Gotomeeting video conferences versus Wirecast video streaming

Gotomeeting video conferences versus Wirecast video streaming
Being able make lectures available in real-time online is a valuable tool in the eLearning armoury. At Harper Adams we now have two functioning methods of providing these facilities which raises the question of which is best?

Audience participation

In terms of audience participation Goto has the edge. The video conferencing functionality allows for more comprehensive two-way communication between lecturer and students. Lecturers can talk to pupils directly and both ends of the connection can provide a webcam feed whilst for those without a microphone or video device there is a rudimentary text chat box. By contrast the Wirecast option is published through a YouTube event and as a result is more of a broadcast style of delivery with the only communication between lecturer and student being synchronous text chat which can be difficult to follow while simultaneously presenting a lecture. Ideally a second person is required to take care of monitoring questions making this a multi-person operation. That said the video streams in Gotomeeting are not 100% reliable and they do require at the very least an adequate audio input but despite this Goto still has an important edge.

Accessibility

When considering accessibility there would at first appear to be only one winner. By broadcasting through YouTube Wirecast for free lectures can be viewed by a large number of users without damaging the quality of the feed. By contrast, unless you have the money to buy bulk subscriptions the number of viewers who will be able to see presentations will be significantly smaller, being in terms of tens rather than thousands. This means that for large courses Wirecast’s videoconferencing format is inappropriate. So an easy win for Wirecast? Not necessarily due to its use of YouTube the Wirecast option is realistically a non-starter if you wish to work with China-based students for whom YouTube is blocked. Goto by contrast has no such problems. A difficult one to call but if you are not intending to work with students from a country where YouTube is blocked then Wirecast is the winner.

Presentation formats

On the surface how students view lectures using both services would appear to be very similar. Both can display a video feed of the presenters or their presentation slides (i.e. PowerPoint) combined with audio via an ordinary web browser. How each achieves this is actually quite different. Gotomeeting is fairly easily operated be the lecturer themselves whilst sat at a PC with a static webcam and an integrated comment box. If the webcam is of a high enough quality they will not even need to install a microphone and lectures can be set-up via Gotomeeting’s website.

The Wirecast option is a more complex animal. The video feed is created using an actual video camera (in our case a Sony) connected to a Teradek cube which provides a much higher quality picture than a webcam. The feed is viewed via a YouTube link with the comments option enabled. A separate audio stream is also used and allows wireless mics, providing superior sound quality too. Using a video camera also means that it can be moved to do more advanced visuals such as panning effects and zooming in or out and if a wireless set-up was possible the camera could even be removed from the tripod and move around the room, or even be used outside. Gotomeeting only provides the option of recording the presentation slides as opposed to Wirecast which can show and record both the presenter and slides at the same time. All of this means that when judging the student experience of both systems Wirecast is again the victor.

Behind the scenes

The amount of background work required to create the user experience makes choosing a system is less straightforward. Gotomeeting sessions can be scheduled in minutes and as long as the necessary installs of the software and webcam drivers has been done in advance (a minor admin task) lecturers need only open the meeting and click at most four buttons to broadcast the video, audio or presentation and start a recording. The comments are also on the same screen within the lecturer’s eye-line. Conversely, Wirecast has to be connected to a session scheduled in a separate YouTube account. Each media stream has to be manually set-up and combined in Wirecast to produce what the student sees on screen. The camera also needs to be operated manually to ensure it is pointed in the correct direction. This becomes a more significant task if the aforementioned effects such as panning are required. There is also a noticeable delay between what the presenter sees on screen and when it appears in the YouTube browser. Having the comments appear in YouTube also means the lecturer needs to have both the Wirecast interface and Youtube webpage on screen at the same time which is problematic as the software is often run from a laptop. In our experience this is too much for a single person to manage so at least one additional person is required to manage the Wirecast software, monitor comments and operate the video camera (preferably two) while the lecturer focuses on their presentation. Obviously this increases the number of staff required and introduces a greater element of cost-benefit analysis: Is the Wirecast student experience superior enough to justify the cost of additional personnel? In these terms deciding which is best in this area is difficult and I think the winner very much depends on the context in which the online lecturers are being used and remains undetermined.

Conclusion

All of this means that choosing which system to use depends on three factors:

  1. How much two-way communication do you desire
  2. What level of presentation quality is required
  3. How many staff you have available to work on the lecture production

Gotomeeting is clearly the winner if two-way communication is essential. Both systems provide a comment box but being able to see and speak to the students is a much more interactive experience. If it is more important to have a slicker, more professional quality (and you are not broadcasting to China), recording both presentation and video feed then Wirecast is by far the best option. When evaluating the costs and benefits of each system it is impossible to call without knowing the exact requirements of each module but the greater the number of students the further the advantage slides towards Wirecast.

When judging both systems in an educational context then Gotomeeting is perhaps the winner by the tiniest of margins as it allows for a greater variety of teaching techniques while Wirecast is restrained to a more chalk-and-talk method of delivering content. However, if you want to deliver lectures to a large number of students online then Wirecast is by far superior as it is less restrained by licensing issues, connects to YouTube, and has a higher quality, more reliable video feed. If a significant volume of students are using the system then the increased costs in terms of personnel required will be offset.
Although the systems may appear similar they are actually two very different things and it should not be a decision between one or the other and instead there is more likely to be a need for both.

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