Reach Out and Chat with Someone – Virtually! : 2010-05-25
We educators are always on the look out for something new and cool that can enhance our way to collaborate with others. Well, thanks to Jennifer Pugsley and Charlie Mahoney of Turning Point Learning Center in Emporia, Kansas I learned about Tokbox. Tokbox is a free, web based video collaboration tool. Yes, free! Another excellent point that will keep the IT Department from getting too upset is the fact that there is nothing to download and install. (The only concern the IT Department may have is the bandwidth used to stream your video conversation.)
So, I set out taking on the challenge placed in front of me to learn about this new tool. I asked if anyone on my main social networking site, Plurk, would join in the evaluation process of tokbox. I was joined by Eddie A. (JettaGLI), and two close friends from my former school district. During the original evaluation we discovered that folks can join a conference by just using audio to collaborate with the others using video. Eddie was successful in sharing photos from his Flickr account as well as showing a presentation from SlideShare. I found that a YouTube video could be played within the conference window for all participants to view and control. The interesting point about this feature is how the feed comes via tokbox. Thus, the participants behind the firewall could see the video. Another very nice application included with tokbox is Etherpad. You can have a private or public Etherpad used within your conference. Each person participating in collaborating via the Etherpad are identified by the color associated to their typing. A great feature provided by Etherpad is the ability to upload or download in a variety of documents to go along with the “save version” option to revert to a previous saved copy if needed. One of the lesser features that we felt was a really nice turned out to be the links for each video, Etherpad, presentation that can be re-visited by just clicking on them as you browse back over the main options. As we continued to chat and play with the features the school day ended with us hoping to reconnect.
Later that evening Eddie and I hosted another session in hopes of truly testing the limit of 20 participants that tokbox says can participate in a conference. Unfortunately, we were only able to get 6 people at one time to take the challenge. In testing tokbox that evening we had participants on PC and Macs collaborating and sharing resources without any issues. One of our participants, Dyane Smokorowski (aka Mrs.Smoke) even used CamTwist to share her Mac Book Pro desktop so we could see her demonstrate “How To” processes. Unfortunately, it did not come through as clearly as one would hope. Another thing we discovered dealt with bandwidth. We had one participant connecting to the Internet via his Alltel connection. Needless to say, he had troubles communicating with us due to delays while the rest of us were streaming smoothly.
Tokbox provides a wealth of other creative options for it’s users. One of the commonly used features is the ability to record and e-mail video messages to friends. These video e-mails can be for some simple message or for special moments including holidays via the templates hosted by tokbox. Tokbox also provides users the ability to embed it’s conference feature within a blog, wiki, or website. In addition, the opportunity to embed tokbox is now officially part of Ning networks. I have even went to the point of adding it to my Ning site that is used for promoting future teachers to districts looking to hire young educators. Click on this thumbnail picture to see an example of tokbox’s Ning feature.
Finally, I hope you consider watching the following overview video I created to show the features and functionality of tokbox. The video is 11 minutes in length.
All in all, I have been impressed with the features of tokbox and the potential ability to have several people involved in a single video conference. Maybe the challenge of hosting 20 people simultaneously can be answered after everyone reads this post and lets me know that they want to join the party. After all, I plan using this site on October 5, 2009 with my pre-service students so we can bring in educators across the globe to discuss how social networking and media can strengthen us professionally.