So lets get right to it. A virtual classroom software if put bluntly comprises of two feeds – Audio feed as well as video feed. The unison of these two feeds becomes what is known as media content. Therefore, when it comes to any kind of media collaboration on the internet, it is of utmost importance that these two feeds run seamlessly and in sync. Sounds intuitive, but really isn’t. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic came to engulf our lives, all kinds of media collaboration suites have inundated the market and made it incredibly difficult for the end-user to make a sound judgment. And when we say ‘incredibly difficult’, it wouldn’t be an understatement. A simple Google Search for ‘Virtual Classroom Solution’ would make this point amply clear.
However, there is an increasing tendency amongst the general population to try and conflate a robust virtual classroom system with a virtual classroom software. To lay things absolutely bare here, all media collaboration software now available in the market look largely a clone of each other. Just last week a Tweet storm pointed out the striking similarities between the Graphical User Interfaces(GUIs) of Zoom and Jio Meet. This is just an illustration about how similar software centric products can be. However, this is not to say that GUI equals the entire software and the overall performance of Jio Meet vis-à-vis Zoom is yet to be fully gauged, the user has little trouble migrating from one of these platforms to the other. Also one point to note here is that, each of these software centric business model largely banks on the subscription based cloud fees charged either monthly or annually. And that the end-customer is saved the trouble of paying a fee lumpsum, that too upfront.
Now, this might look extremely user-friendly: ‘pay only for what you use’ notion of customer engagement. But in reality, it drives one away from what really matters – the quality of audio and video feed. The software is marketed as a one-stop solution to all customer woes. The television commercial, the brochure, the data-sheet, all blare the turnkey nature of the software. ‘Install this, and cruise away’ – they say. Such bylines are akin to saying that the façade of a building is more important than the building itself. One must never let one crucial fact out of sight – the virtual classroom system is only as strong as its weakest link.
Allow us to illustrate this point with the help of an example. There is something known as ‘acoustic echo cancellation’. This is a concept that allows the user to cancel noise and bolster a signal by minimizing the echo generated by the audio equipment at either end. Most software available in the market claim to successfully do it, disregarding the fact that the aforementioned feature is not a software functionality but a hardware functionality. An audio equipment known as the Audio Digital Signal Processor has to be necessarily pared with the audio equipment i.e. amplifier, speakers etc., to have a modicum of acoustic echo cancellation. And that is not all; upon installation, the Audio Digital Signal Processor must be suitably programmed while taking into account the physical dimensions of the room to minimize any physical echo. Now to say that this entire process can be reduced to a software functionality, is laughable at best and sinister at worst.
To conclude this monologue, the client or potential client must never forget that the functionalities required of a virtual classroom system are sharply divided between the software and hardware. And within hardware, between the audio and video feed components. The ease of installation of a media collaboration software on ones PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet cannot supplant the functionality of having a true-blue virtual classroom system, which is only possible with state-of-the-art hardware. This is not to say that the client splurge on the hardware, but an honest effort at purchasing a half-decent hardware will go a far longer way than some mindless reliance on a media collaboration software.