9 Web Conferencing Platforms for Education and Collaboration 2.0: What Should Your Organization Use?


 

Screenshot of me using Adobe Connect

 

Have you ever been in a classroom and had the teacher ask, “If you can hear me please click on the smiley face?” If so, you have tasted education 2.0—impersonal yet far-reaching and convenient. There are several web conferencing platforms that individuals, organizations, schools, and businesses have to choose from. We want to break down the top nine that we feel are the most competitive in the space right now. In fact, they are so competitive that since doing most of this research just a few months ago the prices and features have noticeably changed.

Web conferencing has a plethora of uses, whether it’s teaching or tutoring, collaborating in real time over a report, or holding a webinar that allows participants to chat and discuss the topic concurrently.  The basic features that you can expect from a web conference client are the ability to upload and display a powerpoint, pdf, media, have a chat function, and white board.  A Google+ Hangout doesn’t quite offer these tools, but it won’t be surprising if they do in the future. Other additions such as audio/visual functionality, recording, mobile compatibility, and breakout rooms are platform specific and I’ll walk you through who offers what.

 

Professional Suites

The “top-grade” web conferencing platforms are delivered by Adobe Connect, Saba, and Cisco WebEx. These are superior to the rest because they generally are able to have much larger amounts of attendees, utilize downloaded software on the desktop, and are geared towards company and organization integration. These features come at a premium and most often the agreement is negotiated based on the needs of the client. If you work in the ICT4D field, the biggest factor to watch out for among web conferencing platforms is the level of bandwidth necessary to run and these top-level options won’t be ideal. All three of these have downloadable software as well as browser-based options. Participants are able to connect through VOIP on all three, however Saba does not have call in functionality. Organizations are able to purchase various levels of attendee limits.

  • Cisco WebEx – $200/mo for 100 participants
  • Adobe Connect – Price Negotiated
  • Saba Classroom – $149/mo for 100 participants

 

Mid-Level Suites

These web conferencing clients are in a battle royal for low prices, simple aesthetic, and competitive functionality. We’ll be focusing on Fuze Meeting, Vyew, Yugma, GoTo Meeting, and Elluminate (Now called Blackboard Collaborate which is actually in an education-only category but I grouped it here). Each of these offer an array of features that are most easily viewed in the table but I will highlight a few. I want to first discuss my favorite of the bunch—Fuze Meeting. It can handle just about everything that the premium platforms offer. It allows multiple call–in options, video conferencing, recordable and downloadable webinars, mobile device integration, and breakout rooms. By the looks of its website, its biggest competition is GoToWebinar, which does not make much sense as they do not offer video conferencing or rich document sharing, not to mention their higher price point. Vyew is a worthy contender as it offers video conferencing (but not much else) for a mere $20/month. Elluminate was recently acquired by Blackboard and we are wary of where it’s going and how user friendly and stable it will be.

  • Fuze Meeting – $69/mo for 100 participants
  • Yugma – $80/mo for 100 participants
  • Vyew – $20/mo for 150 participants
  • GoToWebinar – $99/mo for 100 participants
  • Elluminate (Blackboard Collaborate) – Price Negotiated

 

Open-Source Suite

 We are very interested to see where Big Blue Button is going to go in the next few years. The platform is all open-source and is geared towards educational institutions. It can be modified to fit the needs of the client but would require a knowledgeable IT team to do it. It offers the basic features described at  the beginning of the post and also employs video conferencing between the presenter and viewers. It lacks recording and mobile integration, but is on a good track and is highly recommended for organizations that have a good handle on tech and want a cost-effective and easy-to-use option.

  • Big Blue Button – $0 for Unlimited Participants.

 

Final Thoughts

We have heard nothing but good things about Fuze Meeting, and even recommended one of our clients to switch to it from Elluminate.  Fuze Meeting better suited their needs for organizational conferencing. Their international staff is able to call on via skype, a separate VOIP number, or via telephone which is great in case fire-walls block certain types of online communication. The mobile device add-ons have helped too for their employees on the go.

We are excited to see the future innovations of eLearning and webinar classrooms and see how they can improve student-learning methods. As these platforms are able to strip down to lower bandwidth capabilities, more participants will be able to join from the developing world and in some small way information equity will be more realized. Please let us know if you have used any of these web conferencing platforms, what you thought about it, or what you think about eLearning in general.

