Zoom. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Here are some steps you can take, to make coexistence more bearable.

SECURITY

  1. Use randomised room IDs instead of your own personal IDs by scheduling meetings. They may be more troublesome, but they reduce the chance of random people entering your room. Try googling your Zoom personal ID. Yep, take the extra step.
  2. Use waiting rooms . Just like you don’t leave your front doors wide open, use waiting rooms to verify the identity of people, before letting them into your meeting room. You can also enable “Play a Chime” when new users enter your room. Kind of like those infrared sensors they use in some offices and stores.
  3. Ensure your students have their Names & Class displayed as their screen names. You can see it in the waiting room. You can also disable “allow participants to rename” in the room.
  4. Visual verification is the last layer of security. Everyone turns on their cameras and smile. Remember to smile, that’s the important part.
  5. Remove any intruders simply by clicking their profile and selecting the option. If only it was so simple to get rid of annoying relatives in your home.

CONDUCT

Talking to a screen might feel weird, like talking to yourself in front of an audience. But you’ll get used to it, soon it’ll be like talking to yourself in private. Here are some ways to keep your students’ attention on you.

  1. Set clear & measurable learning goals at the start. This primes students to look out for key points during the lesson. It is also highly encouraged to end sessions with a mini assessment, so that students having been able to answer it, would feel like their time has been fruitfully spent. It also provides feedback on whether more time needs be spent on the topic.
  2. Mute your students. Let them know that if they need to respond verbally, to temporarily unmute themselves, by  pressing and holding the space bar. Petition to Zoom to port this feature to real life.
  3. Encourage participation by asking students to use the chat (this function is disabled for MOE accounts). An alternative is to jot them down elsewhere and share them at an appointed time. This demonstrates that you are keen to hear them. No worries, the mute function is always there as a safety net.
  4. Awkward silences are common in video conferencing. Being muted, lag in the network, and the general unnaturalness of communicating so, all contribute to its occurrence. Don’t skirt the issue, address it, own it, joke about it. I usually like to say “Okay, any questions? Let’s wait for an awkward 10 seconds of silence for anyone who has questions”.
  5. Use non-verbal feedback to gauge the attention of your students. It’ll be less obvious through the camera, but it’ll still be there.
  6. Use the gallery view to keep tabs on your students. Live your Orwerllian fantasies by asking them to perform simple actions, a smile, a shake of the head, a little merry jig. It’ll be very evident if they are distracted and caught off guard. Typing and clicking movements during odd periods are also a tell-tale sign of malingering and mischief, as are random smiles and bursts of giggling. Remind the miscreants of your all-seeing powers. Oh, and you can also use it to monitor for “AHA moments”, to gauge learning.

PEDAGOGY

Teaching pedagogies have hardly changed in decades. Now that Home-Based Learning has forced everyone to adopt new technologies, we must adapt our teaching methods to facilitate this new reality. E-learning has to evolve pass the point of being a glorified fax machine, with teachers playing an important role. Creating, moderating, facilitating, a safe environment, situations, and experiences, where true learning can take place. Until a future where knowledge can be acquired à la Matrix style.

  1. Micro-learning methods maximise the limited time for face-to-face (f2f) interactions. The key is to reduce content download during f2f, instead using that time to increase learning personalisation. Ultimately allowing students to quickly apply what they have learnt. Resulting in cycles of short, frequent, learning bursts..
  2. Use mass-engagement methods such as polls to gauge students’ responses quickly. Students are more open to respond to polls done anonymously. You can use the results to facilitate discussions.
  3. It is even easier now for students to share answers with the class. The virtual whiteboard, screen sharing (MOE accounts have to make participants co-host to utilize this feature) coupled with annotation features, present opportunities for peer teaching. Hear their steps, methods, thought processes for solving the problem. Like they always say, “to teach is to learn twice” (and also to give teacher a break).
  4. Have a “Lucky Draw Box” for your student teaching “volunteers”. This will keep them on their toes, and the incidental squirming will provide mild entertainment. Set the expectation at the beginning of the session, let them know that you’ll be getting their involvement in the next lesson. This will encourage them to prepare for it, focus on the learning, and cut down excuses.
  5. Try Breakout Rooms. Assign teams or let Zoom randomise them. Give students problems to solve, ensuring that the problems and final deliverables are clear, and that they understand what is expected of them. You’ll also want to use the countdown feature, the doomsday-esque atmosphere, ensures students are kept on task. Students will be automatically vacated to the main room once the timer hits 0.

Be creative with the way you conduct your sessions. Experiment with the technologies and features available. The world is your oyster… And your students, guinea pigs.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

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