Screenshot courtesy of Xavier University

Originally published January 14, 2019, this post was updated on April 22, 2019 to reflect changes in Big Blue Button, which now uses HTML5 instead of Flash and Java. This means that Conferences now work well on most mobile devices as well as desktop computer.

The Conferences feature in Canvas makes it easy to conduct synchronous (real-time) meetings and lectures for all of the students in your course. Canvas integrates with BigBlueButton to allow you to broadcast real-time audio, video, demonstrate applications on your desktop, share presentation slides, or demonstrate online resources. 

How might you use Conferences?

  • Connect with your students for online office hours.
  • Offer special study sessions to help students prepare for a test.
  • Connect with your colleagues for professional development webinars.
  • Allow students to practice presenting online. Students can set up practice presentations in their student Groups.
  • Allow students to collaborate in real time on group projects or other coursework.
  • Troubleshoot problems by sharing your screen or viewing a student’s screen.
  • Invite special guests to your classroom by adding them as a student or observer to your course.
  • Broadcast a live event or lecture to the students that can’t be onsite.
  • You can also record your conferences so students can view them at a later date. Note: Recordings are automatically deleted 14 days after the Conference ends.

What are the general features available?

  • Conferences have different available layouts for different types of activities, and layouts can be changed during a conference session.
  • Participants can interact by text chat, audio only, or video. 
  • Presenters can share their computer screen to demonstrate software or online resources.
  • Upload multiple files and show different files during your presentation or lecture.
  • A multi-user whiteboard feature allows you and students to draw or type on documents you are presenting.
  • As a moderator, you can allow any participant to become a presenter.
  • Create a poll during your conference using Yes/No, True/False, or letter responses up to six answer choices (A through F).
  • Create a shared notes document during a presentation and download it for later use.
  • Conferences can be recorded and remain available for two weeks after the conference is concluded.
  • Some conference features can be locked so they are not available during a conference session.
  • You can mute and unmute participants’ video and audio as needed.

A Conference guide for instructors

These suggestions will help ensure a positive experience when using a Conference with students.

Preparing for a conference

  • The recommended desktop browsers for using a Conference are Chrome and Firefox. For mobile devices, the recommended browsers are Chrome on Android devices and Safari on iOS devices.
  • Conferences will not work on a mobile device at this time.
    Conferences will work on desktop, laptop, Chromebook, and mobile devices (iOS 12.2+ and Android 6.0+) without requiring any plugins or extensions.
  • Use a wired connection for the Conference instead of relying on WiFi. 
  • Verify your computer has a functioning web camera and built-in microphone. Optionally, you can use a headset with a built-in microphone. Make sure web camera and microphone are plugged connected PRIOR to starting the Conference.
  • If a presenter or viewer is having difficulty using their microphone to speak during the conference, the conference room contains an audio bridge number for the participant to use to call in to the Conference using a phone. The phone number and pin to use to call in is located in the Chat panel of the conference room. Any contributions to a conference made via the audio bridge are included in the conference recording.
  • Run a practice session to confirm your equipment is working. This is especially important if you plan to use desktop sharing during the conference.

Scheduling the Conference

There are two types of Conferences you can host: 

  1. A one-time scheduled conference that occurs on a specific day/time. When a one-time scheduled conference is over, the instructor must click End, at which point all participants are removed and the Conference cannot be re-entered.
  2. A long-running conference that is always available to start and stop. Long-running conferences are perfect for conducting virtual office hours with students. For sessions that are open all the time, instructors do not End the Conference. They can then leave, but when they return, the conference is listed as “In Progress” and the button will say Join.

Whatever type you choose, here are some additional recommendations:

  • Tell students in advance. We recommend announcing the date, time and length of the Conference a week in advance. You can also place an event on the course calendar in addition to an email message or announcement about the Conference.
  • Indicate in your course syllabus that web conferencing may be used during the course.
  • Arrange for external guests well in advance. You can contact to have an administrator add your guest to the course in an appropriate role.
  • Provide help for students on how to participate in a Conference. This video was created for students to show them what to do to successfully join a conference.
  • PDF is the preferred format for sharing files during a Conference. Let your participants know this so they can convert Word or PowerPoint files to PDF prior to the Conference. You can upload multiple files prior to the start of the Conference.
  • Open any websites or software you want to share prior to launching the Conference and sharing your desktop.

During the Conference

Participants will receive an invitation once you click Start to launch the conference. Here are some recommendations once you are in the Conference interface:

  • Use a headset with a built-in microphone to cut down on distracting external noises. 
  • During the first 5 – 10 minutes of the conference, verify that everyone’s’ equipment is working and students are able to speak or use the text chat. If not, have participants to call in to the Conference using the audio bridge. The phone number and pin is located in the Chat panel of the conference room.
  • Recommend students mute their microphone until they wish to speak. Otherwise, background noise may be picked up by their internal microphone and transmitted to the Conference.
  • Lock the conference layout for all participants. Participants cannot change the layout if it is locked.
  • Keep tabs on whether students are engaged. They can hide various panels during the presentation (unless the layout has been locked). You may need to remind them which panels to use for participation.
  • If you have multiple files uploaded, remember to switch between which file is being displayed at the appropriate time in the Conference.
  • Each Conference includes an upload called default.pdf which contains links to videos explaining how to use Big Blue Button. Ask your participants to watch the Viewer video once they are in the conference room. The default.pdf contains the main page you see in the presenter area and it includes several blank slides you can use as a whiteboard to write on during the conference.
  • You can resize the window where the PowerPoint is visible.  You can zoom in and out on the PowerPoint using the scroll wheel on the mouse.
  • You can jump to any slide in the presentation by clicking the slide#/slide# button. It creates a filmstrip of all the slides. Click a thumbnail slide to jump to that slide.
  • You can give presenter control over to any participant.
  • Moderators can mute any individual or all participants.

After the Conference

If you recorded your session, the recording will be rendered (which can take several hours) and a link will display under Concluded Conferences when you view the Conferences page in Canvas. Click View to watch the recording. Recordings are automatically deleted 14 days after the Conference ends.

Video resources to get you and your students started

Canvas created an overview video for instructors, and an instructional designer created a more thorough overview that demonstrates more of the features.

This video was created for students to show them what to do to successfully join a conference.

Let us help you 

The staff in the CTLE are happy to work with you if you would like help setting up and testing the Conferences feature of Canvas. Just like you can allow your students practice sessions for their own online presentations, we can help you work out any kinks before you use this tool live with students.

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