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Indiana University Bloomington

Distance Education: Communication & Collaboration

Online Teaching and Learning Tools - Web-based Conferencing Tools

partially taken from Educause - 7 things you should know about Virtual Meetings (2006)

Web-based conferencing is an element in almost all online courses, and is becoming increasingly more popular as an element of on-campus courses as well.

Web-based conferencing or online virtual meetings are real-time interactions (synchronous) that take place over the Internet using features such as audio and video, chat tools, and application sharing. Participants in virtual meetings use an application - such as Adobe Connect - to conduct meetings that are similar to videoconferences but with functionality such as electronic whiteboards and polling tools that make the technology increasingly appropriate for education. Although much of the technology that supports virtual meeting tools is not new, the underlying software and infrastructure have matured, allowing higher education to benefit from real-time interaction for distance education programs as well as offering new opportunities for traditional, residential education. Virtual meetings offer a way to engage students in fully interactive, online learning experiences as well as tutoring, office hours, and other activities.

There are advantages to this type of class discussion, as compared with the traditional, face-to-face kind. For one thing, everything is recorded, and the instructor who wants to consider class discussion as part of a course grade can keep track of the discussion in an objective manner that is impossible in the classroom--who participates, how often and how long.

Another advantage is that some applications the discussion is archived, so that students who join a class late, or miss a week, which is common in online courses, can quickly catch up with the discussion.

Some research has also suggested that online virtual meetings create a sense of connection that many learners need. These applications also allow faculty to teach online in a way that largely replicates how they teach in person, making it easier for them to teach in distance education programs. In addition, content that is difficult to explore using asynchronous methods can be taught with real-time tools. Virtual meetings expand educational offerings through distance programs, bring more opportunities to remote learners, and encourage greater numbers of potential students to take advantage of those opportunities.

Of course, there can be downsides to web-based conferencing. As with any real-time event, time zone differences are a concern, one that becomes increasingly complex as the geographical range of participants expands. Connecting students in Canada and Mexico is straightforward, but linking students in North America with an expert in the Middle East, for example, is more complicated. Additionally, while technical problems are always potentially troublesome, in the case of virtual meetings they can be debilitating. Issues such as sound and video quality can be affected by network traffic, improper setup, and other technical parameters. Infrastructure differences among participants can also come into play, both in terms of local hardware and connection speeds.

Faculty using virtual meeting environments have reduced control over the “room” of participants. Even though some tools allow users to electronically indicate nonverbal gestures, such as raising a hand to ask a question or make a comment, virtual meetings are an approximation of a shared physical space. As such, participation mixes face-to-face and online practices.

More information:

Possible Instructional Uses for Web Conferencing

  • Delivery of online classes for fully online or blended learning
  • Offer real-time, virtual office hours
  • Offer live or recorded virtual review sessions
  • Invite "virtual" guest speakers to speak to your class
  • Provide students with collaboration and presentation space
  • Provide remote desktop support and training
  • Extend classroom collaboration for a face to face or online course
  • Hold a live class session online if weather or travel would otherwise necessitate canceling class

Useful Tools

Below are some recommendations from the IC for various tools and technologies. This page is meant as a starting point for those getting started or in need of a quick recommentation. There are many great tools that aren't on the list, so we encourage you to come into the IC and talk with us about your particular needs. You may find general information about video conferencing options at Indiana University from the Knowledge Base.

Recommended Video & Audio Chat Software:

  • Skype - Free software that supports one-on-one video and audio chat, as well as IM text chat. Skype also supports up to 5 simultaneous connections in a conference call. Use this tool to offer virtual office hours to your students.
  • iChat - Free software for video, audio and text chat on Apple Mac computers with up to 4 simultaneous connections. Use this tool to offer virtual office hours. iChat is also compatible with the AOL AIM network.

IU Supported Web Conferencing & Collaboration Tools:

  • Adobe Connect (formerly Breeze)- Full featured web conferencing service provided by UITS, Adobe Connect is a tool that allows you to meet online rather than in a conference room allowing you to share and collaborate online. Allows multiple attendees per meeting or class session.
  • Microsoft Live Meeting- Microsoft Live Meeting is an online meeting service that IU supports. You can meet with your colleagues or students online, which allows you to collaborate in real-time, even over long distances. If all of your meeting attendees are Windows users who use IU's UniCom service, Microsoft Live Meeting might be a good option. Live Meeting is tightly integrated with IU's UniCom service, making it possible for you to invite UniCom users to a Live Meeting session.
  • At IU, should I use Adobe Connect or Microsoft Live Meeting?

Other Web Conferencing & Collaboration Tools:

  • Dimdim- The free version is useful for small groups (no more than 20) and offers multi-person video/audio, document, presentation and screen sharing, whiteboard. Interestingly Dimdim provides an Open Source Edition if you are interested in running it on your own server.
  • Vyew- The free version is suitable for small groups or classes and offers multi-person video/audio, document, presentation and screen sharing, whiteboard. The free option allows for 20 participants per meeting space, but has advertisements. Vyew is completely browser-based, so there is no need to download and install any software.
  • Webex MeetMeNow - Used by 82% of the Fortune 100 companies. MeetMeNow allows you to conduct unlimited online meetings, share applications, give presentations & demonstrations and provide training & support. Supports up to 15 attendees. Note: there is a 14-day free trial, but this tool requires a monthly service fee.
  • GoToMeeting - A Web conferencing tool that allows you to meet online rather than in a conference room allowing you to share and collaborate online. Allows up to 15 attendees per meeting Note: there is a 30-day free trial, but this tool requires a monthly service fee.
  • GoToWebinar - Provides the ability to plan, present, record and analyze unlimited Webinars with up to 1,000 attendees each. A more powerful version of GoToMeeting.


For more information about incorporating web-based conferencing in your teaching, please feel free to contact us.