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Online Meetings and Collaboration

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Meetings

What should you use for online meetings? There are many solutions, but the School recommends only Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams, which are supported by the University. They have different strengths:

Microsoft Teams is best for one-to-one meetings, or group meetings with less than 250 participants.

Blackboard Collaborate is best for larger meetings, for one-to-many presentation or seminar events, for when you need breakout groups, and for online recruitment and interviews. Slides and videos can be shared with external viewers, who need not be University staff or students.

Chat

Scheduled meetings don't replace the office environment where you can easily talk to people in the office or pop to another office on a whim. To do this online, use text-based chat rooms. Use these to join groups of people with common interests or working areas at the start of each day. They can be distracting, but are a very effective way of staying in touch.

Many online meeting platforms offer chat facilities, but Microsoft Teams is the School’s preferred chat platform.

See also

University guides:

More Informatics help:

Other guidance:

Teams or Collaborate? Your views

Here's what some users have told us:

Microsoft Teams
Full-featured collaboration software, designed for work groups. Recommended by quite a few people. The University has a licence for all of Office 365. Groups in Bayes have been using it regularly for months successfully. It also provides Slack-like features like chat and channels. All University students and staff automatically have free accounts and can easily join. Quality has been reported to be on par with Collaborate and currently better than Skype. I personally have also managed to add a non-Uni person on Teams with no hassle.
  • UoE license does not seem to allow guest (non-UoE) access.
  • Requires installing Teams app or use Google Chrome or MS Edge (no other browsers are supported).
  • no always-open rooms, but 1 click to create a room on the fly which everyone can see in their notification stream, 1 click to join.
  • A 'team' is roughly like a Slack workspace but it's a bit easier to see activity in other teams than other workspaces in Slack.
  • Anyone in the team can create new channels (private or open).
  • Chat, video/audio meetings, calendar, etc. are well integrated.
  • No way to 'raise hand'. Based on brief experience so far with both Collaborate and Teams, moderator+hand-raising is super important for larger groups. (Note this feature has been requested and there are a huge number of urgent pleas on the MS support pages in the last two weeks to speed it up...)
  • meetings can only show 4 simultaneous video feeds and auto switches between participants when there are more than four.
  • Platform support:
    • works well on DICE/Linux using Google Chrome browser, Chromium browser or the downloaded native application (which is actually just a bundled instance of the Chrome browser).
    • on DICE/Linux using the Firefox browser you get a deliberately reduced version, this is probably because it doesn't fully implement all the local APIs required yet. For example you may have problems making audio/video calls, however text chatroom functionality seems to work fine.
    • as far as we know it works fine on all other platforms - Windows10, MacOS and mobiles (Android/iOS) if using Chrome or the downloaded native application, but YMMV if using Firefox, Edge or Safari.
    • in the downloaded native application or the Chrome browser you can also do additional things that are not available in the browser, e.g. screen sharing
    • remote desktop control only works if the user is running the native Windows10 application, it does not work if the remote user is using Linux
Blackboard Collaborate
Accessible to non-UoE participants, and multiple levels of permissions (designed for teacher and students). Multiple people describe it as "surprisingly not bad". For classroom environments it also has the "raise hand" feature which is well liked. It is good for group meetings where there is a clear moderator (classrooms, tutorials, structured lab meetings). You can also give or block presentation rights to random attendees like students. The "raise hand" feature also seems to improve the "who is talking next" problem if there is a moderator. Personally, I have been using it for office hours meetings and it has been working well. People without University accounts also seem able to access it without issue.
  • online meeting rooms accessible via link, to UoE and non-UoE
  • can have an always-open meeting room or schedule sessions
  • for students to schedule sessions, must do through MyEd, only one-off sessions. (People with Learn classes can schedule repeating.)
  • tools include whiteboard, raise hand, share files, chat, and breakout sessions
  • moderators can:
    • erase whiteboard or create breakout sessions
    • control who is a presenter or participant (including guests)
    • turn on/off other people's audio/video
    • turn on/off session recording
  • presenters and moderators can:
    • share files
  • Platform Support:
    • No known issues with MacOS/Linux using Chrome or Firefox
    • Windows10: works with Chrome, Firefox, Edge v42 and newest Edge/Chromium - does not work with Edge v44 (audio broken)

Other Tools

The School does not currently recommend the use of any other tool for work related online meetings and collaboration. See the following statement from the University CISO (Chief Information Security Officer).

The University offers and supports a number of Office 365 based collaboration tools to help remote working and staff should use them as their default choices. Details can be found at https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/computing/desktop-personal/off...

We recognize that some external organisations may set up meetings using other tools; however, given the wide range of solutions available, it is not practical to conduct a detailed risk assessment on them. We therefore recommend that prior to joining such calls, staff ensure they have contacted the meeting organiser to check what data they may be sharing (which could include details of personal devices), where that data will be processed and whether calls are going to be recorded. This is particularly important if any personal information is going to be shared during the call.

The School cannot adequately support people who have issues using tools which are not supported by the University.

Zoom

The School does not recommend the use of Zoom, see the Using Zoom page.

The Rest

The School does not currently recommend the use of any of these tools for most University business largely for the reasons given Using Zoom, however there are reasonable specific use cases where these tools might be appropriate.

Google Hangouts
Several people report using this regularly with good results. Requires a Google account but is otherwise free. Personally, I have seen it handle quite large group chats fairly seamlessly.
Vscene
The University seems to have a site license for it. You have to sign up for an account and then get approval "by your Organization" which happens without your intervention, but took me about 20 minutes of waiting. Only the person initiating the call needs an account. It is browser based, and when I did a practice call with a PhD student today it seemed to work ok though the video resolution was a bit low, which may be a good thing. It has a white board feature, but no "raise hand" feature. For more details, see booking Vscene for videoconferencing.
Skype for Business
Skype For Business is offered as part of the University's Office 365 deal but will be retired in summer 2021 in favour of Teams, see Skype for Business. The School position on the use of Skype for Business is that it should be avoided as it will create confusion for School colleagues on which platform to monitor given both platforms offer "chat" functions as well. No one explicitly recommended Skype, but many people used it as a comparison point, so I think many of us are using it. One person states that their experience is that Skype is still widely prefered for one-to-one meetings, but is perceived as not scaling well to larger meetings. Not that I have actually tested that. Apparently counter to this some use Skype because the participant limit in Teams is not high enough. Due to licensing restrictions Skype cannot be made available on DICE.
Jitsi
A lightweight Skype-like tool that is open source. The person suggesting this has used it with 10 people before with no issues. ⇒ jitsi.org.
Discord
Video, audio and chat for small groups, with the option for one person to screen share. Free, easy to setup, browser based, no registration needed for participants. Quality can degrade significantly on longer calls. ⇒ discordapp.com.

Footnote

Much of the content on this page was supplied by users - thanks! And thanks in particular to Kami who collated many of the responses.

Last reviewed: 
16/03/2020

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