You’ve spent months testing, installing and training up staff to use your current learning platform, then the Coronavirus hits and suddenly everyone wants to use Zoom. So, what’s going on and what are the implications for your school?
What is Zoom?
Zoom is a “free” video conferencing app which runs on everything from your Granddad’s Nokia 3310 to your Intel i9 desktop with 640GB of RAM and twelve 8K monitors. You’ve probably seen Zoom popping up on your Facebook feed over recent weeks, pushed by personal trainers who have suddenly realised that their core business might be under threat. Joe Wicks has a lot to answer for.
It’s for that reason that Zoom has spread — yes, like a virus — into the minds of consumers, students and teachers. Many teachers and school staff, forced to use Zoom in order to join their weekly bootcamp session, have suddenly become extremely familiar with Zoom, resulting in the app becoming a market leader in such a short period of time.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Zoom is bad, and I’m a big fan of leveraging passion to use technology. So, is Zoom actually any good for teaching?
Is Zoom actually any good for teaching?
Yes. Once you get under the hood, Zoom is a really scalable way for teachers to hold managed online lessons. Zoom’s focus is entirely on video conferences and webinars, and as such it’s really simple to quickly set up online classes. The app also has a range great feature which are really great for teaching, such as a collaborative whiteboard, local video recording, and breakout rooms for group work.
In several respects the classroom management options are actually more powerful than even those found in Microsoft Teams. One of the current limitations of Teams in particular, is that it’s difficult to view all of your students on camera at once. Zoom manages really well and makes a good case for itself to use Zoom as an alternative to Microsoft’s solution.
Zoom also has a plethora of meeting options for almost any scenario. Whether you’re encouraging a discussion topic with students or you’re presenting a lecture. Zoom allows you to manage your students by having full control over their audio and video, not so Microsoft Teams.
There are also plugins to integrate Zoom with Microsoft Outlook and a deployable Chrome extension and using the publicly accessible links you can share video conference links within applications such as Microsoft Teams.
If Zoom is that good, should I be signing my school up now?
Whoa there, Joe Wicks, hold your horses. While Zoom might be a great product for many, there are some significant downsides to using it in a school environment. The first issue is cost. While Zoom might have a free version, I have significant concerns about safeguarding, particularly for younger students, which I’ll outline shortly.
Unless your school invests in the paid version, you can’t do basic things such as:
- Set up and manage teacher and student user accounts — they have to create their own
- Properly manage and monitor teacher/student communication — a big safeguarding concern
- Record video directly to the cloud
- Integrate Zoom with your learning management system
- Manage roles and access permissions
- Conduct lessons longer than 40 minutes — although this has been changed to unlimited on a short term basis during the current crisis, but is something you’ll need to take account of once things return to normal.
So, we need to talk about cost. As everyone knows, there’s no such thing as a free video conferencing application. Exception for Microsoft Teams. And Hangouts. And probably some others.
Is Zoom really free?
No. And this is the kicker. While the the “basic” version is free — and does have many useful features — it also comes with several limitations which, in my opinion, make it unsuitable for working with school age students.
The reality of using the free version of Zoom, particularly with younger students, is that teachers using the app to communicate with students are doing so outside of your school’s usual managed systems. Microsoft Teams and Google G Suite do not suffer from these same issues.
Safeguarding and Zoom
When a teacher communicates with a student using Microsoft Teams, they are doing so within your school system and with their school account. This means there’s a virtual paper trail of all communication, and in many cases this can be recalled at a later date, or their account disabled to prevent further communication.
The free version of Zoom essentially provides teachers a direct connection to students outside of comparatively safe walls of your school managed system. It’s the equivalent of sanctioning teachers to carry out video conferences with students using their personal Facetime account.
A free Zoom account is effectively a personal account, disassociated from your school organisation, over which you have minimal control. One potential safe guard — requiring staff to sign up to Zoom using a school email address — fails, as it’s straightforward to simply change your Zoom account’s email address to a different one.
A further problem is that as soon as you start getting into the organisational management options to over come this issue, you’ll start to be presented with screens like the one to the right.
I hope you’ve got your credit card handy.
How much does Zoom cost for schools?
Cost isn’t necessarily a problem, the paid for version of Zoom is very feature rich and depending on your requirements may be a valuable investment for your school. Once you’ve paid for Zoom and upgraded from the free basic account, you get access to features such as:
- Organisation wide user and group management
- User management dashboards for tracking usage, attendance, attention, in-meeting data
- Integration with popular LMS such as Moodle, Canvas, Desire2Learn, Sakai, and Blackboard
- Polling and Q&A collaboration features
- Role and permissions management
- Zoom Rooms and digital signage integration
- Single Sign-on
- Branding integration
- …and much, much more!
But Zoom isn’t cheap, even for education customers.
Let’s say I want to pay for 100 teachers to install and use Zoom. Even with an education discount, it would cost me £72 per teacher per year — you don’t need to pay for students unless they need to set up conferences themselves. That works out to a total of £7200 per year. But this doesn’t include any of the webinar features, Zoom Rooms, or Cloud Recording which costs additional money.
This makes Zoom an extremely costly investment, especially when compared to free, feature rich alternatives such as Microsoft Teams and Google G Suite.
Installing Zoom on school computers
What good is an application if you can’t install it? Fortunately Zoom plays a strong hand when it comes to installing the app on school computers. There’s an MSI file with about a million options the configuration of your choice, as well as support for Microsoft inTune, Group Policy, Active Directory templates and registry keys, as well as command-line deployment. There’s also comprehensive documentation for network administrators to get their teeth into.
GDPR and Data Protection with Zoom
Zoom services generally store data in the United States, though through our global data centers, data may come in from wherever users are located. We may transfer your data to the U.S., or to third parties acting on our behalf, for the purposes of processing or storage. Our customers may choose to have their data stored outside of the U.S; for example, they may choose to have their data stored in their geographic vicinity.
Should my school jump on board Zoom?
Zoom is a free, easy to implement solution for schools to run online lessons and lectures with minimal fuss. It runs on everything, including your refrigerator, so students are pretty much guaranteed to be able to access it, no matter which device they use. But unless you’re paying in cold hard cash, a lot of the core features, that are essential for your school management and safeguarding are simply not there.
With the free version you can’t use the cloud recording features, can’t setup accounts for your students or limit access only to users from your school. You can’t have classes longer than 40 minutes — there’s a hard cut off if you go beyond. although the class can be restarted — or get telephone support.
In a world where Microsoft Teams and Google G Suite are free for schools, I can see few benefits to using the free version of Zoom. As with most learning technology of this type, Zoom works best as part of a well considered whole school development strategy, ideally using the fully featured paid version.
The sudden rise of Zoom in schools is concerning. I suggest that what we’re actually seeing is not the rise of a viable competitor to Microsoft and Google’s video collaboration services, but rather an unsuitable consumer application being used as a quick fix to resolve more long term school management issues.
Am I missing something important here? Let me know in the comments.