Pat La Morte from Zoom on the Evolution of Online Education


Also: here is a preview of Zoomtopia 2021.

Now that back to school is upon us again, some students are back in class, and some will continue to learn remotely (depending on the school district). To better understand how Zoom has evolved to support educators and the value of digital platforms, I spoke with Pat La Morte, Global Education Solutions Manager at Zoom Video Communications, in my recent ZKast interview, carried out in collaboration with eWEEK eSPEAKS. Highlights from the interview are below.

Zoom has evolved to keep pace with online learning

  • Many schools, educators, students and parents have struggled with virtual learning. It has less to do with technology than with preparation and experience with products like Zoom.
  • Most schools were forced into distance learning without notice, resulting in ad hoc deployments that led to inconsistent experiences. Now that schools have had time to take a step back and assess the past year, expectations should be higher.
  • Although Zoom was originally designed as an enterprise solution, its adaptability made it a valuable resource for schools during COVID-19. Zoom recently made improvements specifically for the education sector.
  • Zoom Focus Mode allows teachers to interact with students without distractions and improves classroom management. Students in a meeting cannot see each other, while the teacher can see all participants.
  • With new pinning and highlighting improvements, teachers can highlight and pin up to seven participants. If a school uses a sign language interpreter, that person is pinned prominently on the screen for the duration of the meeting.
  • Another new feature sends students to a waiting room if a teacher loses internet connection for more than 20 seconds. Students receive a pop-up message warning them not to leave the meeting.
  • Zoom already has several features that were not designed specifically for schools but are used by educators, such as:
  • Live streaming for graduation ceremonies, sports / games and other events that have participation limits due to COVID-19.
  • Breakout rooms, where teachers can divide a class into groups of students to work on projects or assignments.
  • Survey, which allows teachers to create multiple choice surveys and collect student responses live during meetings.
  • Zoom will soon launch the Advanced Poll, a feature that will allow moderators to create up to 20 polls, making the experience even more interactive for students. The functionality will expand to include true / false, fill in blanks, and other questions to help teachers quiz students.
  • As an online video communication platform, Zoom is committed to improving safety, which is a major concern for educators.
  • At the start of the pandemic, Zoom made several security improvements, such as adding end-to-end encryption for an extra layer of protection.
  • Zoom has formed a CISO board and advisory board, which includes security leaders from different industries.
  • Alex stamos has joined Zoom as an external advisor to conduct a comprehensive security review of its platform.
  • There are some best practices that teachers / educators, students and teachers should follow to maximize learning in the digital environment this year.
  • Teachers / educators should make sure they understand Zoom to help students navigate the platform if they have any issues.
  • Zoom should complement, not change the way an educator teaches. It should be managed like a classroom space.
  • Teachers should provide a consistent workflow for all students. If some students are in class and others are learning from a distance, they all need to know where to find the materials.
  • Students should follow teacher protocols and pay attention to lessons teachers present through Zoom.
  • Schools must protect their future competitiveness, their school identity and their heritage in a virtual world.
  • The schools that have been most successful during the pandemic have rethought instead of recreating the learning environment.
  • Education has never been so accessible to so many people and it will be difficult to get back to “normal”. Yet there are still socio-economic issues to be resolved.
  • Low-income communities in the United States do not have adequate broadband for distance learning.
  • Equipment availability / affordability and connectivity are necessary to make these communities accessible.
  • E-Rate, which offers discounts on telecommunications services and Internet access to schools and libraries, is an example of a government-funded program.
  • Schools are also working with local cable and broadband companies to bring Wi-Fi hotspots to student homes.
  • Platforms like Zoom equalize what is unfair in the education system.
  • In the future, some districts will build schools without classrooms and use Zoom to provide materials. Students who are on campus / building could work with a teacher in a mentoring role while participating in hands-on learning at home.
  • Education will be a key focus of the upcoming Zoomtopia 2021 event. There will be a total of 10 sessions ranging from visionary talk to best practices to security. More information can be found on the Zoomtopie website.

There is still a wide range of inconsistencies between states and countries regarding the pandemic. This means that the uncertainty and rapid changes in security protocols will continue to change, sometimes very quickly.

Schools, parents and students must accept the reality that virtual learning will be in place, probably indefinitely. Teachers need to rethink the way learning is done and leverage the unique capabilities of products like Zoom to change the way students learn and collaborate.

Zeus Kerravala is a regular contributor to eWEEK and the Founder and Principal Analyst of ZK Research. He spent 10 years with Yankee Group and before that he held several positions in corporate IT. Kerravala is rated one of the top 10 IT analysts in the world by Apollo Research, which evaluated 3,960 technology analysts and their individual metrics of press coverage.

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