Teaching Effectively With Zoom!

Life is a series of “learning opportunities.” Usually, we don’t choose these challenges but – especially as pilots – we must step up and “make magic happen” despite the circumstances. And so it is with COVID and our sudden global pandemic. Social distancing, it seems, requires every educator to become capable with Zoom and virtual presentations.

This modern platform is super easy and very capable in terms of usability and dependability. And fortunately, just about everyone now has some exposure already. With a little effort on the part of the presenter (and the audience),  Zoom can move from a clumsy chat room for bridge ladies (and online comedy memes) to a pretty capable educational tool. Zoom is especially good with latency – the killer of online interaction – and usability. A little effort goes a long way toward optimizing this experience. The books shown here are available free or at minor cost (Kindle) and highly recommended for more details and optimization.

The obvious and immediate deficit of all online education is the emotionally distant nature of the medium. Instead of teaching people directly, we are connected by wires, with little chance of casually discovering the cues we often navigate by in front of a class. Online teaching is initially frustrating, interacting with tiny virtual images, But pretty soon your mind adjusts and everyone gets the rhythm. Ultimately, Zoom is just another technological tool and the time spent to make it less “obvious” as a medium makes the educational experience much more enjoyable and effective. Your control of the medium will also give you better control of the educational experience.

These three elements, latency, tiny-people dynamic, and conversing in an unfamiliar space, add up to create those awkward stutters in conversation students mention as the critical challenge to trying to learn in this environment.

Consequently, we have to teach differently in this space. It’s like the difference between teaching in a small classroom and teaching in a large auditorium. In the auditorium, we have to project our voice, perhaps exaggerate our expressions, and move about the stage to address different segments of the audience. Different spaces demand different approaches. The primary solution for this clumsiness that comes with the videoconference classroom is to become more assertive in how we lead our students.

Starting with the basics; you need a strong, stable internet connection, so test your internet connection with fast.com and assure a minimum 10Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload. Consider a wired connection if you are in a busy environment (or your kids are gamers blasting your modem). Test your actual connection with a Zoom Test Session and take time to optimize your audio and video settings. Use a headset and a good camera set at eye level. There is nothing more frustrating for students than struggling to hear the presenter or spending the whole session looking up your nose holes. Assure good lighting and an environment free from distractions. A virtual background is easily enabled if you have a cluttered office and no one will ever know. Take a read through the Zoom Best Practices pdf is here. Digital Trends also has a good primer on best practices and common problems and best practices.

I recommend setting up two computers if you can swing this (laptop and desktop). Log one in to initiate the meeting and use the second one to log in as an “attendee.” This allows you to play with all the controls while you see what is “going out on the air” on the desktop unit. This is especially important for “sharing your screen” and getting your powerpoint or video to play (look for the boxes on the bottom or the share screen for your video sound – check”on” and also “optimize your video” also “on”). Next to the video controller is a little up arrow that enables “virtual backgrounds” which is very helpful if you are in a cluttered environment.

Definitely start your session with everyone muted (enabled in settings) and selectively open up the conversations to eliminate the annoying background noise issues. This technique also allows you to discover where the problems are. The “waiting room” and ‘chat’ features are great tools to filter entries and also set the expectations for your session. You can transfer documents directly to attendees using chat if you enable this feature.

Once you have spent some time to set-up your session correctly and tested it,  play with all the controls, practice and record your session. The vital part of Zoom is enabling any feature you want in the settings BEFORE the show. Screen sharing is easy but it has to be switched on in settings (and practiced). The optimal set-up uses a second monitor to cue up your presentation panels if you have a lot of documents. If you are using powerpoint, that runs great full screen (or “play in a window”) and is just screen shared. But please don’t overdo the powerpoint – we all have suffered “death by powerpoint,” and Zoom has the capability to be lively and interactive. If things are not working right, try the extensive Zoom Help Center. The cheat sheet on keyboard shortcuts is here.

This is just a taster, and I hope that helps – log in and start pressing the buttons and experimenting. The “record” feature is great for practice (and built-in). This allows you to see “the audience view” – which you never get this opportunity see with a live talk! Become a “Zoom Professional.” We all hope to get back to in-person events at some point soon when it is again safe to interact in bigger groups. Fly safely out there (and often)!


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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

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