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  • Tony Roberts

    TJ thanks for this great intro.

    We are just starting to evaluate eConferencing platforms for a new ICT4D venture. We have ruled Elluminate out and would love to use use and support the development of BigBlueButton.

    As you point out the bandwidth necessary to run the different options is key in ICT4D. In your article you rule out the top-level options on this basis but you didn't say which options operated best a low-bandwidth?

    Based on your research, which options would be best for ICT4D in low-bandwidth environments?

    • TJ Thomander

      Thanks for your question Tony.

      Fuze Meeting recommends that users have a bandwidth speed of 1 Mbps upload, 4 Mbps download for video conferencing. If they only want to join in the audio it would require much less, probably around 10kbps. However, we didn't hear any issues from the organization we work with that has users connecting in low bandwidth areas.

      Vyew looks to be a great option for low bandwidth, as they recommend an video upload rate of only 60 – 100 kbps for low bandwidth users.

      Those two seem to be the best to consider.

  • http://hiresteve.com Steve Foerster

    It would have been helpful for a comparison of which of these has clients for Linux.

    • opentechdiva

      I have used Webex on Linux (Ubuntu) and it works well. It does require the installation of Java in order to run though. Big Blue Button also runs on Linux (Ubuntu server)

  • janettfung

    Have you considered non-subscription based service via appliance? RHUB <a href="http://(http://www.rhubcom.com/)” target=”_blank”>(http://www.rhubcom.com/) web conferencing appliance has 6 functions in one box.

    • TJ Thomander

      Wow this looks like a fantastic alternative. I'll read some reviews and see what people think.

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  • Arturo

    I am also interested in knowing more about the use of these services in developing countries or in areas with low bandwidth internet… We are currently using Elluminate for large webinars (200+ participants) and Fuze for meetings with 10 or 15 people. Elluminate works well in countries with basic connectivity. We use Fuze when we want to see each other or share multimedia presentations.

    • http://twitter.com/LoungingLiz ruth brannvall

      Hi, I have the same question. What are you using today?

  • Damien

    Hi there,
    Also use Blackboard Collaborate for our low bandwidth connections, although it works well it does have some connectivity issues sometimes. Has anyone come up with alternatives?

  • http://www.usfreeads.com/2135648-cls.html Debs Meeting

    "GoToWebinar, which does not make much sense as they do not offer video conferencing or…"

    Actually, Gotowebinar does include video conferencing. Their current product has HD Faces, which is high-def video conferencing.

  • Tony Roberts

    The GoToWebinar website under 'features' only talks about audio not video http://www.gotomeeting.com/fec/webinar/internet_c

    When we got in touch with their sales support they said they were hoping to have
    offer video in future versions.

    GoToMeeting has video but is limited to 15 attendees.

  • http://twitter.com/akp_mic awadhesh pandey

    Arkadin is also a web conferencing provider company. For more details about Arkadin visit http://www.arkadin.com/au

    • akp_mic

      Best service provider

  • Christopher

    Fuzebox looks great – but its a nightmare! It is the seventh circle of hell dressed up like apple – but its rotten. As for the confusing help desk, tickets and unhelpful support – its a place for masochists.

  • Shoham Nicolet

    What about sookooroo?

  • Per

    What does TechChange use themselves?

  • Aliasgar Babat

    Nice article. Education and collaboration can also be done by using various other web conferencing services such as WebEx, gomeetnow, etc. or having on premise web conferencing appliance installed such as RHUB appliances.

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  • Jake

    http://www.zeenov.com is a better option than any of these for Corporate world
    http://www.exaltel.com is for education

  • jabberdoodle

    Thankyou for this summary :) :)

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  • http://www.redchipsolutions.com/ Jack Hampton

    I like your article you have share good summary with us for leaning collaboration

  • Ted.J

    Thank you for your article, it is so helpful. I would like to recommend CUMeeting. It has rich features. http://www.cumeeting.com

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  • Sree Harsha Boyapati

    Deployed BigBlueButton and it is best collaboration suite…. try it for free and customize as you like….

  • lisadurham

    Thank you for this summary. Collaboration can also be done by using various other Conference Call Service such as WebEx, Webex Connect, etc.