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  • Nancy Ruther, EdD

Video Conferencing in the World of COVID-19

Switching classes to an online format in a hurry is no easy task, and even harder when technology creates rather than solves problems. We offer a few suggestions to help you make the most of video conferencing technology to use right now in your daily teaching as well as to help you make decisions for a current or future virtual exchange project.

Zoom was the “go-to first” platform and trusted up until a few weeks ago. The company has fared well with its bandwidth, even with ever-expanding demand as everyone quickly switched to online meetings and classes. Then the trolls jumped in! “Zoombombing” joined our vocabulary. In order to protect your meetings, you can use password protected meetings. You can also create a “waiting room” area and the call host can manually accept or reject requests to enter the virtual room. In addition to “zoombombing attacks”, Zoom has been repeatedly accused of spying on it’s users and sharing their data with third parties, as well as installing malware on users computers. If your institution has banned this platform, here are some alternatives we suggest.

Webex is useful for meetings of up to 100 people. They have advanced security features, but some of these are only available to paying users. Any user will need an app to use the program, but it is free to download. They even have a full page of tips to help teachers move their classes online in a hurry! These include ways to engage students, host an online class, and maintain some of your teaching style even when working virtually.

Google has a web program and app, Google Hangouts, that can be used for video conferencing. The caveat is that you cannot login with institutional accounts unless your college or university has an agreement with Google. A workaround is that students or colleagues can use other gmail accounts, but it’s possible that not everyone has a separate account to use.

Microsoft offers two options for video conferencing -- free Skype group video calling that includes screen sharing and recording functions, for up to 50 participants; and a professional online meeting system, Microsoft Teams, which replaces Skype for Business. Microsoft Teams is free to use for teachers and students if their institution signs up; alternatively, you might use one of their business plans that start with a free plan that includes video calls and screen sharing but doesn’t have a recording function. Microsoft promises to protect your personal information and guard against unwanted intruders.

Jitsi, a flexible and free open source platform offers Jitsi Meet, a ready to use solution that includes a screen sharing feature, integrated chat function and simultaneous document editing using Etherpad, a tool that might be handy if your campus is not allowing the use of Google docs. If you are more tech savvy, you might also look into Jitsi Videobridge.

In addition to these video conferencing platforms, there are many other ways for students to connect individually to work on group projects or to converse socially. These include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and more. See our tech blog post to find out more about these ways to enable your students to connect. Please contact us with further questions. And let us know what you find out, too!

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