Teaching & Learning


Initiatives and resources supporting the objectives of UCL's Education Strategy 2016-21


Meet me at the BAR: how to provide a virtual social space for students

Responding to popular demand for a virtual collaboration and hang-out space, the MSc Dental Hygiene programme team used Blackboard Collaborate to open the Blackboard Available Room (BAR).

Student lying cross-legged with laptop. Credit: Mimi Thian / Unsplash

22 May 2020

Dr Jeanie Suvan, Director of the Dental Hygiene MSc, and Ms Ruth Glover, Deputy-director, describe how the team have tackled the challenge of providing opportunities for valuable peer-to-peer interaction, remotely.  

Our challenge

We run a blended learning MSc programme in Dental Hygiene. The programme is 3-year part-time programme which is largely distance learning, with two weeks in-person teaching in the first year, one week in the second and one week in the third. 

We hold online sessions about once per month through Blackboard Collaborate as seminars to discuss literature, or sometimes for them to present material to us. The students loved connecting via Blackboard and were requesting additional sessions. However, as we are teaching three years of students alongside other teaching commitments of taught programmes in our department, we suggested they could hold their own sessions without us present. 

The solution

We have created a virtual, student-led space called ‘the BAR’ - Blackboard Available Room - which is open to students at all times and we have had tremendous uptake. 

To avoid the email traffic of them contacting us to request a time for the Blackboard session to be set-up, and so on, we set it up as a permanent space in their Moodle Hub. They can access it 24/7.  

Students can connect as a group in the BAR; present to each other; complete group work; discuss articles; and collaborate when it suits them, which is a terrific advantage.  As clinicians, they like to chat about clinical approaches with each other to get additional opinions and perspectives, and they’ve found the space an outlet for chatting about life during this pandemic. 

How we've done it

The BAR is simply a Blackboard Collaborate session without any time limitations set

The link is housed on a Moodle space restricted to each year group; so, Year 1 has a BAR separate from Year 2, separate from Year 3. The Blackboard Collaborate session is given the custom name BAR to differentiate it from other sessions.  

Students agree amongst themselves on a time, e.g. do you want to meet in the BAR at 5pm, and then just click on the link to access the space! Easy! 

Top tip!

We would recommend this to all courses, but we think it’s important to keep such a space for students only. We believe this encourages the psychological peer-to-peer engagement. We seldom join the BAR as we want them to see it as their PRIVATE space, therefore we would only join if they invited us to do so and only for social purposes – not teaching.  

Student feedback

How has our solution been received? Well, we’ll let our students speak for themselves:  

“I just want to let you know how useful the Bar has been for me. It’s a great platform to meet with colleagues to discuss course work and also support each other in these difficult times. I have found the Bar to be a very useful educational tool.” 
“The Blackboard Available Room (BAR) has been a successful and excellent addition to the course. As a student undertaking an online course with UCL, it can sometimes feel overwhelming and isolated but with the BAR-chat, the option is there to interact with other students on the course. For our course, the group have used this for social interaction in addition to extremely useful discussions regarding upcoming assignments. In particular, for our latest assignment which was a group task, the BAR-chat was indispensable and as a group we were able to discuss each of our presentations and collaborate to ensure there was no repetition of information provided. In addition, we could decide on the design of the overall presentation.” 
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the BAR-chat has been a wonderful source for social interaction and all of the group has appreciated visual contact with like-minded DCPs and enjoyed the ability to chat about dentistry and workplaces post COVID-19 and much more! 
“When given a group assignment, having the BAR was perfect as we were able to discuss and share files and make sure our group assignment was done well.” 
“Our group used the Bar Sessions extensively during this lockdown period as a way to keep in touch socially as well as working collaboratively on course work. We found it to be a very useful and easy to access tool, particularly being able to share work online. Socially it has been a fantastic way to keep in touch and just generally catch up (even have an online drink together - tea mainly ), being able to see each other rather than contact merely by text messaging is much more engaging.
“BAR is an incredible tool for students to use both for socialising and for university related things. It was very reliable and once we got the hang of it, it was pretty easy to use. “ 
“As an online learner or even a learner who cannot attend face to face lectures for now, Bar Sessions help to keep be in touch and not feel so isolated.” 

Image credit: Mimi Thian / Unsplash.