Zoom has played a significant role in the pivot to online learning and the emergent ‘pandemagogy’. Zoomtopia took place on 13th-14th September 2021. A part of Zoomtopia was the opportunity to explore the Imaginarium. It was possible to customise the Imaginarium and download the creation. This involved an interactive map including Global Stage, Pavilion of Progress, Product and Industry Showcase, World of Creation, Hall of Sponsors and the Gallery of Stars.
Zoom identify the following capabilities of its platform for education:
- Manage your classes
- Increase engagement
- Customise the learning experience
- Ensure accessibility
- Enable security and compliance
- Support flexible learning environments (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021)
It might be a surprise to find out that Zoom is celebrating its ten-year anniversary (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021). For many of us, our perception is that it was a tool that was heavily used in 2020. Before that, Zoom was used but not as well known. Since 2020, Zoom has been used as a core tool on which interactive sessions for both the SDAU and QAU projects to take place. Reflecting on the tools we have used to adapt face-to-face teaching to online contexts is important. A presentation was delivered at the University of Kent’s Digitally Enhanced Webinars in February 2021 exploring the use of zoom entitled Indiana Jones & the Temple of Zoom. Learning Technologists as ‘Digital Archaeologists’ & Online Classrooms as ‘Digital Temples’. If a metaphor for an online classroom can be a ‘digital temple’, could we ask when does video conferencing meeting become an online classroom and vice versa? Over the past year, it is possible to see how it has improved and evolved in a variety of ways. It is possible to acknowledge new vocabulary entering popular culture. Who has not heard of “You’re on mute”, “zoom fatigue” and “zoombombing?”. Critically, the “Zoom gaze” has become entrenched into everyday work practices (Caines, 2020). Autumn Caines, an Instructional Designer from University of Michigan (@Autumm), led a webinar exploring Zoom in terms of digital power hierarchies (Caines, 2021).
Some of the most innovative product developments included the Zoom Phone with bring your own carrier, the hot desking tool to support hybrid working, a Smart Gallery with artifical intelligence, and the use of virtual reality with the Oculus headset to create an immersive experience. There was an emphasis supporting remote workers in terms of an inclusive approach to hybrid collaboration. Some of the key words and phrases from the presentations were ‘frictionless’, ‘seamless”putting the video back in videogame’ and ‘Zoom fidelity’. Additionally, I attended an education specific session ‘From Classroom to Computer Screen: Redesign In-Person Training for Virtual Audiences’ which was really useful in terms of improving the interactive RAU delivers using Zoom. For example, the presenter, Sandy Masters identified the ‘90 20 4‘ model: provide a break every 90 minutes, activity or assessment very 20 minutes and finally provide an interactive opportunity every 4 minutes (Masters, 2021).
Zoom Literacy has almost become a fundamental 21st-century skill for the modern workplace including working from home. How has a video conferencing tool been transformed into an educational tool we do not seem to able to live without? From Zoom, doom and gloom to Zoom, boom and Bloom?
During the Association for Learning Technologists (ALT) Winter Conference in 2020, one of the sessions entitled ‘To Be And Not To Be: Physical Absence and Virtual Presence in Online Learning’ led by Dr. Stuart Taylor, University Tutor at University of Glasgow (@SJamesTaylor), and Dr. Ingeborg van Knippenberg, Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University (@icvk) explored the idea of of “hauntology”, “spectral presence” and the “haunted subject” (Henriksen, 2016: p37). To what extent is the Zoom experience haunting? Are hosts digital ghosts? What are digital monsters? (Henriksen, 2016: p37). We are familiar with the idea of the ghost in the digital machine. But what if the machine is the ghost? We need to be more concerned with the machine in the ghost (Kirwan, 2021). Is Zoom a digital zoo? If it is a haunting experience, then is it like a night at a digital museum? To what extent is digital dysmorphia a real threat? (Dalva, 2021). Are we experiencing zoom nihilism? Perhaps we need to ‘curb our digital enthusiasm’ of using video conferencing platforms. If Sartre re-wrote Being & Nothingness for the 21st century, would the “phenomenological ontology” concern Being & Digital Nothingness (Sartre we do we dissolve into Zoom? If we stare too long, do no the ‘Zoom abyss’? – “He who fights with [digital] monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. Aphorism 146).
One of fundamental debates about using Zoom is whether the camera should be on or off or camera normativity. Does using the camera improve the digital student experience? What is impact of the camera on teaching and learning? Is it best for students to be able to’see’ their teacher and for the teacher to ‘see’ their students?. What is ‘seeing’ anyway?
Having trained staff and supported students on how to use Zoom effectively, I was keen to find out the latest product developments at Zoomtopia such as On Zoom (Beta) and Zoom Rooms. Over the past year, we have seen some significant improvements to the platform itself. For example, security improvements and immersive view which provides a visual reimagination of a meeting for participants. Truthfully, Zoom is a multimodal platform with a range of pedagogical affordances that can be used successfully in an interdisciplinary capacity.
It is important to acknowledge that Zoom can be used in conjunction with other tools to provide a positive digital student experience. Perhaps an over reliance on Zoom exclusively might not be sufficient. For example, we used Panopto as a platform to allow lecturers to pre-record their lectures and Zoom for interactive sessions for the SDAU project. Comparing tools and approaches may not help us in the way that, we may need to both combine and curate the use of tools to meet the unique needs of our students as a commitment to digital differentiation (Islam, Kim & Kwon, 2012). In the same way that we might be concerned by the term “technology determinism”, perhaps we are experiencing ‘Zoom determinism’ (Edwards, 2012: p8).
The blog post title draws explicitly on the well-known book by Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the Afterward, Pirsig asks “Who really can face the future? All you can is do is project from the past” (Pirsig, 2004: p393).This is a powerful question when we frame it in terms of the future of teaching, learning and working. Is the art of hosting a Zoom meeting a bit like the art of motorcycle maintenance. Perhaps it is. Here’s to the “hybrid workforce” (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021). Zoom is undoubtedly bound up in our pedagogical consciousness “The phenomenon of being and the being of phenomenon (Sartre, 2003: p4).
Moving forward and reflecting on post-pandemic pedagogic realities, Zoom will still play an important role in the “brave new digital classroom” (Blake, Guillén, & Thorne 2013). Perhaps now really is the time to be brave (Hardwick 2021). For example, on their dedicated Zoom for Education website, they refer to hybrid learning and talk about an “education ecosystem” (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021). Zoom sent me a an official Zoomtopia mug, pin badges and stickers which was a nice touch! Perhaps we need to think about the art of “placemaking” (White, 2021). Zoom classrooms are a bit the digital non-places (Augé in White, 2021). Zoom acknowledged the creative ways the Zoom has been used. Zoom provide the tools and the platform, and it is up to us to bring the agency to Zoom. Here’s to the hybrid ecosystem!
The Zoomtopia sessions have been recorded and are available in the On-Demand Library here.
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