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BigBlueButton

Organisational overview


Trainspace is an accredited training and elearning consultancy company which aims to assist training businesses with an integrated and "systems-theory" approach to RTO business management. Our goal is to provide training and eLearning solutions and the training necessary to implement these solutions.

BigBlueButton is an open source web conferencing system built on over fourteen open source components to create an integrated solution that runs on mac, unix, or PC computers.

Trainspace specialises in:
  • AQTF Compliance, audit preparation, self-assessment
  • New applications, RTO Design, business process management, financial viability assessment
  • Implementation of eLearning (Moodle, content authoring)
  • Training and Assessment material requirements
  • Implementation of systems theory for RTO business and quality management
  • Internal auditing
  • software distribution services and software consultancy to select clientele

Trial overview


The purpose of this project was to improve the learning outcomes of online learners through the use of virtual classroom technology. It was anticipated through incorporating a synchronous online learning classroom technology application, the two selected registered training organisations (Community College Gipplsland and Wyn Training) would strengthen existing asynchronous online learning methodologies, such as learning management systems. Projected outcomes of this project include:

  1. Strengthen RTO's use of new learning technologies for virtual classrooms
  2. Promote the use of existing open source solutions to e-learning challenges and needs
  3. Increase RTO's use of synchronous learning technologies to strengthen existing online platforms
  4. Improve online "learner – learner” and "learner – trainer” collaboration through the use of emerging technology for online virtual classrooms
  5. To provide participating RTOs more accessible options for learning for remote learners
  6. Facilitation of new ways of learning (live facilitated PowerPoint presentations, whiteboard collaboration, live chat, access to recordings of sessions, VOIP and video conferencing)

Here are three videos relating to the BigBlueButton software and the open source project. The first two show Fred Dixon (founding team member of BBB, and CEO of Blindside Networks) demonstrating the software from both a teacher and student perspective, and the third is a Floss Weekly interview with Fred Dixon. Click the "YouTube" icon (bottom right of video image) to view videos in larger frame size on YouTube.



Presenter Overview (4.35)

Student Overview (3:03)

Floss Weekly Interview (50:17)


Trialing the technology


Research


Server Set-up, Hosting and Installation
In the first phase of the project, research went into finding cost-effective ways to implement BigBlueButton for small to medium RTOs. As video conferencing software relies more heavily on upload bandwidth, the currently available highest standard internet connection speed (Cable ADSL) proved to be unsuitable for the running of BigBlueButton. So, with a normal business ADSL connection or residential connection not providing adequate upload bandwidth to support video-conferencing like BigBlueButton, having a dedicated server hosted "in-office" is not an option for using BigBlueButton (NBN enabled environments excepted). Standard upload speeds are generally throttled to between 500kbps and 1000kbps. At the server end, BigBlueButton requires up to 2mbps to function effectively. Symmetrical bandwidth can be supplied to business addresses by companies such as PacNet Pty Ltd (upward of 2mbps) , but even if a business location is close to an exchange, this would not generally be a cost effective solution for RTOs (costing between $600 - $1300/mnth for a suitable symmetrical connection).



While BigBlueButton can be installed on a Virtual Private Server (VPS), it is recommended that it be installed on a dedicated externally hosted server. The reason for this is that the audio conferencing in BigBlueButton is FreeSWITCH, and it deals with all the real-time packets. In a virtualized system, you are not guaranteed CPU cycles, which is not really a problem with a web server. With real-time audio, an overloaded VPS may not give FreeSWITCH enough CPU to respond to each VoIP packet quickly enough. It may work, but you are guaranteed access the CPU with a dedicated server.

Options for having BigBlueButton externally hosted include:
  1. having a training organisation's server collocated in a data centre. A single rack unit (1RU server) can be collocated. A survey of 8 hosting companies revealed prices ranging from $122/month to $250/month
  2. Renting a server or virtual server (VPS) at a data centre (upwards from $260/month)

A suitable 1RU server (quad core, 16GB RAM) can be purchased for around $1300.

