** This page is currently DRAFT ** For a video overview of BigBlueButton, see https://bigbluebutton.org/html5.
Welcome to BigBlueButton.
BigBlueButton is an open source web conferencing system for online learning. The goal of the project is to enable remote students to have a high-quality online learning experience.
While you can think of BigBlueButton as a general web conferencing system (as implements many of the features you would expect in such a system), BigBlueButton’s design focused on the following use cases:
- Vitual office hours/tutoring
- Flipped classroom (recording content ahead of class)
- Student collaboration
- Full online classes
To support these use cases, BigBlueButton enables users to share, in real-time, their audio, video, presentations, and screen. To promote collaboration and learning, BigBlueButton helps instructors engage remote students with interactive chat (public and private), multi-user whiteboard, shared notes, emojis, polling, and breakout rooms.
BigBlueButton can record all content in a session for later playback.
The BigBlueButton client uses pure HTML5 and, as such, requires no downloads, no plugins, and no software installations. It loads within the browser with a single click. The HTML5 client provides a unified interface across desktop, laptop, chromebook, and mobile devices (iOS 11+ and Android 6.0+). There is no app to install on mobile devices to use BigBlueButton. For mobile users, the client loads within the mobile browser on iOS (Safari Mobile) and Android (Google Chrome).
BigBlueButton is deeply integrated into the leading learning management systems (LMS). For Instructure (Canvas), Schoology, Jenzabar, Moodle Cloud, and D2L, BigBlueButton is the built-in virtual classroom. In other words, they have integrated BigBlueButton into their core product. Another example of the popularity of BigBlueButton in the educational space is high usage amongst the Moodle community. There are currently are over 1500 plugins available for Moodle. The BigBlueButtonBN plugin for Moodle has ranked among the top 10 downloaded plugins for past five years.
Because it implements all the features you would expect in a web conferencing system, BigBlueButton is also heavily used outside the learning managment space. One of the largest deployments on the planent is by the US Department of Defense (see DISA deployment of DCS). The DoD has saved over 12 million dollars each year using BigBlueButton since deploying BigBlueButton in 2015.
BigBlueButton is open source. Want to setup your own BigBlueButton server? You can in about 15 minutes. Want to incorporate BigBlueButton in your product? You can under the terms and conditions of BigBlueButton’s open source license. The core developers of the project feel a source of pride when others incorporate BigBlueButton into their product. There is no higher praise for an open source project.
BigBlueButton is supported by a community of developers, users, and commercial companies who care about a providing a good experience to users and who share a common vision: to build the world’s best web conferencing system that is easy to use, open, extensible, education-focusesd.
The BigBlueButton project maintains a open demo server to enable in the world to login, create an account, and try using BigBlueButton.
This document covers the features and capabilities of BigBlueButton 2.2-beta (referred hereafter as simply BigBlueButton).
The features avaialble to a user depends on how they joined the BigBlueButton session and whether they are the current presenter.
In a BigBlueButton session, users join either as a
viewer (typically a student) can chat, send/receive audio and video, respond to polls, and display an emoji (such as raise hand). They can also draw on the whiteboard (if given permission by the presenter) and join a breakout room. A veiwer, however, doesn’t have any control over the session itself. That’s the role of the moderator.
moderator (typically the instructor) has all the capabilities of a viewer plus the ability to mute/unmute other viewers, lock down viewers (i.e. restrict them from doing private chat), and assign anyone (including themselves) the role of
presenter. A session can have multiple moderators. Moderators can also eject any user, start/stop recording, end the session at any time.
presenter controls the presentation area. In this respect, the presenter can upload slides, annotate the current slide with the whiteboard controls, enable/disable multi-user whiteboard, start a poll, and share their screen for all to see. Only one person at a time can be presenter.
Given the the above – viewers, moderators, and presenter – we can break down the capabilities of the product according to each role.
We’ll start with the role of the viewer.
Responsive User Interface
One measure of a successful user interface is how little effort it takes new users to master it.
