Online meeting

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This is a free service to allow groups to conduct meetings online. Click any of the following headings to learn more...

You can use it straightaway

There's nothing to install. Participants do not need to sign up for anything. There's no need for credit cards.

Any members of the group can meet at any time. There's no need to book a service and there's no need for a 'facilitator'. As soon as two members start the service for the same group, they are connected to each other.

There is no practical limit to the number of group members that can meet together. Actually, it's 75 per group.

There's no time limit

There's no limit for how long you can stay connected. The service is provided entirely free of charge by "Jitsi". Their only requirement is that we do not suppress their logo during meetings.

Any browser, any device

It's possible that some older browsers might have a problem, but any recent version should work OK.

Your device must have a microphone and speaker (or earphones or headphones) otherwise, you can't contribute. Ideally, you should have a forward-facing camera too (most modern devices have one) so members can see you. That's not compulsory, however, you can still have a conversation with just a microphone and speaker.

Secure against interlopers

You might have heard that some online meetings have been crashed by uninvited people, sometimes with malicious intent.

Your online meeting is protected by a password generated at random each day to prevent this happening.

You might encounter some issues, click any of these headings to learn more...

You see a prompt to enter a password

That's expected behaviour. Our code will fill in the password for you automatically after a second, or two. You can ignore the prompt.

Allow access to your microphone and camera

This is the only tricky bit when joining a meeting. All modern computers, tablets and phones incorporate security to prevent people from taking over your microphone or camera. Unfortunately this security can get in your way too.

Before your meeting starts, you should make sure your web browser can access your microphone and camera (if you have one). If you try to join an online meeting and you see big yellow boxes saying there was a problem with either device, you still have more work to do.

The following explain what to do in different environments. Let me know if you have difficulties in, or can help with, other environments.

Windows 10 desktop or laptop

Use the following steps to allow access to your microphone:

  1. Click the Windows icon at the far left of your task bar (usually shown at the bottom of your screen) or just press your 'Windows' key.
  2. Click the Settings icon towards the bottom of the left hand column of the start screen.
  3. Enter "microphone" in the search box at the top left of the settings page and click the matching entry labelled "Microphone privacy settings".
  4. If the option shown under the heading "Allow apps to access your microphone" is "Off", click it so it shows "On".
  5. Further down the page, if the option shown under "Allow desktop apps to access your microphone" is "Off", click it so it shows "On".

To allow access to your camera (if you have one), repeat the above substituting "camera" for "microphone".

Android tablet or phone

First you need to get to your device's settings page. how you do this can vary. On my devices, I swipe down from the top of the screen and click the settings icon at the top right of the notification bar. Once you are on the settings page:

  1. Click the setting labelled "Apps".
  2. Click the entry for your browser - normally "Chrome"
  3. Click "Permissions"
  4. If the setting next to "Camera" is greyed out, click it to turn it on
  5. If the setting next to "Microphone" is greyed out, click it to turn it on
Apple Mac desktop or laptop

From the Apple menu:

  • Choose System Preferences
  • Click Security & Privacy
  • Click Privacy
  • Select Microphone
  • Select the tickbox next to Safari (or the browser you use) to allow it to access the microphone
  • Select Camera
  • Select the tickbox next to Safari (or the browser you use) to allow it to access the microphone
Safari on IOS devices (e.g. iPad)

Start Safari (the web browser):

  • Go to the page you are reading now, if you are not there already
  • Tap the aA button in the address bar at the top of the screen
  • Tap Website settings
  • Under the 'Allow ... to Access' section you'll see options for: Camera, and Microphone. Tap on each option and set it to Allow.

When you join a meeting, your browser might ask you if it's OK to give access to your microphone and camera, click the "Yes" option.

Prompts to install browser extensions

By all means, install those extensions if you want, they support some additional functions. They are, however, functions we would not normally use so you can ignore the prompts.

Session fails to start

If you use an 'advert blocker' try disabling it for the U3A web site.

Blur background crashes the session

The feature is experimental, I suggest you do not use it.

Problems using Internet Explorer

Microsoft replaced Internet Explorer over five years ago! It is unlikely to work well with a demanding application like Videoconferencing. Most developers are no longer testing their software with IE, so it's really about time to switch to something better. There are, in my opinion, two main options:

  1. Microsoft Edge. This is already installed if you are using Windows 10. You just need to start using it. - it will offer to import stuff you have set up in Internet Explorer.
  2. Google Chrome - you can get it here.
Problems using Safari on older Apple Macs

Some testers have found the system works better in Chrome for Mac (which is always kept up-to-date) than Safari - you can get it here.

