A nice selection of open source video-conferencing tools as sustainable solutions during and after times of the pandemic.
On July 2nd, I participated in a webinar sponsored by DUPC2 and organised by Dr. Hans van der Kwast to promote eLearning in the water sector and in the global south. In this encouraging virtual encounter, there was a very fruitful discussion about the shift from emergency distance teaching to eLearning as the new norm in the post-Covid-19 era. While Hans gave a great introduction to the essentials of eLearning course design, I spoke about my experiments with eLearning as part on my endeavour with Geomatic Solutions Company to democratize GeoFOSS (Geospatial Free and Open Source Software) in Algeria. I talked about the challenges encountered, how we dealt with them and highlighted opportunities for eLearning in developing countries.
After a long struggle while promoting eLearning in Algeria since 2017, the Covid-19 pandemic is finally changing Algerian’s perception of the benefits of eLearning, especially since it can help solve some economic and social issues as I explained in a previously published blog post. The majority of Geomatic Solutions Company’s training and capacity development activities are shifting towards eLearning. Lately, we have been focusing mainly on small group, fully online, class-paced, active instruction courses which we noticed to be more appreciated in Algeria than self-paced eLearning platforms. The success of this activity relies on videoconferencing technology that is at the availability of both the trainers and the students.
The choice of videoconferencing tools is very important. As the big masses did early during the pandemic, I relied on Zoom and Google Meet for a while especially since they opened up their subscriptions to general use. The products are good and easy to use and cover most of our needs. However relying on these tools is not a permanent sustainable solution for a small business in an unstable economy because the moment the pandemic hype settles, we will no longer benefit from the commercial properties of such tools for free. On the other hand, as an advocate for Open Source solutions, I feel a bit treasonous if I promote a proprietary product when open source alternatives exist with equivalent if not better features.
Sustainable Video-Conferencing Solutions
I will describe two open source video-conferencing solutions that I use.
This tool offers web conferencing features that you can find in commercial platforms but under an open source license. It is a great tool to run synchronous virtual classrooms and has the ability to be easily integrated in various Learning Management Systems like Moodle or Canvas. The tool allows for :
- Multiple sessions with voice, video support and live chat
- Screen and desktop sharing with participants
- Sharing PDF and Microsoft Office documents
- Whiteboard capabilities (pointer, zooming and drawing)
BigBlueButton is very known as a pedagogical online tool that allows broadcasting courses with big classes. It is also good for conducting webinars where the Moderator role allows for better options to control participants.
During the pandemic, BigBlueButton suffered a bit from the high demand and its performance decreased a bit with the disabling of session recording features and limiting the duration of meetings to 60 minutes only on the local-demo server. These remain as temporary setbacks and will hopefully get back in order soon.
- Jitsi Meet:
Jitsi is an Open Source project that developed a collection of state-of-the-art multi-platform free and open source video-conferencing and instant messaging applications. I came across these tools (Jitsi Meet) during the webinar I mentioned above. I was very surprised by the quality of the display as well as the features that you would typically only find in premium accounts of other commercial products.
Here are some of the advantages of Jitsi Meet:
- No limitations on the number of participants nor the duration of the call sessions
- No need to login with an account, only an easily generated link to the session is created. You can simply name your session whatever you want by adding its name to this link https://meet.jit.si/……
- The administrator has good control of the participants’ option
- Ability to live stream on YouTube
- Record and save the recorded session directly to Dropbox
- Screen Sharing and speech control
- Allows for a control of audio and video quality which helps a lot with the trainings I deliver since I very often work in and with regions with low quality internet service
- Ability to integrate in any software, platform or enterprise as a great quality to being open source
- Great privacy features by provided encrypted services
In addition to these benefits, the fact that this solution is free puts it immediately on top of my list. It hasn’t been 5 days since I started using it but I must admit that I am fully satisfied with its quality and see it as a sustainable solution for my video-conferencing needs now and in the post-Covid-19 era.
Open Source Projects
People have a tendency to consume ready-to-use products which one of the reasons why commercial solutions prosper. I won’t deny that sometimes open source products tend to be floppy and in most cases require above average technical fluency for a better experience but once an open source project reaches its maturity, solutions like BigBlueButton and Jitsi emerge while offering agility and flexibility without compromising security and benefitting from a community longing for collaboration without suffering from the barriers of licensing and proprietary regulations. In addition to that, being free makes them a great tool for people and business in developing countries.