Navigate 2.1.3 Commercial versus Open Virtual Classrooms


cadillac                                                  ford focus

The primary advantages of the commercial products are the scope of capabilities of the programs and the length of time that they have been in use .  The amount of troubleshooting that has occurred with any given product is directly related to how long the product has been developed.  Not that bugs never occur in their usage, but the established commercial products have a significantly greater ability to quickly deal with technical issues that arise.  There is nothing quite like being in the middle of a live synchronous session only to have things go awry.  The scope of almost all established commercial products includes video-conferencing, sharing all kinds of files, including PowerPoint, Word, images and PDF’s, showing videos and sharing audio files.  These advanced products allow participants to truly participate.  They not only have screen sharing, but also application sharing.  Students can interact with the shared applications and use the whiteboard functions.  Some products allow the moderator to create breakout rooms.  These can be used to put participants in groups and to put disruptive participants in time out.  This is an extremely useful tool.

Therefore, once a teacher and the students experience all of these capabilities in a session, it is difficult to give some of them up.  It is like driving the new Cadillac CTS-V SEDAN.  When you have to give up the special features, it is difficult.  When you step over to the Ford Focus you do experience some loss.  However, if you drive a Cadillac you are paying a premium price for the luxury.  The Ford may be what is cost efficient for a particular audience.

The open source products have the distinct advantage of being able to respond to the specific needs of their constituents.  From the ground level, the product can be designed to perform the way the stakeholders wish.  There will not be the years of experience of the commercial products, but the users will not be locked into a model that does not fit their expectations.  I sometimes forget now that people learned effectively when there were no videos, no slide-share programs, no tape recordings and only chalkboards, not whiteboards.  Since that is a given, then it is not essential to have all of the bells and whistles of the commercial products for learning to take place.

We look at the differences between a vendor-supplied product with a lot of tools and support from the vendor and the open source products which can more easily be modified to meet specific needs but require user upkeep and technical support.  Finally, the Cadillac and the Ford can both take you from where you are to where you want to go.  Both kinds of products can enhance learning.

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