New Zoom security features every teacher needs to know about

I’m on the Zoom train.

I’ve been on it for the past 3 years and I have no plans of getting off any time soon.

Now, I need to start by saying that I don’t have any affiliations with Zoom, I don’t get any money or benefits (at all!) from them, I just totally love their product. (Especially the teaching and learning opportunities their software enables.)

Those of you who know me, will know I’ve got a bit of a history when it comes to online platforms…10 years ago I, along with thousands of other Victorian educators, went through the multimillion-dollar taxpayer expense of being subjected to an online platform that wasn’t fit for purpose.

It (and I) had high hopes but unfortunately fell painstakingly short.

Now, it wasn’t all bad.

In fact, I still believe it was a brilliant concept that was just a bit too far ahead of its time, but I did learn a lot about technology and education (and how hard it is to get those two things to come together effectively) through my experiences with that project.

It’s actually the very reason I’m so passionate about ensuring our education systems make the most of this golden opportunity to marry technology and teaching for the benefit of all students. Right now, we have unprecedented potential to sustainably transform teaching and learning. And, we will probably never get this opportunity again.

So that brings me to Zoom…

Why zoom is good for teaching and learning?

I’ve been using Zoom for 3 years now and I love it. As I said in my free Intro to Zoom training sessions, a few of my top reasons for loving Zoom include:

Why I love Zoom for teaching and learning

It’s free!

Yes, there is a paid version with extra features, but educators can totally get away with using the free version, especially now that Zoom has announced they are lifting the 40-minute meeting restriction on free accounts for people who sign up using an education email. How great is that?! (Find out how to request removal of the 40 minute limit here).

It works.

Hallelujah to that! I’ve been using online web conferencing platforms for 15+ years and I’ve never come across a platform that works as well as Zoom. It doesn’t need a training manual, I’ve rarely had a dropout in three years and even my technologically challenged mum can use it (admittedly, she does currently specialize in setting up meetings where she is the only participant…)

Now, I know I joke about my dear old Mum, but usability is hugely important in long term adoption of technology.This is especially true when we’re asking parents to help their children to log on and use the technology. In a time of high stress and anxiety, any tech we use must be easy to use on both ends- the teacher end and the student end. We just don’t have the patience, time or skill levels to persist with clunky or difficult tech options.

It has breakout rooms.

Most web conferencing platforms are useful for enabling virtual meetings (usually of the business kind). There aren’t a lot of web conferencing platforms that are useful for enabling rich teaching and learning opportunities.

Too often, educators throw away everything they know about good practice when transferring to online learning. We have got to stop doing this! Instead, we need to constantly ask: what does research say about effect teaching practice and how can I leverage the power of technology to enable this? (Of course, there are limitations when going wholly online, but there are also great opportunities). One practice the research clearly says works is whole group and small group discussion. In fact, classroom discussion is so powerful that John Hattie rates it as having a 0.82 effect size. (Yep, that’s higher than the 0.70 effect size of feedback).

The breakout room feature of Zoom easily enables both whole group and small group discussions and allows teachers to move between these two formats with little fuss. Teachers can pose a question to the whole group and then place students in smaller groups to discuss the question, before bringing them back to the whole class discussion. Teachers have full control over the makeup of the smaller groups (they can be randomly assigned, or teacher assigned) and they can also determine how many people are in each group. Also, just like they do in a real classroom, teachers can wander between the groups and listen to the small group conversations, offering extending and enabling prompts.

Zoom breakout rooms

Powerful teaching practices such as ‘turn and talk’, ‘think, pair share,’ literature circles, reciprocal teaching and group work are all possibilities through the use of breakout rooms in Zoom.

What is not to love about the breakout room functionality? With 3 clicks of a button, the online classroom environment can go from a potentially teacher dominated talk environment to a student-centric talk environment where every student gets the opportunity to speak and be heard. (Not to mention the collaborative learning this feature enables, which, when matched against individual learning, has an effect size of 0.59.)

P.S If you didn’t know I was running free Intro to Zoom training sessions you might want to join my mailing list so you can hear about
future offers.

But doesn’t zoom have security issues?

It feels like the whole world is changing every day at the moment. The online world is no different. As companies are being forced to quickly turn to remote work and learning, online platforms are being tested to their limits. Zoom itself has gone from 10 million daily meeting participants to 200 million from December last year to March this year. Holy moly!

In a recent message to users, the Zoom company founder and CEO commented:

We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home. We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived….

These new, mostly consumer use cases have helped us uncover unforeseen issues with our platform….

We take them extremely seriously. We are looking into each and every one of them and addressing them as expeditiously as we can. We are committed to learning from them and doing better in the future. 

Eric Yuan, Zoom Founder and CEO

So, let’s look at some of the safety features that Zoom has enabled to help lift the security of its users.

Doesn’t Zoom give your data to Facebook?

