What is it?
Zoom is a video conferencing and web conferencing service, so you can use to it conduct virtual meetings. (It does other things, but I’m just going to discuss its video conferencing capabilities). It’s great for collaborative online work. It’s similar to Skype, Webex, Google Hangouts, Blackboard Collaborate, etc. When you conduct your Zoom meeting, you can use audio, video, screen sharing, screen sharing of a “whiteboard”, and chat (an instant message chat you can use during the meeting). You can also record your meeting.
How does it work?
If you go to Zoom’s website, you enter your email address and sign up for free. They’ll send you an email, and you click on the link to activate your account. After you choose a password, your account is created. One of the easiest ways to host a meeting is to simply send others your personal Zoom URL. If they click on that URL, it will take them to your Zoom meeting room. You also can send them your Zoom personal meeting ID. They visit Zoom’s website and type in that meeting ID, and then they’ll be put into your Zoom meeting room. Participants can also call in on a phone, which is great for situations when someone’s internet goes out at an inconvenient time (which is all the time).
Strengths, Limitations, and Applications
While I mentioned a number of other similar tools, Zoom sets itself apart by how easy it is to use and its reliability. I have used it a handful of times and have never experienced poor connection issues, glitchy-ness, or the “can you hear me? I can’t hear you” problem often encountered in virtual meetings.
Here’s what the interface looks like when you’re hosting a meeting:
You can do quite a bit with the free account. You are able to host/attend an unlimited number of meetings and host up to 100 participants. 1-on-1 meetings can last as long as you’d like, but there’s a 40 minute limit on group meetings (although you technically could just log out and start another meeting… but you didn’t hear that from me).
Zoom could easily facilitate online group work among students, or could be used by an instructor to hold office hours, exam review session, etc. It’s long been noted that interactivity in an online class leads to greater student satisfaction with the course (see this article, for instance). Student-student and student-instructor engagement is a key component of a well-designed online learning environment, and Zoom could be a valuable tool in creating that kind of collaborative environment.