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Zoom for Education: 5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of It

Zoom classroom
Zoom's immersive view puts all participants in the same virtual environment. (Image credit: Zoom)

Even with most higher education and K-12 institutions returning to in-person learning, Zoom remains an important component of many online classes and a common option for online office hours and group meetings outside of class time. 

Though many educators have been regularly using Zoom for more than a year and a half, many are not getting the most out of the product, says John T. Thompson, associate professor emeritus Computer Information Systems at Buffalo State College. 

“How many people are still stuck on Zoom from 12 months ago?” Thompson says. “In 2020 alone, they released 400 features and improvements.” 

While some of these are minor updates, others can improve the class experience. Here are some tips on getting the most out of Zoom. 

1. Teaching with Zoom: Using Immersive View 

In the spring of 2021, Zoom launched its immersive view, which allows meeting hosts to choose a variety of immersive backgrounds to house participants. It gets rid of the student and instructor’s backgrounds and captures just their head and shoulders, placing them around a virtual conference table or within an auditorium. 

Accessing this feature is easy, just open your meeting, then click on “view” in the upper right corner and choose an immersive background. “It's more realistic,” Thompson says, and its novelty can also keep students interested because right now few educators are utilizing it.

2. Teaching with Zoom: Using Third-Party Apps  

“There's over 1,000 apps that you can add to Zoom now by third parties,” Thompson says. These apps are available on the Zoom’s App Marketplace and can be accessed during Zoom sessions. Educators can search the education portion of Zoom’s app store, where they will find favorites such as Kahoot!, Nearpod, Coursera, and other Zoom apps for several popular learning management systems. 

Educator favorites, such as Google Drive and Workspace, are also available, as well as transcription apps in addition to Zoom’s inbuilt transcription services, which can help make class sessions more accessible to all students. 

3. Teaching with Zoom: Blurring Backgrounds 

In March 2021, Zoom released the blurred background feature, which allows students or educators to blur their background if they don’t want to share their surroundings with the class. 

While virtual backgrounds had been an option previously, the blurred background is an easier and quicker option.  It can be selected from the “choose virtual background” menu from the “start video” or “stop video” icon in a Zoom meeting. Educators can also show students how to use this function to help protect their privacy. 

4. Teaching with Zoom: Getting the Most Out of Breakout Rooms  

Breakout rooms are a common function in Zoom and can be one of the best ways to keep students engaged with class material, Thompson says. But online instructors need to be mindful of making sure students stay on topic during the small group discussions. 

“It's like the old adage, ‘Trust but verify,’” Thompson says. “If you set up breakout rooms, the instructor can’t take a break.” Instead, instructors need to be moving room to room, making sure to observe and help keep the small-group work or discussion going. 

It can also help to give groups in breakout rooms a task to complete. Educators can keep students focused by requiring groups to complete short projects during breakout sessions using interactive features on some of the new third-party apps available on Zoom. 

5. Teaching with Zoom:  Continuing to Learn

With so many features constantly being added, Thompson understands why educators have trouble keeping up, and instead play it safe and stick to what he calls the “vanilla” version of Zoom. “You can't can't fault people for not being on top of the latest and greatest new features,” he says. 

However, Thompson advises educators to spend some time exploring the different Zoom functions. For educators looking for more than Zoom basics, he recommends the tutorials and other learning resources on Zoom’s website as well as Russell Stannard’s Zoom tutorials

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a journalist, author and educator. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.