Tools to help you facilitate meetings online

So a coworker and I put together a quick document about how to run an online book group and part of that was to include ways to communicate. We included all the things we already knew or have been hearing about. Obviously, not all of these will work for learning circles or for other groups, but here’s what we have:

Survey Monkey - This is a great way to poll group members about where they want to meet or what books they want to read next.

Goodreads - Create a Goodreads group, where you can poll your members and have a forum/text discussion, with you as the moderator. This has no phone or video aspect.

Zoom - A video/chat conferencing service where you can host up to 100 people, but your meetings can only last up to 40 minutes with a free account. There is an app for this.

Google Hangouts - Video/chat conferencing via your computer or as an app.

Jitsi Meet - Video/chat conferencing without an account. Put in the name of your group meeting and it opens up a conference call right then and there. Works on their website and as an app.

Free Conference Call - This is what our union uses for our conference calls. It sets up a phone number and a passcode members would use to connect in. This is over the phone, with no video aspect.

Facebook - if you have a following on your branch Facebook page, utilize it! You can hold a text-based group discussion in the comments of a post.

Uberconference - Host a video/chat conference with up to 50 people for up to 5 hours. (The free account is usually up to 10 people and up to 45 minutes, but because of the virus, they’ve done a temporary upgrade.) It can support both video chat from a computer and audio calls from any telephone, making it even easier to use for groups who may not have access to a computer with a microphone or the internet. *This one was recommended by our IT team.

Slack is also great for small groups to have forums to discuss things in.

My department at work is currently using slack to keep in touch along with email, but primarily in place of email and other methods of communicating. Since I already had a Slack account for learning circles that I’d abandoned awhile ago, I dusted it off and we have it as a backup in case of Jitsi problems.


I like - I’ve used it in the past to host and demonstrate blended courses I created as assignments when studying instructional design and it worked well.

The free plan allows up to 10 participants in a course which I feel is a good size for a learning circle. It has a free built-in web-conferencing tool to schedule and host virtual meetings built-in which includes features like shared whiteboards, breakout rooms etc.

It also comes with all the usual Moodle features to facilitate sharing all kinds of resources and media, as well as discussion forums, polls, assignments, quizzes etc - simply turn on or off as needed. It also allows you to issue certificates and/or badges to those who complete. And it’s compatible with the app which features built-in messaging.

I find Moodle really intuitive to use - and it has everything you need in one platform, rather than trying to cobble together a solution across several different apps and sites.

For anyone unfamiliar with Moodle who would like to learn the basics, there is of course :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: a free self-paced course at . Perfect to keep you learning during times of isolation :mask:

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I just discovered Unhangout through @grif 's post. This looks like a perfect tool for online learning circles.
If you are looking for other free open-source online tools, Framasoft is a great resource: In particular, they offer a free Etherpad service called Framapad which I use for learning circles:

I moved your post here, @svigneau - we know the people who built unhangout very well (@katherine is involved). We’d be happy to put you in touch / think through whether it’s worth trying Unhangout for the next BosLab learning circle.

Thank you @grif! I am looking at Unhangout now (I created a test event) and it seems there is no video conferencing or Etherpad in the lobby area but only in the breakout rooms, which doesn’t allow to alternate between small and large group activities. @katherine, is it a feature you might consider adding? (Maybe this should be a discussion for yet another thread.)
Edit: On a second thought, a simple solution may be to name one of the breakout rooms as “main room”.
Edit 2: A problem with this solution, though, is that participants can belong to only one breakout room a the time, and therefore it doesn’t allow collaborative editing of the same document by participants in different breakout rooms.

Hey @svigneau & @grif – happy to chime in here!

I think you’re right that you could simply use one of the breakout rooms as the “main room”, but you’re also correct that currently participants can only be in one breakout room at a time. However, I’ll also mention that there is a feature that allows an Unhangout host to send a message to all breakout rooms, which will appear as a text pop up in the corner of the screen – this could be used to ask people to move back and forth between the “main room” breakout and other rooms.

You’re also correct that the etherpads are unique to each breakout room – one workaround that I can think of off the top of my head is to ask small groups to come back to the “main room” and paste in their contributions to that etherpad. Not super elegant, but could work! Alternatively, you could just ignore the Unhangout etherpad and ask participants to navigate to a separate link instead.

Lastly, I’ll share some links here to a few guides that we have for running Unhangouts that might be a useful general resource!

How to Unhangout Guidebook:
How to stream live w/ YouTube (recommended):

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Thank you @katherine for the clarification and links! I suppose keeping an external etherpad would be the best solution in my case.

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Stumbled across this and think it will be really useful :slight_smile:

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I do think the split screen Jitsi / Etherpad would be very helpful functionality for folks who got lost in tabs easily.

After a bit more experience facilitating learning circles where people had to navigate between Jitsi and Etherpad, and identify themselves in both tools, I am also quite convinced of the advantages of the unified interface provided by Unhangout.

Hi all!

Here at the Wichita Public Library we’re getting reading to host our online Learning Circle in July and are trying to figure out what software to use to present. We tested Jitsi today and found that, although it worked great for video chatting, it was pretty slow and choppy when we tried sharing screens or showing a video. Since our Learning Circles pretty much revolve around showing a video and then talking about it, we’re going to want to solve this.

So my question is, is there something we can do to improve Jitsi’s performance?–Especially keeping in mind that at least some of our participants are likely to have slower internet that what we have here at the library. Or are we better off with another platform? After reading through this thread, I’m planning to experiment with moodlecloud, Uberconference, and Unhangout. Anything else I should try out?

Thanks so much!
Noelle Barrick, @SaraDixon, and @Jennifer_Durham

So far I’ve only used Jitsi. When things get choppy, everyone mutes themselves and turns off their cameras, except the one talking, and that cuts down on the bandwidth used and seems to solve the problem. But we have not been doing screen sharing or watching videos with it, so that might make things a little different.

Hey @Noelle! I know that myself, @svigneau and @Ulonda_Slaughter have all decided against live streaming video to participants. Instead, when it’s time to watch a video, we all mute ourselves and watch the video on our own computer.

It’s definitely a little awkward at first, but it gets normalized very quickly :slight_smile:

The best luck I’ve had streaming with Jitsi is with Youtube videos, as you can embed Youtube videos directly into Jitsi (rather than just sharing your screen) This has tended to be less choppy, and it also automutes everyone while the video is playing.

Here’s a gratuitous screenshot of where you can find that button:

Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 9.59.04 AM

Thanks for the feedback! We’ll experiment with the course content to see if it’s feasible to have participants view it separately. Maybe even before the course? If we did it that way we could get more content in, since I was planning to cut course content to fit it into our framework.

Thanks, all!

For the courses that I run (and created) most of the work is done by learners at home on their own time. It’s a lot of heavy article reading and then writing exercises (for a creative writing course) and then we come together and talk about what they read, what they got out of it or didn’t get out of it. And then we go into other group exercises.

So, I think it’s perfectly valid to have them watch the videos on their own time.