One of the big questions teachers, administrators, and parents had at the beginning of the pandemic was: “How do Zoom classrooms work?” They’ve learned a lot over the past year and have found ways to leverage virtual classroom resources like Zoom to facilitate their virtual teaching.
Zoom started out as primarily a business tool but, since the pandemic and a surge in distance learning it has become a common virtual classroom tool. That’s true both at the higher ed and K-12 levels of education. While higher ed institutions had already been leveraging online learning options, the concept was much newer at the K-12 level. Fortunately, teachers have been able to take advantage of online learning tools like Zoom to bring education into the homes of their students.
Here we look at some tips for teaching hybrid courses using Zoom classroom resources that are now widely available for hybrid learning.
Leveraging Popular Zoom Features for Hybrid Learning
The shift to virtual teaching has not been without its challenges. To find out how to solve those challenges, we asked teachers “how do Zoom classrooms work?”
“Teaching is challenging enough without adding virtual and hybrid methods,” says Carolyn Zerhusen, a certified teacher, and tutor with Maryland Teacher Tutors. “If we as educators feel disconnected from our students when we can only see them on a screen, imagine how the learners must feel.” Still, she says, “there are tools educators can use to promote engagement and connection with students learning from home.” To answer the question “how do Zoom classrooms work” it’s important to understand the features available.
How do Zoom Classrooms Work? Make Full Use of These Features
- Screen sharing. Screen sharing, says Zerhusen, “is a critical tool to allow students and teachers to view the same content, whether that is an online copy of a novel or a slide deck.” Having a common visual aid, she says, helps students stay focused and on task as they would be in an in-person classroom. “This is especially helpful for students that are visual learners or English language learners or have trouble processing instructions or content while only listening,” she says.
- Whiteboard and annotation. These tools, says Zerhusen, let teachers create or mark up content while screen sharing. This, she says, “can be used to walk students through the steps of a math problem, close-read a challenging poem, or for students to present their work to their peers.” Students can even annotate shared screens if given the option by the teacher, she says.
- Breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are great for group work for virtual classrooms, says Zerhusen. “This tool allows the teacher to assign students to a virtual room with other students for a certain amount of time.” Instructors can randomly assign students to rooms or select which students go where. “The teacher can move in and out of the different breakout rooms to supervise and support the learners, just like a Think-Pair-Share activity in the classroom,” she says.
- Polling and nonverbal feedback. “The polling and nonverbal feedback options in Zoom are a great way to conduct formative assessments and check students’ understanding virtually,” says Zerhusen. “Students can raise and lower a virtual hand, give a thumbs up or down, say yes or no, ask the teacher to speed up or slow down, and even applaud,” she says.
- Chat. The chat area of Zoom is a place for students and teachers to ask or respond to questions during class. Teachers also can share links and other resources there, she says. And, she adds: “If you have some sort of teacher’s aide assisting in your virtual classroom, they could help confused or late students via chat without interrupting the teacher.”
- Virtual backgrounds. Virtual backgrounds can add some fun to the online or hybrid class, allowing teachers to place themselves in different settings. For instance, Zerhusen suggests: teachers might conduct their class from Paris, or the Golden Gate Bridge—or even from the moon. Students can also make use of this feature. For instance, doing a social studies presentation on a certain geographic location while appearing to be presenting from that location. Virtual backgrounds have practical value as well. “This option is also a great way to protect students’ privacy,” Zerhusen says.
“For maximum effectiveness and engagement, of course, it’s important that classrooms and teachers have the right supporting technology at their disposal to make the most of virtual classroom resources.”
Make Sure Classrooms are Equipped With the Right Hardware
At k12.it, an organization that assists schools with their technology needs, John Fleming, the owner of the firm, says that some common technology they’ve been assisting schools with during COVID to help teachers achieve maximum value for virtual teaching includes:
- High-quality webcam and audio equipment. This, says Fleming, typically means a standalone microphone and a professional webcam instead of the one built into the teacher’s laptop.
- Large monitors/displays. “We’ve added 40”+ displays in many of our classrooms so teachers did not need to be sitting inches from their computer screens or laptops, but could still see the ~20 students in their ‘classroom’ as they might walk about the room.”
- In-room printers. “Although logic says the best approach to a school printing strategy is large multi-function devices shared by multiple teachers/staff due to cost savings, support efforts, and speed, in order to promote social distancing we’ve been providing smaller personal printing/multifunction devices in each classroom.”
- In-room VoIP phones. “In some cases, our K-12 clients did not have phone technology within their classrooms but instead had call buttons that would only directly connect them with the main office.” They have been promoting and deploying either physical phones in the classroom or mobile apps for mobile devices “so teachers can always reliably communicate with parents or caregivers using the school’s phone system and presenting the school’s phone number on Caller ID.”
Teachers are continuing to ask “how do Zoom classrooms work”, learn tips for teaching hybrid courses, and learn techniques that help them understand how to teach with Zoom. By leveraging the virtual classroom resources available to them—including both apps like Zoom and hardware for online learning like cameras and monitors, teachers around the country are overcoming the challenges and reaping the benefit of the new hybrid learning environment.