7 Lesser Known Zoom Features to Improve Remote Learning

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Due to COVID-19, learning has taken a new shape and form for both teachers and students. Today, classes no longer occur within the four walls of a classroom. Students no longer pack their bags and rush to their respective rooms to greet their teachers timely. Teachers no longer spend hours researching their lectures, rehearse them, or deal with manual checking and compilation of results.

Instead, classrooms now are only a matter of student’s credentials, stable Wi-Fi, and a digital screen. While teaching is now equivalent to directing students from one resource to another. It is more about teaching them how to find resources rather than being a resource themselves.

With that said, there’s a major tool that is making this transition convenient and possible, i.e., video conferencing tools. Living in the 21st century, we believe you’d already be very well aware of the plethora of options you have in this regard. Be it Google or Mircrosoft Teams. You can rely on any.

However, there’s a plot twist. There’s one particular video call tool that gained massive popularity during the pandemic.

You can already guess?

Zoom. Yes. Let’s figure why.

Zoom: 2021’s Meeting Room

Perhaps, the first and fundamental reason why people rushed to Zoom when the locked got imposed is that its basic version is free to use. It is also safe and secure given that you adjust the settings so. Plus, you can accommodate about 100 attendees per call. The quality of the call is just as good as that in Zoom’s business plan. The only limitation in the free variant of Zoom is that it limits the length of the call to 40 minutes only. For longer sessions, you would either have to purchase a new business plan or restart your session after an interruption.

As for the business plan, most educational institutes find it feasible because it makes visual communications all the more easier by providing extensive web and conferencing features. You could enjoy:

  • HD Voice
  • HD Video
  • Screen sharing
  • White-boarding

When it comes to web features, you can record the sessions, have a playback, and even have real-time and private chats. For presentations, you’ll find it equipped with some handy tools. Most of the other video-calling apps like Skype do not offer these features despite the fact that their money options are heavier than Zoom’s.

With that said, there are also several hidden features in Zoom, which make learning sessions all the easier. Let’s have a look:

1. Enable Original Sound

Zoom offers in-built features like echo cancellation and audio enhancing algorithms. However, another beneficial feature that Zoom offers is the Original Sound. With this feature, all other audio enhancement features of the app are disabled. Consequently, the original audio quality and sound of the mic remain unchanged.

When you want to present the raw audio to your audience on Zoom, enabling original sound comes in handy. Hence, the Original Sound feature increasingly benefits courses that require original, unchanged sounds, such as music-related classes. In such cases, both parties (teachers and students) usually already make use of high-quality equipment. Thus, the original sound produces a better audio stream of higher resolution.

2. Pre-schedule Meetings

With this feature, you can schedule meeting automatically. It is similar to that of Microsoft Teams. You can schedule your meetings once according to the assigned timetable and adjust the settings to set these up as recurring meetings. You can arrange them as daily, weekly, or monthly recurring meetings.

3. Screen-share Videos to Create an Interactive Online Classroom

Zoom users can screen-share the video clips with native audios. Screen share is a rather common feature. But we must say it is essential.

Steps to enable this feature:

  • Click Share-screen
  • Select Desktop option
  • Select Optimize for full-screen video clip
  • Click share-screen
  • Show users full screen of the video

As mentioned earlier, teaching is more about sharing resources these days. So, it makes the task all the more easier.

4. Keyboard Shortcuts

Browsing for a specific tab, then moving your arrow and clicking it for simple tasks like inviting other attendees or muting yourself can waste almost a minute. And why waste a minute when you can perform all these tasks in just a few seconds via keyboard shortcuts? Besides, keyboard shortcuts are all-time favorites due to the time they free up in the long run.

Here are three frequently used shortcuts:

  • Mute with M – For macOS press, Command+Ctrl+M; for Windows, press Alt+M to mute attendees of your meeting. Features like this come in handy when people forget to close their mics!
  • Invite with I – For macOS, press Command+I; for Windows, press Alt+I to open the “invite” window. From here, you can conveniently copy the meeting link or send email invites.
  • Share with S – For macOS press, Command+Shift+S; Windows Alt+Shift+S for screen sharing.

5. Secondary Camera

To share videos on Zoom, educators can connect a secondary device, for example, a document camera. A document camera helps in recreating a physical learning environment. Such as, you can point it towards a whiteboard and conveniently project it onto your screen for the audience. Thus, attaching a secondary device or camera in place of your device’s in-built one can prove highly beneficial.

6. Translated Lectures

For the students, who are still learning English, you can have the lectures translated. If recorded, the lectures will retain the original audio, which can be played with corresponding subtitles. However, during the live session, students can also have subtitles of their desired language.

