Price: Free to access (with meeting time limits); subscription plans available
Summary: Web-based video conferencing platform
The video conferencing app Zoom exploded into the public consciousness in the wake of coronavirus restrictions introduced early in 2020. Government restrictions on public gatherings forced entire businesses to reimagine how they operate. Schools, colleges and universities all over the world, had to transition overnight to a distance learning model. One of the options available to smoothen this transition was Zoom.
Originally known as Zoom Video Communications, Zoom is a web-based video conferencing platform which allows users to host free, virtual meetings for up to 40 minutes which include up to 100 participants. Founded by Eric Yuan, Zoom was launched in 2011 after the founder quit his previous job at Webex (another video conferencing platform) because of flaws he perceived with the platform. Joining an already crowded marketplace, dominated at the time by Skype, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, what set Zoom apart was the fact that the web client identified instantly whether the user was on a PC or Mac, and required no software downloads. Also, it could operate effectively even in areas with patchy internet connections.
Critique and Implications for Education
When compared to other platforms suitable for online education delivery, Zoom is more user friendly and intuitive than Adobe Connect. With this ease of use, does come with some limitations in terms of advanced functionality.
Breakout rooms: This function breaks away from lecture format to make meetings more collaborative and mirrors the approach an educator would adopt within a regular classroom to conduct group work.
Record meetings: This function can be turned on and off at will, (breakout groups not recorded) and allows participants or anyone with the link, the ability to watch back the meeting at a later date. This function also allows an instructor to record a lecture/presentation for the students to review asynchronously. At the close of the meeting, the video/audio file can be downloaded onto the host’s computer or to the Zoom based storage platform (the availability of cloud based storage is dependent on the users level of membership).
Share documents/screens/whiteboards: The host has the option to share any screen, webpage or document with the meeting participants. All documents are shared from the hosts computer/device and are not uploaded to the Zoom platform. Alongside these options, a whiteboard is also available to replicate the offerings of a regular classroom.
Annotation: A full suite of annotation functions are available which include pen tools (available in a range of colours and thicknesses), a type tool, high lighter, a range of symbols, and shape drawing tools. These tools allow an educator to highlight and manipulate any shared document. Annotations are not saved, and will be lost whenever the shared image is closed.
Other functionalities of this platform of note are the chatbox, password protected meetings, the ability of the host to reject/eject participants, a waiting room and an option to change your webcam background to an image of your choice.
Whilst not unique to Zoom, this platform shares in many of the drawbacks shared by all online meeting/educational platforms.
Student Engagement: If participant webcams are turned off, the host is presented with a list of names with all requests for contributions, potentially met with silence and long delays. This issue is most prevalent in lecture style sessions. In an effort to increase learner engagement, lessons ought to be planned to include diverse activities, breakout sessions and discussions.
Delay: In areas of poor internet connection, communication can be further disrupted by poor sound and/or picture quality. Delays caused by this issue often hinder effective dialogue.
Background Noise: If a participant forgets to mute their microphone, any background noise is thus presented to the entire group. The host is able to mute all microphones to address this issue. However, this can have the effect of further reducing student interaction and engagement.
Shared Spaces: To allow participants to fully engage with the content of any online education session a dedicated and quite workspace is often required. This presents accessibility issues for those with limited space, shared devices or young children.
Access and Cost
Users are required to set up an account in order to host a meeting, but participants are able to join a meeting without signing up or downloading any software. Meetings can be hosted either through the website directly, or through the Zoom app and meetings can be accessed from either a computer, tablet or smartphone. As with other video conferencing platforms, a microphone, headphones/speakers and a webcam (optional) are required to participate in meetings. Once in a meeting, all members are invited to share their webcam image and microphone in order to communicate. Both of which can be turned off/muted when desired.
The basic affordances of Zoom are offered free of charge. With this option, meetings are limited to 40 minutes in length, which can present a challenge for educators running classes which exceed this time limit. There is no limit to the number of meetings held, which offers an opportunity to work-around this limitation.
Several paid options are also available which begin at $20 a month or $200 per year. This option removes the time limit on meetings and provides 1GB of cloud recording storage, although that is likely to get used up after a short time. There are two further options designed for large organizations which allow for up to 500 participants and are charged at $27 per month/$270 per year.
About the Author
Darren has been teaching English as a second language around the world and in Canada for the past 15 years.
Originally from London, England, he is passionate about the outdoors and in the positive effects of experiential learning. With that in mind he has been leading groups of international students on adventure based weekends for the past 5 years.
He also runs Limberlost Films: a small film production company specializing in music videos, promotional films and documentaries.