This article will outline popular software applications that allow you to message and call your colleagues; as well as the ability to create a virtual online learning platform. At present, there are many to decide between. We will focus on Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Adobe Connect. All these applications are free to use, however there are certain extra premium features that you must pay for.  This article will not analyse each application in huge detail, but we would like to discuss some key characteristics we think you will find useful. Most of these platforms provide effective platforms for both group and individual meetings; some are more suited than others for educational purposes though. I would like to make clear that we are presuming the reader has no prior knowledge of these applications, therefore we will aim to discuss our points from the viewpoint of a new user.

We understand that individual students have minimal influence on what applications their school chooses to use, but we would like to provide an overview in case you come across them in the future in school or even work.

Zoom

We will start with a well-known application that you will probably all be familiar with, especially its simple interface that has only four key features: New Meeting, Join, Schedule and Screen Share, and a calendar for upcoming meetings.

Pros:

  • It is the fastest application for a video call.
  • It uses one click and requires a quite simple link (URL) to access the meeting.
  • Participants can access the meeting by calling from a simple phone line.
  • It can be integrated with Skype, Outlook, and Chrome, and therefore shared on any media platform.
  • It also has a pleasant virtual background feature.
  • The interface is very user friendly, clean, and easy to navigate.
  • It allows you to share your screen; only if you are the host though.
  • Importantly to note, if you get stuck, it has great live support. This allows you to start and host a meeting with no stress.

Cons:

  • We noticed that sometimes the main window can be lost, forcing the application to close and restart, this could be down to the CPU load, as it is a bit heavy on a network’s resources.
  • Its security is quite simple, even though it requires a password for all meetings and basic encryption, however, nothing is guaranteed. Notably, if you are on a corporate network, additional security settings for firewall or proxy servers can be installed.
  • If you a resident of the following countries: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Ukraine (Crimea Region), the Zoom application is restricted, however we recommend that you use a VPN (virtual private network) to access it.
  • The free version restricts a meeting running time to 40 minutes.
  • This application does not allow you to share files in the chat function; therefore, would not be recommended to conduct lessons.

Google Meet

Google Meet (formerly known as Google Hangouts Meet) is the main video call app integrated within Google’s other apps, such as Gmail’s inbox, Google Calendar, Google Drive, where meeting links can be created. It is a free service for Google account users.

Pros:

  • Files are easily shared with attendees in the middle of a call.
  • A good component is the live captioning feature that works well in English but not so well in other languages.
  • Together with Meet’s deep integrations with the rest of Google Workspace, it may turn into the best way to talk with your team. This would be particularly useful for educational purposes when students are using Google docs to conduct collaborative work.
  • For large video calls, there is one fantastic feature that only allows the host to talk at one time, therefore restricting participant participation and sound, which produces seamless and uninterrupted talks.

Cons:

  • Due to how many Google apps there are, can be quite intimidating therefore it has the potential to cause a lot of IT/technical issues if being used on a large scale.
  • It only works if the participants/users have a Gmail account, which would be a personal account. Therefore, the levels of security would be minimal, and would be harder for the teacher to monitor and restrict activities.

 

Microsoft Teams

This application has become popular over 2020 as more and more people have begun to work from home, due to its integration into Microsoft Office features. This is an automatic chat app that enables you to quickly message and call your colleagues, the closest you will get to asking them questions as if you were in an office.

Pros:

  • Its most popular users are larger companies and businesses.
  • Its integration with Office 365 documents is outstanding, allowing you to share and edit documents with colleagues efficiently and smoothly.
  • It can handle up to 10,00 participants.
  • External participants who are not part of your company can join meetings without having to download the app, they just have to be invited.
  • It has both a web version as well as an app.
  • The application is easy to navigate.
  • It has live captions, background options, and a blur option.
  • A big bonus of this application that makes it attractive to businesses is it’s extensive privacy settings that require multi-factor authentication.