RTO and Learner Feedback
After participating in the trial, both facilitators and learners were asked to complete a 10-question survey evaluating the technology and it's potential application in their specific learning environment. Survey Monkey online survey tool was used for this. Details of this evaluation are below in the evaluation section.

Trial Team

Member
Organisation
Role/Expertise
Tim Morrissey
Trainspace
Lead Agent for this project
Fred Dixon
Blindside Networks
CEO of Blindside Networks and project manager for the BigBlueButton open source project.
Currently heads up a team of five full-time staff which continue to develop BigBlueButton and
install and support BigBlueButton internationally to higher education organisations and corporate enterprises.
Michael Gwyther
Yum Studio
Expertise in virtual classroom applications. He is a consultant in the e-learning sector in Victoria. It is also president of ElNet, (The e-learning network of Australia). He is familiar with relevant
e-learning principles regarding instructional design and the use of these in online Virtual classes
Adam Levy
Odyssey House
Server Set up (Ubuntu admin, RAID installation) - Melbourne
Holly Perriam
Community College Gippsland (CCG)
RTO Emerging Technology Trial (ETT) BigBlueButton facilitator
Anthony Spark
Wyn Training
RTO ETT BigBlueButton facilitator
Ian Martin
Wyn Training
RTO eLearning Coordinator
John Wooding
jwgecko
Server set up and configuration - Sydney

Implementation


BigBlueButton was installed on a Ubuntu 10.04 64-bit server with two vCPUs, 8GB RAM and 200GB HDD in Sydney by Blindside Networks.

Participating RTOs and other project team members were given access to BigBlueButton and instructional material. An orientation session for all participants was hosted on BigBlueButton by Fred Dixon. This session explained the functionality of BigBlueButton and how to perform the role of facilitator.

Participating RTOs conducted trial sessions for their student groups. After the students and facilitators established sufficient familiarity with the technology, Michael Gwyther assisted the participating RTO's in the video-conferencing instructional design components of their first formal use of the technology (i.e., in a scheduled class).

NBN Testing

Whilst it was not initially part of this project to test the technology in a setting which is currently NBN enabled, two Melbourne-based RTOs with offices located in NBN enabled locations were invited to participate in the program. The purpose of this is to investigate whether the technology would be usable on the training organisations' in-house servers with the increase bandwidth available under the NBN. Whilst both RTOs were not able to participate in this stage of the trial, this may be explored again in the future.

Classroom trial/s


Community College Gippsland
Trialling undertaken by Holly Perriam with students from Certificate II in Business (VET in schools Program) for the unit BSBINM201A Process and maintain workplace information.
While Community College Gippsland have utilised commercial video-conferencing tools for their training and assessment in e-learning programs before, they are interested to trialling an open-source alternative which could be scaled more effectively within the organisation.

Wyn Training
Trialling undertaken by Ian Martin with students from SRF30206 Certificate III in Fitness for the unit HLTFA301B Apply first aid.
Wyn Training are relatively new experimenters with e-learning in their training organisation, but see a valid application of BigBlueButton across a range of qualifications on their scope of registration.

Implementing the technology/ies


Evaluating the technology/ies


Survey Monkey online surveys were used for the facilitators and learners to evaluate the technology addressing specific questions (x10) relevant to the use of BigBlueButton video-conferencing software as an aid to education. Ascending Likert scales and targeted text entry responses were used as question types. The results are published here and summary positives and negatives have been added to the bullet lists below.
1 . After using BigBlueButton, do you think that it can be applied effectively as an educational tool by your training organisation?

