2022 was a year for many of us to try, despite upsets, to settle back into in-person teaching. Most of us struggled just to keep our heads above water, and some of us found that, *gasp!*, we missed some of the technology we had gotten used to when we were teaching from our bedrooms, campus offices, cars, and so on. Online meeting software such as Zoom, like it or not, was the technology that saved us all, and quite a lot of us found some wonderful benefits. Unfortunately, in the rush to get “back to normal,” we jumped over the idea that we could have gone “back and better” and Zoom was unceremoniously dumped as we focused on the smiling faces in front of us.
The truth is, Zoom is still a powerful tool that can be used in the physical classroom to build student learning, collaboration, classroom management, and more. So now in 2023, with just a little effort, you can bring many of the benefits of the Zoom experience inside the four walls of the classroom, and you may find that it helps students close the digital gaps we’ve all been dealing with.
Record Your Class
One of the biggest benefits to students of online classes was the ability for students to revisit lecture content or training on skillsets on their own time. Many of us were surprised to go into our Zoom statistics and find multiple students went in and re-viewed certain days’ classes, despite the fact that we didn’t assign the re-viewing. As it turned out, many of our students simply wanted to review the content for their own benefit and understanding. Novel, I know!
So, why not push the record button in the physical classroom, too? You can bring up Zoom on your classroom computer and screenshare your desktop, or focus it on specific apps, all in the same way you choose what you will project on the wall. If you’re lucky, your school may already provide a wireless microphone system you can use. Sure, maybe not every small voice will get picked up, but as we’re working with language learners, it’s usually a good idea to repeat the questions or comments back again, anyway. I get that not every lesson is beautiful, perfect, or even exciting (if we’re being honest), but our goal is to do our best to provide access and education to our students, so why not add the few extra clicks that you were already incorporating in your online teaching to your in-person teaching?
Backchanneling is when you use computers to hold a real-time chat running simultaneously with the lecture or other teacher-led classroom content. Many teachers relied heavily on the chat feature for online instruction, but seem to be running on the default assumption that students will just speak up more in an in-person class. What many of us learned, though, was that the students speaking up in chat were not always the same as the students who spoke up with their voices. Backchanneling gives students the opportunity to share resources, get clarification, and ask questions, all without directly interrupting the teacher. A lot of students find this to be superior to speaking up as it may be culturally inappropriate or personally uncomfortable to stop the teacher while they are speaking.
If you’ve decided to record your class, as suggested above, the chat is activated by default. You can encourage students to log in just for the chat feature. They can turn off their cameras and mics, or even better, you can have them turned off by default in the Zoom settings. Another benefit of running the backchannel is that it’s a great way for you to send quick, on-the-fly links to students about relevant topics. Whether it be an article on the topic you’re discussing, a dictionary page with the proper pronunciation of a tricky word, or a shared Google Doc, it’s one of the fastest and most efficient ways to get everybody on the same page.
One of the biggest problems with teacher stations is that they keep us pinned to a physical location—usually at the “front” of the room, which of course implies a “back,” where students can successfully hide and avoid participation. Perhaps my favorite trick to use Zoom in the classroom is to launch the class using your teacher station, then to log in separately using a tablet and sharing screen to the projector with it. This allows you to move wherever you like, control the content being shared, and bring a spotlight to different students throughout the classroom.
Besides making you more active and disrupting students’ expectations of proximity, using a tablet as your primary means of projection provides a couple of other benefits. First, if you don’t have the benefit of a wireless microphone setup as mentioned above, you are now carrying the microphone with you inside your tablet. This means that wherever you speak from, your voice will be clear and consistent for the recording. Second, with a couple of taps, you can turn on the camera and display what students are working on in different areas around the classroom. Just point the tablet at the sample work and it will show up on the projector screen as a way to reinforce good work or to help the whole class see where they might make improvements to their writing or to another classroom activity. All in all, the freedom that mobility can offer you is huge, and not to be overlooked!
When teachers started figuring out how to teach from home, collaborative whiteboards were all the rage. Whether it be Jamboard, Miro, Whiteboard.fi, or some other tool, there were no shortage of whiteboards to log onto and to get students working together. But the conversation seems to have dropped among educators in brick and mortar classrooms. What happened to all the successes teachers were reporting? Hint: They’re still there, waiting to be reaped as soon as teachers come back to them!
You can definitely continue to use your whiteboard of choice, but whether you’re using Zoom, Teams, Meet, or some other meeting platform, it’s worth considering that they’ve pretty much all got whiteboards built in at this point. That means that you have one fewer resource to link out to, to ensure that students know how to log into, or to pay for, should the need arise. Many of these whiteboards have grown significantly more robust over the last year, so if you haven’t tried them recently, they’re worth taking another peek at.
Breaking Out Without Breaking Out
This one may take a little more planning, but if you’re working on discrete skills (reading and/or writing, e.g.), you can put students in breakout rooms without having them sit next to each other. Students logged into their own devices could be encouraged to do group work that requires more advanced reading and writing skills, and you can raise the challenge level by not allowing them to verbally talk with each other, but they can type or read anything in their breakout rooms. The potential to gamify this type of activity is infinite—you can start by encouraging groups to finish work fastest, or most accurately, all without speaking. As you start playing with this, you will find ways to incorporate the in-person virtual breakouts into all sorts of activities.
Of course, you can also combine physical movement with virtual movement. The potential for jigsaw work is great, here. Students in the first “expert” group can collaborate together, and then keep their “expert” content open as they move to their jigsaw groups to explain what they’ve learned. This will give them open access to everything they worked on together, also allowing them to provide feedback to the first group or get clarification if questions come up in their second group.
EdTech is not about using technology for technology’s sake. The goal is to incorporate tech into the classroom in a way that engages students and increases their opportunities for comprehension and language production. It’s easy to see why people have felt burnt out on tech and why many have moved back to heavily analog classrooms, but it does seem to be missing the forest for the trees.
As teachers, our goal is to provide the best for our students, and that should include blending useful technology into our physical classrooms. Starting with the Zoom features we’ve already learned and come to love, we can create limitless in-person classes that take advantage of the best of what technology has to offer.
Dear Zoom team
I did use Zoom in the classroom when we went back to f2f, because our technical equipment was not yet fully installed. I started sessions on my phone, asked the students to log in on their phones, and for about 3 weeks, even presented PowerPoint that way.
I haven’t read the full post yet, but I just wanted to support Zoom by sharing my positive experience.
Thank you for the service.