Cons:

  • Microsoft Teams is an expensive option if you are not a Microsoft Office 365 user.
  • At first, it looks complicated and confusing to use, but after a couple of hours of familiarising yourself, it becomes easy. We recommend that, if you are the host, you practice before setting up important meetings.
  • It is mostly used by professionals in the workplace,
  • It is not as suitable for online educational purposes due to its restrictions on the ability to conduct registration, as well as having quite a few unnecessary modules that are only useful to professionals in the workplace. It would only be suitable for online education if used in conjunction with supplementary applications.
  • We understand that you as a user might not have a choice over what application you use to help you keep in touch with your colleagues whilst working or learning from home, however we recommend that you are aware of how to use this application if you are joining a new organisation or school in the future.

Skype

Skype was the original video – audio communication software that you are all probably aware of, no matter your age. It was the first application of its time that allowed you to make video calls easily via the computer or through a mobile phone, therefore it was a pioneering step in being able to conduct meetings and calls virtually.

Pros:

  • The unique feature that Skype has is that users have the opportunity to call landlines and mobile numbers directly through purchasing skype credits.
  • An extra feature available on Skype is the ability to send SMS messages.
  • You can call up to 50 people in 1 call (not as much as the others but still significant).
  • They recently updated the application which generates a single meeting link that can be shared through various chat applications such as WhatsApp or a simple email.
  • It’s new “Meet Now” feature allows hosts and participants to create and join a video call without having to have a pre-existing account or downloading specific software; this makes it easier for participants to join from their web browser or the Skype app.
  • It has a live captioning feature catering for up to 10 languages.
  • It can record calls for up to 30 days.
  • An extra feature for those of you who are Xbox gamers, it can be embedded within this application enabling big group gaming sessions (for you to in your free time of course)

Cons:

  • Its security is only rated as a “satisfying” as long you are having a 1-1 conversation.
  • Within the application there is no user-friendly web interface available yet.
  • There is not a convenient way for hosts and participants to have recurring or prescheduled meetings, therefore would not suit a school’s online school set up.

 

Adobe Connect

iBOS selected this software due to its ease of use, intuitive educational features, and compatibility with teaching resources. From using this application, we have learnt that students and teachers respond well to this application due to its simple and interactive layout. Adobe connect encourages you to assign roles, which in turn have different levels of responsibility, allowing the host (or teacher) to have control over who enters the meeting, monitoring the participants (or students) ability to speak and share a video, etc.

This platform we would recommend for online teaching purposes, as it allows the teacher to have complete control over their class allowing them to ultimately decide the pace and nature of their lessons.

Pros:

  • It has an extremely friendly platform with a simple graphical user interface; the same screen is viewed by both the host and participant.
  • A feature that promotes itself within the online educational sphere is the ability for the host to share their screen, a single document, or maybe even an interactive whiteboard.
  • The layout of the meeting room is very simple therefore, inexperienced users will not have trouble viewing and participating in a meeting/lesson.
  • It also has private and group chat features, allowing students and teachers to discuss ideas as a group or for individuals to raise concerns with their teachers without disrupting the class.
  • It works both on a web browser or through a downloadable app (which is free); all you need is access to a meeting room link (URL).
  • It is accessible for any operating system.

Cons:

  • This platform is not suitable for arranging meetings quickly with individuals or groups, a bit of planning is included, such as pre-configuring meeting room links before use.
  • It requires a lot of maintenance before being used, due to its relatively complex nature.
  • If you have large class/ meeting sizes, the layout of the screen does not allow you to see all participants at one time, therefore hindering a teacher’s ability to monitor every child’s behaviour and concentration.

Overall, we have concluded that Zoom is the best application for online meetings due to its ease of access, and the fact it does not require an existing account for either the host or the participant. Additionally, for solely online educational purposes we would recommend Adobe Connect to conduct lessons due to its availability on both a web browser, alongside an app; as well as its abundance of interactive features that allow online lessons to be conducted in a fun and collaborative manner.

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