Zooming through Zoom

Members+of+Harker+Journalism+test+out+Zoom%27s+features+as+upper+school+students+made+the+transition+to+virtual+learning+last+week.

Anna Vazhaeparambil

Members of Harker Journalism test out Zoom's features as upper school students made the transition to virtual learning last week.

by Anna Vazhaeparambil, Co-Sports Editor

It’s been a week since we made the transition to online learning on the beautiful Zoom campus, and I think it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen this much confusion over a software change since the controversial shift to Infinite Campus of 2019. Regardless, the upper school community has started adjusting to the current situation, and — as reluctant as I am to admit this — we need to start getting comfortable with the idea of seeing our classmates and teachers in the intimate confines of their own homes for the time being. 

So to help get you more familiar with the ins and outs of the virtual classroom and to avoid any mishaps in the upcoming weeks, here is a list that includes everything you may need to know as we venture out into this uncharted territory. And I know you must be wondering what makes me, someone with absolutely zero experience in online learning, so qualified in giving advice, and the truth is… I’m not. But after extensive research on Google and having struggled alongside everyone else to understand the program over the past week, I hope to share the many things I’ve learned with all of you.

So without further ado, here are Harker Aquila’s 10 tips and tricks for learning on Zoom!

1. Whiteboard

During your week of isolation, have you found yourself missing the pristine surface of a good old-fashioned white board? Do you mourn the loss of problem sets that can no longer be solved during class? Well, fear not — Zoom’s whiteboard feature is here to save the day! This tool allows anyone in the classroom to share a digital “whiteboard” with other participants, and while it may be a mediocre substitute of the real thing, it is infinitely times better than the alternative: typing out equations on a Word document.

By clicking ‘Viewing Options’ and ‘Annotate’ at the top of the screen, anyone can write and contribute to this communal board. From visualizing physics diagrams to drawing pictures for vocabulary practice, the applications are diverse and numerous. And at last, those many, many hours of playing skribbl.io with friends are being put to good use!

A quick heads-up about this one before we move on: anything you write on the whiteboard will appear on everyone’s screens, so it can get chaotic at times if too many people are using it at the same time. I would recommend taking turns or figuring out another system to avoid confusion and to keep the session productive.

2. Breakout Rooms

If you find that maintaining an open, free-flowing discussion over Zoom can be rather intimidating when you are not face-to-face with your classmates, then you’ll especially enjoy this next one. The Breakout Rooms feature allows the host of a meeting to divide up the classroom into separate groups, either manually or by a random generator. There can be up to 50 new sessions and any number of participants in each one.

When students are moved to new rooms, teachers can still monitor what’s happening in each one by physically clicking on a specific breakout session to join. And even if the teacher isn’t currently present, students can send them an alert by clicking the ‘Help’ button at the bottom of the screen.

Overall, this feature is a convenient way to still have group projects and discussions over Zoom and maintain the collaboration aspect of the classroom. It can also be a chance to reconnect with classmates or to serve as a private room for teachers to have conversations with individual students.

3. Screen Share

Up next is the screen sharing feature, yet another way to make the virtual classroom slightly more similar to a normal classroom. Zoom is unique in that it offers a dual-monitoring option, where two participants can share their screens at the same time, and it also allows members to annotate the screen at any point, which further expands the possibilities of what can be done on the platform.

From lectures to class presentations, screen sharing can be used in any subject — for viewing biology powerpoints, English discussion prompts, or even physics proofs. And the uses don’t stop there! With so many applications, this is easily one of the more essential tools and will definitely become a staple of your Zoom experience.

4. Zoom Scheduling

The last major feature to cover doesn’t take place during the actual video call, but right before it. If you’re concerned with how to still have meetings now that we’ve moved online, the Zoom scheduling tool can solve all your problems.

With this option, you are able to create meetings beforehand and send invites to participants through Google Calendar, which is an easy way for everyone to keep track of upcoming appointments and events that occur outside of classes. This would be super helpful for club officers — clubs can schedule a time to meet up regularly, and members can use the same link to join the session each week (we’ll all appreciate having to send and receive fewer emails as well).

5. Raising Hand

Moving onto some of the smaller tips and pieces of advice, we’ll first start off with the ‘Raise Hand’ tool, which you can access by pulling up the list of participants from the bottom of the screen and clicking on the hand icon next to your name. If you find yourself missing the thrill of shooting your hand up in the air, eager to answer a question in math class or contribute your introspective interpretations in English, this one’s definitely for you.

