We have some teachers who need to teach from home even though we are teaching in person. So I worked with them and worked out a solution with the devices we currently have on hand. The teachers will want to Zoom in to do their instruction so the students need to see and hear them and the teacher also needs to see and hear the students. Seeing isn’t too difficult with built in webcams but hearing the students is a different problem, so I tested a few mic options. In this test I test the following mics:
You can check out the results in the video below. I read the same description of a book around the room in a normal speaking voice to make sure the test is pretty fair. You can also check out Tony’s post about his Hi-Flex iPad option.
Good day! We, like most of the world, are distance learning. We also use Chromebooks and Zoom. Early on we had reports from our families that they would continually get the wrong Zoom meeting over and over and over again.
After a short and furious investigation we discovered the problem and the fast solution. But first let’s talk about our set up and what had. Our teachers are great and made a schedule for all of their students to follow and embedded the Zoom links in this schedule. Check out the screenshot below to see what I’m talking about.
Pretty great huh? Yep we think so too.
So what if a student accidentally clicks/taps the wrong link. Well a new tab opens that proceeds to open up the Zoom app. Pretty standard actually. Then you see that you’re in the wrong meeting so you try to close the Zoom app by clicking the “X” in the top right hand corner of the window, but that does nothing.
So if you try to click another Zoom link, it will just take you back to that original meeting. So what do you have to do? You need to close the app by moving your mouse down to the shelf and then two fingers tap (or right click if you are using a mouse) and close the app that way.
Once Zoom closes, when you click on the correct Zoom link you will be able to join that meeting!
A number of schools have had to think quick, move just as fast and definitely have had to be pretty creative figuring out how to deliver quality education, how to provide support for families and much more.
As we continue to navigate this pandemic people keep longing for the days when we return to normal. I have a sneaky suspicion that when those days do come, normal will not look like a school pre-Covid. Here are some areas that have been changed by Covid and will probably not go back to the way they were.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how we were handling parent-teacher conferences this year using Zoom. Well, we have done it and . . . it went very well. Here is the overview. The teachers were going to start a meeting and would manage parents entering and exiting the meeting through the “Waiting Room” feature. This feature doesn’t automatically accept participants into a meeting. Instead it keeps them in a waiting room and the teacher can then admit who they need to admit.
We also used a scheduling program to allow parents to book their conferences ahead of time. The conferences ran for a day and a half and individual meetings were 10 – 20 minutes (depending on the grade level).
Preparation for the conferences
We did a lot of preparations before hand. Here is what we did before hand:
Collect all Personal Meeting Links
Meet with all teachers to…
Make sure Zoom is updated
Make sure that teachers know how to start their meetings
Make sure know teachers know manage participants in the Waiting Room
Communicate with parents…
Send out the link of meetings for all teachers
Send out expectations to parents (have Zoomed installed, test it out, be early to your meeting)
Send communications to teachers and parents at least three times a week before the conferences
I think the prep was very helpful. We were able to track the teacher preparations to make sure we met with every teacher and make sure that they knew what they had to do during the meetings.
We also hammered home that if there are serious technical issues then reschedule. Don’t sit there and trying to troubleshoot the problem putting them behind schedule. Since it is Zoom it can be done anytime.
Monitoring the meetings
Since it is all remote and the conferences are pretty short, our tech staff was simply monitoring to make sure there are no wide spread issues. Lucky for us, Zoom provides a bunch of information.
As you can see from the image, we can see who is in the meeting, when they entered, what device they are using and what equipment (even external microphones and cameras).
We can also switch over to the audio and visual data to see how much (if any) data packets were loss during the meeting.
Overall the conferences went quite well, but there were some issues that we encountered.
The first was an audio issue. We had two teachers whose audio was not working with Zoom. Their microphones were working, their speakers were working but they could not hear anything. In fact, Zoom wanted to restart the driver and it prompted these teachers for administrator credentials. Once they were put in, the problem resolved itself.
Document cameras was another issue. We had a few teachers who wanted to use their document cameras to show student work. The problem was that teachers wanted the parents to see their face while the document camera was being used. This feature is currently not supported in Zoom (or at least I don’t know about it).