1ac.pngStrongly Disagree: 0%
Disagree: 8%
Not Sure: 17%
Agree: 42%
Stronly Agree: 33%
2. In terms of learning how to use the software, would you say that BigBlueButton was:

2acc.pngVery difficult to use: 0%
Difficult to use: 0%
Somewhere in the middle: 25%
Easy to use: 58%
Very easy to use: 17%
3. How would you rate the user interface of BigBlueButton ( layout, structure, presentation, science and arrangement of Windows, icons,etc)?:

3acc.pngVery Poor: 0%
Poor: 0%
Average: 33%
Good: 42%
Excellent: 25%
4. How would you rate the audio quality of BigBlueButton?:

4acc.pngVery Poor: 25%
Poor: 17%
Average: 33%
Good: 17%
Excellent: 8%
5. How would you rate the video quality of the webcam sharing?:

5acc.pngVery Poor: 17%
Poor: 8%
Average: 25%
Good: 42%
Excellent: 8%
6. How would you rate the quality of the presentation sharing feature (when your presenter showed you a PowerPoint presentation or other document?:

6acc.pngVery Poor: 0%
Poor: 8%
Average: 25%
Good: 34%
Excellent: 33%
7. How would you rate the text chat feature?

bl-graph.png Very Poor: 0%
Poor: 0%
Average: 17%
Good: 41%
Excellent: 42%



Did the technology/s functions/features meet the requirements of your trial? Why?

The BigBlueButton software (trialled version was 0.8 Beta)‍ certainly met the requirements of the trial. Whilst the recommended addition of certain improvements regarding student participation, interactivity, more intuitive icons and native recording of sessions are noted below, it was regarded as competitive with commercial alternatives for many features, and superior than commercial alternatives for ease of login and ease of use. The features of the software, especially the audio and video tools, were somewhat impeded by the issues caused by running sessions on a single internet connection. This is explained below.

Are there any additional functions/features that you would like that the current technology did not have? Why?

Keyboard text entry into whiteboard - this would assist with classroom idea sharing, group work, concept development, brainstorming sessions. Currently the whiteboard only enables writing with the mouse which can be cumbersome. This improvement is road-mapped for version 1.0.
Native recording of sessions - While sessions can be recorded via the Moodle activity module, it was expressed that it would be better if sessions could also be recorded directly inside BigBlueButton. This improvement is road-mapped for version 1.0.
Break out rooms - "Perhaps BigBlueButton could have break out rooms for smaller group session with-in the main room". Breakout rooms module is an 'area for investigation' for version 1.0.
More instructions at login regarding requirements for use of headsets, and removal of noise when headsets not plugged in - If a user logs in without a headset and with an in-built mic enabled, during the "Join Audio" dialogue an escalating screeching sound can sometimes occur. This was disruptive in one of the earlier sessions. A more instructive "Pre-flight Checklist" is in development for the next version.
Polling - Polling module is an 'area for investigation' for version 1.0.

The Draft Requirements for BigBlueButton 1.0 and an implementation roadmap can be found at:
http://code.google.com/p/bigbluebutton/wiki/RoadMap1dot0

Will you continue to use the technology/s? Why?

Both training organisations indicated that they saw a viable application of the software for their training and assessment programs. CCG regarded its open source licensing as a key component to this view. Both training organisations regarded the 'ease of use' and functionality of BigBlueButton as competitive with commercial video-conferencing alternatives. CCG saw effective use of the software in group work and assessing skill-based components of some of its business units such as communication and participation in meetings. CCG also noted, "I like the idea that it can be dropped into Moodle even though we did not trial this. Another benefit is it is easy to set up and log in in comparison to other systems."

Wyn Training saw an effective application of the software in teaching and assessing components of human movement related courses. Concepts of 'supination' and 'pronation' could be both taught and assessed via webcam sharing. The multiple simultaneous webcam sharing would aid in the instruction and testing of these concepts.

Any other applicable details about the evaluation of the technology

Many respondents in their feedback commented on the poor audio and webcam performance of BigBlueButton at points of the trial, and the perception was that the software was at fault, not the available bandwidth. 42% of respondents rated the audio performance as either "poor" or "very poor", and 25% rated the webcam sharing as either "poor" or "very poor".

