NOT The ideal Zoom from home setup: How many Zoom errors can you spot in the image?

(credit: Matthew Robson from FMHHS introduced me to the concept of ‘A room of errors‘, in which medical students tour a hospital room virtually and point out all the errors in the placement of medical equipment)

Zoom has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have (and learn-quick!) in the span of only a few months.

Zoom (or any other videoconferencing software) is now ubiquitous in our professional and personal lives. Although this means that our familiarity with the technology is at an all-time high, this does not equate to it being something we all know how to use effectively, as you will soon find out from my own personal experiences.

Technology: the more you know, the more you don’t know

The concept of online video conferencing is quite simple: click a link, turn on your video camera, then talk. I’ve come to find that even if the concept is simple, there are many different ways to make the experience better (and thus more complicated!).

Before anything else, make sure you meet the minimum system requirements: Broadband internet (within the University is best, NBN, ADSL, Cable, 4G and others), a device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop), a camera, speakers and microphone. The majority of us should already have all of these on hand.

What if you wanted to add to the quality? Where do you start and what do you prioritise?

From my personal experience audio comes first, then video.

Audio:

Your laptop microphone will pick up a lot of background noise and also may not be able to pick up your voice effectively. The main factor for this is the physical distance of the microphone from your mouth and also the quality of the built-in microphone. In the world of audio technology (I am no expert), dedicated microphones will perform better than the built-in ones. The cost for the equipment gets higher as you go up the quality hierarchy – up to a point of diminishing returns (so don’t overspend!).

Video:

As with audio, the built-in camera is the entry-level option. Thankfully there are a few things you can do to improve the quality without having to spend.

1. Lighting is important: avoid having backlit scenes (e.g open window in the background) and make sure that your face is well-lit.

2. Angle of the camera is also important. Typically having the camera point up from the bottom of your face is an unflattering angle. Try to prop up the laptop or camera on a stack of books or desk stand.

Here is a short video about how to make your Zoom presentation a little better: Look good and sound great on videos from home (c/o DPReview)

Setup and Settings: paralysis of choice

The number of different settings can get overwhelming. Here is a quick list of what I recommend looking at first.

Audio:

There are various settings under audio in Zoom – here are my settings. I make sure that my speaker output and input are correct and adjusted to the correct levels. I also enable the automatically-join audio setting (to prevent the pop-up every session) and as good practice, I automatically have it on mute just to make sure I’m ready when I unmute. The press and hold SPACE to speak function is useful for short messages, just like you would on a walkie-talkie.

If you’d like to test how you sound, be sure to check it through your Zoom audio settings (screenshots taken from the desktop app):

Video:

Video settings are equally as diverse, so I check things such as camera input, HD, mirror video if ever I need to show anything that is written on the screen. Also, Touch up my appearance is on… just because. (screenshots taken from the desktop app)

Education context: I wish I had two heads and four arms

This is my experience with Zoom this year, both as a participant and as a facilitator. It’s in the form of a lightning round, where I state what went wrong and how I plan to prevent it from happening in the future. (Thank you, Zoom quick guides!)

Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”

Double booked meetings: Back in the days before Zoom, attending two meetings scheduled at the same time was a physical impossibility. With Zoom however, it is actually possible to join two separate meetings at the same time with one account. I have tried this and I do not recommend it. The reason is that both audio streams will be playing at the same time which is very difficult to keep track of, let alone participate.

Duration: The dreaded default 40 minute time limit is real if you do not log in using your Macquarie account! As Macquarie staff, we have what is called a “licensed” account, meaning we get unlimited time and a maximum of 300 participants. Make sure you sign in through https://macquarie.zoom.us/ or click ‘Sign in with SSO’ on the Zoom client and type ‘macquarie’ in the box. (SSO stands for Single Sign-On)

Waiting rooms: Waiting rooms are useful when you would like to prepare before letting any participants in. I’ve seen this used effectively for online tutorials, work meetings, and even job interviews. I’ve made the mistake of not monitoring the waiting room queue and leaving participants hanging for a while. It is easy to miss, so watch out for that.

Breakout rooms: Breakout rooms are a great feature, but require some management. I recommend planning the setup beforehand (auto or manual assignment). The main thing I can say with this is that you are not omnipresent in these rooms (and you should also not try to be); as a host you can only join one at a time. Assign a co-host or a student leader for each group.

If there is breakout room collaboration involved, such as a group presentation, try setting up a shared document with prompts such as Word or Google Docs where each participant can contribute in real time.

Chat: Many participants opt to participate through the chat function rather than speaking up. This may be due to many reasons, so be mindful that there could be a whole other discussion happening in the chat that you are missing. Schedule micro breaks in between each topic to check up on the chat and address one or two chat questions or comments. If there are too many, save the chat at the end and send a follow-up after class.

Sharing your screen: This is one of my favourite features, and also one of the scariest. Make sure to close all personal windows and tabs before firing this up. That includes your online shopping list, your personal email or your online banking statement. Instant chat (be mindful that alerts / notifications also show up in screen shares, so mute that too!).

How I get around this: 1. Choose the window of a specific application to share, rather than the whole screen or 2. Have a second monitor devoid of all personal content!

Interruptions: I’ve found that in Zoom meetings, interruptions and talking over someone else has become more and more common. I’ve struggled with timing my responses correctly and have also experienced multiple “sorry for interrupting, you go first” instances.

I’m convinced that this is due to the micro delay that is inherent with this type of technology. Best way to circumvent this is to make use of the ‘raise hand’ function, raise your actual hand in the video (or note), prompt that you’d like to say something by typing in the chat or by having micro breaks in the meeting for speaking up.

Whiteboard: I’ve used the whiteboard function as a mini-icebreaker activity at the start of the session. I’d jump in 10 minutes early, fire up the white board and put up a question such as “what did you have for breakfast today?”. I’ve found this to be a light way to start a conversation with participants who join in early. I also tried playing some elevator music in conjunction and was met with a few laughs.

Attendance: Registration reports can be found under Reports in Zoom. To enable attendance tracking, you will have to enable registration in the settings beforehand. Quick note, if non-authenticated participants attend, there is a potential that they will show up as anonymous or with a different name. To prevent this, enable ‘require authentication to join‘.

Consider a co-host: This is where my wish of sprouting an extra set of arms comes in. In order to be able to monitor the chat, teach, discuss, set-up groups, monitor groups and even to protect against internet drop-outs, having a co-host is quite the luxury.

Consider a password: Really just to prevent Zoombombing!

My colleague, Karina Luzia has written a nice summary on How to do online meetings (via Zoom) here.

Our own comprehensive quick guides can be found on the Zoom section of the website.

The Discover your voice Teche series is a wonderful resource to look at if you need tips on how improve your online presence:

  1. Discover your voice: Prepare your voice for online teaching delivery
  2. Discover your voice: Tips on portraying confidence in your teaching voice
  3. Discover your voice: Are your virtual students listening?

When things go wrong: “Who ya gonna call?”

This is all still very new and things are bound to not function as expected. I’d would like to take this time to reiterate that support is available through the Faculty Learning and Teaching Teams, the Central IT helpdesk and the Learning Technologies Support Team. You can receive support by emailing [email protected], lodging a OneHelp ticket or calling/visiting the Central IT helpdesk on campus.

Here are a few workshops and resources to have a look at and make sure that you keep an eye out for upcoming learning technology events here on Teche!

Bonus:

A friend of mine has this as his work from home set up. One of the best I’ve seen!

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