Adrian Aronsson-Storrier, School of Law firstname.lastname@example.org
LLM International Commercial Law (Distance)
Adrian held small group seminars with groups of around 5 students per online workshop.
Workshops were scheduled in all of the distance LLM modules, and ran weekly through the
Spring and Autumn terms. Collaborate was also used for individual dissertation supervision
These were Postgraduate Masters level distance learning students enrolled in a range of
optional LLM modules. Students attended from across the UK and the world.
The Law School already offered online workshop sessions using a competing webinar product
(Adobe Connect). This software was complex for students to use, not supported centrally by
the University and was paid for from the School’s budget. We sought to investigate alternative
web conferencing solutions that would be simpler for our students whilst maintaining
equivalent functionality (slide sharing, chat, whiteboard etc).
Blackboard Collaborate was chosen to replace Adobe Connect as it was simpler for students to
use (a more straightforward interface reduced initial student training time, the integration into
Blackboard made it simpler for students to log in and participate).
Preparation was similar to distance workshops previously delivered with the earlier Adobe
Connect web conferencing tool. For some workshops slides were prepared, in others a series
of tutorial style questions were circulated to students in advance for discussion.
After giving students an initial training session, delivering a class on Collaborate took no more
effort than delivering an equivalent session in an on campus module.
Students quickly adapted to Collaborate. They made frequent use of the chat function and the
‘raise hand’ function, particularly in larger groups where many students wished to contribute to
Student’s enrolling in the distance LLM are required to have access to their own computer,
headphones and internet connection.
From a support perspective, the move to Collaborate required less ongoing staff and student
training than our previous web conferencing software – once set up on Blackboard it was simple
for students and staff to access Collaborate sessions for their weekly workshops.
Blackboard Collaborate achieved everything we had previously delivered to students using
Adobe Connect. It had the advantage of being simpler for students to use, and the blackboard
integration made connecting to the sessions simpler.
Thoughts and Reflections
Lecturers in the school of law tended to use Collaborate from their homes (distance workshops
are often scheduled outside core hours, to accommodate students in diverse time zones). This
required staff to have sufficient equipment (laptop, headphones or a headset).
One challenge – which often impacts distance learning when working with students in less
economically developed nations – was issue of the student’s poor internet connection
impacting sessions. At times students (particularly in Africa and the Middle East) had poor
internet connections which prevented full video streaming. While the software does allow
students to participate by providing streaming audio only, this is less immersive for the student.
Ensure that all participants are making use of headphones or a microphone headset. If students
rely on computer speakers there will often be some level of echo introduced into the web
conference, which can be distracting. Students without headphone should be encouraged to
mute their microphones when not speaking.
Provide students with an introductory session on the software before beginning online
instruction. We used a general online induction day for students as a trial, allowing them to test
that the software worked and giving them time to learn the functionality before being required
to use it in class.