During a meeting you can do a number of things. Click any of the headings below to find out more. Note that the icons used to control the meeting show for a while then hide automatically. To see them again: move your cursor onto the window; or tap anywhere on the window if you have a touch screen.

Use all your screen

You'll be able to see more if you:

  1. Click the three dots at the bottom right of the window
  2. Click "View full screen"

To exit full screen - to get access to these words, for example - press your 'Esc' key, or repeat the above and select "Exit full screen".

Switch views

You can show participants in two ways:

  1. One participant at a time. You will always start out this way. You will see just one participant, the view will try to show you the person who is currently speaking.
  2. Tiled view - click the four-square icon at the bottom of the window to see it. You will see an image of every participant. Click the four-square icon again to return to seeing one participant at a time.
Leave a meeting

Click the red 'Leave' icon in the middle at the bottom of the window.

Note that if you have to take a phone call or answer the door, you can leave the meeting and rejoin it when you've finished.

Mute your microphone

Simply click the microphone icon at the bottom of the window. The background will turn grey and the icon will have a slash going through it to indicate you are muted. Click the icon again before you start speaking to the meeting.

Raise your (virtual) hand

If you have something to say while someone else is talking you can 'raise your hand'. Click the white hand icon towards the bottom left of the window to raise your hand. Click it again to lower it. Depending on which view they are using, everyone else on the call will see: a flag next to your image; or a message box saying you want to speak.

Join with a partner

You can either join separately using two different devices, or you can share the same camera and phone - in which case enter both your names when starting the service.

Some suggestions for helping an online meeting run smoothly:

Check your set-up in advance

Don't wait until the meeting starts to find out there's an issue with your microphone, for example. You can join your group's online meeting at any time. Even if you're the only one, the fact that you can see yourself and the videoconferencing system accesses your speaker and microphone, means you'll be able to contribute when the meeting starts for real. Even if the meeting is days away, try it now to give yourself as much time as possible to resolve any issues.

When you connect on your own, you'll see yourself as others see you. Try different positions for you and your device, so you appear as large as possible on screen while remaining comfortable. For example, you won't want to hold a tablet in front of your face for any length of time. Find a way to prop it up so you don't have to hold it.

Don't rely on a flat battery

If you usually run your device on a battery, consider plugging it in for the duration of the meeting. If that's impractical, make sure your device is fully charged.

Make sure you know how to mute your microphone

If there are more than a few people on the call, it's better to be on mute while you aren't speaking. That prevents everyone's noises combining to make it difficult to hear what people say.

Minimise background noise

Before you koin a meeting, turn off TV's and radios. Close windows and doors. You can be completely unaware of background noise because you are familiar with it. Take a little time to listen carefully for any background noise you can eliminate.

Minimise internet activity

Videoconferencing takes a lot of internet capacity. You can expect problems if it is competing for your network connection with other major activity such as:

  • File uploads and downloads
  • Streaming TV or radio
  • Processing email connections with large attachments

Before you join an online meeting consider closing down everything else with the potential to access a significant volume of data over the internet.

Minimise activity on your advice

Shut down other programs that might be running on your device. This is less important on Android devices which automatically manage programs running in the background. For desktops and laptops, however, it can make a big difference.

Don't rely on a poor WiFi connection

You might need to move to a room that has a better WiFi connection. Even better, connect your device direct to your router with an Ethernet cable (Windows 10 - and probably other operating systems - will start using it automatically).

Note that some devices - notably Microwave ovens - can interfere with WiFi connections.

Coordinate the meeting

If you have more than a few members in the meeting, someone needs to take a lead making sure that:

  • People do not talk over each other
  • Everyone in the meeting gets to contribute

The software allows attendees to raise a virtual hand if they have something to say. Consider making it a rule for members to speak only when requested by the coordinator, using the 'hand' if someone has something to say.

Playing music together is too hard

You might have seen some impressive pieces of music that appear to have been made by people playing together over a videoconference. That's not how it happens. Delays inherent in electronic communications make it impossible for musicians to keep time with each other. Instead, the first musician records a backing track. The remaining musicians record their own tracks against the backing track. Finally all the tracks are mixed together to produce the final result.

The process is difficult and requires technical skill. For most of us, it's too hard.