Top tips for using BigBlueButton (BBB)

BigBlueButton (BBB) is an open-source online classroom package. I first started playing around with it a couple of years ago, because it provides the latest classroom features and tools in eWorks’ TrainingVC learning management system. Since then I have become a regular user – I attended a couple of online iMoots which were run using BBB in 2013 and 2014, and now do online training and consulting using it.

I really like BBB, and have enjoyed the new versions and extra features that have been released over the years. I’m especially excited about the start/stop recording option within sessions that will be included in the next release. But like any online package, I see the same queries come through eWorks’ support desk from time to time. So here are my top tips for using BigBlueButton.

Tip #1: Create a ‘practice’ session for learners to check their equipment

Make a BBB session in your course that is not recorded so that your learners can check their audio equipment before your first session. Not only will this make first time users more confident in the online classroom, it will minimise any user related technical glitches, such as volume settings, and get your session started without delay. Encourage learners to look at the available video about using BBB as a ‘viewer’ once they are in the practice session:

[Note: this tip is superseded in v0.91, which provides an equipment test prior to joining the session.] 

Tip #2: Provide users with a frequently asked questions sheet

This way, users have answers to any issues that arise either prior to or during sessions, such as those relating to microphones. A good place to put the link to the FAQs sheet is in an HTML block.

Tip #3: Use PDFs

If you are using notes for your session save them as a PDF. Early on I used a PowerPoint file, and found that my text turned into hieroglyphics as I had used a font unknown by BBB! You won’t have these issues with PDFs. Microsoft Office documents are converted into PDFs by BBB, so you will always get better, safer results if you save your Word and PowerPoint documents as PDFs and then upload them. And please note that animations in PowerPoint will not display.

Tip #4: Use PDFs for whiteboard

If you plan to draw on a virtual whiteboard upload some blank PDF pages to use. Although BBB doesn’t have a whiteboard to write on, you can use the text, drawing and other tools to write on a PDF.

Tip #5: Use a headset with a USB connection

To get the best quality audio, use a good headset which has a USB connection to your computer. Using the computer speakers and microphone does work, but is not the recommended option.

Tip #6: Sound problems?

Audio is vital with a BBB session and this is where most of the issues that I have come across come up. Some hints:

  1. Is your headset on mute? This one is close to my heart, as much to my embarrassment I accidentally knocked the switch on my headset and was on mute one time during an online presentation.
  2. Is your microphone on mute? Check the microphone icon at the top is not muted so that you don’t miss out on all the fun!
  3. Does your headset have a microphone? Yes, I have actually come across this one!
  4. Did you accept the ‘use my microphone’ in the pop-up window when you joined the session? If not, then log out and back in again.
  5. Is the microphone working properly? If it is, the microphone icon next to the participant’s name will go fuzzy  when he or she speaks.   mic micfuzzy

Tip #7: Recordings

Can’t find your recording? All recordings can be seen in the ‘RecordingsBN’ resource. BBB does some background work to create the recordings, so they may take some time to appear and longer sessions will take a bit more time.

Tip #8: Mute participants as they enter the session

Muting all audio at the beginning of the session will stop unwanted conversations being captured in the recording.

Tip #9: Desktop sharing

The recent updates to Safari and Firefox on Mac OS X have introduced more security checks for running Java applets. These checks appear as dialogue boxes when starting and stopping BBB’s desktop sharing. To help presenters use desktop sharing on Mac OS X, BBB has created two new tutorial videos:

Tip #10: Let your learners know how far into the session the recording starts

Because BBB doesn’t yet have the facility to start and stop recording while the session is in progress, recorded sessions will begin when the first person enters the session and end when the last person exits. This means that if you want to upload resources for the session, the recording will start when you go in to do this as you can’t pre-load resources. Therefore, the part of the session that you actually want recorded will not start for some minutes into the recording. To make life easier for your learners, create a label to let them know how far into the session the important information begins. For example:

Fortunately this won’t be a problem for much longer, as a start/stop recording option within sessions will be included in the next BBB release.

[Note: start/stop recording available in v0.91.]

Tip #11: Install latest version of Java for screen sharing

This one is for moderators and presenters only.

If you are the presenter or moderator and you want to share your screen or desktop, make sure the latest version of Java is installed (minimum Java 7u35). You can check your version on the Java website. Please note that learners and viewers do not need Java.

[Note: Chrome has removed ability to launch Java applets. Firefox recommended for screen sharing]

Tip #12: Internet speed

If your internet speed is slow (less than 0.5 Mbits/sec upload speed and 1.0 Mbits/sec download), then your audio may be poor. So be sure to test it prior to a session on the speedtest website. Turning off your camera may also help.

Tip #13: Computer ‘grunt’

If your computer is not powerful enough for what you are doing BBB will give you the option to lower your colour resolution. You should take this option, and warn your users that the screen will go black for a second or so while this takes effect.

Tip #14: Smartphones and tablets and Flash

Smartphones and tablets are currently not supported due to the use of Flash. There is further information about progress with this at on the Big Blue Button website.

Tip #15: Number of concurrent users

BBB recommends up to 25 participants in a BBB session. This will encourage the optimum experience for your learners with respect to classroom interaction and download speeds and ensure that you can moderate the session effectively.

Tip #16: Still stuck?

If you still need a hand there is great information available on the BBB frequently asked questions site. I’m also happy for you to contact me with any specific questions that you might have. And if you’re looking for a learning management system with the latest live classroom features and tools from Big Blue Button, take a look at TrainingVC.