Setting up Zoom for Distance Learning
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Zoom is a cloud-based platform and an effective tool in your teaching arsenal when used correctly. I’ve been using Zoom with my middle schoolers for the last six weeks. Even though I’d used Zoom before, I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks about setting up Zoom for my distance learning classroom.
It’s important to know how to set up Zoom to avoid repeated issues and mistakes. The steps below will take you through some of the most annoying and obstructive settings in Zoom in three parts: how your Zoom platform functions, how users enter your Zoom space, and how your Zoom space looks and functions for users.
After you have created your Zoom account, you need to adjust your settings. Go to My Account to access these settings. What you see will depend on your subscription level. Free is basic, so you will not have many options to customize. If you are working with your school, they will likely limit your setting options, but you’ll usually have more control than a free account. If you purchase Zoom Pro, you will be able to adjust almost everything you could ever think of and then some. Most of us are fine with the free version, but Pro has some great features that you might consider paying for even if it’s only for a few months.
Personal Zoom Platform
In your profile settings, you can change your language and your photo. Much like social media, your profile picture is the one that everyone can see, and if you mute your screen, this photo is the one that shows up on the screen in your place. Use your own photo or your Bitmoji.
Your personal meeting ID cannot be changed with the free version. It’s nice to be able to change the personal meeting ID (how people find you for meetings) to something simple (like your name), but it’s only available with the paid subscriptions. Also, keep in mind the capacity with the paid version is 100 people and 40 minutes. While the 40-minute limit has been suspended for educators right now, that’s only temporary.
You may not want to use your personal meeting ID if you have multiple classes or use your meeting ID with colleagues and for staff meetings. If you use that ID, students can come in whenever you are online. You still can admit them to a waiting room, but it’s often better to have a meeting you set up just for the class.
Change your date and time and any other details needed. One of the really great features of Zoom is integration. You can easily integrate Zoom with your Google, Exchange, or Office 365 calendars. By integrating Zoom with your calendar, you will receive reminders.
Admin Setting warning
The Admin settings look great, but unless you have a subscription, you cannot adjust them. You don’t need them unless you want to prepare your space for large groups and copy that idea across multiple spaces.
Instead, let’s look at settings. These are extremely important to update.
To start with meeting spaces, you can review the laundry list of options. Keep in mind a few things. Changing them here will change them for every meeting you attend and most of the meetings you host; however, to have greater control over your meeting spaces, a paid subscription will allow you to access the Admin settings panel where you will have control over more aspects. Also, remember, there are glitches in the system, so check the specific room settings each time.
How Users Enter Zoom:
Save yourself some time by starting Zoom with video on, so you don’t have to explain to everyone how to turn their video on. You can control this, but it wastes a lot of time if you have it off automatically for everyone. Consider instead muting everyone upon entry to save your sanity a little.
Telephone and audio
It’s important to have Telephone and Computer Audio on in case someone is struggling with their computer audio. This feature enables them to call in from their phone (audio) and use their computer for video at the same time.
If you are a K-12 teacher, I recommend leaving “Join Before Host” off. Leaving kids unsupervised in Zoom cannot only be problematic, but it’s also against the terms of service and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
If you select that only authenticated users can join meetings from a Web client, you have to approve anyone who wants to join your meeting. It’s the second layer of protection to avoid Zoombombing. (The first is selecting safer options while logging on.) You will have to authenticate users, which means anyone who wants to join your meeting must register. You will have to manually approve their request, which sends them an email permitting them to access. This feature is great for many reasons, but so many people struggle with the timing of their confirmation. Too often, registered participants try to re-register instead of entering the room through the confirmation email.
You can also have a password to add another layer of protection to your space. There are a few questions about passwords, but if you’re going to use them, use the option to embed that password in the meeting link for one-click join. We all know how well people do with following directions, so the link will make it easier for them to access the space. For school accounts, passwords are automatically enabled.
During Meeting Settings
There are many chat features, including options to allow students to chat privately with each other, with the whole group, or just with you. I recommend either allowing students to just chat with you or the whole group, not privately with one another. This can be distracting during meetings, and even though you can save chat transcripts, you won’t know immediately what is being said. For meetings with colleagues or adults, turn on the file transfer and private chat feature.
Sounds are helpful when participants enter in case you have stepped away and to acknowledge when someone has come into the meeting. If you enable this feature, you will also hear a sound when someone is in the waiting room. You can turn on sounds so just the host hears them.
Always show the meeting control toolbar. If that thing disappears, users will go crazy. You will, too. Showing Zoom windows during screen share is another great feature to see who is paying attention to what.
Screens and Sharing
The next series of settings are focused on screen sharing. If you allow screen sharing, you are permitting participants to share their screens without resetting these settings each time. You (as the host) can take back control whenever you want. Consider leaving it off unless you ask a student to share during class. You can always change it during the meeting.
If you allow them to share but disable desktop sharing, you are creating extra work; avoid disabling it.
The annotation feature allows people to take notes, which is great when collaborating. However, for some students, the temptation to doodle on the screen may be too strong. If you leave on annotation, make sure to pre-teach how to use it properly.
Another great feature is the whiteboard. Math teachers love to use this tool to show their work or have students explain how they solved a problem. Save yourself a headache by automatically saving it, so any notes made do not get lost.
The remote control is important if you want collaborative learning, so enable it.
Nonverbal feedback is a cool feature that allows participants to react similarly to Facebook (thumbs up, thumbs down, and more).
When participants rename themselves, they have some control. Younger audiences might opt for something crazy, but this control is nice to allow formal title-holders to flex their credentials.
Advanced Meeting Features
Breakout rooms are amazing! You can split participants into groups or you can meet individually with groups. This feature is great to put participants into groups and have them work on something. You cannot have remote support on if you have breakout rooms. In addition, you may want to make sure you have a para or co-teacher in each of your breakout rooms to comply with privacy and protection guidelines for students.
Closed captioning is another one of those necessary features. This feature means you, someone else, or a 3rd-party app will create captions, but it’s a great feature for anyone whose computer lags or who struggles to hear.
These are backgrounds that participants (and you) can load to replace their background space. You can get a sense of someone’s personality this way! Zoom comes with preloaded backgrounds, or you can upload your own.
Some participants (especially gamers) have sophisticated sound systems set up. If they want to use those to hear you, why not? It also diminishes some confusion for those who might be expected to restructure complex sound systems.
The waiting room feature allows people to enter the space without entering the meeting. They sit in a virtual waiting room until you (the host) approves them. This feature is another layer of protection! Sometimes you might disable this feature if you have a lot of participants, but usually, it’s an easy approval process (click on a button) so use it! The waiting room is automatically turned on for education accounts.
Join now link
This feature is a must. If you have participants using Chromebooks or iPads, this feature allows them to bypass the need to download Zoom on their device and allows them to work from their browser.
In the recording section, you have important decisions. First, consider recording the meetings automatically. You can turn this feature off and on during the meeting, but if you start by recording the meeting, you will save yourself the “I forgot to turn on the recording!” panic that so many people are feeling lately. You can delete them later. But to record someone, you want to have them agree to the recording disclaimer, including multiple audio notifications of the recorded meetings.
I post recordings to a private class Google Classroom so students who are unable to attend the meeting can listen or view at any time.
There are so many features available within Zoom that will allow you to have a smooth meeting. If you prepare, stay vigilant, and practice, your Zoom experience will be a great one.