BigBlueButton is an open source web conferencing system for online learning. It is a project that started a few years ago and now it has reached a good level of maturity. Version 2.0 is just in Beta yet, but it will probably be released soon. In this post we are enumerating the most interesting new features.

There are three new features for increasing ease-of-use and user engagement:

  • Improved User Interface (easy-of-use)
  • Multi-user Whiteboard (engagement)
  • Shared Notes (engagement)

Improved User Interface

One measure of a successful user interface is how little effort it takes new users to master it. BigBlueButton has been a bit messy till this version. Now it is much better.

In BigBlueButton 2.0, interface has been updated with a new skin and icon set. The overall interface should look more coherent and consistent. Consistency means that there is a uniform design language through that enables users to anticipate (and intuit) how functions work.

BigBlueButton 2.0 user interface
BigBlueButton 2.0 user interface

The dialog boxes are now easier to navigate. For example, the new join audio dialog box shows two large icons for easy choice.

BigBlueButton 2.0 audio settings
BigBlueButton 2.0 audio settings

For consistency, the actions for sharing audio, webcam, and desktop (when you are the presenter) are now grouped together at the top middle of the screen. The meeting title is on the left, and the record button is on the right.

BigBlueButton 2.0 buttons
BigBlueButton 2.0 buttons

We’ve simplified the layout of the Users list by removing the unneeded headers (it’s pretty obvious what the icons for headset and microphone mean).

BigBlueButton 2.0 user list
BigBlueButton 2.0 user list

There are also a set of features that have been requested by the community (outlined below).

Enable Presentation Download

The presenter can now give students the ability to download a presentation.

When uploading a presentation, the presenter can check “Enable download of presentation”.

BigBlueButton 2.0 download presentation
BigBlueButton 2.0 download presentation

If this option is checked, a download button will appear for all users in the Presentation area.

BigBlueButton 2.0 download presentation
BigBlueButton 2.0 download presentation

Later on, when a user clicks the download button, BigBlueButton will display a dialog giving the user the ability to download any presentation that was enabled for download.

BigBlueButton 2.0 download presentation
BigBlueButton 2.0 download presentation

Smoothing of Pen Tool

BigBlueButton smooths all strokes of the pen tool. When drawing with the pen you’ll see it work as before, but when you release the mouse, BigBlueButton will smooth the lines a bit.

BigBlueButton 2.0 smooth pen
BigBlueButton 2.0 smooth pen

This smoothing makes math equations and diagrams a bit easier to read for students.

Promote Viewer to Moderator

Moderators now have the ability to promote/demote any viewer to the role of moderator. To promote a viewer, click the gear icon to the right of a user’s name and choose “Promote”.

BigBlueButton 2.0 promote viewer
BigBlueButton 2.0 promote viewer

Later on, any moderator can demote the same user back to a viewer by choosing the “Demote” option from the gear icon.

BigBlueButton 2.0 demote viewer
BigBlueButton 2.0 demote viewer

Download Public Chat Messages

In previous versions BigBlueButton enabled users to copy chat to the clipboard by right-clicking anywhere on the Chat area and selecting Copy All Text.

In BigBlueButton 2.0, the Options tab now gives users a button for copying public chat messages to the clipboard (which makes the function more accessible for users with screen readers).

BigBlueButton 2.0 chat-options
BigBlueButton 2.0 chat-options

Next to the copy button there are two others buttons

  1. Download the public chat as plain text
  2. Delete public chat (moderator only)

End Meeting on Logout

Ever wanted to end the meeting and kick out all users. Now, when anyone who is moderator logs out, they will have the option to immediately end the session.

BigBlueButton 2.0 logout
BigBlueButton 2.0 logout

Selecting “Yes and end meeting” will cause BigBlueButton to immediately end the session, which in turn kicks out all other users and initiates the processing of the recording (if the meeting was set to be recorded).

Full Screen Mode

Users can now have BigBlueButton take the entire screen with the Full Screen button.

BigBlueButton 2.0 full screen
BigBlueButton 2.0 full screen

Clicking this button causes BigBlueButton to take over the full screen (this invokes the browser’s built-in full screen capability).

When users click the Full Screen button, the browser displays a confirmation dialog on the switch to full screen mode.

BigBlueButton 2.0 full screen
BigBlueButton 2.0 full screen

Users can exit full screen mode anytime by pressing the ESC key.

Shared Notes

Active learning is more effective than passively watching a lecture. Engaging students to recall and apply what they just learned re-enforces new concepts and ideas. Breakout rooms are an example of having students engage in discussion.

BigBlueButton 2.0 adds a new layout called “Shared Notes”, which gives students a collaborative note pad capturing content during the session.

Shared notes are visible by choosing the “Shared Notes” layout.

BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes
BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes

When choosing this layout, the Shared Notes window appears on the left-hand side. Any user can write/edit in the window at the same time.

BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes
BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes

Note: Shared notes are not saved as part of the recording. Think of them as a collaborative notepad during the live session.

Any moderator can clear the shared notes using the “Clear this note” option in the gear icon (this icon is only visible to moderators).

BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes clear
BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes clear

 

Text Formatting

The Shared Notes window allows users to apply formatting changes (font, font size, and style) to any of the text in the shared notes.

BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes format
BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes format

Download Shared Notes

Users can also download the content of the shared notes as plain text or HTML.

BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes download
BigBlueButton 2.0 shared notes download

The download option lets users save the shared notes for later use. As stated above, shared notes are not saved as part of the recording – they are cleared from memory when the meeting ends.

Multi-user Whiteboard

BigBlueButton 2.0 now supports multiple users updating the whiteboard in real-time. This enables a tutor, for example, to collaboratively work together with a student on a math problem.

To enable/disable multi-user whiteboard, the presenter clicks the Multi-User Whiteboard button on the toolbar.

BigBlueButton 2.0 multiuser whiteboard
BigBlueButton 2.0 multiuser whiteboard

When engaged, all users can annotate the current slide. The User’s names will appear to the right of their cursor.

BigBlueButton 2.0 multiuser whiteboard
BigBlueButton 2.0 multiuser whiteboard

Users can only clear their own whiteboard marks (by clicking the ‘X’ button).

If the presenter clicks the ‘X’ icon when multi-user whiteboard is turned off, BigBlueButton will clear all marks by all users.

The recording format for BigBlueButton 2.0 is updated to record and playback all multi-user whiteboard annotations.

Summary

BigBlueButton presents a good bunch of new features that make it a very attractive option for Virtual Classroom. In this new version, there also improvements “under the hood” that make the learning experience smoother for teachers and students. Its integration with LMSs like Moodle is one of the safest values to use it as the best complement for online education.

Current BigBlueButton 2.0 runs on Android smartphones integrated with Puffin web browser.

From a business point of view, by using a video conferencing tool you improve dramatically your internal operations, blended education services, and your customer and provider support services, as you speed up all communications with flexibility. Introducing videoconferencing in business marks a milestones to effectively implement your business processes.

Online tutors will find video conferencing a great help to increase students’ motivation and to deliver a true blended program.

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