When teaching a class using synchronous learning you want the technology to be very easy to use and reduce technical problems to as close to zero as possible. The program being used should work across multiple platforms and devices. Unless you, as a school, are providing the hardware the software used for meeting has to work across android, iOS, and windows devices. It also needs to be equally easy to use on a desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone unless requirements have been clearly laid out before students have registered for the class. The goal of a synchronous class is to have all the students participate equally without delays or lagging when they communicate. You want a clear picture of what is being presented with all speech coming through easily regardless of how the students are connecting, hardwired into a fast connection, using a wireless connection at a store, or dialing in. There should also be a way to record what is happening so that it can be archived for replaying at a later time.
When looking at software to run your class cost is also a factor. There is some software available that is open source, which is free, and there are various levels of commercial software that you can buy. There are many programs available at many different price points and differing levels of available services.
First a quick look at commercial platforms. Adobe, Cisco, and Blackboard each have platforms that can host entire districts easily. They have features that allow for testing, large and small meetings, small breakout sessions, and have a host of other services that enhance the online schoolroom. Cisco WebEx also allows students to pay for individual training sessions which would allow a paid tutoring option if the school or district would be interested in offering that service. Blackboard was designed for a virtual classroom and has been used by many districts and universities. It’s a platform that many people are already familiar with so there wouldn’t be a learning curve.
Go to Meeting is a platform that just provides online meetings. The meetings can be recorded at all but the lowest price point. This is a very economical program if all you need is a way to hold a class and don’t want any of the extra services offered by Adobe, Cisco, or Blackboard.
Google Hangouts is free to use. It has an app that needs to be downloaded and you need to have a free google+ account. Hangouts works over wifi, this means no data charges, and allows video or text chat among a group. In the text chat it is possible to share emoji’s and pictures. It is possible to share youtube videos and to collaborate on google docs. The program allows screenshare as do all of the other programs already.mentioned. Going to the site is great if you already are familiar with hangouts but if you need a quick lesson in how to use hangouts this is a great document to look at as is this wikihow page. Support is not the robust product you get in the platforms that you pay for but adequate help is available if you search for it.
Big Blue Button is an open source program that is free to use. It has the main features you would want in a synchronous classroom. It is possible to share video, chat, slides, and your desktop with your students. Session can be recorded and saved for later review. It is also possible to poll students to get quick feedback and what has been presented. This would be well worth investigating if cost is an issue and since it is open source software it has been developed for easy integration and customization.
When choosing what program to use consider the number of students that will be in a single classroom at a time, if there are any other features other than a basic meeting format that would be helpful, cost, and support available. The needs of each classroom are different and there is no one platform that will be the best fit for every class.