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Learning is Social with Zoom Video Conferencing in your Classroom

Special Issue: Instructional Technology in the Online Classroom

By Jane Sutterlin / December 2018

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Online courses are popular with students for the convenience of managing school, work and family activities, and for flexibility in scheduling. Enrollment in online courses is climbing, with more than six million students taking at least one online course [1, 2]. However, dropout rates are much higher for online students than for students in traditional classroom settings [3] . What prompts students to drop these online courses?

The 45,000+ students and faculty, representing over 110 institutions, who took the 2017 Educause Student and Technology Research Survey [4] seem to prefer a hybrid model of class and feel it is the most effective way to learn. One reason that students could prefer the hybrid environment is that these courses take advantage of online benefits and combine them with face-to-face classroom social presence. After all, learning is a social process. Xie, Miller and Allison [5] illustrate just how critical social interaction is for learning in an online course. Martin et al. [6] also found that in order to keep online students enrolled in classes, there needs to be teacher-immediacy, teacher presence, and student interaction with teachers. But what does this look like with an online class and how can we implement this social presence?

The relationships I develop from class interactions, both as a faculty and a student, make the course content more relevant and I am eager to do my best work. With the adoption of the video conferencing tool Zoom, I can now easily add a social element into our online classrooms using a variety of online activities and strategies.

Past Experience

From my own experience as an online student and as a Learning Designer, I agree that without social interaction, an online course feels more like an interactive book than a classroom. One of the trickiest challenges in teaching online is creating this social presence in an online environment. The hard part is not convincing faculty that social presence is important; the hard part is implementation that is easily and quickly successful.

Previously, we spent thousands of dollars setting up video conferencing rooms and equipment that was complicated to use, and often participants had equipment failures or inadequate visibility. Faculty required the presence of a technical support person to run the equipment, which meant that advanced scheduling and coordination often limited spontaneity or usage. We also tried some cloud-based video conferencing tools that, due to bandwidth requirements, allowed for the instructor to use video only and participants had to communicate by phone or by text. Typically, successful setup took at least fifteen minutes, and instructors found that a connection might drop mid-conference. Frustrated with the technology, the need for support, and the loss of class time, many faculty abandoned these systems all together. When it came time to be creative using a video-conference tool in other ways, faculty were reluctant, and students also reported that these attempts to interact with the class were frustrating and a waste of time.

In one last-minute situation where we had equipment failures and a deadline to meet, I suggested Zoom, a free video conferencing tool that I was using frequently in working with distance faculty. The faculty loved the ease of use, the quality and success they instantly experienced. Once I discovered that faculty were using Zoom regularly on their own, without any technical assistance, I knew we had discovered a tool that we could implement in our online classrooms.

Introduction Discussions

We often utilize introduction discussion forums to get to know students and to understand their motivations and past experience with course content. Rather than have students type their responses, we have started requiring short introductory videos.

Zoom makes this recording process extremely easy. While students can obtain free personal accounts directly from Zoom, Penn State now provides accounts for students using their PSU credentials to log in. Once signed in, students are the hosts of their meetings and can record themselves on a webcam or share a presentation on their computer or from a mobile device. There is also a whiteboard feature they may utilize to draw or illustrate. Students have the option of recording to the cloud and obtaining a link to share with the class or recording to their computer as an .mp4 file that they can edit and upload to a Learning Management System or YouTube.

Students indicate that they value meeting their instructor and hearing their passion for the class content and appreciate becoming acquainted with the expected tone of conversation. They also value getting to know their classmates.

Live Meetings

Another option besides a text discussion forum is to hold a live video conference and record it for those who cannot attend. Zoom has the capability of hosting 100 participants at a time, including audio and video. The platform is designed so that even with limited bandwidth, it works well.

We have hosted sessions with international participants from around the world. Only the host who wants to record the session needs to log in. This makes joining quite easy for students or guest speakers, and students can join using the provided meeting web link using a computer or mobile device. If participants have trouble with their audio or are not able to use a computer or mobile device, a telephone number is available for calling into the meeting. If you have someone capable of typing closed captioning, you can assign a participant to close caption a live meeting. In addition, if you record to the cloud, an auto-generated transcript is created (that can be later edited).

Faculty also use these types of meetings as virtual office hours or homework help and then post the recordings for students to review or to visit if they cannot attend live. Students love these opportunities to communicate and seek help. They also appreciate being able to go back and review recordings or read transcripts.

Case Studies

Once faculty see how easy Zoom conferencing sessions are to set up and how few technical issues arise, they are eager to engage in holding sessions for other types of assignments in their classes.

In an online nursing pharmacology class, we held a session where students were provided data on a patient and the class had to come together to discuss this case study, potential drug interactions, and further tests. Students were connected with their mobile devices and computers and were ready to discuss the case one minute after the session began. The built-in chat feature was used to provide data and links to other information that needed to be discussed.

Both the faculty and the students responded that having the hour-long face-to-face session with live discussion was more useful and meaningful than a discussion forum using text only. The faculty member made sure to schedule these sessions early and offered an alternative assignment for any student who could not attend a live session.

Group Discussions

In another course, the faculty was concerned that students would not effectively engage with the large class and used the breakout room feature of Zoom to create small groups within the larger class.

