Conferencing on the Internet
Conferencing brings together groups of people to share
their experiences, knowledge, and expertise. Traditional conferences have
required that people share the same physical space and time. With the advent
of technology, and telecommunications, conferences no longer require a shared
physical space, but still require a coordinated time for participants to meet.
This activity introduces you to the basics of Internet conferencing, the types
of conferencing tools available, background on how conferencing is supported
on the Internet, and links to more information.
- Learn how the Internet can support conferencing.
- Learn how the MBONE
can support videoconferencing on the Internet.
- Learn about
teleconferencing tools, including whiteboards, chat rooms, and Web tours.
- Learn where to get more information on Internet teleconferencing.
Materials and Resources
In developing our lessons and activities, we made
some assumptions about the hardware and software that would be available in
the classroom for teachers who visit the LETSNet Website. We assume that
teachers using our Internet-based lessons or activities have a computer (PC or
Macintosh) with the necessary hardware components (mouse, keyboard, and
monitor) as well as software (operating system, TCP/IP software, networking
or dial-up software, e-mail and a World Wide Web client program, preferably
Netscape, but perhaps Mosaic or Lynx). In the section below, we specify any
"special" hardware or software requirements for a lesson or
activity (in addition to those described above) and the level of Internet access
required to do the activity.
- Special hardware requirements: none.
- Special software requirements: none.
- Internet access: Medium-speed (28,800 BPS via phone) or higher.
Conferencing has long been a productive tool for
professional development and learning by bringing together people with
different expertise and abilities so they can learn from each other. The
Internet, and other technologies, support conferencing across spatial
boundaries by connecting people electronically. There is a variety of Internet
conferencing tools, including video cameras, whiteboard software, groupware
tools, and Web conferencing products.
Each of the major categories of
Internet conferencing tools are listed below, along with a brief description
and the equipment required to support Internet conferences.
- Videoconferencing: Video represents real-time moving images,
usually at 30 frames per second (fps) or slower, broadcast and received over
the Internet. Video is an especially powerful medium for human
communication, since it supports visual and audio cues for social interaction.
Video also requires a large bandwidth for transmission and reception, since
each second of video represents between 10 and 30 frames. Video sent over
the Internet travels on the MBONE (Multicast Backbone of the Internet)
allowing people to send and receive real-time video broadcasts. MBONE
requires client software to send and receive the video images, as well as a
multicast router or reflector (for Macintosh computers) to pass video images
amongst participating computers.
- Requirements: Videoconferencing
requires a video camera, microphone, speakers or headphones, sound
capability, video capability, and associated software and networking
components. Most Apple Macintosh and IBM PC compatible multimedia
computers now include everything you need to use videoconferencing except
the video camera, video software, and networking products. The networking
can occur over fast ethernet, TCP/IP (the Internet), or via Integrated Services
Digital Network (ISDN), which are digital telephone cables now available in
- Example: CU-SeeMe is a videoconferencing tool
developed at Cornell University that works over the Internet in combination
with a video camera, microphone, speakers, and TCP/IP software. (See
Activity 3 for more on how to use CU-SeeMe for classroom videoconferencing.)
If you are using a Macintosh computer that has Quicktime, a microphone,
speakers, and a Connectix video camera, all you need is the CU-SeeMe software
and access to a reflector for videconferencing. If you are using a PC with
Windows, Windows/95, or Windows/NT, CU-SeeMe is available for these
systems. Other examples of Internet videoconferencing tools include
PictureTel, PicturePhone, Quicktime Conferencing Kit, and MBONE Desktop
Application Software. For more on alternative Internet videoconferencing
products, see the Internet Resources below.
Whiteboard: In the business world, most conference rooms have a
whiteboard, similar to a school blackboard but with colored markers instead
of chalk for drawing and writing. Shared whiteboards support collaborative
writing or drawing on the Internet by sending and receiving the contents of the
whiteboard or drawing window to everyone who participates in the conference.
Anything written or drawn on the shared whiteboard will show up on
everyone's display. Shared whiteboards are usually included as a basic
component of other teleconferencing or videoconferencing tools, such as
CU-SeeMe or PowWow, and have no special requirements over and above these
- Bulletin Board Systems (or BBS): An online bulletin
board is a shared meeting place for people on the Internet. BBS's normally can
be connected to by using TelNet, a text-based terminal emulation program.
- Requirements: Setting up a BBS involves dedicating a computer as a
server (or using a BBS someone else has setup), installing the necessary
software, establishing users, and operating the BBS.
- Example: Public
Address is a BBS for the Macintosh, while Concord is a BBS for IBM PC's (see
Internet Resources below). A good example of a publicly available BBS is the
Well, which has been around for over ten years.
- Chat windows
or rooms: Chat windows or rooms allow people to share what they type.
These are primarily text-only systems, with the exception of MUD's and MOO's,
but include a window for typing your own comments and another window that
displays whatever everyone else is typing. The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is the
original interactive chat feature, and many Web browser programs support IRC.
Netscape Navigator can use IRC and other chat protocols (see Internet
Resources below). In addition, many teleconferencing and videoconferencing
tools support their own chat feature.
- Requirements: Chat rooms
require browser support for IRC or global chat protocol.
Netscape can be configured to recognize chat files (see Internet Resources
- Web tours: A newer conferencing tool supports a
group of people all browsing the Web with a single person acting as the tour
guide and taking them to interesting Websites. This happens when a group
shares teleconferencing software (such as PowWow) and indicate within that
tool that they will go on a Web tour. Someone is designated as the tour leader
and then software shows everyone the pages the tour guide navigates to on the
- Requirements: Web tours are usually part of an Internet
- Example: PowWow from Tribal Voices is a
PC/Windows-based teleconferencing tool that supports Web tours (see
Activity 3 for more on PowWow).
- Groupware, or
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) tools: Groupware tools
support people working together using computer technology. Groupware often
includes e-mail, shared scheduling, shared whiteboard, and chat areas, and
collaborative writing and design. A variety of groupware or CSCW tools are
available, and there is work underway to support more of these functions over
- Requirements: Groupware or CSCW tools often require
proprietary software and are commercial products. Many of these tools are
being modified to work over the Internet, but most require a dedicated server
that manages all groupware functions.
- Example: Groupwise from Novell,
Collabra Share from Netscape, Lotus Notes from IBM, and TeamTalk from Trax
Software. There are a variety of Internet resources for anyone interested in
learning more about groupware and CSCW (see Internet Resources below).
Software at Yahoo
A complete list of bulletin board software (BBS) with links to products.
- Concord BBS
fully functional shareware BBS for PC's.
A Macintosh-based shareware BBS.
The Well is one of the oldest
BBS and community networks in the world.
Information on configuring Netscape Navigator for chatting.
- Internet Relay Chat
A complete resource for learning more about Internet Relay Chat (IRC).
Internet Conferencing Resources
- Conferencing on
"A guide to software that powers discussion forums on the Web." Includes
links to "free" Web conferencing software.
Videoconferencing Resources at Yahoo
An updated list of videoconferencing companies with links to their
Web-based conferencing for learning.
- CSCW and
A complete resource on
all aspects of computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW), Groupware, and
A project at
New Jersey Institute of Technology to study and develop tools for the virtual
Internet Teleconferencing Module
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