If you have been paying any attention to the video conferencing world over the last several months, you have undoubtedly witnessed the incredible growth of the software-based Zoom video conferencing platform. We have been using Zoom for several years at my institution and we continue to be impressed with it. The new features however, are worth taking a minute and thinking about.
I think that in the educational space there has been some confusion over the various features in the software. While at CCUMC we had an emerging technologies session and Zoom took up well over half of the session. Several people had questions about the product and how they can put it into use in their spaces. I learned a lot about it and brought that information to my campus, and our techs ran with that information and discovered even more.
One of the most interesting features we found was the Zoom Room. In previous attempts to learn about these rooms, I thought that a Zoom Room was hardware. However, upon further discussion I began to realize that the power of the Zoom Room is that the account is assigned to a room, rather than a person. Over the years we have had video meetings in which an assistant scheduled the meeting, but would not be in attendance to start the meeting. Zoom did offer features that allowed the person who scheduled the meeting to assign it to another person, so that person could start the meeting. This worked very well, but did require some training and left open the chance that something would not be done correctly. The Zoom Room allows you to setup a meeting that is assigned to the room you are booking. It has built in integration with Google and other calendar applications. The advantage of this is that it is not under a single person’s name, but rather under the room. You can then also set up the systems in the room to have a single button that starts up the conference. While this feature does cost money per room, it also can reduce the number of pro licenses you need. If a faculty member only has a pro account to start the meeting, they no longer need that account.
Additionally, on Zoom’s website they have a number of examples of possible Zoom Room hardware setups. They have done excellent work on their website of giving examples, and sample equipment that you can purchase. The equipment runs from very simple, to more complicated. They provide examples of where you can use a computer, a Logitech camera and an iPad and have a fully functioning video conference room. This is a fairly low budget entry model. Then they grow all the way to a fully customized room with cameras, microphones and control panels.
One of the participants at the conference had a mandate from their school that they set up rooms that make it very easy for students who may be sick, or otherwise can not be present in class, to participate. His past experiences led him to believe this could be an extremely expensive proposal. However, other attendees talked to him about how he could make the room a Zoom Room and integrate a start button onto the control panel. Then, all that was needed was for the professor to hit that button at the start of class. To make it even easier for the professor, you can program a trigger into the control system to start the meeting at the start of class time.
Zoom can also record meetings and store the video in the cloud. This has the potential of replacing the hardware based class capture systems that many of us have been using for years. While the sharing features don’t quite match those of the other class capture commercial systems, the basic feature of sharing a password protected link does give the ability to do class capture. Over the past year Zoom has also stuck a toe into the digital signage world. I don’t have much experience in that feature, but again, it has the potential to be a disrupter. It is not going to take over any of the big players immediately, but has a very interesting niche. If you are using zoom in spaces, then they already have a home in that space. So, why not use it for emergency notifications, or to show the meeting schedule for that room for the day, etc.
Potentially most impressive is that Zoom has its own user conference, Zoomtopia. The conference is in its third year and continues to grow every year. It includes training, vendors of various equipment and most importantly, the ability to meet with others who are using the product and think about innovative ways to put it to use.
If you are in the education sphere (K-12 and higher ed), then you need to start looking at Zoom immediately. It is a cost-effective solution that can serve you well in many ways.