5 mins reading
Co-authored with Emily Wade.
‘Zoom’ is going to be a strong contender for the Oxford Dictionary’s next Word of the Month. Internal university communication channels and educators’ feeds in the Twittersphere have recently been lit up with talk of the live video conferencing app and the broader need to find innovative Digital Learning solutions amidst the COVID-19 crisis. We don’t need to map out the details – even if you’ve just taken students on a cosplay medieval field trip and banned all smartphone use, you know what’s going on by now…
As we’ve been using Zoom in our teaching for some years, we thought we’d share some of our insights into the platform and how it can be effectively used to engage with students. The following advice is far from comprehensive as – following our mantra of ‘learning by doing’ – you can only really learn the intricacies of teaching and learning with digital media by actually doing it. So, here we go!
Getting Set Up
Setting up an account on Zoom is fairly intuitive and the main thing you’ll need to find after doing so is your Personal Meeting ID (PMI). This gives you a bunch of information, but the only bit we typically share with students – to keep things as clear as possible – is the Zoom URL, highlighted below on the Zoom app (PC version):
This will be the same link you can re-use again and again for your sessions, rather than creating new ones each time. It can be useful to explain to students that their computer or smartphone will be prompted to download a small app, but they do not need to create a Zoom account to take part in the sessions. They will only need to enter their first name (or their favourite superhero) and they’re good to go!
Stepping Students Through
Most, if not all, students participating in Zooms during this period will never have heard of the platform, so stepping them through the basics can be a great idea. Here are some pointers for first-time teachers to explain to first-time students about the use of Zoom:
- How to activate their camera and microphone – and when to mute their mic to avoid distracting background noise (bottom left of screen)
- How to select ‘Gallery View’ rather than ‘Speaker View’ to see all participants in a Brady Bunch-style layout (top right of screen)
- How to find the instant ‘Chat’ function (bottom middle of screen)
As the host, you can also manually mute specific students if they have nearby construction or a dog who’s less bored with proceedings as Frank is below…
There are a few other functions you might like to be aware of as a Zoom host, such as screen-sharing, breakout rooms, and recording sessions, but we’ll delve into those in our Zoom video chat.
Your Students Will Be Different
By this, we don’t mean that your students will turn into different creatures or heckling trolls (although you can instantly right click on any participant for the ‘Remove User’ option in extremely exceptional, yet-to-be-experienced circumstances). Here, we mean that students are invariably more anxious about live video conferencing than teachers might be. It’s not uncommon, especially in the first few weeks, to be faced with more than half a room full of black screens without mics turned on, which can make conversation difficult.
You may need to gently build your students’ confidence and draw them out slowly over a few weeks. Engaging in a reflexive conversation about the experience of live video can help. The decision to record and publish Zoom sessions can also impact attendance and participation. We use other edited videos and podcasts for ‘lecture’-style delivery and Zooms exclusively for interactive discussions in place of seminars. Different approaches are all valid depending on the circumstances, so it’s worth thinking through what your goals are and what will work best in your context.
The Importance of Structure
Perhaps even more so than campus-based seminars, Zooms chats have the potential to get lost in tangents and/or be overwhelmed by more talkative participants. We’ve found that having a set agenda with notional time periods dedicated to specific themes, questions, or activities can be very useful to 1) keep things on track, 2) reassure students they are getting value out of the session, and 3) keep them awake… Well, keep Frank awake.
A particularly useful strategy can be scheduling a temporary ‘offline’ break during a Zoom to enable students to stretch their legs, view a short video for further discussion, or undertake a practical task to reflect upon when you re-convene.
Casual Friday is Now Every Day
By their very nature, Zoom chats can feel (and be) less ‘formal’ than conventional seminars – not least of all because most students will join from their study, living room, or potentially while out walking the dog (in which case make sure they’re just listening and watching the road!). Setting some clear expectations around ‘professional standards’ can help set the tone for a productive seminar. Of course, educators need to help set the standard too…
Be Open to the Potential…
For several years now, we’ve found that Zooms can build immensely constructive and collegial sub-communities within a unit of study, enhancing students’ confidence to network more widely with broader cohorts and beyond. Geographical boundaries have been demolished to facilitate contextually interpersonal, ‘face-to-face’ communication that can even be more ‘intimate’ than that which occurs in a standard seminar.
Importantly, remember to take students enrolled in the Cloud into account when bringing campus-based seminars online. Equity is crucial, and it will become very clear to Cloud students if there is an imbalance where on-campus students have more online opportunities than they themselves do…
There are many ways in which you can use Zoom. At a particularly difficult and stressful time for all involved, semi-spontaneous or timetabled sessions can also serve as a valuable venue of consultation with Unit Chairs. If you’re going to be standing at the computer for a substantial period of time anyway, why not open a link just in case students want to ‘drop in’ with a query or two?
Would You Like To Learn More??
Thanks for reading and please feel free to let us know if you have any questions. Be sure to subscribe for future posts and check out earlier blogs on this site for lots of other Digital Learning hints and tips!
Good luck, and get Zooming! Teachers and students alike, we’re all in this together, so make sure your welcome mat is the right way up… 😉
The blog was co-authored with Emily Wade, Digital Media educator and social media specialist at Deakin University.
Website: Brave Little Pig