Supporting our customers during Covid-19

Before Covid-19 most schools had a (relatively small) portion of their classes online. 

If you are an instructional technologist in higher ed, perhaps you had a series of online classes for professional development, or if you are a superintendent for a K-12, perhaps you had a virtual high school to ensure at-risk kids could still graduate. Overall, the ratio of online classes was small in proportion to your physical classes.

When Covid-19 took hold during early March, this ratio completely flipped. Nearly every school in North America moved fully online in a matter of a few weeks.   

This move caused a huge demand for online classes, and, in turn, a huge demand for hosting of BigBlueButton from Blindside Networks.

Blindside Networks developed BigBlueButton for one market: online learning.  Having launched BigBlueButton in 2008 as an open source project for which we provide commercial hosting, over the years we saw steady and organic growth as K-12, higher education, and training organizations world-wide used it for tutoring, group collaboration, proctoring, and full online classes.   

As other web conferencing systems focused on the needs of businesses, BigBlueButton focusing on the needs of the instructor to engage student for learning through  

  • Chat and emojis
  • Multi-user whiteboard
  • Polling
  • Shared notes
  • Breakout rooms

As a result of this focus, over the years, Canvas, Schoology, Moodle Cloud, and Jenzabar all integrated BigBlueButton as their default, built-in virtual classroom. This deep integration of BigBlueButton – each hosted by Blindside Networks – made it easy for instructors to launch into an online class with a single click. (Interesting side note: D2L also embedded BigBlueButton into their product via third-party hosting that, in turn, based their virtual classroom system on BigBlueButton – a significant design for BigBlueButton’s success as an open source project.)

When schools in North America began to close, our growth became exponential.  In a period of a few short weeks in March we had increased the capacity of our hosting environment by a factor of twenty-five (25).  (That’s not a typo!)  

K-12 schools were some of the largest adopters of BigBlueButton.  Partly because BigBlueButton was already built into their LMS and partly because we designed BigBlueButton to give teachers fine-grain control over student permissions (such as locking down editing of shared notes and private chat).  After schools closed, medium-sized K-12 districts began holding 100’s of concurrent sessions, and some larger districts, such as Orange County Public Schools, began holding 1000’s of concurrent sessions.  “These numbers are mind-boggling,” wrote Rob Bixler, Associate Superintendent: Curriculum & Digital Learning, Orange County Public Schools.

Despite the exponential growth, we continued to add new features to BigBlueButton for increased security and student engagement: 

  • increased the dial-in PIN number to 9 digits for added security,
  • gave instructors the ability to remove any user (phone or client) for the duration of the session, and
  • added sharing of Vimeo videos along with YouTube and Canvas Studio videos. 

To help the instructor assess students after each recorded session, we provide detailed analytics on what each student had done during the class. These analytics help instructors answer questions such as how long was each student in the class, student participation – how active (or inactive) were they during the class, and what was each student’s response to any polls.  

Because BigBlueButton is open source, Schools could also opt to setup their own BigBlueButton servers. “Rock solid, feature packed, and perfect for schools,” wrote Daniel Elwell, Head of IT, Invictus Education Trust.

Covid-19 is still with us, and it is still preventing many schools from moving back to physical classrooms full time. 

We expect our growth to continue, and we will keep our hosting and development of BigBlueButton focused on the needs of instructors to ensure their students have a high-quality online learning experience.