The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world of education seemingly overnight, and making decisions about the software for remote working you use to create a virtual classroom directly impacts your success as an educator during this time.
Video conferencing software has replaced not only classroom learning, but also education administration, parent-teacher conferences, and staff and school board meetings.
Distance learning should replicate the traditional classroom as much as possible, especially if you’re teaching younger children who rely on a sense of routine to feel safe. This means your software needs to create a collaborative environment where students can interact with themselves and you as the teacher just as they would normally.
Enter Zoom, the popular video conferencing software that has seen exponential increases in downloads within the past month.
- What is Zoom Video Conferencing for Educators?
- How to Create a Virtual Classroom With Zoom
- Is Zoom Right for Your Classroom?
- Top Alternatives to Zoom For Educators
- Should You Use Video Conferencing for Long-Term Virtual Education?
What is Zoom Video Conferencing for Educators?
Zoom for Education allows you to create a FERPA-compliant online learning environment that will feel familiar to both teachers and students.
With Zoom meetings, you can live stream your lessons for K-12 schools or pre-record lectures for college-aged students. A single-screen displays the teacher and all the students in the classroom simultaneously, so everyone will be able to see one another throughout the session. You can begin your day by taking attendance virtually in Zoom.
Since some students may not have a desktop computer at home, it’s important to note that Zoom is compatible with multiple devices like laptops, iPads, and other tablets. Even the Zoom basic account has its smartphone app, so students can join the video classroom using the cameras on their Androids or iPhones.
You’ll be able to share your entire screen with your students, or just specific applications and files. Though students can also share their screens with their classmates, as the “host” of the class, you’ll be able to implement screen sharing restrictions should things get out of hand.
Zoom also offers competitive LMS integration. It works with staples like Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, and others — so you’ll still be able to use the tools you and your students have come to rely on in the classroom.
Zoom’s breakout rooms allow you to break up students into small groups for projects and monitor these groups to ensure everyone stays on track. In addition to allowing students to learn from one another, Zoom Rooms also provide a much-needed sense of social connection. Students will be able to see, speak to, share files and take notes with other students just as they would in a standard classroom.
Features like student engagement tracking, attention indicators, virtual hand raising, Q&A tools, and even polling allow you to ensure that students are paying attention and that they understand the materials you’re presenting. Zoom’s mute and unmute button allows you to both cut down on distracting noises and silence students who are being disruptive.
You’ll be able to share files with your students, make real-time annotations to these files, and even use Zoom’s whiteboard feature to make notes, diagrams, or drawings the whole classroom can see.
We know that student safety is one of your biggest concerns when it comes to distance learning.
Zoom offers you the ability to password-protect your virtual classrooms, lock entrance into the classroom after the session has started, and turn off the chat feature. Zoom also provides virtual waiting rooms, so that you can elect not to let unfamiliar users and likely trolls in.
Classroom to classroom collaboration is also possible with a Zoom account, which is especially ideal for younger students who may study different school subjects with different instructors.
Perhaps best of all, Zoom allows you to both record and share your video and audio classroom sessions and any other classroom documents with your students. Zoom even provides a transcript of these sessions, allowing students to go over material they didn’t understand a second — or even third — time.
Zoom does offer a free video-conferencing plan for K-12 educators that removes the 40-minute time limit on meetings. Note that your institution will need to fill out Zoom’s verification form to receive it.
Who Should Use Zoom for Educators?
Zoom’s popularity is due in no small part to its versatility — it works for nearly every facet of education, including administration.
Zoom’s overwhelming popularity is understandable thanks to its ease of — which also makes it am especially good among those teaching elementary school students. Features like closed captioning, keyboard shortcuts, and high-quality videos also make Zoom ideal for teaching Special Education classes.
The opportunity to pre-record lectures so that students can access them at any time means Zoom is also an excellent choice for teaching college courses.
Professional development teams can easily observe your Zoom virtual classrooms, ensuring that educational standards are met while also monitoring the overall safety of the environment.
Plus, when teaching is done for the day, teachers and admin alike can use video communications tools to go over lesson plans together, discuss challenges, and even speak with parents via Zoom if necessary.
How to Create a Virtual Classroom With Zoom
When creating effective virtual classrooms for the first time, educators will need to focus on the possibilities and benefits video conferencing software provides as opposed to the limitations it places on students and teachers.
After all, in a traditional learning environment, absent students would need to either attempt to decipher classroom notes accessible in Blackboard or borrow notes from another student. But with virtual learning, students can watch the recording of the class they missed and/or read the transcript. This way, they don’t fall behind. Plus, these recordings of classes elevate the kind of test prep students have access to. If there’s a concept they don’t understand, they can simply re-watch you teaching it until they grasp it.
It’s much easier to build a powerful virtual learning environment when you understand the technical side of things, clearly set student expectations, and look for features that keep both students and teachers engaged.
How to Set up Zoom for Educators
We know that the thought of setting up video conferencing software on your own and turning your home office into a functioning classroom can feel like an impossible task.
Luckily, Zoom’s Education Guide outlines everything you need to know in plain English — no tech talk.
You can sign up for a free account on Zoom’s website, Zoom.us, by providing your school email address, setting up your username and password, and inviting students, staff, and faculty to join and create their accounts.
To schedule your first lesson, just hit the “schedule” button online or in the app, select the date and time, and enable meeting registration.
You and all the conference attendees will enjoy selecting virtual backgrounds and even using Zoom’s filters to add a bit of levity to the online learning experience — within reason, of course.
Most of all, remember that you need to inform students and parents that the video sessions will be recorded and shared through email — not on social media. In some cases, you may even need to obtain a consent form.
How Do You Keep Order in a Zoom Classroom?
