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.
It was therefore with great pleasure that I head about “Big Blue Button” (BBB)  from the FLOSS Podcast . 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 , 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.