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 some communities.
- 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.
- Shared 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 products.
- 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.
- Example: Netscape can be configured to recognize chat files (see Internet Resources below).
- 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 Web.
- Requirements: Web tours are usually part of an Internet teleconferencing package.
- 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 the Internet.
- 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).
- BBS Software at Yahoo
A complete list of bulletin board software (BBS) with links to products.
- Concord BBS Website
A fully functional shareware BBS for PC's.
- Public Address BBS
A Macintosh-based shareware BBS.
- The Well BBS
The Well is one of the oldest BBS and community networks in the world.
- Global Chat
Information on configuring Netscape Navigator for chatting.
- Internet Relay Chat Information
A complete resource for learning more about Internet Relay Chat (IRC).
Internet Conferencing Resources
- Conferencing on the Web
"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 Websites.
- Web-Based Conferencing
Examples of Web-based conferencing for learning.
- CSCW and Groupware Resources
A complete resource on all aspects of computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW), Groupware, and Internet conferencing.
- Virtual Classrom Project
A project at New Jersey Institute of Technology to study and develop tools for the virtual classroom.
Back to Internet Teleconferencing Module