Web Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is easier than ever with the latest technology, much of which is free. Professors at BYU are using it to cooperate with other universities worldwide, bring guest speakers to their classes, and more.

In past years, video conferencing meant having a special room set up with professional video, sound, and lighting equipment that connected to a television or a satellite system. That system then linked out to multiple classrooms that were separated by distance. The cost for this set up was extremely expensive. Now, with the advancement of Web 2.0 technologies, the video conferencing landscape has dramatically changed. All that expensive equipment has been pruned into a sleeker, less expensive species. And, it is now being called ‘web’ conferencing.

Web conferencing technology only requires a computer with a web camera (either built in or external), free software, and an Internet connection. With this simple setup, people can connect to others around the world at minimal cost.

How professors are using web conferencing:

Peter Rich, Instructional Psychology and Technology
I actually use Skype as my home phone. Academically, it allows me to connect with scholars the world over without having to worry about distance. I taught a course on Distance Education in Winter of 2008 in which each class featured a lecture from a scholar via a distance. Skype was always a faithful backup tool in case Breeze, our synchronous meeting and presentation tool, wouldn’t work for some reason. I will often use Skype’s messaging and video conferencing features when I need to quickly connect with a scholar one-on-one. This has allowed me to make connections with folks that I otherwise have never met or seen.

Cherice Montgomery, Department of Spanish and Portuguese
I find that it is most powerful when combined with tools such as Yugma, chat, and a webcam. In terms of my teaching, it has allowed me to bring guest speakers from other states into my classroom.

Benefits of web conferencing:

  • Bring an expert into your classroom with minimal cost.
  • Hold class-to-class exchanges with classes at universities from around the world.
  • Teach your class while you personally are off campus (e.g. at a conference or doing research).
  • Collaborate with colleagues at other universities without any travel expense.
  • Work remotely with team members on collaborative projects without having to be in the same physical location.
  • Hold online office hours.
  • Mentor students who are off campus at various locations.
  • Facilitate study groups or personal tutoring sessions.

There is a wide assortment of options to use for web conferencing. With the current volatile economy, a company that is in business today may be non-existent tomorrow. Because of that, we are highlighting two web conferencing products from companies that have a good chance of staying in business during these unsettling times. These two products are Adobe ConnectNow and Skype.

Click here to learn about Adobe ConnectNow or Skype.

Here is a table briefly listing advantages and limitations of five other web conferencing options.

Name Advantages Limitations
Google video chat
  • Cross platform for both Windows and Mac OS
  • Very easy to install and use
  • Easy to do video/voice with Gmail contacts
  • Even if a contact doesn’t have a video camera, can still have a voice chat or 1-way video chat
  • Can transfer files
  • Only works with Firefox 2.0+, IE 6.0+, Safari 3.0+, and Google Chrome
  • Requires Gmail account
  • Works with AIM so you can text, audio, or video chat with buddies who have an AIM account
  • Can share a single desktop making collaboration easy
  • Audio chats are saved as AAC files and video chats are saved as MPEG-4 files
  • Getting iChat set up to work with AIM could be challenging to someone without much technical experience
Windows Live Messenger
  • Can chat with a group of several people in one window
  • Can share photos in the conversation window
  • Can send an SMS text message to your contact’s mobile phone
  • Can transfer files
  • Not compatible with iChat
  • No Mac OS version
  • Have to have an msn or hotmail account to use Live Messenger
ooVoo (free version)
  • Available for Windows OS
  • Can chat with up to three people on free version
  • Has a modest knowledge base for support.
  • Web video calling with those who don’t have ooVoo
  • Mac version is Beta
  • Sound may be choppy on a video chats between Windows and Mac users
  • Can only record 1 minute of a video message
  • Economy might affect this company’s ability to stay in business
  • Monthly fee for including calls to a phone
  • Higher resolution is on the paid version
Yugma (free version)
  • Available for Windows and Mac
  • Can work inside Skype
  • Can share your desktop
  • Can host your own meetings with up to 20 attendees
  • Can only record meetings in the pro version (that you have to pay for)
  • Has sponsored advertisements
  • Works only on Windows 2000 or later and Mac OSX 1.4 or higher