So what teachers were going to do was to use the document camera software which will allow the use of the document camera and the built in webcam and then share their screen. It’s not ideal but it works. I am not sure how many teachers actually went this route or just used their document camera or just abandoned the idea altogether.
Then there were the expected issues which were network connectivity and user error. Luckily for us, network connectivity issues were few and far between and when they happened it looked like parents just jumped right back into their scheduled meeting.
As far as user error, I know of a single parent who was struggling through a few conferences. For some reason this parent had issues with sound and connecting to at least one meeting. Other than that I have not heard of too many incidents.
I decided to put out two surveys to collect data. One survey designed for the parents and one for the teachers. Here is a link to a copy of those surveys so you can see the questions yourself. I tried to keep the questions short and to the point.
Depending on the results (listed below) it could shape how we approach conferences for the future. Maybe people loved Zoom or maybe they hated it, either way we thought it was important to capture what our community thought about the process.
Overall the teachers really liked it using Zoom. There weren’t too many negative comments. Here are some highlights:
Some teachers got to see both parents (usually they only see one)
It easier to stay start and finish meetings, so it was easier to stick to their schedule
Meetings started and finished on time
It went better than expected
You do lose the personal touch of meeting in person
It was nice doing conferences from home
I really anticipated the results of the teacher survey to be more mixed. I wasn’t sure if technical difficulties were going to be an issue, but that didn’t seem to be the case at all. 90-95% of our teachers said that the audio and video was good. As it turns out, the teachers (overall) were really impressed with the format.
The final question was whether they would want to hold conferences in person only, through Zoom only or a combination of both. Here are the the results.
This really surprised me. I was really anticipating a really mixed bag. We are not a large school but that does not mean that our parents opinions are all homogeneous. We have some parents who are IT professionals and others who have difficulties with basic computer skills.
But, again, I was taken a back. They (overall) really liked the format as well. Here is a quick selection of comments:
Zoom kept things timely
In person meetings can run late
Transition between one meeting and another was tight
As a working parent – this was great
The ability to attend conferences without having to take time off work was great
Worked well but would prefer in person meetings
It went smoothly
It was nice that both of us could attend
It removes the barrier of childcare
I picked these comments because I thought they made a good point or I saw the comments multiple times.
They also reported good audio/visual quality from Zoom, and of course I asked the big money question about future conferences and here is what how our parents responded.
So as you can see there is a demand to maintain this format.
I guess the question going forward is what will the combination of in person and Zoom looks like?
Tony and Patrick are back! It has been long overdue too. It’s a longer than normal episode but there is a lot to talk about! As always, subscribe to us on Apple Music or your favorite podcasting app.
1) Back at school in a COVID world
a) Tony’s motto: “You have to think of every student as a virtual student that occasionally comes to school and if you do that your planning will fit every scenario.”
b) GoGuardian: https://www.goguardian.com
c) Cisco Umbrella: https://security.umbrella.com
2) Why your online streaming is bad and mine is good
a) iPad solution
b) Euro Mic Stand with Klip
c) Disable iPad audio
d) DJ Podiums
e) iPad is a “person” in the meeting
3) Virtual Parent Conferences
b) Prep with teachers and parents
c) Google Meet deadline – Sept
ember 20, 2020
4) Streaming in the Classroom – Final verdict!
a) Windows schools – Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter
b) Mac schools – Apple TV
c) BYOD schools – BenQ Instashow/Barco WePresent
Normally, these are done in person and occasionally over a phone call, but 2020 is definitely not normal and now schools are looking to do these through video conferencing apps such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams (Skype). I don’t have all the answers but I thought I would share how we are approaching this change.
We are using Zoom. We are a G-Suite for Education school but thee basic Google Meet just did not meet our needs (read more about that here). So we will be holding all of our parent-conferences a day and a half all on Zoom.
But we still need to book the appointments and we are using the same service as last year to do that. There are many out there to chose from that will help you and most are pretty affordable as well. Just a quick Google search should get you started or you can reach out to me for some direction.
How this will work
We have two choices:
Have a separate meeting link for each meeting
Have one meeting link for all the meetings
We have opted for choice number two. We will have one meeting that lasts all day and so there is one link. Easy to get rejoin the meeting in case a parent/teacher accidentally disconnects. Also, Zoom has a “Waiting Room” that way teachers can see who is waiting and admit the parents when their time to meet arrives and remove current parents from the meeting when their time is up.
