What’s new with Zoom? Quite a lot for teachers, schools

From room selection to Power Point possibilities, the videoconferencing platform is ever-evolving.
By: | January 29, 2021

Used by more than 100,000 schools across the United States, Zoom has been the go-to videoconferencing platform for a wide base of stakeholders in districts, from administrators to teachers to students. Without it and others like it, the remote learning experience would be next to impossible.

Zoom provides a way to not only keep those connections going but also allows schools to measure student engagement, to fuse their learning management systems, and to provide for professional development through webinars.

Despite its widespread implementation, not all school personnel know about the array of features it offers and will offer – the video breakout rooms, polling and screen sharing – and other options that are suited for classroom delivery. And it’s time to learn.

“Just because this is virtual instruction doesn’t mean that you have to take away the fun, the excitement, the way that you were doing it before students were present,” said Bryan Miller, the Senior Director of Global Strategic Outreach at Zoom, at Friday’s Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC). “Zoom is trying to provide you tools to make this a seamless experience for you to be able to go from teaching with students in your room to teaching students that are virtual.”

Zoom users might see or hear changes coming across their screens from time to time. They might note that the hand-raise feature is larger or more visible or that the gallery view can be reordered or experiencing high-fidelity audio. Zoom is continually innovating to try to meet the needs of schools.

Miller works closely with teachers and shared some of the best features and best practices for instructors, along with colleague Tain Barszo, to make Zoom really take off:

  1. Hand-raising and Reactions. Miller says this is one of the most important functions teachers should be using to ensure engagement. While polls are fine at certain intervals, he says this is far more beneficial in gauging a student’s level of understanding. Teachers should be aware of students who may be off camera, and while a thumbs-up or wave might not engage them, they can still use reactions as a way to respond. Miller says teachers can use this function to play games, letting the application determine who raised their hand first rather than trying to do it themselves.
  2. Polling. Miller says this feature is going to be a lot more flexible, with the possibility of a fully interactive experience. “Being able to use this as an exit ticket and entrance ticket and a checkpoint, halfway throughout, or as students are coming back from breakout rooms with a poll question ready to go, is going to be extremely helpful,” Miller said. A new feature coming soon from Zoom will also allow users to see polls in cloud recordings.
  3. Power-point slides. Barszo noted the ability to load power point slides as a virtual background by going into the advanced area with sharing controls. He said instructors doing a lesson on US presidents, for example, could load them from a power point onto a virtual background. Acting in a “weather-person” mode, they could then point to the images and ask questions, making it more interactive.
  4. High-fidelity audio: This is great for music instructors looking for high-resolution, high fidelity, sound. It reduces the sampling rate and with a solid musical interface, it can make an entire band on screen sound strong.
  5. Zoom apps/whiteboards. Miller mentioned the improvements coming that will help teachers in the future, and also ways to build in cool new features such as coding and robotics, plus collaborative whiteboards for students.
  6. Room selection. This is another element that adds an interactive piece to the virtual learning environment. Breakout rooms can be set up for a number of subjects such as chemistry, biology and geology. But Miller says, “you’re now able to build out a series of rooms, and students can pick the rooms that they’re going into.” He mentioned the potential for an “escape-room experience, where there are clues, and students can jump between room and room to get that breakout experience.”

What makes these so unique?

“Escape rooms are great experiences for your students to get engaged in tons of different lessons and activities that are also cross-curricular.” Miller said. “Imagine Clue and going into the library and checking out all the stuff that’s on screen. All you have to do is have that teacher just create that room and activate it. And then students can move into whatever cross-curricular section that they’re moving into.

“Team teaching: So in a grade level, you have a science teacher and a math teacher. And they split out at different times during the day. But then you have your main homeroom teacher. It makes it really easy to move in between classrooms, virtually just like you would do it normally in person.”

Miller said, “Play around, be fearless, take chances on Zoom. You’re not going to break something. So don’t be afraid to try it out.”

For those new to Zoom or those who need access to resources, here are a number of helpful links:

 


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