You can get more information here on how to enable this feature.

7. Engage with Students

Lastly, Zoom also allows you to interact with your students and make your virtual lectures even more fun and interesting. It does so by allowing people to annotate the content shared on the screen. Students can use lines, digital arrows, highlighters, pens, and erasers to engage with your lesson.

To get more information on how to use this feature, visit Zoom help center.

Final Thoughts

In a nutshell, Zoom is amongst the digital life-saving tools of 2021. If it were not for this handy tool, all of us would have spent the pandemic time struggling with other non-feasible, inconvenient apps being non-productive. With time, we e


Comersive Learning — The Fastest Way to a Confident and Competent Skilled Trades Workforce

Shining a Spotlight on Skilled Trades Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, 59% of the available U.S. workforce was 19-39 years old. The rise of the digital generation, coupled with a lack of skilled trades specialists to meet demand, has shone a spotlight on skilled trades training and their learning paths to being job ready.

Not only do tech-savvy skilled trades prospects in HVAC, plumbing, facilities maintenance and electrical expect an immersive digital learning experience that is fun and engaging, but there is also a pressing need to get people into the workforce as soon as possible to meet the skills gap.

In February 2021, PeopleReady, who conducted an analysis of hundreds of thousands of U.S. skilled trades jobs, found a 24% month-on-month increase in plumber apprentice job postings and a 15% increase in electrician postings.

Technology-based learning innovations, such as 3D simulations, virtual reality (VR) and gamification, are providing an immersive learning experience and enabling the roll out of training quickly and remotely — particularly important in the post-COVID-19 world.

There are significant learning benefits to immersive experiences when it comes to information retention, motivation and continuous, uninterrupted learning. Gamification developments, such as point scoring, competitions and leaderboards are playing a key role in supporting learner engagement, making training fun and memorable, as well as encouraging real-life problem solving.

Research backs up the effectiveness of gaming and VR, concluding there is greater retention of clinical knowledge. When gaming was adopted to train nursing administrators, a PWC report found that learners using VR are 3.75 times more emotionally connected and 1.5 times more focused than classroom learners.

Keeping the Human Dimension

Although there are benefits of technology-led learning, it leaves out the human aspect.

When people put on a VR headset or start the latest game, they may feel detachment, cognitive overload or a lack of one-to-one human interaction. It doesn’t necessarily need to be that way. It’s possible it can lead to a greater sense of community.

Success Academy

Let me tell you about our experience at Success Academy and how we have achieved that  important balance — the focus on the human emotional connection alongside the latest in technology-led learning. This is what our partner Interplay Learning calls Comersive Learning.

Success Academy provides communication, sales, management, leadership, technical and customer service training to three leading home service franchises — One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Mister Sparky Electric and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. We deliver training to more than 350 locations, preparing 4,000 employees for the workforce. You can learn more about Success Academy and our training offerings here.

While our technical training (including in-person, textbook and computer-based) was high quality and very successful in transforming learners’ technical knowledge, there were time, travel and budget constraints when it came to hands-on training. We wanted to enhance the learning experience, reach more people who couldn’t necessarily attend in-person training, and embrace the latest learning technologies for greater retention and engagement.

In particular, we wanted to focus on the diagnosis side of learning and the informal interactions. Focusing on the diagnosis side would enhance our techs’ knowledge on a topic that directly impacts our business’ key performance indicators. The informal interaction, like peer-to-peer learning and personalized feedback, focused on the understanding and retention that is so important to learners and successful training programs. Could we use technology to facilitate this while not compromising on the human element?

Comersive Learning — Partnering with Interplay

With these issues in mind, we partnered with Interplay Learning for the training and technology application piece we had been searching for. Interplay brought their VR-enabled and gamification technologies that, alongside our traditional training, provided the best of both the human and technology worlds — Comersive Learning.

Comersive Learning combines an immersive experience — through VR, gamification and virtual training — with social learning methods, one-on-one coaching and a learning community that can foster a powerful feeling of collaboration. All this takes place through a single learning platform in a safe, risk-free environment with immediate feedback and improved learner confidence.

Interplay has introduced gamification into our training by having techs diagnose faults, like playing a video game, and added competition on things like who can diagnose the issue first.

This increased interaction with other learners and instructors, while at the same time leveraged our core and established training modules — that’s what Comersive Learning is all about. At all stages other learners or instructors can provide automatic feedback, building on each other’s ideas just as they would do in the classroom.

These informal conversations within a fun and engaged environment, and the validation and assessment of learning alongside VR and gamification, have a positive impact on knowledge retention and application.

