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Choosing the right platform for live teaching

Compare the features and suitability of UCL's recommended live, synchronous teaching platforms, Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom and MS Teams.

Live teaching or synchronous teaching is online teaching where students allocated to that class attend and take part in the activities at the same time.  

Please note that each platform is frequently updated and so the guidance on this page may change frequently. Last updated: 16 September 2020.

Contents

Platforms to deliver live teaching

Which platform should I use?

Live teaching tools - functionality comparison at a glance

Platforms to deliver live teaching 

Blackboard Collaborate is a supported live teaching platform which is integrated with UCL Moodle and has been purposefully designed to meet educational needs. 

Zoom has been recently acquired by UCL on a 12-month license as it provides greater reliability for staff and students in China. It is also integrated with Moodle.

Microsoft Teams or MS Teams is primarily used for staff communication and both internal and external events, but it is also available to UCL students and may offer an improved student experience in some situations. Unfortunately it is not currently integrated with Moodle or Portico so managing class groups involves manual effort.

Which platform should I use? 

There is no easy answer. The teaching platform you choose will depend on a variety of factors including teaching requirements, the group size, the course subject, and whether your live sessions include students who are based in China. 

If you have students accessing your teaching event from China, you may find that Zoom gives you better performance for some students. For groups larger than 250 participants, Zoom is also a good choice. Otherwise, for most teaching events you can continue to use Blackboard Collaborate. For smaller groups and 1:1 meetings, MS Teams may offer some advantages. Ideally, it is better to use one platform as much as possible so that you and your students become familiar with it. 

To help you understand which platform is best suited for you, we have outlined their core functionality, benefits and considerations, and provided a summary comparison table.

Digital Education are keen to understand which live teaching tool you use and perhaps more importantly how you use it. Please contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk if you would be willing to share your experiences in a case study.

Blackboard Collaborate 

Blackboard collaborate is UCL’s primary supported tool for live teaching. It is a powerful tool with many real-time interactive features. It can be used to support all live teaching events.

Benefits

  • Fully integrated with Moodle; you can set up your events directly through Moodle and students can access the course in the same way, improving the overall student experience. 
  • Up to 250 students and up to 20 breakout rooms for students to engage in smaller group discussion.
  • A captioner role allows for captions to be manually entered for the class. This will improve the accessibility of the learning activity.
  • Supports dual-camera mode so that you can have input from two cameras.
  • If users have problems with their network connection, they can dial in, through a local number provided by Blackboard, and get the audio feed of the lecture.
  • Granular permissions exist for controlling students’ interaction with the session.
  • If combined with Moodle activity completion tracking, you can see who participated in the session.
  • Low bandwidth.
  • Runs entirely online; you do not need to install anything on your computer.
  • Considerations/Limitations
  • There may be connectivity issues with students in China which may make it challenging for them to join a live teaching event. There are several issues impacting student access to Blackboard Collaborate from China. UCL is participating in the JISC Pipeline project which may alleviate some of these issues. For further information see the China Connectivity Pilot FAQs document.
  • It doesn’t yet have a large gallery view and you will only see up to 5 other participants at any time.

Future roadmap

  • Blackboard intends to introduce a minimum 4x4 display by the end of 2020, which would enable you to see up to 16 participants at any time.
  • The Whiteboard function will soon become much richer with finer control over fonts and sizes.

Case studies 

Documentation

Detailed guidance on using Blackboard Collaborate can be found in the Blackboard Collaborate Resource Centre.


MS Teams 

MS Teams is currently used widely across UCL for staff communication and internal and external events. MS Teams also has some features that make it applicable to teaching. Currently, Digital Education recommends Teams for smaller interactive meetings and 1:1 sessions.

We are keen to understand how you want to use MS Teams for teaching, and how you get on if you do use it.

Benefits

  • Up to 300 participants per meeting in MS Teams.
  • Large gallery view allows up to 49 individuals to share video simultaneously. Together Mode optionally places your participants in a lecture theatre style environment.
  • Automatic live captioning as well as captioning of recorded sessions; additional functionality of the name of the person speaking automatically appended to the caption is expected in August 2020.
  • Integrated Accessibility features including dark/light/high contrast, screen reader compatibility and immersive reader. 
  • A meeting/session can be set up through your Outlook calendar or directly in MS Teams.
  • Great consistency of experience across Mac, PC, iOS, iPad OS and Android with the free Teams App. 
  • Attendance tracking report can be downloaded during a Teams session. 
  • Integrated file sharing and storage.
  • Teams and Teams meetings can be set up by students and staff.
  • Chat feature includes GIFs. 
  • Students can be divided up into breakout rooms. Organisers can create up to 50 breakout rooms with participants assigned to a group manually or automatically.  

