This page was authored by: Jessica Holder and Eileen Monks. March 2014
|With markets in over seventy countries, ranging from education, to business, government and the military sectors, Blackboard Inc. and Elluminate Inc. have combined to become a world leader in the online, synchronous learning and collaboration platform market. Focusing on the Education sector, Blackboard has built a solid academic suite with Blackboard Learning System, a Learning Management System (LMS) well suited for online and higher learning education.||150x150px|
What is Blackboard? Blackboard is a Learning System created by Blackboard Incorporated. Founded in 1997 by Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky, Blackboard Inc. was an educational consulting company, interested in creating and providing a user-friendly platform whereby educators could house course information, resources and assignments, provide reference sites and Internet links, as well as be connected to their students. With a vision “to empower our clients, our partners, and learners everywhere by making education immediate, direct, and personalized" (http://www.blackboard.com/About-Bb/Who-We-Are/At-a-glance.aspx) they began with their program Blackboard LLC, releasing it in 1998 at Cornell University. With continued growth, Blackboard was able to acquire and merge with other companies, expanding their profile and capabilities to provide online learning solutions for higher educational institutions.
By 2004, with the acquisition of CampusWide Access Solution Inc. and rival company WebCT, it is estimated that Blackboard Inc. controlled approximately 80 percent of the learning management systems in the US and Canada (Bradford, Porciello, Balkon, Backus, 2007). Continuing to grow and expand their products and services, Blackboard integrated with Facebook in 2008, acquired Elluminate and Wimba, and created partnerships with McGraw-Hill, Barnes & Noble and Follett Higher Education Group in 2010. Continuously striving to keep up with technology expansions, Blackboard Mobile became available in 2009 to support campus students and a new platform for learning. Despite the success of the Blackboard company, Providence Equity Partners completed an acquisition of Blackboard Inc. in 2011. Since its inception, Blackboard Inc. has continued to expand, to its present size of seventeen company locations and a Headquarters office in Washington, D.C., while still keeping a focus on creating and managing courseware technologies which allow for content, communication and evaluation of and for students (Bradford, Porciello, Balkon, Backus, 2007; http://www.blackboard.com/About-Bb/Our-Story.aspx).
Founded in Calgary, Alberta in 2000 by Nashir Samanani, Elluminate Inc. was at one time considered to be the leading provider of web-based audio, video and social networking and collaboration platforms for supporting teaching and learning in the 21st century. Focussing on synchronous online communication, Elluminate (teaming up with Edtuit), provided service to students and teachers in over 170 countries worldwide and became the leader to follow in this area of Distance Education and eLearning (http://edinnovation.ca/speaker/nashir-samanani/).
As a Java based eLearning collaboration platform, Elluminate was created as a commercial product, therefore meant to be housed on a server rather than to be installed on individual computers. This feature allows for a more powerful program which is controllable and better secured by the servers’ technicians and computer systems. Elluminate focused on high quality, real time (synchronous) desktop audio and video-conferencing collaboration. Meant for connecting distance learners, as well as online collaboration and networking, some limitations were known to occur in the platforms’ optimal capabilities. Depending on available bandwidth, quality of tools and equipment used (i.e. webcams and microphones - both built-in and external), and service providers’ Internet capabilities, Elluminate’s ability could be hindered. Added to that however, was the hefty cost. With an initial licensing fee and yearly service fees, Elluminate was not an option for most companies or small institutions. Prior to the merger of Blackboard Inc, Elluminate Inc and Wimba Inc., Burton (2011), calculated these fees to average at approximately $21 per ’seat’, per month (Burton, 2011).
Learning Systems and The Merging
A Learning System can be thought of as either a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Course Management System (CMS). An LMS is software that allows administration “to plan, implement, and assess a specific learning process” (http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/learning-management-system) which generally includes content delivery, student participation and assessments of student performance. With many possible LMS software programs available, and a variety of potential options to choose from, the user needs to be careful to compare all aspects of each program, including resource housing, discussion forums, video-conferencing, email capabilities, technical support and costs, to ensure it meets the needs of all parties utilizing the system. A CMS, on the other hand, is a system which typically only manages the contents being placed on a web site, and does not allow for many of the capabilities listed above (http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/learning-management-system).
Blackboard Inc. learning platforms allow for integration of both LMSs and CMSs, but most academic institutions utilize either Blackboard Collaborate or Blackboard Learn as their chosen management system. With the incorporation of WebCT’s technology, Blackboard Inc. could provide students and educators with many solid benefits for using their system, including increased access and availability to course materials, immediate automated or timely teacher feedback, improved communications using announcements, discussion forums, virtual classrooms and email, plus student tracking, assignment downloading/uploading, and knowledge building (Bradford et al., 2007). Post merger, Blackboard Elluminate could also offer the capability of virtual, synchronous classrooms. This advantage allows educators to house all the tools needed for an eLearning classroom environment into one manageable space. Blackboard Elluminate can be used by a variety of computer types and platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris) and with a variety of internet connection speeds (lan, cable modem, DSL, dial-up). It also works well with tablet PCs and their pen-based technology (Kohorst and Cox, 2007).