The bottom line for Success Academy has been field-like training directly to each franchise location with the facilitation of regular group-based VR training sessions, gamification and increased workforce exposure to diagnosing and troubleshooting practices. The greater collaboration and real-time feedback has also led to a safe working environment and improved employee confidence and performance in the field.

Rozie Ricca, Operations Coordinator at One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning said, Our technicians can open a discussion about the situation where they are working and get input on the best way to tackle certain issues. They can try without feeling failure.” Other benefits include the ability for employees to access self-paced and continually updated training from home, and give managers the ability to assign and track courses.

Today, 15% of the three brand’s franchise locations have adopted VR and gamification training with positive results already being seen with reduced call-backs and increased average tickets.

“For ages we have been trapped trying to shove textbook literature onto people who need hands-on experience to excel. We can now put down textbooks and teach our technicians valuable information in a way they can understand and stay engaged,” said Ricca.

A Confident and Competent Skilled Trades Workforce

Comersive Learning is the fastest way to becoming a confident and competent, job-ready member of the skilled trades, delivering quantifiable results to three leading home service brands, and addressing the current skills gap in the U.S.

We at Success Academy have opted to take the Comersive Learning journey, and we encourage others to do the same.


How Educational Institutions Can Use Feedback Loops to Improve Student Experiences

I realize that there may be many educators out there who are already experienced with creating and utilizing effective feedback loops in their courses, classrooms, and institutions. Based on my experience, in higher education, there is more structure requiring formal feedback than there is in K-12. Some schools, such as my own, are very good at gathering feedback using both custom and standard instruments (such as the widely used Ruffalo Noel Levitz survey) and honestly reviewing and reacting to the feedback they gather. That being said, if even just one reader steps up their game in terms of effectively gathering and utilizing feedback as a result of reading this guest piece, then it is worth publishing it. – KW

Education today is as diverse as any sector of our economy can be. We have students physically in classrooms; we have students in hybrid situations of in-class and online deliveries; we have students totally online, using tools like Zoom to connect with their instructors.

But even before this health crisis, educational institutions, from grade school through graduate programs, seem to always be under fire for failing to provide the educational experiences that ensure student mastery of concepts and skills they must have.

Typical Evaluation of Educational Institutions

Schools have always been in a unique position. They do not produce physical products or services, the quality of which can easily be evaluated. They are evaluated, however, by their students’ standardized test scores (which have questionable value), how many of their students go on to college, etc. And we do know that public schools in better neighborhoods, with a higher tax base, tend to have better student performance on state and national tests.

Colleges and universities are also evaluated by any number of organizations, based upon certain criteria, such as graduate employment, program/degree offerings, student-teacher ratio, faculty background, etc.

Feedback Loops Can Be A Critical Factor in School Improvement

Students and parents should be thought of as “customers.” For their tax dollars or tuition payments, they receive a service – education. And those customers do have methods of providing feedback, though it is rarely through a structured and organized manner:

  • Students and parents voice complaints and concerns to teachers, administrators, and even school boards
  • College students are often provided an anonymous survey to complete at the end of each course, which can provide feedback, if such surveys are collated and taken seriously. Usually, summaries are provided to instructors but may not go beyond that point. Then, it is up to those instructors to make improvements based upon that feedback.

If educational institutions are serious about getting feedback, they need to set up far more structured and organized feedback loops, so that they get the information they seek about their service performance.

How to Structure Feedback Loops

Educational institutions can take cues from businesses as they structure their feedback loops. There are important steps in the process, along with different types of requests.

The first step is the following:

  • Identify the very specifics of what you want feedback on. Asking general questions will provide an array of general responses which will be very difficult to sort out and collate into any type of report for your own evaluation.
  • You may ask any number of specific questions – just be certain that each question addresses a single issue.
  • Make it as easy as possible for students or parents to complete your questionnaire/survey
  • Always leave space for additional remarks or comments that may not be covered by the questions you ask.
  • If the feedback is in the form of a meeting, be certain to have an agenda with the questions and a method of recording each response/comment.
  • If respondents veer off-topic, be certain to make note of those comments as well, so that they may become a part of discussion questions for the next meeting.

The second, and perhaps most important part of the feedback loop, is listening. Whether the feedback has been given in writing, digitally, or in person, it is the institution’s job to REALLY listen. Reading through responses and/or writing down what someone has said is not listening – it is recording. Here is how to really listen:

  • Carefully think about what a respondent has said and to determine two things – is the suggestion or complaint valid, and, if so, can something be done to improve the situation?
  • People need to know that their voice matters. Sending a response, even if automated, or validating what a person has said by repeating back to them what they said, tells that individual that you have heard them. And making a comment that you will seriously consider what can be done to improve the situation also helps.