So we know what we are using, we have appointments book and we have a rough structure on how they will work – now what? In the past, that would be it. Teachers would pull work and prepare for their meetings themselves, but as we all know 2020 is not normal. So myself and our tech department have to do a little prep before the conferences. Here is what is on our to do list:
Gather all the teacher meeting links into a single list
Meet with each teacher to make sure Zoom is installed and up to date
Make sure teachers can log into their Zoom account
Test those links with the teacher
Make sure the teacher knows how to manage the participants
Basic troubleshooting skills
Email the procedures and list of links to the parents
Have parents make sure they have an appropriate username so teachers know who is in their waiting room
Encourage parents to download Zoom and test it out on their computer/device before the conferences start
We are also asking teachers to test on their own:
The week of the conference
The day before the conference
The day of the conference
This test should be just have a colleague join their meeting and make sure they can see and hear each other. That’s it, but it is so important to do these tests. Usually any issues can be identified and then worked out ahead of time, thus leading to a smoother conference.
OK – this is tricky which is why we are doing so much prep work. The meeting time slots are 10 or 20 minutes (depending on the grade level). So think of this scenario if you will:
There’s a problem and the teacher emails the tech department (this takes 30 seconds)
The tech department gets the email and starts looking into the problem (this takes 2 minutes)
Tech department starts an email or a chat (maybe even joins the meeting) (this takes 2-5 minutes) and hopefully solves the problem
If this is a 10 minute meeting then over half the meeting time!
If there are issues that cannot be easily solved we are asking teachers and parents to reschedule another time. This is obviously not ideal, but consider what can go wrong.
Allow me to list the major offenders below:
The teacher’s device could stop working
The teacher’s network could have an issue
The parent’s device could glitch out
The parent’s network could have a hiccup (notice all those technical terms 🙂)
Zoom could be uncooperative
This obviously makes me a little nervous. While we are preparing the best we can, there is still elements outside of our control that need to cooperate for this to go over well.
Then there is the flip side to this. All of these conferences are online and through Zoom. These are easy to reschedule and clearly there is no pressure that it has to be face-to-face as it has been in the past. Thus making the teachers more accessible than anytime in recent years.
I applaud Google and Microsoft for their efforts for beefing up Google Meet and Microsoft Teams respectively, but honestly speaking, if you are looking for a video conferencing application for your school or district, then Zoom is still your best option.
But Google is not terribly interested in servicing schools here. They are going for the broader picture which is the everyday Gmail user to get people on their platform. Let’s take a look at the features for the free version now:
Blurring the background
Showing more participants at a time
Unlimited length of meetings
Integrated with Gmail and Google Calendar
Live Closed Captions generated in real time (surprisingly good)
Can allow people to call into a meeting
The ability to mute/unmute participants
I am sure there are more feature that I am forgetting but what I want to emphasis is that this is a lot of features and it’s free! However, when you are teaching virtually it is a different scenario than a casual call with a friend or family member. The teacher and students have an objective to reach and have a path to get there. Teachers need to better control the meeting. Here is what Google Meet cannot do:
Keep students muted
Restrict who can use the chat
Allow for nonverbal communication (thumbs up, down, raised hand, etc.)
Remove students from a class and not allow them to return
Technically you can do this in Google Meet, but you must give it a nickname
They also must be a member of your G-Suite organization
The catch is you need to be a G Suite Education Enterprise school. This is not a free upgrade either. They have an introductory rate of $2/user/month. User is anyone who has a Gmail account.
I know that you get a lot more features than just an improved Google Meet with the Enterprise edition, but holy smokes that gets expensive real quick.
Let’s say you have a school with 500 users (450 students and 50 faculty). That means you’ll be paying over $10,000 the first year alone! Then when it goes up to $4/user the cost doubles to over $20,000. Yeah, that’s a lot of money.
Now let’s talk about Zoom and what you get with the K-12 account:
Keep students muted
Restrict who can use the chat
Allow for nonverbal communication (thumbs up, down, raised hand, etc.)
