ZOOM is not the only one
Free Options for Easy, Secure Online Classes
In the current situation triggered by the COVID19 pandemic, schools, teachers, parents, and students have been forced to adapt to online learning solutions almost overnight. Many have chosen to use Zoom, the popular videoconferencing platform that has removed its 40-minute-time limit for K12 schools temporarily. But instances of “zoom bombing” where an unauthorized person enters a virtual class to post inappropriate content have had many educators worried about safety.
There are security features built into Zoom, which can help you to keep your online Zoom classes safe, and Zoom continues to improve its security daily. But there are also more free, easy, and secure options for teachers. Two that work well are Skype and Google Meet.
1. Skype is probably the most familiar video-calling app in the world.
- • They have recently increased the number of participants allowed in a video call to 50 in the free version.
- • Screen sharing and chat are standard features of skype, which makes it work fine for a class, and there is no time limit – though it misses more advanced features like whiteboard and annotation.
- • Skype video calls are encrypted, which makes it hard for unauthorized or uninvited users to join classes in the first place. Like the other platforms reviewed, Skype also has a waiting room feature, and allows you to control who can share screen, share video, and speak during classes.
- What we like?: An EXTRA LARGE, always-on chat box. (As you may know, we at XSEED are big fans of the chat-box! See Tip #1!)
- What we miss: The registration process is cumbersome, unlike zoom. You cannot just log on to a call ID. Whiteboard and annotation features are missing.
2. Google Meet is Google’s recent upgrade to its ubiquitous Hangouts chat and video call app.
- • Schools can sign up for free G Suite accounts, which include Google Meet for all users with school email ids. As of April 29, Google has announced it is rolling it out free for ALL users (even without gmail accounts) in the coming weeks.
- • Google Meet can also support up to 100 users and has the chat, screen sharing (called “present”), and whiteboard functions. Google has announced that there will be no time limits on meetings until September 2020, when a 60 minute limit will apply to the free version.
- • Unique meeting ids are generated automatically in Google Meet, and it is easy to control who speaks and shares the screen – though it lacks the waiting room feature.
- What we like ?: Automatic captioning lets everyone read what you say, which is great for English language learners and low bandwidth situations.
- What we miss: You can only see 16 students at one time, unlike zoom which allows 49. No option to record the meeting in the free version.
3. EZTalks is a lesser known video conferencing platform, which supports up to 100 participants for 40-minute meetings in its free version.
- • It has all the features of zoom, such as chat, screen sharing, and whiteboard options, as well as a poll feature which allows teachers to make multiple choice questions for students to answer.
- • On the security side, features like waiting room and random meeting id enabled by default, in addition to all the security features of zoom.
- • Unfortunately, at the time of writing the meeting time limit has recently been temporarily reduced to 10 minutes due to technical problems; EZTalks has not specified when this will be fixed.
- What we like ?: Simple, easy interface for scheduling and running meetings. Errs on the side of caution when it comes to security features.
- What we miss: Until the technical problems have been resolved, the 10-minute time limit can be a big distraction.
Of course, these are by no means the only options — there are other platforms available as well, and more being released or updated each week as the demand continues worldwide. But whichever one you choose, do take some extra time to explore the interface, features, and security options to ensure you get the best results for your students.
Tune into our Saturday Series for Educators on online teaching, weekly on Saturdays for regular updates and get answers to your questions or concerns.