BigBlueButton has a pure HTML5 interface that loads quickly, is accessible, and works across laptop, desktop, chromebook, and mobile clients (phones and tables). BigBlueButton works best on FireFox and Crome, and Mobile Safari on iOS. There are no plugin or extensions to download ann install. It loads quickly and is designed ot be familiar to anyone who has used a web application to share audio and video.
For example, joining audio gives the user two simple options.
For consistency, the actions for sharing audio, webcam, and desktop (when you are the presenter) are now grouped together at the top middle of the screen. The meeting title is on the left, and the record button is on the right.
BigBlueButton implements a responsive user interface that works across devices.
BigBlueButton was designed to fully leverage all that HTML5 provides for creating accessible applications.
BigBlueButton uses the browser’s built-in capability for web real-time communiation (WebRTC). WebRTC allows the browsers to send/receive high-quality audio/video without plugins.
The recommended browsers are FireFox and Chrome.
Overall, WebRTC provides the user a higher quality and lower latency audio/video transmission. Users have the ability to quickly join the session as a listener, which does not require any permissions from the browser.
Using a screen reader
The following diagram gives you an overview of the interface.
Some items of note
- When the session is being recorded you see Recording icon show red
Joining the audio
Sharing your webcam
Typing in the public chat
Starting a private chat
Set status through an emoticon
Each user can click on their name (always at the top of the User’s List, and choose their status.
Using the whiteboard (when multi-user whiteboard is enabled)
Joining a breakout room (when invited by a moderator)
Writing in the shared notes
Downloading the presentation=
The presenter may enable downloading of the presentation.
A session can have multiple moderators, but the typical scenario is to have only one (the instructor).
Recording the session
Moderators can choose the segments of their session that are recorded by clicking the Stop/Start Recording button.
Making a user presenter
Promoting a user to moderator
Demoting a user to viewer
Kicking a user
Starting breakout rooms
Locking down users
The first presenter to join is, by default, assigned the role of presenter.
Uploading a presentation
BigBlueButton offers the ability to share your screen, but if your intent is to share a presentation, we recommend uploading the presentation to BigBlueButton. This significantly reduces the bandwidth requirements for remote users and gives you all the annotation capabilities of the whiteboard.
Using the whiteboard controls
Sharing your screen
When the presenter launches screen sharing, the BigBlueButton client prompt you for permission to share your screen. They promtp depends on your browser and OS.
To choose a screen (or application) to share, click the ‘+’ icon and choose Share your screen.
When WebRTC screen sharing is enabled, and when a presenter uses FireFox or Chrome, they will have an option of using WebRTC to share their screen.
When choosing WebRTC on Chrome, the presenter will be giving a dialog to select which screen to share in a floating window.
When choosing WebRTC on FireFox, the presenter will be giving a dialog to select which screen to share from a drop-down menu.
When WebRTC screen sharing starts, both the presenter and viewers will see the presenter’s screen.
Starting a poll
BigBlueButton makes it easy to initiate a poll by making a single menu choice. In looking at many lectures, we observed that the current slide provides the context for discussion and, in many cases, the context for a poll-type question. Consider the following slide:
In BigBlueButton, you initiate a poll by choosing how you want users to respondm, not typing in a qustion.
The presenter can initiate a poll at anytime. To initiate a poll, the presenter chooses Start a polling from the ‘+’ button (located in the lower left of the Presentation window).
When the presenter initiates a poll, the Live Results dialog box appears showing the incoming results in real-time. At any point in watching the Live Results, the presenter can Close the dialog (this ends the poll) or click Publish to close the poll and publish the current results as a whiteboard annotation to the current slide.
Sharing a YouTube video
We leave this here for the moment – but we need to delete any content related to Flash, update the content, and migrate it to the appropriate sections above.
To help ensure moderators do not forget to start recording their session, BigBlueButton will remind them, after they join the audio bridge, that they can record the meeting.
