Global Math Department is heading into its fourth meeting this week (Exeter problem sets with @gwaddellnvhs. This is meant as an update to members as well as a behind the scenes tour of running a Global * Department.

The first two meetings were hosted at our free community on BigMarker. Overall, folks liked the environment but we were plagued by conference issues — mainly, folks were losing audio too frequently.

I love that BigMarker integrates a bunch of separate tools into a single community. Not only does it host our conferences, but also our recordings, and has a “wall” where we can ask questions and get feedback.

For our third meeting, we talked Algebra II big ideas on a Google+ Hangout OnAir.  Normal Hangouts are limited to 10 participants, so OnAir is the broadcasting option for larger conferences. We had no technical issues — video and audio quality were both excellent. Folks main gripe was that interaction with each other and the presenter was difficult as it’s handled through live YouTube comments.

Google+, as robust as it is technically, is harder to use and not as integrated as BigMarker. A number of participants gave me the feedback that they wanted the community of BigMarker and the stability of Google+.

Random images from Global Math meetings

Giving BigMarker a chance

With the mix of features we wanted in mind, I spoke with a representative from BigMarker who told me our audio glitches were likely because we were overcrowding the free conference room (there were 68 at @jreulbach’s foldables talk). We talked through my technical concerns and they made changes on their end that should alleviate the majority of the audio glitches.

If you listen to the recording of the Foldables meeting, the audio is flawless. Meaning that the problem wasn’t on the presenter’s end. Rather, the BigMarker server was struggling to send out 60+ feeds to the attendees. BigMarker moved us to their bigger server for our upcoming meeting. We expect to hear better audio quality.

I understand the need for stability in a new community. If folks get confused about where we’re meeting and how to use the tools, we wil lose people. It was a tough decision to return to BigMarker to see if the dropped audio is fixed. We can’t test it out unless there are a *lot* of us in the room at one time. BigMarker also can’t test this easily, so they want to work with us to improve their service.

Our community

#GlobalMath is our community. I’m just the one investing time on the back end to keep it running smoothly. We need to provide honest and thoughtful feedback at every turn.

Are you starting a community that holds live meetings?

You need to decide what you want to do at your meetings. Video conferencing? Application sharing? Slide presentations? Do you want folks on mobile phones to have easy access?

The major players in the online conferencing arena, as well as pros and cons as I see them are:

Site Pros Cons
BigMarker Free community version (test it out, good for small communities), free accounts for teachers to use with students. Members can join the community OR attend conferences anonymously.In archive, the chat remains synched with the video, providing a more integrated experience. Recordings don’t capture the video feed and don’t play on iOS. We have a history of glitchy audio (though the recordings are crystal clear) which BigMarker is committed to fixing.
Google+ OnAir Hangouts Tech is rock-solid. Archives are Youtube videos, thus are mobile and iOS friendly. Free.It’s easy to have multiple presenters at one meeting. The person speaking takes over the main portion of the video screen, which people said they liked.Integrated with Google Docs, so we can collaborate on a doc live. It’s a patchwork of several technologies (Google+, YouTube, and something else if you want a backchannel) so can be difficult for attendees to figure out.Some of our teachers didn’t like that their YouTube conference comments were public and under the name on their Google accounts. They prefer a degree of anonymity online. Also, the comments are not synched with the video so become relatively useless. Finally, YouTube blocks posting links in comments — a huge part of our meetings.
Elluminate Robust technology. Industry leader. Many have used it elsewhere, so it’s familiar.Throttles the quality of the video/audio feed so that if your internet connection is slow, you will get a lower quality but you’ll still get the feed.  Relatively expensive. I ruled this out because I don’t want my members on the hook for a bill each month.

In all cases, the conference consists of a slide window, an audio feed, and (optionally) a video feed. You can broadcast anything on your computer’s desktop, too. (to learn about other players in the online conferencing market, check out this list).

Global * Departments

  1. First on the scene was the Global Physics Department. They’ve been running since early 2011.
  2. Global Math Department began in August 2012.

Do you have a Global * Department? Drop me your name and link in the comments and I’ll add you to this list.