Considerations

  • There may be connectivity issues with students in China which may make it challenging for them to join a live teaching event. There are several issues impacting student access to Blackboard Collaborate from China. UCL is participating in the JISC Pipeline project which may alleviate some of these issues. For further information see the China Connectivity Pilot FAQs document.
  • It is not integrated with Moodle, portico or SITS which could reduce the ease in which students can access the session.
  • Session recordings are stored on MS Stream where they must be managed.

Future Roadmap

  • Microsoft is looking to introduce Breakout groups from Q4 CY2020.

Case studies 

Documentation

Detailed guidance on using MS Teams can be found on the Microsoft Teams SharePoint site.


Zoom 

UCL has recently acquired a 12-month license for Zoom, as Zoom is the most reliable platform for access from China.  
Please note that UCL’s choice of platform for live teaching will be reviewed during 2020/21 and there is no guarantee that UCL will extend the Zoom licence beyond the ‘remote teaching’ period.

Benefits

  • Greater reliability for students and staff in China.
  • Up to 500 participants if you request a Zoom Large Meeting license.
  • Large gallery view allows up to 100 individuals to share video simultaneously. 
  • A captioner role allows for captions to be manually entered for the class. This will improve the accessibility of the learning activity.
  • Participants can be pre-assigned to breakout rooms. 
  • Breakout room timer.
  • Up to 50 breakout rooms.
  • Supports dual-camera mode so that you can have input from two cameras.
  • Will shortly be integrated with Moodle, allowing you to create a Zoom meeting within the VLE. To learn how to add a Zoom meeting to Moodle, see the Moodle Zoom wiki page.

Considerations

  • UCL has currently purchased a 12-month license only.
  • For students in China there may be some privacy concerns.  Zoom needs to be treated as an open platform with no guarantee of privacy for call participants. UCL has no verifiable knowledge of, or influence over, Zoom's worldwide infrastructure agreements with national authorities. We advise all staff to use care and discretion when sharing sensitive content or research data with participants or when discussing potentially politically sensitive matters with call participants. For further information see the Zoom FAQS document.
  • Not currently integrated with portico or SITS which could reduce the ease in which students can access the session.

Case studies

Chris Evans, Senior Teaching Fellow in UCL’s Interaction Centre (UCLIC), has produced a series of Zoom for teaching videos.

More coming soon. If you are a current user of Zoom for live teaching, we would love to hear from you at digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

Documentation

Guidance on teaching with Zoom can be found on the Zoom Resource Centre, whereas further technical guidance can be found on the Zoom SharePoint site.


Live teaching tools - Functionality comparison at a glance 

FeaturesCollaborative UltraMicrosoft TeamsZoom
Moodle integrationYesNoComing soon.
Recommended Browsers

Chrome
Edge (Chromium)
Firefox
Safari

Chrome
Edge (Chromium)
Safari (beta)

Chrome
Edge (Chromium)
Firefox
Safari

Mobile Apps for iOS and AndroidMobile browser recommended
    
Microsoft TeamsZoom
No of simultaneous Webcams / Audio5Up to 49Up to 49
Max Number of Participants

250 (Meeting)

Up to 500 (Webinar)*

If you wish to use BB Collaborate for more than 250 participants then you’ll need to follow these instructions (note there is a 5 day turnaround).

300

500*

300 with a regular license. 

 

Up to 500 if you request a Zoom Large Meeting License

Allows Multiple ModeratorsYesYesYes
Invite External guestsYesYesYes
Attendance TrackingNoYesYes
Chat FeaturesYesYesYes
WhiteboardYesYesYes
Integrated Polling Tool3YesYesYes
Hand-Raising OptionYesYesYes
Session RecordingYesYesYes
Share FilesYesYesNo
Screen / Application SharingYesYesYes
Multiple Camera FeedsYesNoYes
Breakout Rooms

Yes (Meeting)

No (Webinar)

YesYes
Live CaptioningYes (manual) Yes (automatic) Yes (manual)
End Meeting for AllYesYesYes
Standards

WCAG 2.1 AA
Section 508

WCAG 2.0 AA
Section 508
EN301 549

WCAG 2.1 AA
Section 508
EN 301 549
 
Virtual BackgroundsNoYesYes
Dial in optionYesYesNo

Acknowledgements

The comparison table has been adapted from Durham University’s Online Meeting/Lecture tools guide as shared under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.