Like any annotation, the presenter can zoom into, further annotate them with the whiteboard tools (maybe call attention to one of the results), and clear the published results with whiteboard ‘x’ clear button. If the user has accessibility options enabled in their operating system, the BigBlueButton client will also publish the polling results to the chat so it can be picked up by a screen reader.
From the user’s perspective, when the presenter initiates a poll they will hear a soft beep and see the Poll choices appear under the slide. This way users can still read the contents of the slide and respond with a single click.
When the Live Results dialog is open, the presenter may see ‘12/14’ responses and keep waiting until the remaining two uses respond. However, if they are away from their keyboard they will not. Results can be published with missing responses and will appear in the recordings.
Let’s look again at the sample slide.
Notice it follows the pattern of a statement followed by options prefixed with ‘A.’, ‘B.’, and ‘C.’. You’ll get the same pattern using PowerPoint, KeyNote, Libre Office, Google Slides, or any presentation software to create an alphabetically numbered outline.
BigBlueButton client recognizes this pattern and, if found, will present the instructor a Smart Poll button with the matching pre-defined choice. This enables the instructor to initiate a poll based on the content in the slide with a single click.
smart poll button gives presenter one-click polling for the current slide.
The BigBlueButton client also scans for the text ‘true/false’ and ‘false/true’ in the slide and, if found, put a Smart Poll button for ‘True/False’.
In a similar manner, it will scan for the text ‘yes/no’ and ‘no/yes’ and, if found, put a Smart Poll button for ‘Yes/No’.
In this way, the presenter can put a set of polling questions in their slides so during their lecture they can quickly and easily poll the students with a single click per slide.
Polling does not require the presenter to upload slides. The presenter can poll the students anytime. The pre-set choices for ‘Yes/No’ are good examples. The presenter can also enter their own polling choices (up to six) for a custom poll.
When the presenter clicks ‘Start Poll’ the range of choices will appear for students underneath the current slide.
The presenter can watch the incoming Live Results and publish them to the slide.
If a user has the accessibility options enabled in their OS, the BigBlueButton client will also print the poll results to the chat so it can be picked up by a screen reader.
Sometimes the instructor may want to ask the class “How is everyone feeling about the lecture?”. The addition of emote icons enables students to raise their hand and give feedback to such questions. Opening the Emoji List and selecting a Status updates the Emote icon to the left of the user’s name in the Users window.
Any moderator (usually the instructor) can now place students into breakout rooms, monitor their interaction, and end the breakout rooms at any time.
Breakout rooms are full BigBlueButton sessions. The ability to record breakout rooms is under development. Each student in a breakout room has moderator role, which means any student can make themselves presenter and upload a presentation for sharing with other students.
To start a breakout room, choose Breakout Rooms from the Gear icon.
Configure Breakout Rooms
When you choose “Breakout Rooms …” the following dialog box appears.
The Breakout Room dialog enables the instructor to specify
- the number of breakout rooms: 2,3,4, or 5
- time limit
- enable users to select their own room
- drag and drop users between rooms
- which users should not be placed into breakout room (the “Not Assigned” room)
Student Joining a Breakout Room
When the moderator presses the [Join Session] button in the Breakout Room dialog, any user assigned to a breakout room will see the following dialog inviting them to join the breakout room.
If users receive an invitation where they are permitted to choose any available room, a drop-down menu to select a specific room to join will appear.
Clicking Join Session causes the breakout room session to open in a new tab. The user remains joined in the main session (where they can chat with the instructor and ask questions). BigBlueButton will disconnect drop them from the audio from the main room. This will prevent students from being joined into two different audio sessions at the same time.
The breakout room will have a countdown timer about the chat to inform the users of the Remaining Time. Once the timer reaches 0, the breakout room will automatically close. Users can return to the previous tab and rejoin the audio in the main room.
Monitoring Breakout Rooms
When the instructor clicks ‘Start’ in the Breakout Room dialog, a breakout room status table will appear in the Users window. The instructor can Join the breakout room in a new tab, or Close the breakout rooms early (before the time remaining expires).
Enabled Presentation Download
The presenter can now give students the ability to download a presentation.
