Choosing the Right Online Teaching Platform

Bonnie Nish

Bonnie Nish, Sessional Lecturer
Department of Language and Literacy Education


Key Themes: Collaborate Ultra vs. Zoom, PowerPoint, preparing your online course

Ed Tech Tools: Collaborate Ultra, Zoom

Interview with Bonnie Nish

July 29, 2020

Collaborate Ultra Vs. Zoom

For my LLED 361 course (Literacy Practices and Assessment: Secondary), I initially started in Zoom, but then moved to using Collaborate Ultra. It was just little things that I was noticing that didn’t work for me. For example, I created a Zoom meeting and I sent the students the link by email, and I also put it into the announcements for everyone to have. Then the day of the class, I noticed there were two people in the waiting room whose names I didn’t recognize. I thought maybe they had different emails so I thought I’d just wait and see.

I recognized everybody else and I let everyone in except for these two people. I realized that they probably weren’t meant to be here and I just wondered how they could have gotten the link. It made me nervous because I had recently been in an AGM meeting where we were Zoom-bombed, and it wasn’t a nice feeling; it was very disturbing. The last thing I wanted was for that to happen in my course. I wasn’t feeling too comfortable with Zoom, even with all of the security around Zoom that UBC has taken. The fact that there were two people in my waiting room that weren’t supposed to be there concerned me, and I had no idea how they got there.

Bonnie's meme

Another issue I had with Zoom was I once had a guest speaker, and the students were asking questions in the chat. I read out a question from the chat and the guest speaker was answering, suddenly I looked up and the student who had asked the question was in the waiting room, because her Zoom call had dropped. I quickly let her back in and I had to ask the guest speaker to please repeat their answer because I had just noticed that the student who asked was out of the room while they were talking. She was just booted out. Little things like this were happening for me in Zoom.

Because of these things, I ultimately decided at that time to go back to Collaborate Ultra. I felt like there was a little more flexibility with Collaborate Ultra, so I stayed in that platform for the rest of the course. However, since then I have become much more familiar with Zoom and I will actually be switching to this platform for my next course. I have found that Collaborate Ultra lacks certain things which Zoom offers. The speaker view for instance is more limiting in that you can only see a few people at a time. While Zoom tends to drop people, the actual connection is better in Zoom in that it is clearer. They both have advantages and disadvantages, and familiarizing yourself with each is important in order to find your comfort level and what works for you.

“[Zoom and Collaborate Ultra] both have advantages and disadvantages, and familiarizing yourself with each is important in order to find your comfort level and what works for you.”

One of our classes was about using memes, in classrooms, in teaching – so I made a meme for them. It’s a superhero, and the first box shows a finger trying to decide between two red buttons, one labelled “Zoom” and one labelled “Collaborate Ultra”. And then the next box shows a superhero just sweating it out. And at the beginning of class I told them this is what working with technology has been like for me.

To Powerpoint or not to Powerpoint?

In the beginning I was using PowerPoint in my lectures. I thought, just for my own sake, I can use this to teach so they’re not just looking at me the whole time. But I quickly did away with that because I realized in Collaborate Ultra I couldn’t see anybody while sharing a PowerPoint presentation. Anytime I shared my screen, I would have somebody else let me know if anybody had any concerns in the chat, and I just felt like it didn’t work as well to have the PowerPoint there. In Zoom, however, I can still see the students in gallery view and I don’t feel I am talking into space. So sharing a PowerPoint feels more comfortable in Zoom.

While I was using Collaborate Ultra, I ended up just putting the PowerPoint presentations up online for students to access on their own time. Especially if somebody hadn’t had a chance to read the reading that week, they had that to help, and for extra reference. So that was one thing I found I had to adjust for. And I just found keeping the actual teaching time short, and giving them a question from the reading to go into breakout rooms and discuss worked better. Making sure they have a lot of asynchronous time for assignments is key.

“In Zoom … I can still see the students in gallery view and I don’t feel I am talking into space. So sharing a PowerPoint feels more comfortable in Zoom [compared to Collaborate Ultra].”

I was constantly adapting, because I hadn’t taught online before. I had to switch to shorter lectures – about fifteen minutes tops. While we had been told that this was better, you really don’t understand this until you’re in it and get to experience it first hand.

Advice for Instructors New to Online Teaching

Get a group of people together, whether it’s family or friends, and go into both platforms beforehand, just to get a feel for it. It’s one thing to go in by yourself and navigate it, but it’s far more useful if you’re in there with a group where you’re actually putting people into breakout rooms or assigning breakout rooms in each platform, just to see which is more comfortable.

I know a lot of people prefer Zoom, and it might be great, but I think having a handle on both platforms is beneficial. They both have great things that they offer, but actually walking through all of these different things, using the whiteboard, sharing your screen, uploading things beforehand, putting people into breakout rooms in groups and moving them around; doing all that, and having people there in the moment to give you feedback, will really help. If you can do all that comfortably, I think that’s going to give you a big head start into using these platforms. And I would do both of them just because some people might want to go back and forth. Some people might find one is easier than the other.

Biggest Takeaways for Preparing your Course

Be aware that it’s an ongoing process. I mean, teaching is anyway, so you plan lessons as best as you can. And sometimes things go wrong – I probably had everything possible that could go wrong with technology go wrong for me! Just be aware of this, and give yourself a break, if you’re just learning it. Accept that it’s a learning process, and you’ll find your flow eventually. I felt like by the third week I was starting to really get a handle on it. It just takes some time to get used to it, and to be comfortable within each platform. It is different than teaching in person – it’s very different.

One of the things I like to do in my classroom is create a sense of community, where students feel they can talk and be together. How do you do that online and really get a sense of who everybody is and those conversations? Breakout rooms, discussion boards and short class discussions are really great ways to do that. It’s constantly a learning process.

Edited by: Milena Constanda

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