Despite the advantages, Blackboard Inc. have also struggled with some disadvantages, both pre- and post-merger with Elluminate Inc. Students and faculty alike found Blackboard platforms difficult and challenging to learn. “Faculty members found course management systems ‘time-consuming and inflexible’”(Bradford et al., 2007, pg 4) and many students didn’t have proficient enough technology skills for easy navigation. On top of these challenges were the technical challenges of Internet service and speed, differences in computer operating systems, and quality of hardware devices. Possibly the biggest disadvantage was to the licensee, the cost of the licence, implementation and yearly maintenance fees (Bradford et al., 2007).
Applications in Education: Using BlackBoard and Elluminate
“According to Dr. Curtis J. Bonk, professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University and recipient of the Most Outstanding Achievement Award from the U.S. Distance Learning Association, there are four different types of learners” (Bradford et al., 2007, pg 5). The first is the auditory and verbal learner who prefers written instruction and information. The second is the reflective learner who prefers to process information and hear others’ ideas before committing to their own ideas. The third learner type is the visual learner who thrives on visual demonstrations of data including flowchart, graphs and pictures in order to best process information. The last type of learner is the kinesthetic learner who is creative and enjoys games, learning and hands-on activities, and simulations. In order to effectively meet the different modality types of learners, Blackboards’ learning systems offer faculty the ability to tailor their courses. Educators can add text based notes and audio recordings, links to animations and videos, discussion forums, assignment exemplars, and a variety of activities and quizzes, depending on the needs of the learners and the content and requirements of the particular course (Bradford et al., 2007).
Blackboard Elluminate accommodates multiple learning styles by including audio, visual, and writing features in both synchronous and asynchronous interactions (https://www.elluminate.com/downloads/whitepapers/Top-Ten-Benefits-of-Using-Elluminate-Live.pdf). These features include two-way voice over internet, an interactive whiteboard, and instant messaging. Synchronous and asynchronous interactions can provide access to distant or remote guest speakers, aid in classroom collaboration by linking students from around the world, allow for playback of recorded sessions at a later time, provide access to virtual field trips and make possible extended office hour availability. Educators, themselves, can use Elluminate to collaborate through staff meetings and professional development sessions diminishing the need for and cost of travel time (http://id.highline.edu/elluminate/ways.to.use.pdf).
Blackboard Elluminate and Virtual Classroom Management
Blackboard Elluminate successfully incorporates the characteristics described by Jonathan Finkelstein as defining features of a virtual classroom system. “These features include: realtime voice and visual contact between all participants, shared whiteboard, integrated area for the projection of slides or other visuals, capacity for textbased interaction, including side conversations or notepassing, means for learners to indicate that they have questions or are confused, and tools for assessing current moods, opinions, and comprehension as well as for soliciting questions or feedback, and the ability to gauge virtual body language, or a sense of how engaged learners are in the activity at hand” (Schullo, S., Venable, M., Hilbelink, A., & Barron, A. E., 2007, p.333).
For the educator moderating an Elluminate session, several features can be accessed to aid in the management of a virtual classroom environment and to help create a social presence. Online training resources are available to guide educators in preparing for their role as moderators. Training resources also are available to help students prepare for their role as participants (http://www.elluminate.com/Services/Training/?id=70). The moderator has control of giving and taking away permissions available to participants. These permissions include hand raising, whiteboard access, microphone and video access, chat, and application sharing.
Blackboard Elluminate’s interface uses similar icons and toolbars to Windows which increases the user’s sense of familiarity with the system. As well, six simultaneous video images can be displayed at one time using webcams. The moderator and participants can engage in both private or group chat, or meet synchronously in a breakout room for one-on-one instruction or small group work. Immediate feedback can be provided to the student from the moderator allowing for just-in-time clarification and information. As well, an interactive whiteboard and a live polling tool can help direct the session and enhance interactivity. Transferring of all types of files i.e. Word and Excel documents, audio, video and PowerPoint allows for a wide range of resources to be used throughout a session (J. Crofton, C. Pugh, K. Evans, 2001).
Blackboard Elluminate and Special Accessibility for Learners
Blackboard Elluminate accommodates students with a visual or hearing impairment, or a physical disability. For the visually impaired, features are available such as screen reader technology, user-defined colour schemes, larger fonts, the option to hide or resize specific content, and keyboard shortcuts or hotkeys. The keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys are also an accommodating feature for participants with a physical disability. For the hearing impaired, a Closed Captioning feature is available to allow participants to view a transcript of the session while it is in progress or during a playback of a previously recorded Blackboard Elluminate session. Sessions can also be used to include participants who are sick or experiencing a hospital stay as the student can attend the session from a distance, providing they have internet access and technology which supports Blackboard Elluminate (https://www.elluminate.com/resources/training/067-elluminate_and_accessibility_receiverespondcontribute_v95.pdf).
