Thursday, March 2, 2017

Videoconferencing with students

Two challenges I've faced as a faculty member have been

  1. How to provide students equal access to me outside of class
  2. How to ensure that students also have equal access to information other students obtain from me outside of class

I've written extensively about how lecture capture can help all students (those who attended a class session and those who didn't) by providing a resource for catching up with missed work and for reviewing course material.

In the last half-year, I have learned some incredibly useful things that I'm using to address both problems.

First, I learned that Fresno State, like many other CSU campuses and other campuses, has institutional support for Zoom. Zoom, like Skype and other platforms, is a way to teleconference/video conference using mobile devices and computers - anything with a microphone and/or camera and the ability to launch the Zoom app. I've used Zoom on an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook, for example - but it isn't limited to Apple products.

Zoom is easy to use and has some very useful built-in features, like:

  • Recording Zoom meetings (allows "office-hour capture")
  • A shared, collaborative whiteboard that all meeting participants can edit at the same time

This semester, I've adopted a dual approach to using Zoom with my students. This has let me at least partially address my two initial challenges:

  1. I let students join my in-person office hours from Zoom, in case they're not physically able to make it to my office when I happen to have scheduled my office hours. I also give students the option of scheduling Zoom meetings with me at other (non-office-hour) times in some special situations.
  2. I record the office hour Zoom session and post it online (e.g. at YouTube) for other students to benefit from.

Here are a few quick best practices for using Zoom during office hours

With students gathered in my office, and online, Zoom offers the ability for all of us to interact with the same digital whiteboard. If somebody asks about how to analyze a particular pedigree, for example, I could draw an example on my tablet, and the rest of the students (in person and online) can all interact with my pedigree sketch simultaneously, each seeing the others' additions. Thus, I encourage all of the students who physically attend office hours also to bring a mobile device and sign into the videoconference. This is mainly because they can then collaborate on that shared whiteboard. An important detail here is to make sure that each student uses the button in the Zoom app to mute their device microphones (otherwise feedback abounds!)

As the initiator ("Host") of the Zoom meeting, I sign in from my laptop, and have the laptop camera generally aimed across my office, so that students not physically present can get one "big picture" view of who else is present as the laptop records the meeting.

Because I find it a little awkward to use some of the whiteboard annotation tools (e.g. a pen tool) using my laptop trackpad, I prefer also to log into my own Zoom meeting from my tablet - then I use the tablet for making whiteboard annotations while my laptop is recording the contents of the meeting. This is another benefit of using a "real" computer to start the Zoom meeting: when you're done recording the meeting, then the video is exported to a local file (as opposed to exported to "the cloud") that you can edit, if you want, and later upload to YouTube or other hosting site.

It was relatively straightforward to write the above, but here's a supplementary video that I hope will give you a better idea of what it is like to use Zoom and inspire to use it (especially if you have institutional access to Zoom!)

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