Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Breakout Rooms in Physically-Distanced Learning Spaces

Using break-out groups in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in physically-distanced learning spaces

Instructional Challenge

In many of the active learning activities identified for use in physically-distanced learning spaces, there is a need for students to chat and work collaboratively on a topic in ways that are not possible given the physical restrictions of classrooms as part of the COVID-19 response. Instead of working together in physical groups, students will need to remain in their seats and may need to use technologies to interact with students in the classroom. This document walks you through the process of setting up and using breakout groups to work collaboratively and interact in virtual conversations using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

Setting Up a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Session

You must first create a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session for your class activity. This is where students will go to work together while in the classroom. Note: Breakout groups are only available in sessions with 250 or fewer attendees. You can create up to 20 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each group.

  1. Select the BBCollaborate Ultra link in your Canvas course navigation bar.
  2. Select Create Session.
  3. Provide a name for the session (Example: In-Class Group Investigation Activity)
  4. Select Session Settings (Gear Icon)
    1. Since students will not easily be able to use audio or video in the classroom, due to feedback issues, consider removing these features by deselecting the Share audio and Share video permissions.
    2. Since students may want to use the whiteboard as they collaborate, make sure the Draw on whiteboard and files feature is selected.
  5. Select Create.

Managing Breakout Room Sessions

Before the class session, think about group formation. How do you want to organize the students into groups? Either create groups before class, ask for students to form their groups, or organize groups randomly. Be aware that Blackboard Collaborate Ultra does not allow you to create groups before class. This needs to be done in real-time. Follow these directions when you are in the classroom:

  1. Direct students to your Canvas course and then to the BBCollaborateUltra menu on the sidebar.
  2. Have students select the session you created (Example: In-Class Group Investigation Activity)
  3. Once students are in the room you have three options:
    1. Random Assign: This is the fastest way to create groups as it just asks how many groups you want and it automatically populated students into them. By default, you will not be assigned a group. Students will also not be able to change groups.
    2. Custom Assignment - Moderator Assigned: This option would work best if you needed specific groups formed and you already had those groups defined. 
    3. Custom Assignment - Participate Assigned: If you let students create their groups spontaneously in the classroom, this option is the easiest way to form groups. Select the Allow attendees to switch groups box and identify the number of groups to create. Direct students which group to add themselves to verbally. To add themselves to a group, students should click on the box with a green arrow icon to the right of the group name.
      group formation
  4. Once all students have been added to groups, select the Start button to activate the group breakout spaces. To stop or end a breakout session, select End. Note: once you end a breakout session, all group assignments are cleared.

Using the Chat Feature

Once students are in the breakout rooms, They can communicate with one another using the Chat feature by clicking on the Chat icon found in the Collaboration Panel. In the breakout room, messages go only to group members. Users can send a message to the instructor by clicking on the Moderator button in the Chat window.

chat window

Using the Whiteboard Feature

If group members want to collaborate on a surface, they can use the group whiteboard, found under the Share Content icon in the Collaboration Panel. Select Share Blank Whiteboard.
whiteboardshare whiteboard

Other Resources

Managing Breakout Rooms

For a general overview, see Ultra Breakout Groups.

Tips for before starting the Breakout Groups
  • Explain how the Breakout Groups function/what learners will experience (from a technical perspective).

    • When learners are in Breakout Groups, they have Presenter privileges, so they can share screen, share files, poll, etc. so, you may consider highlighting a few of those tools that may be helpful to them when they're collaborating in small groups.

    • Note that they have a Group Chat and an Everyone Chat. The Group Chat is for their group only. The Everyone Chat is available to everyone in the course, no matter which group they're in, so this is a great method for communicating with the whole class at the same time when Breakout Groups have started.  

  • Outline the following information for the breakout activity:
    • Goal/purpose 
    • Timing
    • Roles (e.g. Facilitator, Timekeeper, Recorder, Reporter)
    • Deliverable (if applicable) and how will they share/report it?
      • verbal report
      • text post to the Chat
      • mark-up/annotation on a Whiteboard
      • share a slide/file (that they would upload from within their Breakout Group)
Tips for during the Breakout Groups
  • Share a set of activity slides from the Main Room to the Breakout Groups, so learners have the information they need in front of them. Here's how to share files from the main room into the Breakout Groups. Likewise, you can save files that were uploaded within Breakout Groups back to the main room for future use.

  • Encourage learners to post any questions they have in the Everyone Chat, so you can see and respond, and everyone in the class will see it too.

  • Move through the Breakout Groups to check-in and see if they have any questions, like you might do in a traditional, face-to-face course.

  • Use the Everyone chat, to provide lots of warnings before transitioning them back into the main room.  
    • For example, during a 10-minute session, you might give learners a 5-minute, a 1-minute, and a 30-second warning. 
    • Consider having the timekeeper (or another role) post a signal in the Everyone chat when their group is set to come back to the whole group.
    •  Encourage learners to move themselves back into the main room when they're done, to signal they're ready to return.
Active Learning Strategies 
Strategies for engaging learners during breakout sessions:
 Affordances Limitations 
 excellent for small group engagement during a synchronous web conferencebreakout groups cannot be setup in advance 
 during breakout groups, moderators can move between groups to monitor and join discussiongroup assignments (who is in which group) are not persistent; once the groups are ended, the group assignments dissolve
** Keep in mind that the recording will stop automatically if all moderators move out of the main room during breakout sessions. Stopping the recording will result in multiple recording files for a session. A good work-around is to keep a moderator in the main room at all times. 
 during breakout groups, participants can still connect to the large group (main room) through the chat activity in the breakout groups is not captured in the recording
 files from breakout groups can be saved and shared with the main roomif participants join via Anonymous dial-in, they cannot join the breakout groups, the remain in the main room  



Accessing Breakout Groups

To access Breakout Groups from a live session, open the Collaborate panel by clicking on the purple tab in the bottom right corner of the Main Room.