It can be difficult to stop a lesson to ask a question or add your own thoughts to the discussion. By virtually raising your hand, you can let your teacher know that you have something to say, and they can call on you when they see the blue hand by your name. That’s right — this means no more awkward interruptions or silenced opinions, you’re very welcome!

6. Zoom Chat

In the past week alone, Zoom has crashed nearly 10 times for me due to slow WiFi. And with four other people also using the software in my house, this will undoubtedly happen several more times in the future. While I don’t want my teachers thinking that I’m dipping on their classes, I also would prefer not to interrupt them and my peers to explain why I’ve mysteriously disappeared and re-joined five times within the past 15 minutes. So times like this call for… Zoom’s chat function!

This feature allows you to send messages during a video call, either to everyone in the class or privately to individual participants. And the uses are numerous! If you have a personal question for your teacher, use the chat. If you need to send a file to your classmates, use the chat. If you need to go to the bathroom or get a quick drink of water, please use the chat!

But with this said, I highly don’t recommend chatting unless you absolutely need to send something to your teacher or to the entire class. Don’t send funny TikToks to your friend or make side comments. First of all, it’s obviously super disrespectful and rude to not pay attention. I speak from a purely logical perspective when I say that you do not want to send the wrong message to the wrong person! It can be really difficult to remember that you need to manually switch who you talk to before sending a chat, because all of the messages appear on the same screen. Please save yourself the embarrassment, and wait until class is over just like you would at school.

7. Meeting Reactions

Do you struggle to convey emotions during your Zoom classes, to look engaged after blankly staring at the computer screen for an entire day? Look no further — this next feature is one I recently learned about, and I’m excited to try it out when I get the chance: meeting reactions. 

If someone has just made an interesting argument or finished an impressive presentation and you’re simply too exhausted to aggressively nod your head or smile to show agreement and support, then consider using a Zoom reaction, which you can find at the bottom of your screen. Why put in the extra effort when you can send a clapping hands or thumbs up emoji to do it for you? 

8. Record Meetings

Another useful advantage about transitioning to online learning in Zoom is being able to you to record lectures or discussions through the platform.

Obviously, this is something that can only be done with your teacher’s permission (and before you go ahead and record without their consent, note that everyone in the session can see if it is being recorded). But if you are going over a challenging concept with your classmates or having an interesting discussion that you might want to reflect on later, this can be a cool way to review content, especially for times when it is difficult to take notes on the material (for example, when you’re learning a physics concept that is impossible to follow on paper or you’re simply too sleep-deprived to properly focus). And I’m sure that we would love to have these permanent reminders of our classes to cherish for years to come.

9. Consider Your Environment

As we start wrapping this up, the following piece of advice is something I want to say on behalf of your classmates, your teachers, and the entire Harker community: come to school with pants on. 

I know, I know — who will even know if you don’t? But on behalf of everyone who has the pleasure of Zoom-ing with you, I kindly ask that you dress appropriately for school. In the words of our Director of Learning, Innovation and Design, Diane Main, “this is not merely a suggestion.” And while we’re on this topic, here are a couple other friendly reminders to remember about Harker’s protocol with online learning.

First, close the door to your room during calls. Speaking from personal experience, having a sibling or parent peer inside without knowing you’re still in class is not ideal. Second, don’t Zoom from bed — especially if you’re feeling sleepy! While you might be at home, the power of a screenshot crosses all distances and boundaries. And third, mute yourself when necessary. Some teachers may want your microphone turned on during classes so be sure to check with them first, but if they have no preference and there’s something going on in your background that we really shouldn’t be hearing, do yourself a favor and just turn it off.

10. Virtual Background

And finally, let’s pretend that you slept in past your alarm one morning and you don’t have the time to clean up your room before joining class — a pretty realistic situation if you’re anything like me. For times like this, when your surrounding environment is less than ideal, consider using a virtual background. This is a really cool feature on Zoom and brings some fun into the classroom.

Now I know you must be wondering, what should my virtual background be? Over the past week, I’ve seen everything from the Harker library to a relaxing beach, but as long as your image is appropriate and in good taste, I’m sure you can get a smile from everybody in the room.

This concludes my tips and tricks for online learning over Zoom. To all of you who have stuck around till the end, happy Zoom-ing!