The move to Virtual Classrooms

I come across an interesting article recently by Titus Learning, a Moodle Premium partner based in the UK. The article was about video conferencing applications that integrate with Moodle.
You can read that article here.

The article reminded me of how our own client’s requirements have changed. In July last year, I set up two BigBlueButton servers. Thinking – build it and they will come…. but they never did. And for the rest of the year, we had one server sitting mostly ideal, while only one client accessed the other server to run BigBlueButton sessions.

Jump ahead to this year and we now have 5 BigBlueButton servers, even though the lock-down restrictions have been relaxed.

No doubt, something has changed.

To be honest, I was never a fan of BigBlueButton, so I never promoted its use with our clients. Then in July, I thought, maybe we should be offering Virtual Classroom sessions to help companies during the lock-down months. I believed this would be an interim solution until they got back to “business as usual”. Well, it seems that for a lot of our clients, “business as usual” will be virtual, and Moodle with BigBlueButton will be the way of the future.

The Titus article touches on a few options, like Zoom and Jitsi among others. Most of our clients already had Zoom or Teams in place and opted for that. We use Zoom at iLite, so we helped many of them set up Zoom on their Moodle sites. The plugin is easy to set up and use, so it was an obvious choice. A few clients tried the free BigBlueButton service and were not overly impressed by it. I think it was just over-subscribe as everyone was going that route and not because it was buggy.

In July I set up our first BigBlueButton server to help the clients that wanted to use BigBlueButton for their Virtual Classroom sessions. I thought, if Moodle uses it, it’s at least worth a look… and it was.

For me, Zoom and MS Teams are great for screen sharing and video conferencing. BigBlueButton on the other hand really excels as a proper Virtual Classroom solution. If you only require video conferencing, then go with Zoom or MS Teams, but if you want proper blended learning with Virtual Classroom sessions, then you must at least consider BigBlueButton.

Some of the features we have come to love about BigBlueButton are:
1. The available plugin makes integration with Moodle seamless and easy.
2. It’s one of the plugins supported by the Moodle mobile app.
3. Recordings are stored and automatically linked to the session.
4. Set up break-out sessions in the VC or run a poll.
5. Upload your presentation prior to the session starting.
6. Customize BigBlueButton to be brand-aligned.
7. Calendar integration.
8. Create concurrent sessions based on the groups the users are in.
9. Whiteboard sharing and multiple moderators.

An additional bonus feature of hosting BigBlueButton on your own server is that you can install Greenlight. This basically means you can use the BigBlueButton server to run web conferencing sessions, without going through Moodle. Think of it as a free add-on similar to Zoom or Teams.

There are unfortunately a few reasons to not go with BigBlueButton.
1. Setting up a BigBlueButton server can be tricky.
2. Using a company that offers the service can be more expensive than say Zoom or Teams.

Now, with our fifth BigBlueButton server up and running, we are promoting this solution more and more with our clients. One of the servers has been set up specifically to allow our clients to try BigBlueButton for a few sessions at no charge. Invariably those that try the solution ask us about the costs, either per session or for their own server.

BigBlueButton has definitely become a part of redefining iLite’s offerings to our clients. Virtual Classrooms are not for everyone. Certainly for those making the move from traditional classroom training to Moodle, a cost-effective Virtual Classroom solution like BigBlueButton should be a consideration.

What we do has not change, but how we do it certainly has.

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