Virtual Classrooms

I am fascinated by technology. I don’t like it when somebody  tries to stand between me and accomplishing something with technology. It is only with the deepest loathing and regret that I use closed systems like Skype, or Microsoft Office, Blackboard, or other common pieces of academic technology.

Screenshot of BBB Virtual Classroom
Screenshot of BBB Virtual Classroom

It was therefore with great pleasure that I head about “Big Blue Button” (BBB) [1] from the FLOSS Podcast [2]. BBB is an open-source virtual meeting technology. It is provided as a standalone appliance – a virtual server image – which you can run with VirtualBox or a similar technology. Once configured for your network, it provides the ability to create virtual classrooms. Combined with a simple plugin for WordPress [3], you very quickly have a POWERFUL tool for collaborating and teaching. All for free. Easy to run by yourself. Hells yes.

In the course of less than a week, a few of us have been able to create a virtual BBB server in the physics department. Hooked into our WordPress platform, we have the ability to easily create virtual classrooms. I have two use cases in mind (without use cases, I won’t usually try a new technology): remote attendance of a graduate class by a student located outside Dallas, and remote attendance of my PHY1308 class by flu-ridden students. Using these cases, we can stress test the technology.

The cool part is that you don’t need some fancy C++ or Java client to use it. You just need a web browser and Flash (sorry, iPad and iPhone users – yet again you are screwed by the walled garden  of Apple). Try the demo room at bigbluebutton.com. It’s sick how easy this is.

Once we have some virtual classrooms up, I’ll mention how you might connect. Of course, I’ll kick you off if you prevent my own students from attending. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

[1] http://www.bigbluebutton.org/

[2] http://twit.tv/floss147

[3] http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/bigbluebutton/

Print Friendly

6 Replies to “Virtual Classrooms”

  1. Have you really become such a Faculty Member™ that you think flu-stricken student need to attend physics lecture? Really, they need sleep, fluids, chicken soup, and hugs. You should get BBB to give them that.

  2. “It is only with the deepest loathing and regret that I use closed systems like Skype, or Microsoft Office, Blackboard, or other common pieces of academic technology.”

    I am trying to reconcile that with the enthusiasm you wrote here:
    “The cool part is that you don’t need some fancy C++ or Java client to use it. You just need a web browser and Flash (sorry, iPad and iPhone users – yet again you are screwed by the walled garden of Apple).”

    I share your disdain for proprietary software and systems, but I think Flash is right up there with Skype and Microsoft Office and Blackboard, etc. And don’t get me wrong, I am quite excited about BBB in my classes. But I would be much happier if Flash wasn’t necessary and that HTML5 could be used instead. If Apple can help facilitate the shift to HTML5 over Flash then I would offer them praise instead of scorn even if their motivations aren’t pure.

  3. Fair point. Actually, if you listen to the podcast I mention, you’ll hear the developers of BBB are quite up front about this: they will switch to HTML5 when that technology is capable of gaining access to the camera and mic, like Flash can right now. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than a system that is totally closed. 🙂

  4. It’s been my experience that flu-stricken students sometimes feel that they should attend class when they should not. BBB let’s me satisfy their misguided urge while at the same time further weakening my immune system by preventing exposure to communicable disease. It’s a win-win!

  5. Thanks for the note, Fred. Something that you and your team may want to consider going forward is how to work with IT departments at universities where products like “Blackboard” are entrenched. Often, Moodle is seen as an unnecessary step when they’ve spent big money and big time rolling out Blackboard. If there are developers who can write Bb modules that can link it to BBB, that would be the best solution. Of course, that means finding developers who speak Bb.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *