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“Zooming” into Synchronous Teaching Online

So, we are at the end of the fall semester (or at least up to Thanksgiving Break), and I am teaching one of the final classes for my Masters of Education in Literacy program. It is the capstone course, and there are nine students in it. Throughout the semester, eight of us have met face-to-face and one student has joined us via Skype. (The class is held in South Carolina and the distance student lives in New York.) As part of the class, each student must make a presentation, and it was finally time for my distance student to make her presentation. In preparation, the student and I practiced using the Zoom video-conferencing tool. At first, I was nervous; I never really wanted to teach online. I had in the past, but that was asynchronous, so I basically posted recorded PowerPoints, videos, and notes to a website and uploaded assignments and then grades. I never “interacted” with students online synchronously, it was all over email and comments. In preparation for her presentation and to ease my anxiety, the student and I met online using Zoom to practice, and, much to my relief, it was awesome.

Together, the student and I practiced using the different tools. Below is a screenshot of the basic meeting format, and it shows the tools I used while hosting the meeting.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.47.28 AM

By clicking the “Invite” button, I can send emails to individuals to invite them to join the meeting or I can copy-and-paste a URL and send the link that way. The “Manage Participants” allows me control over muting and unmuting participants, and the green “Share Screen” button allows any person in the meeting to be able to share with the group the content that is on their screen. The “Chat” button lets me send an instant message to an individual who is attending the meeting or to the entire group. Finally, my favorite tool is that Zoom automatically records the meeting, and I can end the recording by tapping the “Stop Recording” button. After my student and I practiced using Zoom, she said she was comfortable presenting using it. The next day, when she presented, my student shared her screen and presented a PowerPoint. Was it the most moving presentation I have ever attended? No. Was Zoom a way to close the distance gap and effectively share information? Yes. In fact, I was so motivated to use Zoom to teach, I cancelled my last face-to-face class of the semester and we had a “Zoom” class instead. In the image below, you can see a screenshot I took from the recording of the meeting.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.46.37 AM

In this screenshot, my class and I were discussing questions pertaining to the reading we completed, as was our normal classroom routine. On the right, you can see the images of three students who were offering ideas about the content we were engaging. There were multiple ways I could view my students – by who is speaking, a gallery view, or a side panel view (as shown in this example) – and different views catered towards different teaching methods. I like the “Who is Speaking” view when I’m following a conversation. The “Gallery View,” which we referred to as “Brady Bunch,” was good when I was speaking to the entire class at once. I preferred the “Side Panel” view when someone was sharing their screen, as in the image above.

Based on this experience, what I have learned about teaching synchronously online is that it is easier than I thought, technology wise. I can show content, lecture, and exchange ideas with students easily. The drawback I found is that calling and engaging off-task students is much more challenging. You can send an instant message, but they may or may not reply. Plus, if you say the person’s name, it may interrupt the whole class. I’m going to reflect on my experience with Zoom and teaching synchronously online and offer more ideas soon! If you have any ideas, leave a comment below or shoot us an email at info@appedreview.com.