Go Ahead…Push the Big Blue Button

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By Kent Brooks, Brian Carpenter and Steve Prater of Western Oklahoma State College

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Western Oklahoma  State College has faced fiscal constraints for a long time.  We are the classic portrait of Rural America.  We see substantial population loss in rural counties, an aging demographic and declining fertility rates.   Deaths vastly exceed births, schools are closing, their contents auctioned, and families are selling the farm.

These fiscal constraints have prevented us from even looking at certain IT projects in the past.    Web Conferencing has long been a dilemma for me.  I really love some of the commercial products available.  There is no doubt that products such as WebEx and GoToMeeting  Elluminate-Wimba aka Blackboard Collaborate or something like that etc.  provide a tremendous service and a way to share knowledge.   I have been involved in numerous sessions with all of these products and others as well.  All of the products provide some way to show audio and/or video from a presenter, share slides, documents, images etc,  a chat function to assist with interaction and then finally a recording feature.Different degrees of features and customization within each product then add to the complexity of the product. The myth in all of this is that I don’t really need all of the features that are available with many of these services.

Essentially I want to:

  1. Share Slides
  2. Share a talking image of myself
  3. Record the discussion so that students can play back the session

We have long looked for products which allow us to improve communications within our online courses.  The real question comes down to whether one of the commercial products is scalable for us.  The answer I believe is no.  As more faculty wish to engage students in real-time office hours we need a really great self-service tool to facilitate communication which they can install themselves.  What is the answer?  “Big Blue Button”

I must confess I  have used the phrase “I like what I see with Big Blue Button but it isn’t ready because of the lack of a recording functionality”.   Well I have changed my mind, it is ready but it still doesn’t have the recording functionality.   What is the matter with me?  Nothing I say Nothing at All.   It is simply a matter of understanding the limitations of any tool that you use.  If you have a Swiss Pocket Knife you should expect that you can do more with it than with a plain ol’ pocket knife.   We don’t seem to understand this in the software and computers.  Instead we spend our days complaining about what a particular tool cannot do.   (NOTE:  Look at the update section below.  It looks like they are really close.

What we needed to get started

  1. Had to install a virtual appliance that includes Red 5 streaming server and Asterisk PBX system,
  2. Regular Moodle Install
  3. Bandwidth  (See  Slides below)

The only real issues we have had

  1. You must have a headset to eliminate feedback.
  2. The Headset completely eliminated feedback  If you have anyone using  a headset and a microphone they will probably have no trouble. (Probably for any web conferencing tool to work well you need this.
  3. To reduce audio problems you may have to mute everyone and required speakers to raise their hand

Thoughts and the Basics

  1. To add it you add it as an activity.
  2. Don’t make it available until your ready to use it.  f students click on it the first person in becomes the moderator.  You may want that in some cases.  Just be aware.
  3. The primary application right now is for virtual office hours.  Since it doesn’t
  4. This is a tool that would provide live interaction

What do you need to use this

  1. Student doesn’t need a headset, but they could chat
  2. Don’t need a webcam but they can
  3. They need a computer, Flash and a decent computer

Pros

  1. It is pretty straight forward and easy to use
  2. Once integrated teachers can add it to their course without intervention from IT

Cons

  1. You have a limitation with screen size.  You simply can’t fit all that you want on the screen.
  2. Cannot record…Yet

Other Thoughts

  1. We haven’t tried this but why couldn’t you use the free version of Cam Studio for recording until BBB does record (technically this is product does not line up with our philosophy for choosing open source tools…but oh well)
  2. It is amazing more people aren’t finding a way to use this tool

UPDATES

  1. A build (0.8) of bigbluebutton with record and playback was demoed at Sakai 2011 July 1, 2011
  2. Beta of 0.8 coming soon July 13th, 2011

The embed below is from a Presentation by Brian Carpenter  of Western Oklahoma State College at the Oklahoma Moodle Moot

Go Ahead…Push the  Big Blue Button

Session Description:  This session explores the open source Big Blue Button web conferencing tool.  We will discuss how it is currently being deployed at Western Oklahoma State College and how the projects roadmap aligns with Western’s course initiative.   This session will also overview our search for cost-effective Web Conferencing in both the commercial and open source realms.