April 28, 2014
A contingent of international developers gathered at Carleton University last week to continue work on the open source online education portal, BigBlueButton—a hugely successful project that started in 2007 through Carleton’s Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) program.
“BigBlueButton is a great story of leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and community engagement,” said Dr. Steven Muegge, assistant professor with Carleton’s Sprott School of Business and Executive Director of the BigBlueButton Foundation. “Educators and non-educators use it all over the world.”
“The project started back in 2006 with our hope of expanding Carleton’s TIM program to reach a global student audience,” said Tony Bailetti, Director of TIM. “Travel is expensive. The goal was to allow remote students to attend classes without travel. The TIM program started using a commercial web-conferencing system to reach remote students, but it was also expensive.”
BigBlueButton was created by a group of developers, originally led by Richard Alam, a TIM student at the time, who believed strongly in the project’s social benefits and entrepreneurial opportunities. Since 2007, this growing group of international collaborators has been fixing issues, adding new features, refactoring code, localizing the system for more than 35 different languages and dialects, and focusing on making sure the platform is solid and usable for their target market.
“Tony Bailetti challenged me to write an open source web-conferencing system for the TIM program and enable it to reach global students,” said Alam. “Working with Denis Zgonjanin, then a student in Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton, I built an early version of BigBlueButton and, in the fall of 2007, the TIM program started using it for its remote students. My thesis focused on how to make money from open source projects.”
Online education has the potential to provide students everywhere with access to the best teachers, the best course materials and the best learning environment, but there are barriers. While availability of high-speed networks has increased, for many educational institutions the technology costs associated with delivering online courses have also increased at a time when their funding has not.
BigBlueButton is designed to help educational institutions provide remote students with a high-quality online learning experience. This project enables real-time sharing of audio, video, slides, desktops and chat. It is designed to deliver one-on-one sessions, small group collaboration and online courses with up to 50 students.
With a growing BigBlueButton community, serial entrepreneur and developer, Fred Dixon joined forces with Alam and Zgonjanin in 2009 to form Blindside Networks, a company pursuing the traditional open source business model of providing commercial support for BigBlueButton.
“Looking back, about 75 per cent of our effort went into building the software and community,” says Dixon, CEO of Blindside Networks. “It was, and still is, a volunteer effort without end. We were constantly coding, documenting, testing and releasing updates to the project, then we would post updates to the mailing list and help others get their BigBlueButton servers going. The best part was getting feedback very quickly on the parts that needed improvement.”
About Entrepreneurship at Carleton
Carleton is a leader in entrepreneurship with several successful programs and initiatives that have helped grow new companies and products, including Technology Innovation Management (TIM), Sprott’s Bachelor and Minor in Entrepreneurship, Lead to Win, Global Start, Carleton Entrepreneurs, Nicol Entrepreneurial Institute and 1125@Carleton.
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