Remove students from a class and not allow them to return
Turn off video and microphone of participants
End the meeting for all
Breakout rooms to further differentiate the meeting
Zoom on the other hand only charges you for “Licensed” accounts. These are the accounts with all those fun features that Zoom offers and it costs about $90 per user. That means we are only paying for those 50 faculty accounts (for our 500 student/staff example) so that costs $4500 per year. Yep – a whole cheaper.
Now you might be an Office 365 school. On one of the paid plans (let’s go with the A3 plan). This means you are already paying for Office and a number of other apps. Switching to Zoom is a harder sell in that case, but I would still argue for it.
I would argue that Zoom is a better tool for teachers to better control the video conferencing environment. Now Teams is getting some serious updates coming soon, but still this is a product that was designed for business and adults. It was designed to create a space with focused project based conversations and an emphasis in sharing resources in a contained and searchable environment.
I’ve played around with it and I think it does this well, much like Slack. As a video conferencing application though, I think it falls short.
I’m going to wrap this up. Basically I feel that Google and Micrsoft are trying to transfer a square peg into an octagonal peg so it will better fit in a round hole. Zoom isn’t perfect but when you consider the options that are out there for schools, I think Zoom’s solution is a better fit than any competitor I have seen so far.
Tony and Patrick are back talking about distance learning, recommendations about video conferencing (including Zoom) and a lot more. Please subscribe to our podcast from Apple our searching for us on your favorite podcasting app.
Happy Easter/Spring Break
Zoom and privacy
Zoom Basic (non-compliance) vs. Zoom K-12 (FERPA, COPPA, HIPPA compliant)
Tony and Patrick are talking the school closures and what schools are doing, video conferences, and so much more. As always be sure to subscribe our podcast on Apple Music or your favorite podcasting app.
Distance Learning Plan
So much to talk about here
Front load the content
Elementary and Early Childhood – Choice boards
How is Microsoft Teams?
What do we think doesn’t work?
Great resource from Mark Stone and Elvin Aliyev in Azerbaijan
I’ve written quite a few times about podcasts and how I like them. My opinion has not changed, I still think podcasts are an incredibly flexible tool for students to plan, produce and publish projects that demonstrate their knowledge. This post is going to be a crash course, why and how to do a podcast. By the way, we here at IT Babble have a podcast of our own that you should check out on iTunes.
Pheww – why not?! OK, OK I can see you don’t have time for that. Podcasts are great for students of all ages. It can be as simple a an third grader talking about a country they have researched or as advanced as senior talking about the real reasons that World War II started and debating those theories. Students get to talk (not write, not posterize, not PowerPoint) about a subject they know about. It is fluid and a discussion. When you get a group project it can often be done by one or two people and the others are along for the ride. On a podcast, there is no place to hide. Now that can seem intimidating for some and that is certainly a valid point, so having an alternative in the wings would be a good choice. Also, if a member of a team is just being a pain, maybe that special student so go it on their own as well.
The biggest concerns for teacher not doing podcasts (or not doing them well) is the technology side of things. I get you, sometimes it is hard to know where to start. I’ll talk about that a little later in the post. Another concern is that teachers get too focused on the technical (not the technology) side of things. They get more focused with jingles, time length and transition sounds. Don’t worry about that. If you have an eager and technologically gifted kid, you can have him make a jingle for everyone or you can simply have no jingle or transition sounds at all. It’ll be fine as long as the students focus on the topics at hand. This goes for you IT teachers out there. Don’t focus on the technical side. Forget that! Focus on the content. If you focus on other areas, the podcast will suck. It will sound boring, the students will know it sounds boring and no one will care.
Another big concern is where and how to publish them. To make it short you can use Soundcloud (while it is still around) or my go to Podomatic. You get 500mb free of storage (that equates to about 15, 30 minute podcasts) and it helps you with getting the podcast on the iTunes directory, thus making it pretty universal and accessible from just about anywhere. If you don’t like either of those try archive.org. Completely free, will let you store as much as you want but no RSS feed (I could be wrong about that). Either way, one of those three free solutions will probably be enough for you and your students.
