Easy Open Source Web Conferencing: Big Blue Button

I love my PLN. I discover so many new things every day. Today’s find is via Richard Byrne’s Free Tech 4 Teachers blog.

Big Blue Button is a video conferencing platform similar to Adobe Connect, Elluminate, or dimdim. It does all the regulars like text chat, voice and video sharing, PDF and PowerPoint viewing, and even screen sharing. The interface  is very clean and easy to use. The big draw to Big Blue Button for me is it open source and free to download.

When I say you can download it, that means it isn’t a hosted solution. You need to install it one your computers/servers. The good news is it is easy to install. I was surprised at just how easy it was for such a complex piece of software. Usually something like this requires lots of configuring and tweeking before you can get started with it. The developers have done a great job of making it easy to get started.

I installed it on Ubuntu 9.04 that was running on VirtualBox and I followed the very clear instructions available on the website. It is as simple as 6 steps. Open the Terminal and type each command.

  1. wget http://archive.bigbluebutton.org/bigbluebutton.asc
  2. sudo apt-key add bigbluebutton.asc
  3. echo “deb http://archive.bigbluebutton.org/ bigbluebutton main” | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/bigbluebutton.list
  4. sudo apt-get update
  5. sudo apt-get install bigbluebutton
  6. You will be prompted to add a password to MySQL

Total install time was just over 8 minutes. That is pretty impressive.

Big Blue Button - The crappy webcam is my fault.

That’s it. Open up a web browser and hit your computers IP address and you will see the home page. Just enter your name into the demo room and you should be good to go.

I want to spend a bit more time with it and see what it can do after a bit more configuring and customization. I would love to find a way to launch a room directly from Moodle. After about 5 minutes of play it is very intuitive and just works. Certainly easy enough for teachers looking for a way to present online. BBB has their own demo server if you want to see it in action. They also have some great tutorial videos to get you started. I will keep you updated on my results. Thanks again to Richard for the great find.

This Isn’t Just MY Problem, Friend

Last night I was stumbling around the Internet and came across a great article from Paul Grobstein, a Biologist from Bryn Mawr College. Entitled This Isn’t Just MY Problem, Friend, Grobstein ruminates on science education, education, American culture, and what to do about it.

This article is from 1991 and his thoughts couldn’t be more applicable to today’s learning environments. He makes great points on how we should be teaching students how to think. How students should be given chances to think for themselves and heaven forbid learn from mistakes they will make along the way. In a world where regurgitating facts and the schooling process are paramount, Grobstein’s poignant arguments our certainly needed more then ever.

My favorite passage from the article exemplifies everything I think is wrong with education today.

But you know what they come home showing me? Worksheets where they got everything right. That’s what they think they’re SUPPOSED to be proud of. That they can sit, and concentrate, and finish what they’re doing (they don’t get to go out to recess unless they do), and get everything right. Well, dammit, THAT’s not thinking. That’s learning to be efficient and get the answers you’re supposed to get. Thinking is something else entirely. Its being curious, and being wrong most of the time, and maybe, just maybe coming up with something you’ve made that you’re proud of and pleased with, something all your own (even if it turns out later that someone else had thought of it too).

If you care about changing the way learners learn I urge you to take a look at the full article here.