Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Zoom in the time of COVID-19: Setting up Zoom for classes and office hours at the U of L

Posted: Mar 17, 2020 09:03;
Last Modified: Mar 17, 2020 10:03

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The University of Lethbridge is moving to an ‘alternate delivery model’ for classes as of Wednesday March 18. Mostly, this seems to me subscribing to Zoom, a widely-used teleconferencing system, and encouraging faculty to use it. Since the University of Lethbridge has not previously subscribed to Zoom, this means that a lot of faculty members will be doing two new things starting on Wednesday: using Zoom and teaching on Zoom.

I’ve used Zoom a lot in the last couple of years for my research (in fact my lab has a subscription of its own). The following are some tips and hints for faculty that are using it for the first time to teach. They are based on my experience running workshops and meetings, rather than teaching. I’ll update them as I get tips and experience. They are not meant to replace online guides to using Zoom (such as this one from UC San Diego). Just things you might not think about or see in such guides.

Contents

An quick orientation

First thing to do after you sign in, is get an orientation to the meeting window. Once you are logged in, there is a small drop down box in the left hand top menu bar: “host a meeting.” Click on that and choose either “with video on” or “with video off” (I’d recommend “with video on” since that’s the where the power comes from).

Once you’ve done that, this UC San Diego page will help orient you to the meeting window. Pro tip: The controls at the bottom disappear when you move your mouse away from them. Moving the mouse to bottom of the meeting window brings them back up.

Some settings to watch out for

Another thing I’d recommend before you do anything else is adjusting some of the settings. There are a couple of default settings in Zoom that, while normally sensible, may be less optimal when everybody in a class, from the instructor to the students, is using the system for the first time.

You get to the settings from the page you land on after you sign in. On the left hand side, you’ll see a number of links: Profile, Meetings, Recordings, Settings. Choose Settings. The settings page is then divided into several sections:

Meeting Scheduling

Here are some settings I’d recommend changing from the default:

In Meeting (Basic)

These settings control the meeting experience and what happens to things like chat. Here are the ones I consider the most important.

Email notifications

These control what Zoom sends you when different things happen. I turn a lot of them off, because I don’t want more email, and I find it really difficult to care about most of these events.

Call in numbers

One of the great features of Zoom is that it allows people to call in to teleconferences, either instead of using the computer or while they are using the computer (i.e. with the telephone providing the audio).

This is particularly important for teaching, since it helps reduce the digital divide: students who do not have good broadband at home, or access to a computer, or access to a computer with a microphone, can call in instead of or alongside accessing your class with a computer screen. Given that we live in a rural area and draw on students from nearby reserves, both of which can involve less-than urban access to broadband, this would seem to be a pretty important feature to us.

Unfortunately, the University of Lethbridge’s set up doesn’t let students know the numbers they are supposed to call if they want to take advantage of this. It provides the option (i.e. you are asked if you want to join by telephone or computer audio, and you can control options like access by computer, phone, or both). But the invites don’t show the telephone numbers and I can’t see anywhere where you can set this. I really don’t understand why this is.

The fact that our system doesn’t advertise what the numbers are, however, doesn’t mean that your students can’t call in. The numbers to use for Canada are widely available on the internet and they work with our system (I’ve tried it). Since they aren’t toll free (more about that in a second), students who use them are not costing somebody else, either.

The numbers

Here are some of the numbers you can find on the internet for calling Zoom in Canada (this particular list comes from Stanford, but they are the same everywhere, as far as I can tell):

I’ve tried a couple of them with our system and they seem to work. These are not toll free from Lethbridge, but since many cell phone plans have same-as-local calling rates for Canadian long distance, there shouldn’t be too much of a hardship for many of your students.

How to use these

To use these numbers, your students need to know the nine-or-ten digital meeting ID (that’s the number part of the URL you use for the meeting). When they dial in using one of the above numbers, they will be asked for this.

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