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Zoom Features that Make Your Online Teaching Experience Enjoyable!

During the pandemic, zoom has been supporting universities and schools around the world to improve online teaching and learning with secure video communication services for online and hybrid classrooms, office hours, administrative meetings, and more. This post introduces zoom features useful for instructors/TAs and is written based on my online teaching experience and a document from zoom help center (updated in April 2020). The embedded links provide overview, prerequisites, limitations, and instructions to enable and use the zoom features.

I hope you enjoy your online teaching experience with zoom even more after reading this post!

  1. Use screen sharing to share your slides and course materials

The instructor can show the lecture slides to students by sharing a screen and students can share their screen if needed (for example, when students present their course project to the class). You, as a host, can enable/disable participants’ ability to share their screen. There are additional share options with Proximity share which supports sharing specific apps, share computer audio, and optimize for full screen video.

For office hours, if the course requires some coding, you can use screen sharing to review code. You can authorize remote screen control to take control of the other participant’s screen in a meeting. Authorizing remote screen control allows for navigation, text entry, etc. on the remote computer. Note that the breakout room setting will be disables when remote screen control is enabled.

  1. Use the chat box or non-verbal feedback to connect regularly with students

Chat: You can send chat messages to other participants within a meeting. You, as a host, can allow attendees to chat with 1) no one, which disables in-meeting chat entirely, 2) host only, where only the host can send messages to everyone and participants can send private messages to the host, 3) everyone publicly, where participants can only send public messages that are visible to all participants and send private messages to the host, and 4) everyone publicly and privately.

You can use a public message to make an announcement for the entire class or share a link to other resources (course website, worksheets, syllabus etc.). Note that the new zoom chat feature allows users to search through their starred messages, or filter a search to only starred messages. The links that are shared in the chat are clickable. However, the zoom chat message could not be copied (ctrl+c) by other participants. Based on my experience, it would be useful if zoom allows the participants to copy the zoom chat message and allows the host to pin import message/announcement in the chat.

Using private messages could be effective to reach out to students who seem to stay inactive (with their video turned off) during the lecture/discussion or do not join the assigned breakout group and remain in the main room during the breakout session.

In-meeting chat can be saved manually or automatically after the zoom session has ended. Auto-save chat will automatically save your in-meeting chat locally on your computer.

Non-verbal Feedback: When students do not turn on their video but you would like to check if they are engaged, you will find the reaction function useful. If you, as a host, enable the nonverbal feedback feature, meeting participants can place an icon beside their name to communicate with the host and other participants. There are non verbal feedback options such as ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘go slower’, ‘go faster’, etc. Note that while ‘raise hand’ is a form of nonverbal feedback, the ‘raise hand’ option is not controlled by the ‘nonverbal feedback’ option and cannot be disables by the host. All participants can see the icons that everyone else has chosen. The host can see a summary of how many participants are displaying each icon, and has the option to remove all feedback.

Allow and encourage your students to utilize the reaction function!

  1. Use built-in tools to make the class more interactive

Whiteboard: The whiteboard feature will allow you to share a whiteboard that you and other participants (if allowed) can annotate on. The whiteboard feature works well with a tablet and a stylus.

Annotation: The participants can annotate on a shared screen or a whiteboard. You, as a host, can enable/disable participants’ annotation ability. If there are multiple participants annotating on the shared screen, the host can enable ‘show names of the annotators.’ Once it is enabled, you can hover over the annotation to see which participants created the annotation.

Participants can insert text, lines, arrows, shapes, and stamps. For example, when sharing your screen, you can have a student use annotation to highlight important terms in an equation or to draw a plot on a grid. The host can save shared screen or whiteboard with annotations as a PNG or PDF. The files are saved to the local recording location (other participants can download it if the host has allowed others to save).

Polling: You, as a host, can create and launch a poll in zoom. Using a poll to give in-class quiz is one of the easy ways to check students’ understanding of the course materials. Once you end the poll, you can share the results to the participants in the meeting and also download a report of the poll results after the meeting.

Breakout Rooms: Breakout rooms function is one of the mostly-used features in zoom, which brings dynamic discussion to the digital space. You can use breakout features to divide students into smaller groups for a discussion on a certain topic so that they can work together on a shared google doc / google sheets / google slides / jamboard in breakout groups and submit the group work. You can pre-assign (up to 200 participants before the meeting starts) or auto-assign students into groups for a short period of time so they may discuss with the smaller groups. You can create up to 50 breakout rooms and have a maximum of 200 participants across all breakout rooms. Zoom plans to increase the number of breakout rooms and the number of maximum participants in the future.

During the breakout session, the host can switch between sessions at any time. Co-hosts (could be TAs of the course) can switch between sessions once they join the assigned breakout group. Anyone in a breakout room can click ‘ask for help’ to request that the host join the breakout room. Previously, only the host could assign participants to breakout rooms and only the host could start or stop breakout rooms. Now, when the self-select breakout rooms option is enabled by the host (and when the host and participants are on zoom 5.3.0 or later), participants can move freely between breakout rooms without the host’s permission.

Once the breakout group is assigned, it remains the same throughout the zoom session, unless the self-select breakout rooms option is enabled. When a host opens breakout rooms and students join them, each breakout room functions like it is a new meeting room. Students in breakout rooms will have full access to share screen, chat, and speak (even if they are disabled in the main room). Only one person can share at a time in each breakout room, even if multiple people are allowed to share simultaneously in the main room. However, based on my experience, there were some instances when some students could not share their screens in breakout rooms and when some students did not get the invitation to join the assigned breakout groups.

Once students join the breakout room, main room chat does not show in breakout room chat. You, as a host, can send a message to every breakout room by broadcasting a message. This feature is useful if you want to give your participants a warning to wrap up their discussions. Each time a breakout room is opened, the chat starts empty and does not show previous instances of the breakout room’s chat.

If the meeting is being cloud recorded (you can receive both a URL to the video and an interactive transcript), it will only record the main room, regardless of what room the meeting host is in. If local recording is being used, it will record the room the participant whose recording is in (zoom meeting could be recorded locally by multiple participants).

  1. Use Transcription feature to display the text within the lecture video

You can automatically transcribe the audio of a meeting or webinar that you record to the cloud. After this transcript is processed, it appears as a separate .VTT text file in the list of recorded meetings. In addition, you have the option to display the transcript text within the video itself, similar to a closed caption display. Note that in the current version of zoom, audio transcription only supports English.

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