These performance issues were somewhat haphazard. After discussion with technical project team members and the hosting company, the emerging opinion was that this was most likely due to the fact that both trials were conducted 'in house' with the majority if not all session attendees sharing the same network connection. BigBlueButton requires significant upload bandwidth on the server side, and also, to a lesser but significant degree, at the user end. For instance, an ADSL or WIFI connection may easily handle a single user sharing their webcam or audio, but not cope well with multiple users doing this from the same connection. Therefore, even in the tuition stage of the trail, it would have been preferred if session participants attended the session remotely. When staff induction training sessions were conducted with team members on separate internet connections, issues with video and audio performance of the software were not apparent. Considering all this, it can safely be asserted that at some of the negative responses regarding poor video and audio performance was due to bandwidth issues, and not the software itself.

Other Positives

  • BigBlueButton sessions load with fewer steps than commercial alternatives - Comments included: "the application runs natively in the web-browser and was easy to commence a class", and "easy login and quick entry into room"
  • Participants have appreciated the user-friendly interface ("Everything on one page") and minimal instruction required to start facilitating online classes
  • "Smooth video playback and document sharing"
  • "The multiple video sharing"

Other Negatives

  • Costs in having a suitable server set up were more than anticipated (leased at $499/month)
  • "The Trial could of been improved if we had a member of the Big Blue Button join and watch our session to see how it could be improved"
  • Student participation functions could be improved (whiteboard functionality, polling)
  • Connection drop out issues on occasion was noted
  • Audio and video lagging issues were noted by many (please see explanatory comment in section above)
  • "Some of the buttons/Icons weren't very intuitive."


Strategies to enable use of the technology


  1. Installation and testing of the software was conducted in different environments ahead of the trial. Firstly is was installed and tested on a local server on a standard cable internet connection (unsuccessful due to limited upload bandwidth). Secondly, an installation was tested in a hosted environment in North America (successful, but with some login issues for some attendees). Finally, an installation of BigBlueButton was achieved in a hosted environment in Sydney. This installation was stress-tested and load-tested by the BigBlueButton development team in Canada, and connected to their monitoring servers.
  2. An orientation session was held for all team members on use of BigBlueButton. This was facilitated by Fred Dixon.
  3. "How to" videos on how to use BigBlueButton as both a student and a teacher were placed on the login screen and all trial participants were instructed to watch these.
  4. Induction sessions were held with student participants prior to the conducting of formal classes
  5. Any difficulties with use of the software have been readily communicated to Blindside Networks
  6. All team members and participating organisations have been connected to eachother via email and Skype so that urgent matters may bypass the lead agent to be addressed and fixed quickly.

Barriers to implementing the technology


Server set-up and location: Initially we tested BigBlueButton on a server located in North America. Whilst the server functioned well for those who logged in, there were some difficulties in certain attendees connecting to the server. Upon investigation, it appeared that this was a service provider issue at the user end and may have been related to the location of the server. It was recommended by the BigBlueButton team that the software be installed in a local region.
User hardware requirements: Not being aware of issues caused by participants not using microphone enabled headsets was a significant factor early in the trial. Ensuring that this requirement was met for latter sessions overcame this barrier.
Shared internet connection: Performance issues caused by participants sharing Internet connections was a significant barrier to the effective use of the software in this trial. It would have benefited the trial if the cause of this performance issue was identified earlier. It is recommended for future trials of BigBlueButton that "in-class" tuition on how to use the software be done via a single login displayed on a data projector, and then future sessions with remote students be conducted with all attendees on separate internet connections.
Other: In terms of the effective functioning of the project team, the time difference between Canada and Australia posed some difficulty. We would like to thank Blindside Networks staff for their flexibility in working outside of what would be considered "normal" office hours.

