Teaching is moving online rapidly and everywhere you look, there’s this thing called Zoom. The internet is awash with Zoom memes and  Zoom University T-shirts.  Everyone seems to be using it. So let’s just do what normally happens in class through Zoom, right? Well, not quite. There are a few things you should ask yourself first.

1. Does everyone have to be there at the same time?

Does your class need to be live online (synchronous)? What is the benefit of all students being there at the same time? When you are usually teaching this class, how many opportunities are there for student discussion, answering of questions or changing the flow of the content? If there are not that many, then it could be best to provide this as ‘asynchronous’ online learning, where students can read or watch your content and complete activities at their own pace.

One option is to record a mini-lecture as a voice over PowerPoint, or a quick Kaltura capture, and to provide that on a discussion board for students to ask questions and discuss. Don’t feel like you need to provide all the content.  A few well phrased questions and directions for how students can share their findings can flip that into a research and analysis task, rather than listening to a lecture online. 

2. How many students do you have?

If you have a class of over 60, are they going to be able to all have their questions asked, heard and responded to in a Zoom session? Managing a large online webinar group is really difficult and not even experienced webinar hosts go it alone. Usually others behind the scene are responding to and curating chat questions and providing support so the presenter can focus on engaging with the participants. Is there that much value for you in a very large group of students being there at once, and can you handle it? 

3. Are you feeling confident in Zoom?

As mentioned, there is a bit of technical management in running a Zoom session and speaking to a computer screen can take a bit of getting used to. It only takes sitting through one bad video conference meeting to know that just speaking to a screen in a lecture style for an hour without thinking about how to use Zoom’s collaborative capability will not make for a good learning experience. So it is normal to be feeling a bit anxious or unsure about how to plan this class. You can practice by holding some of your regular calls or meetings over Zoom, but with not much time to prepare just now, it might be that Zoom isn’t the best option for you, and that’s okay. 

4. Is it the best style of online learning for your group of students? 

It’s not only you who may be feeling anxious about Zoom, as some students may need time to familiarise themselves as well. They may struggle to find time in a quiet space to join your synchronous session. If they haven’t Zoomed before they will likely have some technical queries at the beginning of sessions as they connect their sound and microphones. Some students (and tutors) might not have access to the high speed internet required for many Zoom sessions. Some students may also have access needs or more challenging personal circumstances at this time.

Not to pile on the technical concerns at this time, but there is also going to be an increased demand on Zoom and the internet in general. We have already seen Zoom recordings take much longer to process and become available as the world shifts to this new world of webinars and online learning. Having a backup plan with some more basic online options is a good idea.

5. So what can I do instead?

Just asking whether Zoom is really right for your class is a great first step. Daniel Stanford has published a helpful article on Videoconferencing Alternatives looking at a quadrant of immediacy and bandwidth. It’s important to remember that a live, synchronous session is not always the best option online. While we have been taught to think text, images and files are low-tech and boring, they do have their place, especially when we have concerns about sustainability, access and stability (and time to prepare!). 

There are also a bunch of ways you can add interactivity into asynchronous content. UTSOnline has discussion boards and blogs, Canvas has discussion boards, social polling, and comment boxes – all of which can be used in conjunction with your asynchronous class content. 

But also, don’t worry about going high tech and highly interactive all of the time. While the high standards and can-do attitude at this time speaks to the amazing culture we have here at UTS, we also need to be kind to ourselves and to others. This is not an ideal situation. Sometimes near enough can be good enough. A big part is that you are in communication with students in your subject so they know what to expect, this might not be big Zoom lectures, but rather smaller Zoom tutorial groups, announcements in Canvas and Blackboard, or a big ol’ Teams chat. 

Still can’t decide? 

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