Yes, it’s true, Zoom were made aware that its ‘login via Facebook’ feature did lead to user data being shared with Facebook. As soon as Zoom were made aware of this issue however, they removed the feature causing the unintended data transfer and the Zoom boss assures users this is no longer a problem. (It is important to know that contrary to popular rumour, that had people believing this affected all Zoom users, it only affected users who had used Facebook to login to Zoom using the iOS app.)

What about ‘Zoom bombing?’ Can’t people break into your Zoom meeting without your permission?

Considering that Zoom links are usually just a random string of numbers (eg. http://zoom.us/j/348757) it was technically possible for someone to type in a random mix of numbers and find themselves in your Zoom meeting. It was unlikely (especially considering they would’ve had to type in the right mix of numbers at the very time you were having your meeting) but it was possible. A number of Zoom security measures have now been put in place to eliminate this issue:

meeting passwords

As of yesterday (April 4, 2020), Zoom automatically enabled the meeting password feature on all free Zoom accounts. This means participants need to first click on the zoom link and then type in the meeting password in order to join the meeting. No password, no join. Although facilitators are automatically assigned a numerical password for any new meetings you are creating, you can easily change the password (using letters and/or numbers up to 10 characters). Note: This feature cannot be turned off in free accounts.

Zoom password feature
This feature is now mandated on all new meetings in free Zoom accounts.

The waiting room

As of yesterday, Zoom changed the new meeting settings to automatically enable the ‘waiting room’ feature. Using the waiting room sends all participants into a virtual holding area after they click the join link, they are then left here until the facilitator chooses to let them into the meeting room. Whilst in the ‘waiting room’ participants see a message telling them they are in the waiting room and the facilitator will let them join shortly. They can’t see or talk to others while in this ‘room’. This feature allows the facilitator to look at the names of the people in the waiting room and allow them to enter the room either individually or all at once. It can be used as an extra layer of Zoom security on top of the meeting password but, unlike the meeting password feature, this feature CAN be turned off if you don’t want to use it.

Pros of using the waiting room: I’ve used the meeting room feature in the past when delivering PD to large audiences and when I’ve wanted to give myself some time to set my PowerPoint up early and test my audio without the participants seeing everything I was doing. I started the meeting half an hour early, got myself ready and then let everyone into the meeting room 5 minutes before the start time. (Some teachers like to login to online PD super early so it’s good to be able to get yourself ready without everyone watching).

Cons of using the waiting room: You have to keep a close eye on the participant list throughout the meeting to make sure no extra participants come in late and get stuck in the waiting room, hoping you’ll let them in. Unfortunate for my participants, I am the queen of leaving people outside in the cold…

Are there any other Zoom security features?

Yes, there sure are! Here’s a (non-comprehensive) summary:

You!- Remember what you know about best practice in the face to face classroom and apply this in the virtual classroom. In a normal classroom you would set up rules and expectations as well as consequences before launching into your teaching for the year. Online classrooms are no different! Create some shared agreements eg. everyone on mute while in the main room, no chat discussions until set times, raise your hand to speak etc. Create a poster/PowerPoint slide for your rules and show these at the start of each meeting.

Remove user- Facilitators have the capacity to eject people from the meeting. Although hopefully unlikely, this feature could be used if students repeatedly break the class rules etc.

Mute and video off- Facilitators have the power to mute each individual student’s microphone and/or turn off their camera. They don’t need permission to do this, they can just instantly turn them off. (It’s important to note that it is NOT possible for a facilitator to turn on a user’s video without their consent.)

Zoom ask for help button

Ask for help button in breakout rooms- This button allows students to call the teacher into their breakout room discussion. This could be used to help with a question, monitor the discussion, assist with any tech problems, or even ask for the next step of a task.

Virtual background- users can upload a virtual background so that other users can’t see what is going on in the room behind them. (This feature probably would have been useful for the office worker I once had a meeting with who had all his freshly laundered underwear clearly visible on the clothes horse behind him…totally awks!).

I understand that many teachers will feel nervous about moving into the online space with their students and that many of you will be worried about all the things that could go wrong, but I want to reassure you that there is a high chance your students will surprise you with their behaviour in this space. Set high expectations. Enforce the class rules and enact what you know about creating a safe and thriving learning environment. Take comfort in the fact that many of the international teachers I interviewed said their students were desperate for visual contact with their teachers and classmates in these trying times and were grateful for the opportunity to use Zoom to chat and feel a part of their class again.

So, after clearing up some of the Zoom security concerns floating around, is anyone else keen to buy a ticket on the Zoom train? Let us know in the comments below how you plan to use Zoom to help with remote learning and teaching.

Please share this post to ensure other educators are up to date with all of the latest Zoom security features. You can press the fancy share buttons below or share the link on social media.

Do you have any questions about using Zoom as a teaching tool? Let me know what support you want/need either in the comments below or over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook group.

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