Students and faculty have been forced to rely heavily on technology because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many classes that were originally supposed to be held in-person are now either hybrid or completely online.
One piece of technology that many universities have been using is Zoom. Zoom is one of many live video chat softwares, and according to professionals and professors, it is the best option, but it isn’t perfect.
Manager of Technology Services, Merlin Miller, has worked for the University for all 28 years he has been in I.T.
Miller said out of all of the different live video chat softwares, in his experience, Zoom has been the best.
“Zoom works out quite well,” Miller said.
He noted that Zoom works better for administrative meetings. As for teaching, Miller said Zoom is really just to support professors when having to teach remotely.
Compared to other video chat softwares such as Google Meet, Skype and Skype for Business, which is transitioning to Microsoft Teams, Zoom brings because a number of different capabilities.
“From different experiences, Zoom is probably the easiest one to use,” Miller said.
Skype is a common video chat software for ordinary consumers while Skype for Business is built for more corporate purposes.
Miller explained that Skype for Business is not compatible with its sister software, Skype. Someone using Skype can not chat with someone using Skype for Business. The two have to be using the same form of Skype.
Another problem Miller pointed out is that Skype and Skype Business’s login process is more complicated and takes more time. With Zoom, people simply need the URL for the meeting.
Miller said Zoom has many capabilities, such as designating hosts and screen sharing, which are beneficial in a classroom setting and professional meeting setting.
“It depends on how you are using it,” Miller said. “I don’t know if there are really any disadvantages in a truly interactive format.”
Department Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dawn Gilley, disagrees that Zoom was not built for teaching.
Gilley has been teaching for 21 years and has been at Northwest for 12. She said she has used Zoom less than five times during a semester.
Gilley prefers teaching students in person rather than over a live video chat for many reasons.
One reason is that with the increased use of this kind of technology comes problems that we have never experienced before. Gilley talked about when Zoom went dead the morning of Aug. 24. She said the problem was not something professors and students were prepared for.
Gilley also noted that there are other problems regarding privacy that come along with using Zoom.
“Privacy issues in terms of what is acceptable for me to ask students to show in their video that isn’t a violation of their privacy,” Gilley said. “Do I have a right to know what their bedroom looks like?”
Gilley said she believes that students have these kinds of rights to privacy and that she thinks that it is great that students are allowed to keep things to themselves such as where they live. Gilley said there should always be that kind of mystery to a student.
Gilley said she is also a teacher who likes to move around when she teaches and feels that Zoom limits her capabilities as a professor.
“I find that it boxes me in too much,” Gilley said.
Another reason Gilley tries to not rely on Zoom for teaching her classes is that there are social cues in an in-person classroom that are not as obvious through Zoom.
“You end up having people talking over one another,” Gilley said.
Even though Gilley is not a fan of using live video chats to teach her classes, she said she tried playing around with Microsoft Teams and found that she preferred Zoom.
Brian Swink is an instructor who teaches Fundamentals of Mathematics, Math Methods and Fundamental Strategies, and is the Director of University Seminar who also uses Zoom for his classes.
Swink said he doesn’t prefer teaching through Zoom over teaching in person, but he does like that the software allows him to get a visual on all of his students.
“I know that it can be easy to tell if students are struggling just in their appearance as they come to class,” Swink said.
The only time Swink had used a live video conference prior to the pandemic was when he participated in a state board for math teachers.
In a Zoom interview, Swink said he has been operating his classes on an alternating hybrid basis. He has also moved most of his office hours through Zoom unless students drop by his office with questions.
Swink explained he does not like using Zoom for his office hours because he is not able to do group meetings as easily. Through the Zoom video, Swink swung his computer camera to show a white table set up in his office.
He said he usually gets students together who are struggling with the same questions and will work with them.
Since his office is only so big, and because social distancing is required, the small space is not functional to hold such meetings. Despite not liking that he has to hold these group meetings over Zoom, Swink is still thankful that he is able to meet with those students and share information over live video chats.
“It is a little bit clunkier and takes a little bit more time to teach this way, but we are still having those high-quality conversations we were having in the classroom,” Swink said.