Using Zoom effectively
Maintaining connection with students is a major concern for any instructor designing an online class because, after all, teaching and learning are communal activities for most of us. Thankfully, technology has provided a number of helpful tools that allow us to remain connected to our students even if we do not see them in the classroom from day to day.
Zoom, the videoconferencing and online meeting platform supported by KU, is one such tool. When used well, Zoom can provide an accessible facsimile for many of our face to face student interactions, including office hours, class meetings, and group work. However, like all technology, it has its strengths and its limitations. To set up your Zoom account and get started, visit KU’s Zoom videoconferencing page.
- Accessibility. Zoom is free to instructors and students at KU, cooperates with Mac’s and PC’s, and works well on desktop or laptop computers as well as smart phones and tablets.
- Automatic recording and captioning. Zoom allows you to set your meeting to record automatically and that recording will be transferred to your KU MediaHub account once you close the meeting. As an added advantage, the resulting video will be transcribed and close captioned, although these tools will likely require a little “clean up” on your part to be fully accurate.
- Flattened hierarchy. With participants tiled across the screen in no particular order, there is a natural flattening of the hierarchy of the traditional classroom. The instructor is no longer the “sage on the stage” commanding attention at the front of the room, creating the possibility for more direct peer-to-peer discussion.
- Flexibility. Zoom allows you to schedule a recurring meeting and it is easy to change meeting times or security settings after a meeting has been established.
- Quality. Although image quality and lag time are influenced by individual internet connections, the sound and image quality are quite good.
- Security. Recently upgraded security protocols, including making passwords required for new meetings, have addressed some of the early issues with Zoombombing and the inability for hosts to remove unwanted users.
- Simplicity. Zoom’s url-based meetings are easy for even low tech individuals to access and the controls are relatively intuitive for both hosts and users.
- Stability. The Zoom platform seems able to handle a large influx of users, even at peak hours, with few major collapses.
- Support. Unlike some other commercial videoconferencing and online meeting platforms, Zoom comes with the full support of KU’s IT department. Many resources are already available for you on the IT website. .
- Tools. Zoom includes several easy to access built in tools which allow users to customize their screen view, communicate privately, work in groups, share screen images (including videos), and poll meeting participants.
- Class size. The Zoom screen only displays a limited number of individual participant screen tiles, which is further limited when using the share screen function. In a large class class, participants will be unable to see everyone at once in the way they could in a face-to-face format.
- Group interaction. Breakout rooms allow you to recreate peer-to-peer and small group learning, but unlike in a classroom setting, you as an instructor will not have the ability to monitor the entire “room” at once or respond as spontaneously to whatever may arise.
- Reduced richness. Less a Zoom issue and more a problem with mediated communication in general, participants will not receive the full spectrum of non-verbal cues with the same level of richness as they would in face-to-face interactions.
- Single channel audio. Zoom is set up to recognize a single audio input source, so it does not support the richness of a robust discussion in the same way that face-to-face classroom discussion will.This might require the instructor to be a mindful gatekeeper of a lively interaction to assure that everyone has a chance to be heard. Similarly, it is more difficult to vocally “annotate” if you are showing a video without stopping the stream.
- Screen fatigue. Zoom burnout is real. And, given the uncertainty that our current situation presents it is necessary to think about how many classes your students may be Zooming through on any given day. This fatigue may reduce their effectiveness (not to mention yours) with both learning and conveying their learning.
- Student concerns. In her blog post, Rebecca Barrett-Fox, associate professor at Arkansas State University, challenges us to think about how requiring synchronous video interaction invites the instructor and other students into their home, which may not always feel comfortable or safe, or be feasible, for students (students who live in poverty, whose private spaces inlcude evidence of things that they want to remain private, etc..).
The easiest way to create Zoom meeting access for your course is to create a weblink on your Blackboard’s navigation pane. This works equally well for virtual office hours. Once you embed the meeting’s URL, students need only click the link to join the scheduled event throughout the semester.