The instructor first presented the material and then broke the class into small groups for discussion and followed with further discussion with the whole group. The features built into Zoom allowed for students to request the faculty in their breakout room for assistance or for faculty to pop in and out of breakout rooms as desired. Once it was time for the group to come together, students received a time indicator prompting them that they were rejoining the large group. This scenario is something that face-to-face instructors take for granted and that online instructors can easily utilize to engage their own, online students.

Group Presentations

Group student presentations can be challenging and are often avoided in online classes. A seminar class instructor wanted groups of two to three students to take turns leading class discussions. Groups were to gather reading materials for classmates, prepare a presentation, and then moderate a week-long discussion forum. The students used Zoom to collaborate both on the preparation and recording of the presentation, and even though the students lived in different locations, Zoom made it easy to create the presentation in real-time. The students also utilized the annotation features in Zoom to highlight and illustrate their concepts, and participants liked being able to see both the PowerPoint presentation and each presenter in the recording. This is a great way to utilize group presentations when students cannot meet synchronously.

Practice Presentations

Even when teaching a face-to-face class, having students practice and record their presentations can greatly improve the final presentation. I took a class where PechaKucha presentations were required (these are 20 slide presentations where the slides are each shown for 20 seconds only and are mostly visuals containing very little text). We recorded our presentations ahead of time, before presenting them in class. As I started my first recording, I realized the brilliance of having to record my presentation, as it forced me to practice to meet the strict time requirement. As a result, all of the presentations were of good quality and we were able to finish the presentations in a single class period.

Easy Integration

Video-conferencing is not a new tool, but before I used Zoom, the technology often became a barrier for integration into classes. When students and faculty struggle to use the technology, the focus turns more to the tool than the learning, and faculty and students are understandably reluctant to adopt.

When I first used Zoom, it was a work-around for another system that was frustrating to use. Soon, faculty who were once dependent on technical support for setting up meetings were independently using Zoom for meetings and utilizing it to connect to students.

The results of this shift means that no longer are resident instruction faculty canceling class due to inclement weather; classes are being held with Zoom instead. Faculty are holding class when they attended conferences or are out of town for meetings. Students who have to stay home with sick children are able to attend class.

While no video conference software is perfect, faculty have quickly embraced Zoom as a tool that works in their classrooms. It is easy to use, reliable, and faculty can focus their energy on developing relationships with their students, finding creative ways to show relevance with the content, and inspiring students to do their best work.


Though we experience few technical issues with Zoom, there are times when faculty or students may face challenges. It is important that faculty communicate with students to use a computer or mobile device with a working camera, microphone and speakers. Zoom is designed to work with lower bandwidth requirements, but encouraging people to quit unused applications and utilizing the analytics within Zoom to identify applications that may be using bandwidth will help participants succeed. Providing opportunities for participants to practice sharing their screens, locating annotation tools, recording, and changing viewing options will build participants' confidence in using the tool. Hosts can provide conference links for participants to experiment with ahead of time, or faculty can take time initially to orient participants to Zoom and its use. Overall, both faculty and students have little trouble getting connected and using Zoom and require limited instruction.


Zoom was intended to be a temporary stopgap measure when our other video conferencing systems failed us. To our surprise, we love Zoom and have never looked back! Zoom connects easily across room systems, desktops, and mobile devices to seamlessly bring together our various campus sites and long-distance participants. We appreciate how easily even those who find technology a challenge can connect and use Zoom. The screen sharing, recording and annotation has been an enormous help when we need to collaborate. Zoom has become an indispensable tool for the way we work, teach and learn together. With Zoom's continued improvement in new features, we are excited to continue to find new and creative ways to create social presence in our classrooms.


[1] Allen, I. E. and Seaman, J. Digital learning compass: Distance education enrollment report 2017, Digital Learning Compass.

[2] Watson, F. F., et al. Instructional Strategies to Help Online Students Learn: Feedback from Online Students. TechTrends 61, 5 (2017), 420-427.

[3] Allen, I. E. and Seaman, J. Going the distance: Online education in the United States 2011, Babson Survey Research Group.

[4]Pomerantz, J., et al. Foundations for a Next Generation Digital Learning Environment: Faculty, Students, and the LMS. Educause. 2018.

[5] Xie, K., et al. Toward a social conflict evolution model: Examining the adverse power of conflictual social interaction in online learning. Computers & Education 63 (2013), 404-415.

[6] Martin F., et al. 2012. Examining interactivity in synchronous virtual classrooms. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 13, 3 (2012), 228.

About the Author

Jane Sutterlin has collaborated with content experts in the K-12 and Higher Education environments since 2005 where she designs courses that utilize technology as a tool for learning while implementing current learning science research strategies. Jane joined Pennsylvania State University in 2012 and is currently a Learning Designer in the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Jane earned a Master's Degree in Learning, Design and Technology. She has presented at both local and national conferences on incorporating new technologies and pedagogy into a variety of teaching and learning environments.

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  • Wed, 03 Jun 2020
    Post by Hozeday

    A very concise article. Thank you. This link may help someone reading the article as well it contains specific answered questions from Zoom users which may help new users.Cheers.