When uploading a presentation, the presenter can click the Upload Presentation button then check Enable download of presentation.
If this option is checked, a download button will appear in the Presentation area, for each user in the session. Later on, a user can click Download Presentation, BigBlueButton will display a dialog giving the user the ability to download any presentation that was enabled for Download.
Pen Tool Smoothing
BigBlueButton smooths all strokes of the pen tool. When drawing with the pen you’ll see it work as before, but when you release the mouse, BigBlueButton will smooth the lines a bit.
This smoothing makes math equations and diagrams a bit easier to read for students.
Promote Viewer to Moderator
Moderators have the ability to promote any viewer to the role of moderator or demote any moderator to the viewer role. To promote a viewer, click the Gear icon icon to the right of a user’s name and choose Promote.
Later on, any moderator can demote the same user back to a viewer by choosing the Demote option from inside the gear icon menu.
The moderator now has the ability to lock (restrict) viewers from having the following abilities:
Webcam, Microphone, Public Chat, Private Chat and Layout
The following diagram illustraits an example of a moderator locking the private chat for all viewers:
Select the Gear icon at the bottom of the users list, then the Lock Viewers option. With the Lock modal open, check Private Chat and then Apply
Download Public Chat Messages
In BigBlueButton 2.0, the Options tab provides users a button for Copying Public Chat messages to the clipboard (which makes the function more accessible for users with screen readers).
Next to the copy button there are two others buttons
- Download the public chat as plain text
- Delete public chat (moderator only)
End Meeting on Logout
Ever wanted to end the meeting and kick out all users. Now, when anyone who is moderator logs out, they will have the option to immediately end the session.
Selecting Yes and end meeting will cause BigBlueButton to immediately end the session, which in turn kicks out all other users and initiates the processing of the recording (if the meeting was set to be recorded).
Full Screen Mode
Users can now have BigBlueButton take the entire screen with the Full Screen button.
Clicking this button causes BigBlueButton to take over the full screen (this invokes the browser’s built-in full screen capability).
When users click the Full Screen button, the browser displays a confirmation dialog on the switch to full screen mode.
Users can exit full screen mode anytime by pressing the [ESC] key.
Active learning is more effective than passively watching a lecture. Engaging students to recall and apply what they just learned re-enforces new concepts and ideas. Breakout rooms are an example of having students engage in discussion.
A new layout called “Shared Notes”, gives students a collaborative note pad for capturing content during the session. Shared notes are made visible by selecting the Shared Notes layout from the Layout Dropdown.
When choosing this layout, the Shared Notes window appears on the left-hand side. Any user can write/edit in the window at the same time.
Think of them as a collaborative notepad during the live session. Shared notes are not saved as part of the recording.
Any moderator can clear the shared notes using the Clear this note option in the gear icon (this icon is only visible to moderators).
Multiple Shared Notes
A moderator can launch (up to) two additional shared notes windows. Clicking on the Gear icon, then selecting Create menu option opens a new window called “Note name”, here the moderator can Name the new shared note.
The two additional windows will be visible across layouts.
The Shared Notes window allows users to apply formatting changes (font, font size, and style) to any of the text in the shared notes.
Download Shared Notes
Users can also download the content of the shared notes as plain text or HTML.
The download option lets users save the shared notes for later use. As stated above, shared notes are not saved as part of the recording - they are cleared from memory when the meeting ends.
BigBlueButton supports multiple users updating the whiteboard in real-time. This enables a tutor, for example, to collaboratively work together with a student on a math problem.
To enable/disable multi-user whiteboard, the presenter clicks the Multi-User Whiteboard button on the toolbar.
When engaged, all users can annotate the current slide. The User’s names will appear to the right of their cursor as illustraited in the image below.
Users can only clear their own whiteboard marks by clicking the X button.
If the presenter clicks the X button when multi-user whiteboard is turned off, BigBlueButton will clear all marks by all users.
The recording format for BigBlueButton allows for record and playback of all multi-user whiteboard annotations.