A couple of months ago, my manager Andy Ramsden, Head of e-Learning at the University of Bath, scheduled a session where the team would test Megameeting, a web conferencing software. I assumed at the time that this would mean that we would all scatter around the campus and connect to the relevant server to test the service. In fact, the session was tested more realistically than we had envisaged! The University of Bath was closed yesterday due to adverse weather conditions [photos on Flickr], meaning that e-Learning team members were working at home. I don’t think that even Andy had things planned this well, but he may beg to differ!
Megameeting is a browser based web conferencing solution, using an Adobe Flash Player plug-in. It is intended to work on a variety on operating systems (PC, Mac and Linux) and the range of web browsers that are now available (IE, Firefox, Chrome, et al). The application is available on a variety pricing plans, though I do not intend to explore this aspect during this post.
On the whole the session, which was facilitated by James Sainsbury from Megameeting, went well. Unfortunately, one colleague was unable to get to the session due a technical problem, but others seemed to make in without too much trouble. As I was too busy outside building an igloo(!), I didn’t have time to run through the Megameeting technical setup wizard, but things worked fine.
Some of the key features of Megameeting include: integrated text and voice chat, desktop sharing, shared slide presentations, live video (using webcams), run polling activities. In addition, sessions can be recorded and archived for later use. Further information is available in a Megameeting White Paper, which details this functionality in more depth.
In many ways, Megameeting is similar to other applications that I have come across such as Adobe Connect and Elluminate. It offers similar functionality with a similar setup overhead for the user.
Whilst James ran through the main components of the software (see left), Andy shared his desktop and ran through (quickly!) a presentation based on the QR Codes project that he is involved with. Andy and Roger did not have webcams attached to their PCs, so contributed through voice – this did not seem to hinder their (or our) user experience though.
Key areas of follow up and thoughts are as follows:
- One of the major advantages of Megameeting is that it is hosted by the third party, rather than having to setup or maintain a server in house. How does this compare to other services currently used by the university? Who retains ownership of the data?
- Currently, there seem to be no integration with VLEs, such as Moodle. Admittedly colleagues can place a link to the web conference within their Moodle course, but I would be interested to see how this works in practice.
- James mentioned that the company are currently developing a solution whereby participants can take part in any conference, using a mobile device such as a Blackberry. It is quite possible that this will feature will be ready for beta testing within the next few months, before being released in September 2009. Once again, I’ll be interested to see how this works in practice, particularly with flaky 3G mobile phone reception in some areas (including the university campus). Same applies to those users using mobile broadband services.
- Over zealous nework ‘firewalls’ are often a problem for some students trying to access, for example, Moodle. Some user testing might have to done in this area with some of our students, despite the fact that Megameeting offers three ‘ports’ through which users can connect to a conference.
- With six people, the web conference went off without too many problems. How scalable is this solution though? If a colleague is hosting a web conference with a large(r) number of users, would another facilitator (technical support person) need to also be on hand to deal at the start to with any access problems?
- Unlimited training for ‘power’ users such as members of the e-Learning team would be offered. Would this be in the form of face-to-face training or over the web using Megameeting?
I felt that it proved to be a very worthwhile experience testing Megameeting, and looking at an application that had not across my radar previously. I will be interested to see how this initiative moves forward at the University of Bath, and particularly how we might use the application to support our own staff development approaches. A 15 minute online taster (or coffee break) type session has previously been mooted.
Right, back to building snowmen…