Online Communication & Collaboration


Clearly, Zoom (more information here) has exploded to become a leading platform for online teaching and learning as well as general online meetings in early 2020, but it is certainly not the only platform/tool available, it doesn’t offer all the functions liked and needed especially in creative studio courses, and recently it raised a series of security concerns.

Video Conferencing

Adobe Connect
Adobe Connect integrates video conferencing with a broad range of audience engagement tools (e.g. multiple chat pods, polls, quizzes, simulations, breakout rooms, games etc.)
Free (temporarily)/Commercial

BigBlueButton is an open-source web conferencing system. In addition to various web conferencing services, it has integrations for many of the major learning and content management systems.

BlueJeans is cloud video conferencing software to easily and securely hold live video calls, webinars, conference calls, and online meetings.

ClickMeeting is a conferencing software with a focus on webinar delivery, i.e. they natively integrate online quizzes, attendance taking, etc.

Highfive integrates hardware and software solutions for video conferencing.        Commercial

Jitsi is a collection of free and open-source multiplatform voice (VoIP), videoconferencing and instant messaging applications. As open-source platform it’s infinitely customisable.

A video conferencing system that streams in high-definition.
Free (trial)

Remo brings a quite different approach to video conferencing based on an interface that initially looks like a floorplan. Upon entering Remo, you will see a top-down, 2-D map view of an event venue, virtual office, conference, or school, full of interactive “rooms.” Each room hosts an always-on video chat for occupants of a room, making it easy for collaborators to pop in and out of conversations with ease.
Free (trial)

Skype is the video conferencing system by Microsoft. Free version limited to <10 participants; larger groups are catered for by Skype for Business.

The StarLeaf app is a simple, secure and reliable application for messaging, meetings and calling, inter-operable with other third party video calling devices. Free version is limited to meetings of 46min.
Free (trial)

Talky is a software for video chatting in groups up to 6 people. Rather than using a personal account, Talky uses unique URLs that you can share with those you’re meeting with.

UberConference – a product of the ride sharing service Uber – is a cloud-based conferencing system with one of the simplest interfaces in this kind of softwares. Free version limited to <10 participants.

For the Great Chinese Firewall not all communication platforms may work and/or be available in China – especially anything related to Google. If you need to connect to students there, you may try one of the following.

A conferencing and teaching app that works in China.
Free (trial)

The very impressive productivity app DingTalk by e-commerce giant Alibaba introduced new features for schools include live-streamed classes for as many as 300 students, and online testing and grading features. DingTalk features end-to-end 256-bit AES encryption over SSL/TLS connections. It is also one of the first Chinese apps to have obtained the ISO/IEC 27001:2013 standard.
Free (trial)

TenCent Meet
TenCent Meet is a cloud-based video conferencing app for up to 300 participants offered by the makers of the webportal

Digital Annotation
Use Genially to create presentations, interactive images, infographics, dossiers, quizzes, etc. enriched with interactivity and animation effects.
Free (trial)

Thinglink is a unique annotation tool that adds interactive links to images, videos. Upload an image, tag it and simply embed it on your website.
Free (trial)

Visual Collaboration

Conceptboard is a virtual collaboration tool, that boosts project management and improves collaboration. Work with teams, clients, and external partners across the globe on an infinite workspace as if you were in the same room.
Free (trial)

Since its inception in 2017, the Jamboard app now may also stand alone, i.e. collaborators may directly connect and work with each other without the Google hardware. (More information)

“Miro is an online collaborative whiteboarding platform to bring teams together, anytime, anywhere.” (More information)
Free (trial)

Mural is a digital workspace for visual collaboration via digital whiteboards. (More information)
Free (trial)

Padlet is a website and app that allows participants to curate information – videos, text, links, documents, images – onto virtual bulletin boards using a simple drag-and-drop system.
Free (trial)

AR/VR Collaboration

Spatial turns the space around you into a shared augmented workplace. Remote users can collaborate, search, brainstorm and share content as if they were in the same room.
Free (trial) 

Connec2 provides the same basic tools that you will find in any consultation room: whiteboards with markers, post-it’s to post comments, interactive presentations and Kanban boards with overviews of current projects and documents, but all in a virtual reality setting.

Spoke by Mozilla – the foundation behind the Firefox browser – allows to take 3D content from across the web, compose it into a custom scene and use them to meet up with others in VR.

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About the author

Peter Benz


  • I received the following comment from a colleague about his experience with Mozilla Hubs: “I spoke at a symposium in Hubs over the weekend, and the system worked exceptionally well. Being browser based, all it required was to click a link and join the room, and presenters shared their screens as floating 3D elements. One of the most interesting benefits was the 3D sound attenuation. After talks, I could walk into a corner of the room and have a relatively quiet conversation with other speakers and guests, rather than all audio sources competing over the same channel. I was genuinely surprised at the feeling of sociability that the platform achieved.”

    I though that sounded rather promising.

  • Today, when conferencing with a German institution I used BigBlueButton (link in list above) for the first time and must admit, I went away impressed. Very appealing interface, straight forward user flow, good stability, well considered functionalities. Obviously – like all systems – it has its strengths and weaknesses, but considering it comes with a GNU Lesser general Public License (=essentially for free), this seems a very reasonable choice.

By Peter Benz



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