Educators can use Zoom safely – just explore the settings

Since the onset of COVID-19 in late January, I’ve been video-conferencing meetings. My go to for years have been Google Hangouts and Skype with students, and since last October, Microsoft Teams with staff. The latter was part of an effort to shift college colleagues from a bunch of unsecured Google tools to the more secure though less friendly Microsoft platform.  

One I started using Zoom though, these other tools were forgotten. Zoom was a delight to use, with an easy interface and single click invitations to a web interface for novice participants. For educators managing classes, the Waiting Room and Breakout Rooms were extremely useful.

So in the final instructional week of the shortened semester (Week 12), I scheduled some 400 students in two modules to present their final oral presentations. That worked out to more than 80 half-hour sessions with Zoom over four days, of which I attended almost 50.  

Since I was imposing a tool on so many of us, I read up, prepared guidelines (posted on Google Docs), and compiled this list below to train staff and myself about our hosting duties:

Zoom for Educators: Security responsibilities for hosts
Edit your settings at: 

  1. Use the latest version of the Zoom app (check for updates)
  2. Generate a new Meeting ID for each meeting
  3. Generate a new secure password for the meeting
  4. Nominate a co-host when scheduling the session
  5. Keep the Meeting ID and password private to participants only. For large meetings, I have people sign up first and email them meeting details.
  6. Advice participants they can set a Virtual Desktop to mask their background.
  7. Disable File Sharing
  8. Use the Waiting Room to vet participants before allowing them into a session (participants must have recognisable usernames)
  9. Disable “join before host” but be 15 minutes early to the meeting in case participants need help.
  10. Enable the authenticated user mode, if possible.
  11. Lock the room when all are present and if connections are stable.
  12. Set the screen sharing default to host only; release as needed
  13. Respect your participants – inform them if you are saving session chats or video-recording the session.

Since students were new to this, I didn’t enable the authenticated user mode nor lock the room for ease of those with dropped connections.

So the homework was important.  

Zoom’s Virtual Desktop was a fun tool with which to encourage others to use the app.

The National University of Singapore had initiated COVID-19 mitigation measures by Chinese New Year. And almost immediately, the Centre for Instructional Technology rolled out e-learning solutions. Amongst others, they promoted the use of Zoom, complete with training webinars. The staff I worked with attended these sessions, were familiarised with fundamentals for use and explored the pedagogical outlook.

I was still using Google Hangouts in March 2020 with research students and Teams with staff. However by late February (Recess Week), the shift to 100% e-learning appeared inevitable, which meant our student symposia in April would have to be held online. I had about 300 students in GEQ1917 Understanding and Critiquing Sustainability at RVRC and another 100+ in LSM1303 Animal Behaviour at Department of Biological Sciences. 

So I began reading about Zoom and the problems were highlighted by many tech sites. Some critical issues had been fixed the previous year, and several others could be circumvented by choices in the settings (hence the list above). While some didn’t matter, such as end to end encryption for what would otherwise be public symposia.

All that scrutiny was helpful, as it eventually forced Zoom to announce a focus of their engineering effort on privacy and security. Already a security

Many articles hysterically bemoaned the shortcomings, and while useful to carefully sift through for weaknesses, no alternatives were suggested. As with every tool, it would eventually be the examination of the purpose and settings that would decide if safe use was possible for my purpose.

I was glad to see that NUS’ CIT announce this position calmly twice, as did Tech Editor Irene Tham in The Straits Times. 

It was understandable that the Ministry of Education had to swoop in to ban the use of Zoom after a hacking incident, which made world news. But that ban is temporary, for as reported in The Straits Times “the ministry is working with Zoom to enhance its security and make security measures clear and easy to follow.” [Update: they have restored Zoom with some limits in place and will review in future – link]

Since practise with settings and short cuts is critical, I suggest you try this with friends, and incite the tech savvy ones help with an online tutorial. After preparing a friend for her seminar, I learnt a few more things myself.

Since January, a variety of COVID-19 mitigations have been in place in Singapore, and we now all have plenty of friends to experiment tele-conferencing tools with. I’ve had fun scheduling sessions in a jiffy with my secondary school buddies and it has also been a great way to support each other during this challenging time.

Useful links:


One thought on “Educators can use Zoom safely – just explore the settings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s