Following Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles framework, we see that Blackboard learning systems allow for meeting the principles, however, how these principles are actually met depends on the particular course, setup and teacher. Providing teacher-student interactions, well-designed discussions, active learning opportunities, timely feedback, due dates for assignments, high expectations, and mutual respect for diversity and learning, are all achievable within the scope of the Blackboard Learning Systems.
Computer Platforms and Internet Browsers that support Elluminate sessions and required Java versions:
|Computer Platforms||Browsers||Java Versions|
|Windows||Windows XP||Internet Explorer 7-9||Firefox 3.6-6||1.6, 1.7 (Java SE 6 & Java SE 7)
Java Access Bridge 2.0.1 (Using Jaws)
|Windows||Windows Vista||Internet Explorer 7-9||Firefox 3.6-6||1.6, 1.7 (Java SE 6 & Java SE 7)
Java Access Bridge 2.0.1 (Using Jaws)
|Windows||Windows 7||Internet Explorer 7-9||Firefox 3.6-6||1.6, 1.7 (Java SE 6 & Java SE 7)
Java Access Bridge 2.0.1 (Using Jaws)
|Windows||Windows 8||Internet Explorer 7-9||Firefox 3.6-6|
|Macintosh||Mac OS X 10.5||Safari 4.0 and 5.0 and 5.1||Firefox 3.6-6||Apple Java 1.5.0_16 +(J2SE5 - 32 bit)
Apple Java 1.6.0_07 +(J2SE6-64 bit)
|Macintosh||Mac OS X 10.6||Safari 4.0 and 5.0 and 5.1||Firefox 3.6-6||Apple Java 1.5.0_16 +(J2SE5 - 32 bit)
Apple Java 1.6.0_07 +(J2SE6-64 bit)
|Macintosh||Mac OS X 10.7||Safari 5.1||Firefox 3.6-6||Apple Java 1.5.0_16 +(J2SE5 - 32 bit)
Apple Java 1.6.0_07 +(J2SE6-64 bit
|Macintosh||Mac OS X 10.8||Safari 5.1||Firefox 3.6-6||Apple Java 1.5.0_16 +(J2SE5 - 32 bit)
Apple Java 1.6.0_07 +(J2SE6-64 bit
|Ubantu||Ubantu 9.10||Firefox 3.6-6||64 bit with 64 bit JVM|
|UltraSPARC Solaris||Solaris 10 (SPARC only)||Firefox 3.6-6||64 bit with 64 bit JVM|
|openSUSE||openSUSE 11||Firefox 3.6-6||64 bit with 64 bit JVM|
Versions of Microsoft Office PowerPoint and OpenOffice/StarOffice Impress required when importing presentations onto Elluminate:
|Computer Types and Platforms||Versions|
|Windows||Windows XP||PowerPoint 2003||PowerPoint 2007||Impress 3.1|
|Windows||Windows Vista and Windows 7||PowerPoint 2007||PowerPoint 2010||Impress 3.1|
|Macintosh||Mac OS X 10.5 and Mac OS 10.6||PowerPoint 2004||PowerPoint 2008||Impress 3.1|
|Linux||openSUSE 11 (64 bit) or Ubuntu 9.10 (64 bit)||Impress 3.1|
|UltraSPARC Solaris||Solaris 10 (SPARC only)||Impress 3.1|
Today, Blackboard/Elluminate is considered to be primarily a top educational learning platform, despite the price tag, especially for larger institutions that utilize the entire Blackboard platform (such as Collaborate or Blackboard Learning System) as the advantages are worth the end cost (Burton, 2011). In British Columbia, Learn BC has bought the licence for the provincial school districts. However, in order to utilize this license, teachers need to apply for an account, then are given one which provides basic moderator privileges and user capabilities, including the ability to record sessions.
Stop Motion Video
Blackboard Collaborate by Christopher Lee
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- Schullo, S., Venable, M., Hilbelink, A., & Barron, A. E. (2007). Selecting a Virtual Classroom System: Elluminate Live vs. Macromedia Breeze (Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional) . MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3(4), 331-345.
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- Support Portal. (n.d.). Support Portal. Retrieved March 6, 2014, from: http://support.blackboardcollaborate.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=8336
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- Top Ten Benefits of Using Elluminate Live!. (n.d.). Elluminate Live!. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from: https://www.elluminate.com/downloads/whitepapers/Top-Ten-Benefits-of-Using-Elluminate-Live.pdf
- Wikipedia.Org. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackboard_Inc.
- Blackboard, Elluminate, and Wimba Logo: http://techzulu.com/blackboard-acquires-elluminate-and-wimba/
- Blackboard and Elluminate Logo: http://delta.ncsu.edu/deltawire/moving-beyond-elluminate/
- Computer Platforms and Internet Browsers that support Elluminate sessions and required Java versions: http://support.blackboardcollaborate.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=8336&task=knowledge&questionID=683
- Versions of Microsoft Office PowerPoint and OpenOffice/StarOffice Impress required when importing presentations onto Elluminate: http://support.blackboardcollaborate.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=8336