Pamela Stewart

As we march toward online instruction, many of us continue to ponder how to share content and our presence with students. Selecting a tool to get the job done without adding to student stress (not to mention our own), is proving a challenge.  ELI Instructors conducted virtual meetings this week using both HFC Online’s Big Blue Button (BBB) tool and Zoom.  What follows are my personal observations.

ELI faculty test drove BBB on Monday. Adding the tool and setting up the meeting was quite easy. Video, audio, shared white board, and text chat make this ideal for real-time work with small groups of students. Sessions can be recorded so that students can watch at their convenience, an important consideration.  I’ve been assured that sessions will save beyond seven days. Although the Moodle BBB help page clearly states that Big Blue Button for Schools can host up to 100 users simultaneously, that was not the case for us. We experienced connectivity challenges and sound intermittently disappeared during our hour-long meeting of 17 instructors.  Still, I will probably use this tool (or YuJa) to record and share lessons.

Yesterday, a small group of instructors tried out Zoom. Setting up a personal account was quick and free. We learned the 40 minute limit attached to the free version has been lifted in light of our current world reality. Like BBB, video, audio, chat, recording, and limited sharing are available. I say limited because our experience showed that only one user can control/edit the white board at a time. One of us was on a Mac, the other an iPad, and I used my Lenovo laptop. My non-Apple product seemed to have reduced function as compared to my colleagues. I was unable to share content or my screen. I was also connected to this meeting with my iPhone (as I anticipate that’s how my students will connect). Getting into the meeting required several steps, as I had to enter a Meeting ID and Password  – I didn’t like that. On the positive side, this tool provided clear, crisp sound and picture with no connectivity trouble or sound drops on either device. On my phone, however, I was unable to see my meeting moderator’s screen shares via Zoom. Given the reduced function on my iPhone, I probably won’t use Zoom for live student connection.

Today, I’ll connect to BBB with my iPhone to see if I’m able to view the white board and shared content that weren’t available to me through Zoom. Earlier this week, I polled my ELI students with a Google form asking about their technology tools and current online learning experience. Interestingly, just over 40% of them are familiar with BBB. A slightly higher number are familiar with Skype, while just 24% know of Zoom. If you’re interested in Google forms, click the hyperlink to watch my screencast (but please ignore the barking dog).

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