Note: Only moderators can setup Breakout Groups. 


At the bottom of the panel, click on the Share Content button to open the Content panel. 


Once the content panel is open, click on Breakout Groups.


Setting up Breakout Groups: Group Assignment 

Moderators can assign breakout groups in three ways (see how to setup below):

 Ways to Setup the Breakout Groups Notes about the method
 1. Randomly Assign Fastest, easiest method, though limited ability to determine who is in which group
 2. Custom Assignment - Moderator manually assigns participants to groups Slow, cumbersome for moderators to manage in real-time; though easy for participants and control over who is in which group
 3. Custom Assignment - Participants move themselves into the groups Easiest way to have participants in specific groups, without the moderator having to manually move them there; requires coaching from moderator to participants in order to execute, so greater room for error




1. Randomly assign groups

By selecting this option, conference attendees will be randomly assigned to groups. Note: The random group assignment option is only available for conferences with four our more attendees. There must be a minimum of two students per breakout group.

When Random Assignment is selected; a dropdown option appears to quickly select the number of desired groups. 

Note: With Randomly assign breakout groups, you have additional options: 

    • Include moderators in group assignment (If left unchecked, moderators will remain in the Main room when breakout groups are started. 
    • Allow attendees to switch groups (Allows them to manually move from group to group)
    • Shuffle attendees: each time this is clicked, a new random assignment is created and the participants are reshuffled. Use with caution. 
Note: Even though the participants are randomly assigned, you can still manually move them to different groups, if need be. To do this, click and drag the participants name and move them to the new group. 


2 - Custom Group Assignment - Moderator manually assigns participants to groups 

The custom assignment allows the moderator to click and drag conference attendee's name into specific groups. Note: This is a manual process and may require quite a bit of wait time/setup if there is a large class. 

To setup custom group assignment, first manually create the desired number of groups. Always click the bottom-most plus-sign to keep the groups in numerical order. 



3. Custom Assignment - Participants move themselves into the groups

Canvas LMS Note:  The Canvas > People > Group spaces do not connect/correlate to the Breakout Groups in Ultra, so if you'd like to have students breakout into the same groups then you will want to use the Custom assignment option. 

1. Set group assignment to Custom assignment

2. Check the box to Allow attendees to switch groups

3. Manually add the needed number of Groups by clicking on the bottom-most plus-sign. 

4. Instruct students before the breakout groups start, they will need to independently and manually join the group number that corresponds to their team number. (ie. For Canvas, if a student is on Team 3 in Canvas, then tell them to join Group 3 in Ultra.) Learners can access and join the groups from within the Attendees panel, below the list of attendees.

attendees-tab


To join their group, students will click on the green arrow icon next to the appropriate group number.

Ultra-join-group


Starting Breakout Groups

Once all desired settings have been an applied and the moderator is ready to start Breakout Groups during a live session, click on the black "start" button at the bottom of the Breakout Groups page. This will start Breakout Groups and take you to the Attendees page where you can view current groups. 




Monitoring Breakout Groups

During a Breakout Group session, any participant in a moderator role is able to move between groups to monitor the discussion. This allows the moderator to access all of the group's shared content (audio, video, and chats). 

Attendees can move between Breakout Groups in two ways:

1. From the Attendees panel, simply select the "Join" button to the right of each group name you would like to join. 


 2. From Share Content panel > Breakout Groups, click on the three dots next to your name. This opens a pull down menu with the available groups where you can select the desired group to move into. When you've made your selection, make sure to to click the Update button at the bottom of the page to make this change. 

Note: This option can also be used to manually move students from a group as well. Follow the same steps as above with the student's name. 



Sharing Content To/From Breakout Groups

During a Breakout Group session, you can share files with one or more breakout groups.

    • Select Share Files.
    • Open the File options menu of the file you want to share.
    • Select Share with groups.
    • Choose the groups you want to share the file with.
    • Select Share Now.

For more detailed information, see Share Files to Breakout Groups.


Ending a Breakout Session

To end a session, click on the stop button located on both the black ribbon titled "Breakout Groups" in the Attendees panel or next to the Breakout Groups title in the Content panel. 

Note: Prior to ending a session, it is best practice to announce via the Everyone Chat that the Breakout Groups will be ending and everyone will be pulled back into the Main session, so learners are prepared for the transition.  

Note: Only the people will move back into the main chat. Any content created within the Breakout Groups (ie. Group Whiteboard, Group Chats, etc.) will not be pulled back into the Main room. If students need to share something with the main group, they could post to the Everyone chat or prepare a separate PPT Slide to be uploaded in the Main room. 

Note: When a breakout group session is stopped, all group assignments are lost. Each time Breakout Groups are used, the teams will need to be re-assigned. 



See Also: