In this difficult period of quarantine due to the spread of the new coronavirus (officially named as SARS- CoV- 2 or COVID-19), millions of Italians are forced to stay in their homes and avoid any physical contact with other individuals. In this dramatic situation, online video calling and videoconferencing software has taken on a very important role, both to preserve one's social life and to stay in touch with distant friends and relatives, and especially to carry out one's work in smart working mode.
Unfortunately, in recent years numerous apps have been developed that allow you to make video calls from the comfort of your smartphone, and at the same time software that allows you to participate in important business meetings remotely via your PC has rapidly spread. Each app has its own different functionality and features, and they fit almost every need. With Libero Tecnologia, discover all the best programs for video conferencing and what advantages you can get from online platforms.
Apps for group video calls
For video calls with family and friends, one of the most suitable apps is undoubtedly WhatsApp: convenient, practical and easily accessible for anyone, the world's most popular instant messaging app also offers the possibility to make group video calls from the comfort of your smartphone. Instagram and Messenger also offer similar features, the only downside of which is that these apps have a limit of four to six participants, so for larger groups it's best to use Skype, which is also available in a mobile version for cell phones.
Skype has always been one of the most popular video chat apps in the world. This software allows you to organize video conferences with up to 50 participants and has many additional features that make it particularly suitable for those who have to work in smart working with their team: the app allows you to share the content of your screen, to record the call so that it is available for those who are absent, or to easily indicate who is speaking. Other useful features include the ability to automatically blur backgrounds, live subtitling and instant file transfer.
The app is available for smartphones, as a desktop version or can be used directly from the browser - a useful advantage for chatting with users who don't have the software installed, as you can invite them to join in using just their email address. For businesses, there is also a version of Skype Business, which for a modest monthly fee allows you to increase the number of participants to 250 users, has Office functions built in and features more advanced security systems.
In recent years Zoom has won the title as one of the best apps for holding online video conferences. The app is available for all operating systems, on smartphones, tablets and computers, or you can use the service via a browser that requires no installation. To join the conference, you just need a link or a numeric code that is provided to the participants by the person initiating the video conference.
The person holding the video conference can show presentations, share their screen or choose to mute the participants, who will have to use the Raise Your Hand feature to speak. Another useful additional option is the whiteboard feature that allows you to annotate content in real time like a real whiteboard. In addition to the Basic version, which is free, there are different pricing plans designed to meet the needs of small businesses (Zoom Pro and Zoom Business) to large companies (Zoom Enterprise and Zoom Enterprise Plus). Even with the basic version you can hold video conferences for up to 100 participants, but with a maximum duration of 40 minutes (which you can renew immediately anyway).
Over the years Google has released many messaging programs that include the video calling feature and can be very useful when it comes to online meetings: these are Duo, Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet. Duo is a popular app for group video calls, boasting excellent audio and video performance and featuring fast and intuitive operation, however it only supports 8 participants so it's only suitable for smaller meetings.
Hangouts is the chat integrated into Gmail inboxes and Google Calendar, so scheduling and initiating a video conference is extremely easy.
You can download it as an app for iOS and Android devices or as an extension for Google Chrome, but you can also simply use it from your browser via email address. Like its colleague Duo, Hangouts has excellent audio and video performance, and allows you to connect up to 25 users.
Google also developed an enterprise version of Hangouts, included in the GSuite package, that is designed specifically for business meetings. Just in time for the Coronavirus emergency, Google chose to offer GSuite and GSuite for Education users the extended features of Hangouts Meet for free: until July 1, 2020, enterprise-level features such as meetings for up to 250 people, storage space on Google Drive and more are available for free.
Software for video conferencing and distance learning
Ahead of school closures to prevent the spread of the epidemic, teachers and pupils are faced with the challenge of distance learning to ensure classes continue as normal. There have been numerous initiatives at institutional and national level to encourage e-learning projects, and the platforms made available to schools to hold online classes are really many.
Already before the emergency, in fact, many Italian schools had chosen to include in their educational programs elements of teaching 2.0, to expand the educational offerings of their students. Didactics 2.0 provides for the use of technological tools to teach at a distance and make online lessons. In this way, students and teachers of all levels of education can use their computers or smartphones and different applications to deepen the topics, study from home and perform tasks and tests. With Libero Tecnologia, discover all the best platforms!
Google Classroom is the e-learning platform included in the Google Suite. Thanks to this free software, teachers can create online courses in which students can participate remotely and without the need to register an account. Integration with other applications included in the GSuite such as Google Documents, Google Presentations and Google Sheets make Google Classroom a complete software capable of meeting the needs of students of all ages.
Office 365 Education
Microsoft was also quick to launch its own e-learning proposal: Office 365 for Education is a complete and versatile solution that integrates some useful features for distance learning with the classic applications included in the Office package; schools that sign up for the service have a dedicated mailbox, storage space on theOnedrive cloud and, of course, access to Microsoft Teams, the platform for private group video conferences.
During online lessons you can share your screen, activate a virtual whiteboard to explain more complex concepts, create and manage homework and class assignments, as well as update your electronic register. Video lessons can also be recorded and stored in the cloud, so they can be easily retrieved even by absentees. In addition to this, there are tools dedicated specifically to distance learning: for example, Microsoft Sway for creating presentations, Microsoft Flow for creating diagrams and charts, Microsoft Forms for administering quizzes and tests.
Moodle is an open source software that lets you create your own e-learning platform. Among the various options available, the app offers extensive customization possibilities and can be easily adapted to the needs of any virtual classroom. Moodle allows teachers to create a virtual course in which they can insert multimedia resources, self-assessment tests and on-demand video lessons that can be accessed at any time.
WeSchool is an e-learning platform that adopts an innovative teaching approach, the flipped classroom: with this methodology, unlike the classic lesson, the content is studied at home and in class the most complex issues are studied in depth. This software, which over the years has gained great popularity and success among institutions, is now included among the tools dedicated to distance learning recommended by MIUR to deal with the Coronavirus emergency.
The app is totally free and unlike many other platforms does not require installation and does not require a school account to access it. Professors have access to advanced teaching tools with which they can upload video lessons to their dashboard, provide additional materials such as images, maps, or external links, and administer assessment tests. A unique feature of its kind is the Wall section, a sort of mini-social within the course, where teachers and students can interact and post comments and alerts.
An alternative solution to e-learning platforms could be TeamSpeak. Although of great educational value in fact, digital learning platforms can be quite complex, especially for those institutions that had not planned to launch these tools before the extraordinary closure. TeamSpeak is a simple and lightweight software that allows you to start group conferences even with large classes and boasts excellent audio quality, which would allow you to follow the lessons easily.