Video Conferencing with Zoom: Online Course Tips & Ideas – by Steven Shisley

Many educators and students will suddenly find themselves forced to use new technology in the coming weeks because of COVID-19. The quick pace required to make courses remote or online will have a drastic and long-lasting impact on the delivery of instruction for the foreseeable future. Inside Higher Ed just recently asked: “Will Shift to Remote Teaching Be Boon or Bane for Online Learning?” With such a sudden transition to an online learning environment, the article points out, some students may receive the wrong impression about online learning.

Indeed, the quick transformation of face-to-face courses to an online format does not really constitute a quality online learning experience. Rather the quick transformation of face-to-face courses to an online format is a necessary solution with certain limitations and shortcomings. Many of the face-to-face instructors forced to move their courses online, for instance, lack the support and resources offered to online instructors who work with instructional designers and other staff in online learning departments. Nevertheless, as James N. Bradley, chief information officer at Texas’s Trinity University commented in a LinkedIn post, “Every faculty member is going to be delivering education online. Every student is going to be receiving education online. And the resistance to online education is going to go away as a practical matter.”

An article written by Yoshiko Iwai recently pointed out that “the quick turn to platforms like Zoom is disrupting curricula, particularly for professors less equipped to navigate the internet and the particularities of managing a classroom mediated by a screen and microphone.” This insightful statement by Iwai draws attention to two closely-related, overarching challenges educators must overcome when suddenly forced to move their instruction online, namely the curricula and the technology components.

The challenge with curricula is more than just choosing what content the students will review. Rather educators must carefully select course content with these questions in mind: (1) How much content should my students review in a lesson? (2) Where will my students obtain this content? (3) How does the content align with other critical course components? (4) How will my students engage with this content? Each of these questions may help guide the educator in not only their selection of course content but also its delivery. The delivery of course content and the facilitation of student engagement obviously depends on technology in online learning. And, as Iwai has emphasized, the instructor who has to quickly turn to platforms like Zoom will experience a disruption with their normal way of delivering instruction about curricula.

So how can educators seek to deliver course content and facilitate student engagement in this sudden shift to online learning? For many educators, the answer is video conferencing software such as Zoom. In fact, several recent articles note the increased popularity of Zoom across all levels of education in the past week. Some examples are listed in the references at the end of this article.

But the increased popularity of Zoom leads to other challenges. Will educators simply use Zoom to lecture to their students? Will Zoom virtual rooms become just a space for question and answer? Will educators use Zoom virtual rooms for office hours? Or maybe Zoom will become nothing more than a video conference solution for departmental meetings. If educators seek to transform their classes from traditional face-to-face delivery to online delivery without lessening the quality of instruction, then they must be creative in their use of video conferencing software.

In what follows, I will offer educators some general tips and ideas for creatively using Zoom in online education. For the sake of the educator’s time, the creative uses of Zoom in online education are simply listed in bullet format. Hopefully, the educator will be able to quickly review this list and find something that will satisfy the needs of their students.

Assessment

Assessments shape the experience of students. The typical student seriously engages with the material because of the requirement to complete assessments. The student receives a grade for the assessment, which motivates them to succeed in mastering a certain skill or illustrating their competence in a subject. For many years’ scholars have observed there is an issue in higher education in regard to assessments. Most academics craft assessments based on the types of assessments they themselves participated in as learners. These typical assessments consist of quizzes where students identify or recognize information, written exercises wherein they explain or analyze a text or video, or perhaps a project-based assessment such as a presentation. Fortunately, educators do not have to suddenly reinvent their assessment strategies as they quickly transform face-to-face courses to an online format. Many of the traditional assessments that students complete in the classroom can easily be administered to students online too. And hopefully, as the following list demonstrates, educators may find opportunities for creativity crafting assessments in an online format through video conferencing that they never thought to administer in face-to-face courses.

  • Virtual presentation: Students can give a presentation in a virtual conference. They can share their research and insights with one another.
  • Mock interview: Students can participate in mock virtual interviews.
  • Debate: Students participate in a debate with one another.
  • Speech: Students practice giving speeches or an elevator pitch.
  • Demonstration: Students demonstrate a fine motor skill in front of their computer, sign-language, playing a musical instrument, or the ability to communicate in a foreign language.

Learning activities

Learning activities promote the mastery of course or module objectives. Sometimes learning activities are graded activities and at other times they simply encourage participation in the course. Zoom and other video conferencing software provide students several unique ways to participate in learning activities. Most of the time, as the following list indicates, the instructor will take the role of a facilitator. The role of facilitation is an important responsibility for the online instructor. As a facilitator, the online instructor is not lecturing to the students who are passive listeners that simply absorb information. Rather the online instructor will guide the students through the activity, explaining the steps they must take in order to properly master a skill or adequately become familiar with course content.

Some learning activities, as seen in the list below, still require the students to follow the traditional decorum seen in face-to-face instruction such as sitting quietly and virtually raising their hands to ask questions or make comments. But even these learning activities will hopefully provide students a unique experience that would not commonly occur in face-to-face instruction.