Explore the available meeting parameters before you set up your recurring meeting. While you can always go back and make changes, it is easier to just “set it and forget it.” A few possible things to think about: do you want your participants to be able to share screens? chat privately? join by phone?
Contact your students well in advance of the first class meeting with information about setting up and testing their Zoom account. KU IT has developed an instructional guide that you may want to attach to an e-mail and post conspicuously on Blackboard.
Plan to spend some time 'teaching the technology.'
- Students' confidence and ease with social media doesn’t necessarily transfer to the online classroom. Plan to spend some time fielding questions ahead of class by those trying to set up their accounts.
- Similarly, plan to spend some time during the first week of class orienting students to the tools available to them.
- Netiquette may be an issue for new videoconference users. For more discussion of online course etiquette, along with a netiquette guide used in select KU classes, see section V of this guide.
Have a back-up plan
- Technology is unpredictable at the best of times. Have a lo-tech “plan B” ready for days when your computer is in the shop, your internet connection is poor or nonexistent or when share screen or other tools decide not to work correctly (this is rare).
- Students may encounter issues that prevent them from attending class synchronously via Zoom. Dr. Rebecca Barrett-Fox, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Arkansas State University has written an insightful piece about the realities of the “ask” we are making of our students when we use synchronous Zoom https://anygoodthing.com/2020/04/06/a-reminder-of-who-is-hurt-by-insisting-that-students-share-images-of-their-personal-lives/. Consider how these students can participate in other ways.
- Remember that you can’t pass out handouts as spontaneously as you would in a face-to-face classroom. You’ll need to think ahead in order to post documents to Blackboard or Teams or e-mail attachments. Worst case scenario, you can share your screen and work off of a common document.
Play to strengths
- Zoom is designed for interaction moreso than lecture. If your course is lecture-heavy, consider making a series of voiced over powerpoint slide decks or video lectures for students to watch asynchronously as one portion of their course time and gather via Zoom for synchronous discussion and activities as another portion.
- Zoom allows you to “slip the surly bounds” of physical space. Consider the opportunities this presents to invite an exciting and engaging slate of guest speakers to your class without the time, hassle, and expense of travel.
- Encourage students early on to engage each other directly rather than addressing all dialog to or through you. It will likely require reminders in the beginning, but it soon becomes a habit.
Adjust your communication style
- Keep in mind that reduced non-verbal cues may require users to verbalize assent/dissent rather than nodding or shaking the head, take more aggressive turn-taking measures such as raising hands, and devote more time to intentionally checking for understanding, clarity, and questions.
- Pair auditory and visual modes of delivery. Consider creating a powerpoint slide or document to use as a shared screen if you have a series of discussion prompts, group activity instructions, a list of reminders, or a particularly complicated concept to cover.
- Consider having students pre-record graded in-class presentations rather than deliver “live” in real time.
Use your tools
As mentioned above, breakout rooms are great for pairing or grouping students for discussion. Think-pair-share or discuss-and-report are easy strategies to get the ball rolling in discussions, particularly in large classes. Take advantage of some other tools in Zoom:
- The built in whiteboard (a share screen option) works well to capture discussion, as does the chat function.
- Polls are a good way to “take the temperature” of the class anonymously, award extra credit, and keep students engaged.
Let’s be clear: Zoom is not a panacea. Zoom is unlikely to replace the need for brick-and-mortar classes, particularly in the arts, STEM fields, and other highly technical programs such as those designed to train health care providers, mechanical technicians, and culinary professionals.
Let’s be clear: Zoom is not a panacea. Zoom is unlikely to replace the need for brick-and-mortar classes, particularly in the arts, STEM fields, and other highly technical programs such as those designed to train health care providers, mechanical technicians, and culinary professionals. And it's important to practice Zoom self-care. But a well-designed online course that incorporates Zoom-based synchronous learning can effectively replicate the kinds of rich learning interactions that we and our students value. And Zoom-facilitated office hours can provide a level of clarity and connection that a discussion thread or series of e-mail can never approximate. The key to successfully adopting Zoom as part of your instructional portfolio is understanding what it does well, how to leverage those strengths, and what to avoid.