Technology – You have space and some money
If you have nothing else and no budget, then have one or squeeze three kids around a laptop and have them record using its internal microphone. It will sound bad but it is doable. I wouldn’t do more than three, four means the laptop probably needs to be pushed back a little and even inches can severely diminish the quality of the recording.
If you have the room and the means set up a podcasting studio with an inexpensive mixing board. You don’t need a huge one, just one that can support up to 6 channels will probably be enough. You can often find those under $100 USD. Now You need microphones and microphone stands (desktop stands). Since you’re not recording a full orchestra, jazz ensemble or auditions for The Voice, you can get away with some pretty inexpensive microphones. I picked up a 3 pack of Behringer Ultravoice XM1800S for $50. At the time of this writing it is down to $40 (IT Babble receives no money from Amazon or any other advertiser). Now pick up some mic cables (whatever will plug into your mixing board).
Desktop microphone stands are pretty inexpensive as well. You can find a pretty high quality stand for $15. I would check Amazon.com and BH Photo (if you’re in the states. I do not know if they ship internationally). Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re doing with the mixing board. You will figure it out. Just know those things are hard to break so fiddle away and try new things. You’ll pretty quickly realize how to increase the volume for a track.
Now have the whole thing plug into a computer. If it is an Apple, you’ve got GarageBand preinstalled which will work for capturing the recording. Just plug the mixing board into the computer, fire them both up and you’re ready to start recording.
If you have a Windows machine (or don’t like GarageBand) then try Audacity. It is open source, free, pretty refined and for basic recordings it should serve you well.
Technology – No extra space and some money
This is probably most teachers I can think of. They will probably be recording in their room or a study room (if your school has those) and so your recording rig must be light weight, portable and probably the cheaper the better. If you have money then go with a Zoom Handy recorder You don’t need a computer, they have a built in mic but some cheap mics and mic stands would be the way to go. Yes, this is a little pricey but these devices are built very well, will last a long time and just don’t fail. That is what we record with on the IT Babble podcast and in more than two years has never failed me once.
Now if you don’t have that type of scratch to throw around, then a laptop and a USB microphone is what I would suggest. You may not be able to get as many people around as possible. USB microphones vary in price. You can find some as cheap as $13 USD and some that are $300 USD or more! The bottom line here and I’ll write in caps and bold is … IT WILL SOUND BETTER THAN YOUR LAPTOP INTERNAL MIC. It is the truth. You are able to get closer to the mic and it will be more directional cutting out more background noise and if it sounds better if will feel more professional – simple as that. If you’re looking for some good options then the Blue line of USB mics are great. You can almost find them cheaper than their website elsewhere so shop around. They are very sturdy sound pretty darn good, you won’t be disappointed. Their most popular mics (by far) is the Yeti and the Snowball.
Recording the podcast
For younger kids a script may be a good place to start. Definitely have them write it for themselves. It won’t sound as interesting to listen to, but it will get them (and you) time to get more comfortable with the equipment.
For older students (5th grade and up) I’d have them write talking points on an index card and make sure there is someone to moderate and keep the podcast on task. The moderator could be you the teacher or someone who is good at knowing when to listen and when to jump in and redirect a conversation. It takes practice.
One thing to have them keep in mind is not to stop if they make a mistake. Big mistakes (like someone farting or cursing) can be edited out after the recording. No stopping! Sometimes those mistakes allow others to point out the mistake and that little moment is someone learning captured right there and that is pretty cool.
Wrapping it up
You’ve got your gear and software now play around with it. Ideally all the kids should have to do is sit down, hit the record button and start talking. Don’t focus on the gear and technology too much with the kids. Let them focus on their content and you’ll often get honest, informative and entertaining podcasts. That is what will make or break the unit of podcasting initiative if you’re starting one in your school.
If you have a student who is really keen to learn the behind the scenes, then that is great! You know have an assistant (as long as you can teach them how to commit). There is a good chance they may be able to teach you a few things about your equipment that you didn’t know.
The last thing to keep in mind is that this is a process. Don’t expect perfection on your first recording. Take it as it is and as you listen to it, try and find ways to improve it. Maybe it needs better topics, maybe it needs one more or one less voice. As for feedback from your listening community and keep at it! This type of commitment sounds easy but it’s not. It is hard. Take it from someone who has fallen down more than once podcasting.