Best desktop interactive video conferencing software?
August 11, 2010 5:35 PM   Subscribe

What is the best desktop interactive video conferencing software that can accommodate a group of 20 participants all capable of interacting during the session?

I will be using the application to teach a college course online; each class meeting will have 20 students and they will all need to participate in the video discussion using laptops and webcams from their dorms.

Here's a list of possibilities that I have complied; there might be more:

Adobe Connect
Go To Meeting
HearMe Advantage
HP Virtual Rooms
Microsoft Meeting

Many thanks!
posted by tessalations999 to Technology (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Lotus live (surprisingly since it's IBM's product) seems to work really well. The presenter is the only one that can be seen on video at the time though.
posted by TheBones at 5:48 PM on August 11, 2010

You could check out Sococo. It's more of a virtual office/collaboration tool I think but I only just learned about it today.
posted by chairface at 6:27 PM on August 11, 2010

I'm not sure if there's a solution that will get all 20 people's faces on video all at once (a la the Brady Bunch intro), and although most services will let you share what's on your computer screen with everyone, not all will have support for live video cameras. But audio is easy, and most services throw audio/conference calling in as part of the package.

But you should be able to switch who's on video at any one time; GoToMeeting is pretty simple and user-friendly, and works on both PCs and Macs. (The typical/standard GoToMeeting plan won't work for you, as it's limited to 15 attendees - but you can pay a little extra to bump it up to 25. I think they've added video support recently, but don't quote me.) Here's how it works:

The person who starts the meeting (in this case, you) is designated the "Presenter"; a little control panel pops up on the side of your screen and lets you turn on and off things like showing what's on your computer screen, your microphone, your camera, etc. People who join your meeting are designated "Attendees"and get a similar control panel on their screen. Everyone can see who else is in attendance on that little control panel, and the Presenter can at any time pick an Attendee and make them the new Presenter.

So what is being presented to all Attendees switches from what's on your computer to what's on theirs, such as the desktop/webcam/whatever. They would then be able to hand off being Presenter back to you, or to another Attendee, in a pass it on/yield the floor way. So everyone can speak and be heard over audio at all times, but only one person (the Presenter) can control what everyone sees on their screens at any one time, and can pass that control on to any other Attendee.

You'll find that most if not all of the services your looking at work in the same way, give or take a feature or two. If you're teaching a college course, I would presume that the college IT/AV department might already have a tool in use, or that they can recommend? And the kids today should all be familiar with Skype, which has the advantage of being free software; you might want to add that one to your list of candidates.
posted by bartleby at 7:43 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've taken courses via Adobe Connect, upwards of around 15 students or so.

Bandwidth is a substantial issue that cuts across participation as well as general experience quality. The more video heads that were active, the harder it was for the entire Connect class. Too much lag.

Compromises: Text chat is always active, with participation promoted there in IRC style (typing the person's name to whom you're responding to, so conversations don't get lost). Only the professor has webcam on at all times. Anyone who wishes to speak, or whom the professor calls on, will then turn on his/her webcam, and turn it off when done with their spiel. In actual presentations, only the presenter's webcam is on.

Also record sessions when possible; Adobe Connect has account options to save sessions to a public URL that students can access later if necessary.
posted by Ky at 11:10 PM on August 11, 2010

In addition, Connect did have some nice features: quizzes, polls, whiteboard, desktop sharing (one at a time), file upload including PPT presentations, and probably a couple other things I don't remember now.

But bandwidth is always the issue with more video participation.
posted by Ky at 11:12 PM on August 11, 2010

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