After a long and complex tendering process, in line with the EU guidelines on public procurement, The Open University has chosen Blackboard Collaborate as its new synchronous online learning platform.
The OU has been using Elluminate since 2008. Blackboard bought out Eluminate and its main competitor Wimba in 2010. Collaborate appears to be a combination of the slightly less cluttered interface of Wimba and the greater functionality of Eluminate.
The plan is for a phased implementation/transition to Blackboard Collaborate with our use of Eluminate finishing in the summer of 2014. Collaborate, from the demos I've seen, seems relatively straightforward to use and resources developed for use on Eluminate are reported to be seamlessly interoperable with the new platform.
Associate lecturers and students won't be expected to switch platforms midstream. The idea is that Blackboard Collaborate will be introduced between the end of one presentation of a course/module and the begining of the next.
The significant operational change from my perspective is not the specific tools which are, in effect, quite similar but that the hosting will be done externally by Blackboard, on servers within the EU, rather than internally by the OU on servers in the UK.
Blackboard are a US multinational but with the hosting firmly within EU borders the data will be subject to the more stringent EU privacy protections. It does mean, however, that the ongoing EU-US free trade agreement negotiations take on a sharper meaning for the Open University than they historically might have done, given the long time efforts of the US to dilute the EU's privacy regime.