New apps assist students and faculty in virtual learning

Grace Jordan, Campus Carrier arts & living editor

With the shift to online schooling due to the global pandemic, colleges all over the country have had to ask the question, “How will we bring the classroom to our students?” The answer to this question comes in the form of online platforms that have made the transition from school to home easier. 

One of these online platforms is Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams is an online platform that allows the user to collaborate with others in multiple ways. One is able to share files with others, work on the same file, video call and message with others. It also offers many other useful programs like Excel, PowerPoint and Word. It has been especially helpful to junior Rich Morrison, a a political science major. He is working on his honors thesis and has had to use Microsoft Teams for convenience in the process. Before he switched to Microsoft Teams, he struggled with communicating with his advisee, files would be lost and emails would be forgotten. 

“I don’t have to just communicate with Dr. Taylor through Outlook email because we’ve done that before and our emails would get lost or she wouldn’t see something or I wouldn’t read something in time,” Morrison said. “This way I can keep everything consolidated in Teams.” 

While incredibly helpful over quarantine, the usefulness of Microsoft Teams does not end there. Morrison says that it was easy to learn and understand the mechanics of the application and that the site was not only useful in quarantine, but also in the future of education and business. 

“It’s one of those apps where once you get started it’s very self-explanatory,” Morrison said. “It’s not one that you can get confused by using. It’s easily accessible and usable for so many different types of people. It’s so convenient.” 

Another online platform that has quickly taken hold is Zoom. Zoom is a telecommunication site that allows anyone with an internet connection to communicate with each other. Zoom permits its users to talk over the phone like popular apps Skype or Facetime. However, it is not as simple as video calling. 

Berry College took it a step further and payed for Berry students to have a subsription to Zoom. Berry provided the third tier subscription which allows one to have up to 300 participants in a call and Cloud recording transcripts, which lets students record classes then transcribe them. This also lets stduents and professors engage in Zoom meetings that would last longer than 40 minutes which is a necessity for classes at Berry.. 

Zoom also implements features such as screen sharing and breakout rooms, where users are put into smaller “rooms” that allow for more intimate discussions. The online platform also permits its users to change their virtual backgrounds and give users a waiting room until their meeting is ready to begin. 

One professor who has had to utilize Zoom is Julee Tate, Spanish professor and head of the Spanish department. Tate was on sabbatical during the first wave of online schooling and thought she had gotten lucky in missing the confusion and stress that comes with learning a new way of teaching. Yet, she was in for a surprise when she realized the pandemic was not over and she would have to now learn how to operate Zoom while all her colleagues and students had already mastered it. Tate states how difficult it was at first to master Zoom; she would practice Zoom calls with her colleagues, yet nothing could prepare her for teaching in front of 20 bright eyed students. 

“I remember thinking ‘Oh thank God, I dodged this bullet,’ but now I realize I’m in a worse position than my colleagues that got the baptism by fire because it’s all new for me,” Tate said. “The first Zoom class I ran I had myself muted so then they couldn’t hear me. It’s been an adventure.” 

Tate is still struggling with the mechanics of the application but praises its usefulness. In Spanish, one of the most important things is seeing students mouths to understand what they’re saying and help with pronunciation. This is an action that one cannot currently achieve in face to face classrooms due to the mandatory face masks. Zoom makes this easier since a student can be located in their dorm room or house where they do not have to wear a mask. While it has been hard for Tate to understand the app and all its features, she sees Zoom as an effective and helpful way to teach. 

“Zoom is going to present a lot of opportunities especially for language teaching but a lot of opportunities to allow for group work and being able to see faces and talk,” Tate said. 

While the pandemic has caused the world to pause, colleges have found a way to keep students learning and engaged through these new utilities. 

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