Connecting People in Online Classrooms

We all dream of some sort of seamless integration of a myriad of tools (or a myriad of features) that allow us to connect and perform certain tasks.

Text, voice, video, real-time and recorded, presentation mode, all-platform, aesthetically pleasing, easy to set up and use, free of course, and with on-demand tech support are primarily the requirements for any type of tool we would consider.

While Blackboard has a built-in tool, it’s not always the most intuitive to use, nor does it meet the tough requirements from above. We just want to connect, we want it to be convenient, and while we can stop to wonder at the amazing opportunities the last century has brought about, we usually don’t. We want it here and now.

The table below summarizes some of the more formal communication tools that an instructor may use in an online course. Keep in mind, just like there is nothing wrong with black font on white background, there is nothing wrong with just picking up the phone! Check out what the IDS team has compiled for communication and/or presentation tools.

For students, you may also suggest the same tools (they may need some assistance, especially with Blackboard Collaborate) and add the tools below the table.

NameMax Number of ParticipantsProsConsCost
Bb Collaborate

Entire class

(max 25 by phone)

  • Built into Bb
  • Already provisioned
  • Has all of the bells and whistles for presenting, interacting, etc.
  • Can record sessions
  • Can have scheduled and open “rooms”
  • Great mobile interface with essential features (available on Android and iOS)
  • Must be logged into Bb
  • Reports that after 6 or more students join that there are connectivity challenges
  • The required downloadable launcher is sometimes unreliable
  • Not super intuitive to use (desktop version)
  • Requires presenter training (desktop version)
Google + HangoutsUp to 25
  • FREE
  • Create a group name and reuse it
  • All UNE students have Google accounts (external participants can join a Hangout even if they don’t have an account with provided link)
  • Easy to invite participants via a single link or just the hangout name
  • Full mobile compatibility
  • Multiple plugins
  • Pretty intuitive to use after one use. Lots of online support available in addition to help that ID would provide
  • Integrates with Uberconference (see below)
  • No integration with Blackboard – a link can be provided in the course, though
  • Can’t record – would have to integrate with YouTube Live via a multistep process or Uberconference
SkypeUp to 25
  • All participants  (UNE students, faculty, and staff) have Microsoft accounts via Office 365
  • No integration with Blackboard
  • Must have participant contact list
  • Requires download/plugin
  • Can’t record and save
Big Blue Buttonmany (meant for whole classes – could not find specific number)
  • Can manage large groups
  • Polling, screenshare, whiteboard, all good stuff
  • Open source (could also be a con depending on functionality updates)
  • No integration with Blackboard
  • Possible functionality glitches with open source…more likely a pro
GoToMeeting3 for free
  • Integrates with Outlook Calendar
  • Easy to use
  • Screensharing, webcam
  • No integration with Blackboard, a link can be provided
  • Account creation needed for free version
  • Cost for more than 3 participants
  • Free version has limited functionality
  • Free version only runs on Chrome
  • Can’t record and save with free version
  • Compare free and paid features
0 up to 3 ppl
Adobe Connect Meetings3 for free
  • Free for up to 3 participants
  • All the bells and whistles (screensharing, whiteboard, etc.)
  • Works well for large numbers of participants
  • No integration with Blackboard, a link can be provided
  • Can’t record and save if using the free version
  • Expensive for paid solutions
0 for 3 ppl
ZoomUp to 100 (participants)
  • Account required for leaders
  • Unlimited 1-on-1 meetings
  • No account necessary for participants
  • Mobile compatibility
  • Whiteboard
  • Can join via phone
  • Local recording on free version
  • Virtual backgrounds
  • No integration with Blackboard
  • No instant join experience – Windows users are required to download and run an executable file to attend meetings
  • 40-minute time limit on meetings
  • Free version doesn’t allow for more than an MP4 of local recording
0 for up to 100 ppl
UberconferenceUp to 10
  • No account necessary for non-host.
  • Dial In
  • Document Sharing
  • Google Hangout integration
  • Mobile compatibility
  • Recording (MP3)
  • No Integration with Blackboard, a link can be provided
0 up to 10 ppl


groupme logo This tool has free messaging, works on any device and has several features, like text, images and videos. The bonus feature is that it works over SMS as well, so you don’t need the app.


voxer orange logoThis tool boasts multimedia, voice to text transcription, voice messages and many paid features, Requires sign-up.

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