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Big Blue Button service for UK academia

March 1st, 2011 by Graham Attwell

More on that research and learning infrastructure question. Online meetings are becoming ever more important and at least in theory, are a good idea because they cut down on traveling time, cost and harm to the environment. I say in theory, because at the moment we seem to be having meetings just because we can but no doubt we will grow out of that.

Last year I wrote about the different online platforms available, bemoaning the quality of the audio on many of the Flash based systems. At that time I was recommending two platforms – Elluminate – which despite problems of firewalling (and also all too often audio quality) was a fully functional working space and reasonably reliable – and Flash meeting – a free service provided by the UK Open University.

One of the drawbacks to Elluminate is that it is a paid for product although I have always found the Elluminate staff to be very generous in ‘lending’ online space if needed. Whether that will continue since they have been taken over by Blackboard remains to be seen.

Flash meeting is a great service, but is limited in terms of functionality. it works best for meetings of up to about 20 or so people – more that this and the interface becomes a little tricky.

Last year I looked at the open source Big Blue Button project. whilst promising it was not quite at a real use stage then. But since then it has come of age. The web page describes their  vision to be “that starting a web conference should be as easy as clicking a single metaphorical big blue button. As an open source project, we believe it should be easy for others to embrace and extend. And while web conferencing means many things to many people — our focus is to make the best web conferencing system for distance education.”

BigBlueButton is increasingly being integrated in other Open Source applications such as Moodle, Drupal and WordPress. And there are a number of commercial hosting providers. Now the UK Jisc has just announced an online video and audio conferencing service powered by BigBlueButton. As yet it has to be booked by email, but I have no doubts that Jisc will develop an online booking system. Sadly the service is limited to ‘UK academia’, based on having a .ac.uk email address. Brut hopefully Jisc will consider extending this in the future.

This seems a good example of how a public sector educational infrastructure provider, Jisc, can use Open Source Software to provide services to support a research and learning infrastructure. Another reason to support Open Source and defend public services.

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