their session well before the event starts. This lets the instructor create their instructional materials in a single file. Also, afterwards, the session can be published as a standalone-learning file for future use.
- Pricing transparency
- Documentation and support
We were a little bit disappointed with the lack of pricing information that was available with Blackboard Collaborate. Since Blackboard Collaborate is an enterprise-level learning management system, we found that the pricing depends upon the needs of the school system that it serves.
We were also disappointed by the lack of robustness with the number of participants and videos. We found that, after digging through several Google Docs and the support hub for Blackboard collaborate, that six streams of video is optimal for presenters. Any more than this puts a significant drain upon the system. Additionally, there are some issues for institutions that need to include a lot of users in a session. You need to submit a ticket if the event is going to have more than 400 users. The system can handle a maximum of 1000 participants. However, we've heard that Blackboard Collaborate can be pretty slow when there are a lot of users in a session.
The documentation and support is also a little bit hard to follow with Blackboard Collaborate. There are tons of files online, including the FAQ document that we found as a Google Doc. The support hub for Blackboard Collaborate is also very confusing to navigate. The content is organized into different sections, but the search tool doesn't always bring up the most relevant page. This is a detriment to the session facilitator who might be looking for fast information before they do a presentation.
The Bottom Line
We do recommend Blackboard Collaborate for educational users, however we wonder about its feasibility for businesses. There is a lot of "red tape" such as submitting a support ticket if you want an event that is over 400 people. The support for Blackboard Collaborate is a little bit hard to navigate, too. We want to see a better FAQ, as well as resources for presenters, not educational technologists.
We do like that Blackboard Collaborate works well with virtually any LMS out there. There are also robust app integrations, such as Outlook and Office that can help make the system a little bit easier to use, as well as powerful admin tools for the session presenter and the decision maker at the institution where the system is used. We also liked the Kindle Fire app, in addition to the iOS and Android platforms.