  • Guest speaker: A guest speaker speaks to the students in the virtual meeting room.
  • Mind map or brain storming: Students brainstorm or create a mind map by using the annotation tools.
  • Fact finding: The instructor writes the word “Facts” on the screen with the annotation tool. Next, the students respond by writing facts about the subject. Another variation of this activity requires the students to identify the facts in a list that may have inaccurate information. The students would then explain their reasoning for choosing the facts by citing evidence.
  • Meme generator: The class participates in a “meme generator” activity in which they use the annotation tools to add text to an image. Next, the students explain the meaning of the meme they have created. This activity is probably best suited for course introduction activities in which students explain the reason for taking a course, choosing a major, or entering a certain profession.
  • Role playing: Students take on the role of a historical figure, scholar, or other person. The role-playing activity can help students understand different viewpoints, opinions, theories, etc.
  • Website analysis: The instructor shares a website and the students analyze its content, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the information.
  • Image analysis: The instructor shares an image and the students analyze its content, pointing its distinctive qualities and features.
  • Text analysis: The instructor shares an article or other text and the students analyze its content, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the research or argument.
  • Create a list: The class participates in a “create a list” activity in which they use the annotation tools in Zoom to create a list of items for discussion.
  • Whiteboard: The instructor can use the whiteboard tool just like they would use the whiteboard in regular face-to-face classroom instruction.
  • Whiteboard for math: The students use the whiteboard tool for math, creating charts or diagrams, or drawing images.
  • Pictionary: A student draw pictures of key terms or concepts by using the whiteboard. The other students attempt to identify the drawing.
  • Fishbowl: The students participate in a “fishbowl” or “Socratic circle” discussion. One group of students begin to discuss a topic while the other group observes and takes notes. Then the groups switch roles.
  • Observation and critique: The students demonstrate a skill, artwork, a tool of some sort, or anything. The instructor and other students provide feedback or constructive criticism.
  • Virtual tour: The class takes a “virtual tour” of a historic landmark or location, providing commentary on their experience.

Tips and advice

Here are some general tips for using Zoom. Many of these tips are applicable to other video conferencing software, too. This list, though not exhaustive, should provide the educator some more creative uses for video conferencing in online learning. Hopefully these tips will alleviate frustration and make the transition to video conferencing in online learning much easier for the online instructor.

  • Preparation: Most articles about video conferencing in online learning remind people to be prepared by having a space set apart for the meeting free of distractions, reliable internet access, two monitors if needed, speakers, and a headset.
  • Virtual office: Use Zoom to hold virtual office hours. The instructor can share his or her screen to review the student’s paper/presentation. The instructor can use the annotation tools to mark up the paper/presentation. Zoom allows the instructor to take a screen shot of the annotations and send the image to the participants.
  • Virtual background: Use the virtual background feature to reduce distractions when speaking with others in meetings. A creative online instructor might upload their own virtual background image that corresponds to a particular discussion point.
  • Computer sound for videos: When sharing a video, use the “computer sound.” Using the computer sound means that the participants hear the sound projected from the website instead of hearing what the microphone of the computer picks up.
  • Easier annotations: Zoom provides users the ability to connect their iPhone or iPad via cable to the virtual meeting. Sometimes it is easier to use your finger or Apple pencil to write annotations. You can also download Zoom as an application for iPhone or iPad if connecting your phone/tablet to the computer is not possible.
  • Spotlight: Zoom has a built-in laser pointer called “spotlight” that participants can use to draw attention to details on the screen.
  • PowerPoint frustration: Sometimes participants become frustrated with playing slides in PowerPoint when using Zoom. They are frustrated that PowerPoint requires them to use fullscreen mode when playing the PowerPoint, which means viewing the chat window or participants (if they have their camera turned on) is difficult. An easy solution to this issue is to click on: Slideshow (in the top ribbon) > Set Up Show > Browsed by an individual window > Click on “Ok.”
  • Agenda list: During a meeting the participants use the annotation tools to create an agenda list.
  • Review session: The instructor uses the virtual meeting room to host a review session.

References

Will Shift to Remote Teaching Be Boom or Bane for Online Learning?” published by Inside Higher Ed on March 18, 2020.

Yoshiko Iwai. “Online Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic: What do we gain and what do we lose when classrooms go virtual?” in Scientific American. March 13, 2020.

Alex Konrad. “Exclusive: Zoom CEO Eric Yuan Is Giving K-12 Schools His Videoconferencing Tools For Free” in Forbes. March 13, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2020/03/13/zoom-video-coronavirus-eric-yuan-schools/?ss=cloud#66a225924e71

Jordan Novet. “Zoom CFO explains how the company is grappling with increased demand” at CNBC. March 18, 2020.

Polina Marionva. “Zoom is the king of social connection in this crazy, new world” in Fortune. March 19, 2020.

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