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One of the most critical pieces of technology in online education is a virtual classroom or “video-calling software “ (for those not from the the edtech world). While we continue to develop new and innovative ways to engage students online with recordings, interactive modules & other “self-paced” assets of online classes, there is (and will always be) a critical need for live learning (synchronous learning). These can include but certainly aren’t limited to: group discussions, lecturing, or office hours with students.

 

Unfortunately, most virtual classroom software hasn’t seen a major company step up with radically improved technology, and many (including this author) resort to video calling software that is not specially made for education. Here is a breakdown of the top 5 virtual classroom tools!

 

  1. Google Hangouts
  • Breakdown: Google Hangouts is the simplest and certainly the most widely used video call system we’ve used for online education. Hangouts has seen improvements but for the most part is just a basic & very reliable video call software with limited functionality. While not designed for education, if you use the “Screen Share” features in conjunction with other tools (we highly recommend Google Docs) it can become very useful. As for integrating them into your LMS or other systems…. you’ll need to get creative and these certainly aren’t ideal for larger schools/organizations looking for a broad sale solution.
    • Features ☆☆ (2/5)
    • Speed/reliability ☆☆☆☆ (4/5)
    • Pedagogically sound ☆☆ (2/5)
    • Overall ☆☆☆ (2.7/5)

 

  1. Blackboard Collaborate
  • With their acquisition of a formerly popular system WIMBA, Collaborate has added some new features and hopefully will bring them to market with a better using facing product as well. While we find Collaborate slightly slower and have occasional dropped calls, they do have a robust feature set that you can tailor for your own virtual classroom. Collaborate has so many features that you’ll most likely not get a chance to use all of them. LMS integrations are robust and will most likely plug into any LMS you throw at it.
  • Breakdown:
    • Features ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)
    • Speed/reliability ☆☆ (2/5)
    • Pedagogically sound  ☆☆☆ (3/5)
    • Overall ☆☆☆ (3/5)

 

  1. Adobe Connect
  • Breakdown: Adobe Connect, like Collaborate, has a robust feature set and allows even more customizations and add-ons to their platform. For a veteran online teacher, it’s a playground. Much like Collaborate, we find it slightly less reliable for video calls and slightly poor on audio and suggest that larger classes will need to leave video cameras off if the class is engaged in using some of the built in applications. This should be as no surprise as the amount of features can slow down the rest of the system. LMS integrations are robust and will most likely plug into any LMS you throw at it.
    • Features  ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)
    • Speed/reliability  ☆☆☆ (3/5)
    • Pedagogically sound  ☆☆☆☆ (4/5)
    • Overall ☆☆☆☆(3.7/5)

 

  1. ActiveLearningForum- Minerva
  • Breakdown: Ok, we know very little about the Active Learning Forum but we’re really excited to see someone coming out with something new and specifically designed for online ed. We’re so optimistic… we put it at #2!
    • Features ?
    • Speed/reliability ?
    • Pedagogically sound ?
    • Overall ?

 

  1. GoToTraining
  • Breakdown: GoToTraining is GoToMeeting expanding to the online training and online education market. The features are certainly not as robust as Collaborate or Adobe Connect, but certainly more robust then Google Hangouts. Polling, quizzes, breakout rooms, and your share-screen are available along with some neat features like “sharing mouse/pointer”. The video cameras are limited to 6 but when you see the quality of the video and audio you’ll understand why. As for reliability, it’s by far the best and we’re excited that they’re launching a newer browser version (we sure do hope it’s as good as the current plugin version). LMS integrations are available, work great, but certainly aren’t as simple to set up as Collaborate or Adobe Connect.
    • Features ☆☆☆☆(4/5)
    • Speed/reliability☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)
    • Pedagogically sound ☆☆☆☆ (4/5)
    • Overall  ☆☆☆☆ (4/5)