BigBlueButton: Open Source Software for Online Teaching

Brief: BigBlueButton is an open-source tool for video conferencing tailored for online teaching. Let’s take a look at what it offers.

In the year 2020, remote working from home is kind of the new normal. Of course, you cannot do everything remotely — but online teaching is something that’s possible.

Even though a lot of teachers and school organizations aren’t familiar with all the amazing tools available out there, some of the best open-source video conferencing tools are filling in the requirements to some extent.

Among the ones I mentioned for video calls, BigBlueButton caught my attention. Here, I’ll give you an overview of what it offers.

BigBlueButton: An Open Source Web Conferencing System for Online Teaching

Big Blue Button

BigBlueButton is an open-source web conferencing solution that aims to make online learning easy.

It is completely free to use but it requires you to set it up on your own server to use it as a full-fledged online learning solution.

BigBlueButton offers a really good set of features. You can easily try the demo instance and set it up on your server for your school.

Before you get started, take a look at the features:

Features of BigBlueButton

BigBlueButton provides a bunch of useful features tailored for teachers and schools for online classes, here’s what you get:

  • Live whiteboard
  • Public and private messaging options
  • Webcam support
  • Session recording support
  • Emojis support
  • Ability to group users for team collaboration
  • Polling options available
  • Screen sharing
  • Multi-user support for whiteboard
  • Ability to self-host it
  • Provides an API for easy integration on web applications

In addition to the features offered, you will find an easy-to-use UI i.e. Greenlight (the front-end interface for BigBlueButton) to set up when you configure it on your server.

You can try using the demo instance for casual usage to teach your students for free. However, considering the limitations (60 minutes limit) of using the demo instance to try BigBlueButton, I’d suggest you to host it on your server to explore all the functionality that it offers.

To get more clarity on how the features work, you might want to take a look at one of their official tutorials:

Installing BigBlueButton On Your Server

They offer a detailed documentation which should come in handy for every developer. The easiest and quickest way of setting it up is by using the bbb-install script but you can also explore other options if that does not work out for you.

For starters, you need a server running Ubuntu 16.04 LTS at least. You should take a look at the minimum requirements before deploying a server for BigBlueButton.

You can explore more about the project in their GitHub page.

If you’re someone who’s looking to set up a solution for online teaching, BigBlueButton is a great choice to explore.

It may not offer native smartphone apps — but you can surely access it using the web browser on your mobile. Of course, it’s better to find a laptop/computer to access an online teaching platform — but it works with mobile too.

What do you think about BigBlueButton for online teaching? Is there a better open-source project as an alternative to this? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Bigbluebutton is really nice platform to teach online, web conferencing, etc.
    I build my own teaching platform using bigbluebutton.

  • Open source, but not free, as in “free beer,” sadly. In fact, it could cost significantly more than other services, if you have a lot of students and require highly reliable servers for excessive live video instruction sessions like those that the COVID-19 virus are demanding.
    My school looked into it, but we already had a Zoom account, so we don’t get to use the incredible features of BigBlueButton, for now. :-(

      • Jitsi’s free servers seem to be getting hammered- in the course of the pandemic 2 groups I work with had to move to other tools because of stutters and drops.

        As far as beer: a scaled-up installation of BBB on a 32GB, 8cpu Linode server for $160/month should come in comparable to Zoom for a school, and have richer features, better privacy and security, and is *way* more customizable. I run a BBB for $10/month that works fine with smaller groups.

        • I don’t know where you are located, but in Germany (Hetzner.com) you can get a quality dedicated server for € 118 (AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, 16 core, 128 GB DDR4 ECC, 2 x 3,84 TB NVMe SSD). Way better than zoom and cheaper than Linode

  • It does have everything fundamental needed!
    However, it is a bit puzzling the “Share a YouTube video” feature; I don’t want be pedant and I don’t want to end up censuring YT, but I find it disheartening that the open source solution only offers a feature for only YT videos… Maybe is a problem of codecs or so, but one could at least put it as other platforms will be added latter on.

    • You can also share Vimeo links. The Vimeo and YouTube videos okay at all participants but are controlled by the presenter. Works really nice.

    • You can also share Vimeo links. The Vimeo and YouTube videos play locally at all participants but are controlled by the presenter. Works really nice.