The third step is to organize, collate and synthesize the responses to each of the specific questions. Categorize them, bring them to those individuals within the institution who have responsibility for addressing and resolving the situation, and provide them a timeline for responses and resolutions. This is key, so that you have a schedule of reporting back to your respondents.

The fourth step is making the loop 360°. In short, this means that responses and solutions are shared with every respondent to the original survey/questionnaire or meeting. This step should include action plans to resolve issues and timelines for those plans to be put into place. It should also include those issues that cannot be resolved, along with the reasons why.

Taking a Look at a Typical Case Study

Susan is enrolled in three online courses through her regular university, due to the current COVID crisis. The university is committed to providing quality experiences to its students, even though the delivery model has so drastically changed. And so, at the end of each semester, it provides a digital survey for all enrollees to evaluate their coursework experiences.

Susan was particularly critical of the lack of interaction with one of her instructors. The only method for communication was via email. While she was provided a syllabus, text and additional readings, even videos that covered course content, there were no lectures, discussion sessions, or face-to-face interactions with either fellow students or the instructors.

She received digital feedback via grades on the quizzes, tests, and essays she submitted and a final course grade. Her final statement about the course was that she had taken it on her own through full independent study and did not get all that she could have.

There were similar comments from other students about this and other courses. The university listened and developed some new policies. All instructors were required to take training in Zoom and to begin to implement the technology in their online courses. This allowed students to “feel” that they were in a classroom environment that was far closer to the “real thing.”

The university then contacted those students who had responded to the survey with the new policy and the anticipated dates of implementation.

Educational Institutions have Customers Too

We often think of the term “customers” as those people who patronize retail establishments. But schools must start thinking of their students as customers too. Especially at the university level, and the growing phenomenon of online coursework and degrees, competition is increasing. Educational institutions need to respond well.



Rethinking Assessment: Key Considerations for the Future

The cancellation of summative assessments in the spring of 2020 coupled with the variability of the spring 2021 testing season has significantly impacted the K–12 assessment landscape, making formative and frequent checks for understanding an educators’ main line of sight into what students know and don’t know. Though formative assessments have proven instrumental in addressing learning gaps related to school closures, the need for accountability testing has not gone away. At its core, accountability testing exists to ensure every student receives a high-quality education. However, its standardized approach has made it difficult for teachers to quickly address learning needs and adjust instruction to improve student outcomes. As schools and districts prepare for the future of assessment, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Assessments Should be Part of the Learning Process

For years, summative assessments have been disruptive to the learning process. Students, teachers, and administrators alike feel the pressure to prepare students to perform in a high-stakes assessment environment. End-of-year assessments place a heavy burden on teachers to prepare students for the length and duration of these assessments, which can take away from the work they are doing every day to gauge standards mastery and personalize learning. These challenges have led a few states to begin to explore innovative assessment models that enable teachers to use shorter, standards-based assessments throughout the academic year to gauge student mastery with the same rigor as summative assessments. This fundamental shift allows teachers to maintain a line of sight into what students know and don’t know throughout the year and relieves the pressure of predicting performance.

Assessments Must be Valid & Reliable

To ensure assessments are valid (accurate) and reliable (consistent) assessment items must be tightly aligned to a set of standards so educators get the information they need to best determine which students need additional support and which standards need reteaching.

Because you must assess learning needs before you can address learning loss.

Though innovative assessment models support this approach, building quality properly-aligned assessments is still challenging and time-consuming. For teachers to fully embrace this new model, they need access to prebuilt formatives that complement the classroom assessments they are already creating. With the support of expertly developed, psychometrically sound assessments, teachers can then use the assessments they create from their own content or item banks to verify the impact of their instruction.

Assessment Data Should be Actionable

Remote and hybrid learning has reduced instructional time, disrupted many students’ academic progress, and left teachers with few sources of high-quality assessment data to identify learning needs and drive personalized learning plans. Traditional summative assessments will only further disrupt learning and won’t provide teachers with the timely data they need to address the learning that was lost or unfinished during school closures. Moving forward, teachers need to receive immediate, meaningful feedback about student mastery in an intuitive, visual way so they can adjust instruction in the moment and design targeted interventions.

My data philosophy is simple; It’s not enough to simply “collect” student assessment data. It must be used responsibly to directly benefit students and improve their learning experiences. As educators continue to keep the learning going, I will continue to support the work they are doing to make leveraging data to inform instructional next steps not only possible but simpler and more effective than ever before.