When you begin your lesson, ensure that everyone can hear you and that their Zoom screen is working properly. Consider creating a hand signal (a peace sign always works) or a phrase like “Tech Error” to type into chat when someone loses connection or encounters another tech issue.
Make sure you give your students time to open up, download, and view files you’ve shared with the class. Remember, not everyone has high-speed Internet! Also, pause every so often to ensure that students have time to ask questions before you move onto the next topic.
Talk with your students and develop a code of conduct for your virtual classroom. Students need to understand that your expectations for behavior haven’t changed just because the format of your classroom has.
Best Practices for Online Learning
Finally, make the most of distance learning by:
- Posting lesson plans for the day on your virtual whiteboard
- Using the attention tracker to monitor students
- Going on virtual field trips
- Collaborating with other local and international schools/educators via video
- Conducting a virtual study hall
- Pre-recording lessons so you can grade, speak with parents/admins, and plan ahead
- Locking out late students to maintain a sense of normalcy
- Having “open office hours” virtually for parents/students
- Meeting with coworkers virtually
- Assigning virtual group projects as homework
- Implementing regular breaks and quick stretch breaks
- Creating mental health resources for students with guidance counselors
Is Zoom Right for Your Classroom?
Whether you’re an administrator who has been tasked with choosing the right video tools for distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak, or if you’re an educator who needs to select a web conferencing software that both you and your students can understand and operate, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by choice.
Perhaps you’re concerned about the recent rise in Zoombombing or don’t feel that Zoom provides you with all the features you need.
Some school districts have even banned Zoom because of security concerns, trolling, and online bullying.
Top Alternatives to Zoom for Educators
The Zoom alternatives listed below are celebrated for their strong security measures, excellent virtual classroom features, and are compatible with the learning tools and software you’re already using.
Cisco Webex has also seen a record-breaking increase in downloads due to the restrictions put in place by Coronavirus and social distancing.
Webex has specific resources and tools dedicated not just to teachers and students, but also to parents and education’s IT, administrators. The software even provides a virtual education community that teachers can join to discuss challenges and exchange ideas with others in the field.
In Webex, teachers can easily split students into several smaller working groups called “Spaces.” This gives them the chance to work together just as they would in your physical classroom.
Webex also allows users to host or join any virtual classroom from any device that has video capabilities. This means students who may not have access to a desktop computer at home, but who do have a laptop, smartphone, or tablet won’t miss out. Screensharing is also possible from any device.
Other essential Webex virtual classroom features include:
- Attendance taking
- Attention Indicator tool
- LMS compatibility
- Virtual hand raising
- File/application sharing
- Chat features
- Lesson recording/transcription
The Webex video tutorial for educators provides an in-depth look at these features and many others, and helps educators learn the basics of how to set up and operate Webex in under an hour.
Our coverage of Zoom vs Webex gives an even deeper dive into how Cisco Webex compares to Zoom.
Webex is Ideal For:
K-12 students and education administration teams
RingCentral’s video conferencing system has been a leader in social distancing efforts since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.
It offers multi-device compatibility, high definition video quality, and has an excellent in-software chat feature that allows you to message your entire class or an individual student.
RingCentral integrates with Dropbox, Google Drive, GSuite, Office 365, and LMS tools like Canvas and DigitalChalk.
It also boasts a robust App gallery that integrates with even more tools to bolster online learning.
RingCentral offers a high level of security and host controls, including muting/unmuting, virtual hand raising, and meeting locks.
Other features include:
- Ability to set tasks in class
- File sharing End-to-End encryption
- Record meetings and save chat
- Breakout class sessions
- Host up to 500 people per video conference
- Annotation tools
- Single sign-on
Ringcentral is Ideal For:
High School Students and up
BlueJeans Video Conferencing
BlueJeans video conferencing is yet another tool that works just as well for classroom learning as it does for business meetings.
One of the best features BlueJeans offers is its training program, which is designed to help users understand exactly how to install, operate, and make the best of the software. Especially if your team needs to train a large amount of faculty and a high number of students quickly, this is a huge bonus — and helps to cut down on frustrations and endless technical difficulties in the future.
BlueJeans also provides video conference summaries/recaps, which is a wonderful way for teachers to be able to share with parents and school board members what they’ve been up to in the classroom. The Meeting Highlights feature allows you to share video/audio snippets of the most essential moments of your lesson with your students quickly, so they won’t have to re-watch the entire conference to find the information they need.
As of this writing, BlueJeans does not yet offer a free basic account. However, it does offer a free 14-day trial.
Other competitive BlueJeans features include:
- Superior audio quality
- Stronger security features
- No meeting time limits
- File sharing
- Integration with collaboration and LMS tools
- Multiple device accessibility
- One-click scheduling
- Recording meetings
- High level of IT support
- Town-hall style meetings
BlueJeans is Ideal For:
College-Aged Students, Continuing Education, Education Administrators, Webinars
Should You Use Video Conferencing for Long-Term Virtual Education?
No one can be certain about when the United States will be able to return to traditional classroom learning.
Zoom and the additional video conferencing tools we’ve discussed will help you and your students to quickly adjust to distance learning — and will help you to make the most of the process.
You may even find that these tools are so beneficial to your students that you’ll consider hybrid learning in the future, when students are back in a physical classroom or lecture hall.
Remember that online learning and teaching isn’t just the new normal for students. Remote learning and video meetings for school boards, teachers, and education administrators are, too.
In addition to choosing between Zoom, Webex, BlueJeans, or RingCentral alternatives, you and your team should also look into using video chat and messaging tools to improve communication and collaboration even further.
To help, GetVoIP has put together a list of the top Slack alternatives. After all — video conferencing software won’t be the only thing you rely on to help you master distance learning.