Hello everyone,

It appears that Blackboard Collaborate can save a recording of a blackboard session for later download and replay. However, playing it back in the Java client supplied isn't very nice (i.e. pretty limited). So I'm looking for a way to convert it into a regular video file and play it with a video player.

Where can I learn about the format of that "recording" file? Is it proprietary or open? Is it possible to extract the audio track and the slides from it? I tried looking at it, but "file" just reports "data", so it doesn't have any of the well-known headers. It doesn't seem compressed or encrypted though, as there's a lot of plaintext strings at the beginning.

Also, I'd be interested to hear if you have any tips for improving audio quality.

Many thanks

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You can got into the Administrator SAS and convert to MP4 however it only converts the audio and whiteboard. I'll follow your thread (follow mine) and we can see if either of us gets a better conversion solution.

Thanks for your answer Allison! :)

Hello Mariusz,

I have a solution for you, but want to emphasize on the value of native playback first :-)

You dislike Java native playback because of it is not handy to share a recording to anyone else never been part of a Collaborate session. Native playback requires the same prerequisites (Java Runtime or Collaborate Launcher) than joining a Collaborate session live. This is definitly a limitation, but from my perspective, it is the only major drawback.

On the other hand, native playback provides a toolset never seen in any standard video distribution format: The recording stays complete and interactive somehow. Some examples:

  • You may change panel size and positions, you are in sync with any interaction, even with those not been visible at lifetime.
  • I like the capability to browse all the participant´s individual profiles, especially contact infos, a followup task handy at recording time, but much too time-consuming during my lectures.

Therefore, the availability of native Java playback is a feature I would desparately miss in educational scenarios, if Blackboard may decide to strip that unique feature in future developments.

For my professional workflow, I like the ability to generate standard video files from native playback by use of a screen recorder (Captivate, Camtasia, Jing et al). This gives me the freedom of choice, which panels to show up in different situations according to didactical contraints. E.g. if someone has to show a relevant contribution via webcam, I pick the video panel at this moment and enlarge it to present this particular contribution full sized, later on got back to standard layout or enlarge the chat panel, if there is much important activity to document. This post processing, a didactically enhanced recording of the native playback, is worth to handle. Of course, this additional effort includes the cutout of nasty unrelevant phases during the lecture e.g. during the use of breakout rooms, where small groups of student prepare some own work or exercises.

Is this post processing the main reason why you demanded for standard video formats ?Yes, a standard file format would enable you to use your favorite videocutting program. However, I suggest to play with a screen recorder including major videocutting tools. Especially Camtasia might be easy to learn, if you familiar with average  standard video processors.

HINT:

Well, you may have done so and found a nasty problem on the way: Recording a screen including audio requires to set the audio playback/loudspeaker stream (out of native playback) to be the input of the screen recorder. Many computer systems do include a special audio source called "stereo mix", which exactly delivers what you want. If your sound circuit driver does not provide that loop-back input, there are some tools available doing this job. This was discussed elsewhere in this forum several times.

Ok, this was my evangelists´s shout on the great Collaborate native playback.
Now for the solution I promised above:

Collaborate provides a little nice conversion tool called Publish!  free of charge. You´ll find the appropriate Publish! download for your operating system here including Publish! user guide.

This tool accepts any playback link as input and downloads the whole session to your computer. After that initial task, you get various options to generate different output formats to be processed in one batch or one after the other.

Again, my favorite format is "Unplugged recording", the same thing like the native playback above, but as an offline version. Unplugged recording simply includes the Java code of the Collaborate player into the file. This is my backup to get the native playback even without any internet connection. Conversion is quick, therefore a thing easily to apply to any recording ever done.

Standard video formats are available in two resolutions (desktop hires and tablet lowres) and many different format flavors. You may select "Whiteboard content" and "Appshare content" to be integrated with the audio stream. In addition, you may generate audio-onby MP3 files, transscription files of the chat session and speech2text captions.

Note: This file conversion to standard video formats may take long. You should spend some CPU power to this process.

This long duration, huge effort if you have a heap of old recordings to convert, did force the Collaborate product management to develop an online Conversion as a cloud service.

This is what Allison mentioned in the first reply:
Administerators of a Collaborate Enterprise license may select any recording for conversion. Sorry to say, this option is handy, but just a small piece of the power of Publish!:

  • MP3 Online conversion delivers the low quality format found in Publish! "Audio File Creation"
  • MP4 Online conversion delivers the low resolution size found in Publish! "Optimize for mobile"

The handling benefit is, that you don´t need to spend own CPU power for self-conversion, no workflow to monitor a conversion task and start the next one time after time. In addition, Blackboard provides extra storage space for you to provide those mobile-grade MP4s on their server, instead of you have to upload videos somewhere else.

The drawback is, that this Online Conversion outcome is limited to low quality, the price for the low effort advantage. In addition, most Collaborate users do know this Online service only, which raises the feeling, that Collaborate can´t generate higher quality than 640x480. Slides designed for higher resolved desktop screens and appshares of modern desktops may look ugly in the video produced by Collaborate Online Conversion.

Publish! is still worth to know, if you have special quality demands or want to backup your complete sessions from the server.

In terms of completeness, Collaborate has a severe disadvantage in both Publish! and Online conversion options: The Webcam video is not included in the standard video file. Same with participant panel including all participant´s interactions (emotions, polling etc.) Including that into a vendor-side tool is an unheared demand since the early days of Elluminate, the Collaborate predecessor.

For me, being a "videoconferencing" type of lecturer, the webcam is almost important, especially to give students "the stage" to present. This is the main reason for I usually go for screen recorder postprocessing described above.

Towards Collaborate product managers, who may read this post, I shout: Please do not let Publish! die. Even in next generation Collaborate, unplugged native recording should remain, because it is complete recording. If you want to imporve your online conversion, consider selectable quality parameters and several standard layouts to choose, including a "picture-in-picture" display of webcam video on lecture contents.

Thanks anyone for reading

Hope this helps

Mero

German Collaborate User Group

Easily done using the Publish program (produced by former proprietors Elluminate) which converts to mp3/mp4 and text chat to .rtf.    Later versions of Blackboard can generate mp4 at the click of a button.

ATB

Graham

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