Additional considerations


It is recommended to organisations implementing BigBlueButton to consider these points in the implementation process:
  • Is there a way we can get access to a private trial room at no cost ahead of investing in an implemeantion (if not, it can be trialled on BigBlueButton's public demo server http://demo.bigbluebutton.org/ )
  • What is the scale of the proposed implementation (number of users, number of rooms) against cost of the implementation (installation, hardware, collocation/hosting/data)? Multiple rooms can be set up and run simultaneously on the same installation of BigBlueButton. Limits to this depend on the server's capacity and bandwidth. It is advised for larger installations that load capacity and stress testing be done.
  • Even if our organisation has BigBlueButton set up on suitable server, will the bandwidth experienced by our users at their attending locations meet the requirements of the software (perhaps arrange for samples of students to test home or work-based connections at http://www.speedtest.net/). There is some very useful information on how to calculate server and user bandwidth requirements here: http://code.google.com/p/bigbluebutton/wiki/FAQ#What_are_the_bandwidth_requirements_for_running_a_BigBlueButton

Future directions


As indicated earlier, both training organisations wish to pursue use of BigBlueButton software. Trainspace has yet to decide whether to continue the trial to a second stage. Trainspace is, however, interested in exploring use of the software in an NBN enabled environment should this opportunity arise. As the NBN continues to be rolled out, the uptake, usability and feasibility of BigBlueButton is anticipated to increase dramatically.

Regarding future work in developing technical standards, it is recommended that this trial assist with the further development of Standard 2 – Accessibility. The current accessibility standard is primarily written for static Web content. Videoconferencing applications like BigBlueButton certainly promote the accessibility of training and assessment programs to both remote learners and learners requiring more flexibility. These applications also provide opportunities for interaction which are not otherwise available. The development of e-standards for videoconferencing will strengthen the e-standards and make them more relevant to emerging technologies.

Regarding national sector support for wider adoption of BigBlueButton, it is recommended that a support portal be created for implementation of BigBlueButton to assist training organisations with the technical and training components of using the software. The fact that BigBlueButton is a truly viable open-source option for video conferencing of live classes will be of great interest to the sector in general.

Additional materials


Learner feedback


Learner feedback has been provided comprehensively in the evaluation section above.

Resources


The software for BigBlueButton is opensource. Comprehensive instructions and "how to" videos for installing can be found at:
http://code.google.com/p/bigbluebutton/
Click here for the Install Walkthrough video for BigBlueButton 0.8-beta

Training videos for both teachers and students are located on this page above in the "Trial Overview" section and also at
http://www.bigbluebutton.org/videos/

It is recommended installing BigBlueButton on a dedicated (non-virtual) server for optimal performance. To install BigBlueButton, you'll need:
  • root access to a Ubuntu 10.04 server with
  • 2 GB of memory (4 GB is better)
  • Dual-core 2.6 GHZ CPU (quad core is better)
  • Ports 80, 1935, 9123 accessible
  • Port 80 is available and not used by another application
  • 400G of free disk space (or more) for recordings
  • Currently, as of BigBlueButton 0.8-beta-4, locale of the server must be en_US.UTF-8

For organisations wishing to have technical assistance with installation, please contact Trainspace on the details below.

For more information


Contact

Tim Morrissey
Director - Trainspace Pty Ltd
0425792621
tim@trainspace.com.au
www.trainspace.com.au
Skype: timothy.j.morrissey

Strategy contact information


For general enquiries about the National VET E-learning Strategy, please contact:
Secretariat of the Flexible Learning Advisory Group
+61 (0)3 9954skype_highlighting external image numbers_button_skype_logo.pngFREE +61 (0)3 9954
Email: flag_enquiries@natese.gov.au Website: flexiblelearning.net.au

New Generation Technologies for Learning
incorporating E-standards for Training
Email: e-standards@flexiblelearning.net.au
Website: e-standards.flexiblelearning.net.au
Fred DixonCEO of Blindside Networks and project manager for the BigBlueButton open source project. Currently heads up a team of five full-time staff which continue to develop BigBlueButton and install and support BigBlueButton internationally to higher education organisations and corporate enterprises.