There are ways to make the best of this brave, new Zoom world.
Many schools across America, including Ann Arbor-area schools, are hosting Zoom Classes in part to facilitate the equivalent of an in-class lecture or face-to-face activities, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. Zoom sessions require a new set of elements of which to be aware. We spoke with various students, staff, and parents to find some of the best tips for managing Zoom classes. This will help students get the most out of their classes, and teachers get the most out of their students.
1.) Find a Quiet, Comfortable Space
It is imperative that both the student and the teacher are in a quiet place without outside distractions during a Zoom meeting. Some students and teachers set up a quiet space in their rooms, or on the family dining room or kitchen table. Some parents have set up home offices in the basement to resemble a classroom. Some kids may be most comfortable in a favorite spot in their bedroom. Some teachers — and even students — like to have a good visual background behind them, such as a piece of art or a whiteboard. If students might be feeling isolated or anxious staying in a room by themselves all day in front of a computer on Zoom, it may help them to have their pet by their side for comfort. Having a comfort item or pet should not only be allowed but encouraged while a student has to be on the computer. Of course, if parents are home, they should check in on their children/kids periodically.
2.) Account for Zoom Classroom Security
There have been reports of live Zoom sessions being hijacked by hackers who promote inappropriate, sexist, xenophobic, anti-religious, racist, hateful, or homophobic speech during a class session. Some hackers across the country have shown inappropriate videos or images during Zoom sessions. Although there have been many cases of this across the country, there are none yet reported in the Ann Arbor-area. It is being called “Zoom Bombing.” Teachers need to require users to sign-in and be able to evict anonymous people. Students can make sure passwords are their best friends. Additionally, teachers and administrators should diligently work with the IT department to be certain all privacy and security protocols are taken.
3.) Allow Video Off Option
Some students don’t feel comfortable being on video for a class session. They want to be judged on the content of their work rather than how they look or what kind of facial expression they have when they are listening to lectures. Students should be allowed to have video off when a teacher is lecturing or even during other activities. Instead of their video image, a teacher can simply see their name to know they are there or have students type “(Name of Student) is present,” and have them chat occasionally in the chat box if some interaction is required. It is difficult for students to concentrate on the video screen for a long period of time so teachers should try to limit lectures to roughly 20 minutes. They may also present information in the Learning Management System (LMS) for students who need to review the information or take their time in an asynchronous manner to go at their own pace.
4.) Use Online Chat
During a Zoom session, for students who are more comfortable with typing or participating by writing rather than speaking, allowances should be made for whatever is most comfortable for them. It’s a great opportunity for shy students to speak up without having to speak. Remember to check back into the chat box periodically to ensure everyone is being noticed.
5.) Be Flexible
Attendance, participation, and engagement are much more difficult to gauge during a Zoom session. Students and teachers need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Some students do better with asynchronous learning while some do better with synchronous. Students can feel ostracized during a Zoom session just as they might during a regular classroom discussion, so flexibility is important in how a student chooses to participate. Also, because it is generally more difficult for a student to be alone in front of a computer screen for so many hours, there should be fewer assignments, homework, and synchronous sessions expected from them. For instance, last year when COVID struck and the schools shut down for the remainder of the 2019-2020 year, many students did not have to attend Zoom sessions during the day, had no set deadlines for work, and there were no grades. It is difficult for students to have all of those elements again, but still be enduring the COVID climate with isolation and anxiety factors. Teachers should work with students and parents with more open-ended due dates and leniency, as well as the opportunity for multiple revision for mastery in assignments.
Full Disclosure: Donna Iadipaolo gathered data from various students, teachers, parents, and administrators to compile these tips about academic Zoom sessions. Iadipaolo is also a current online teacher and has worked as an online teacher for the past 10 years, teaching all subject areas, but primarily mathematics.