“Zoom call” is a term that has entered the public lexicon as a generic one over the past year, no matter which video conferencing platform is used – kind of like jello or band-aid.
And with good reason. Zoom Video Communications is by far and away the one people use the most, according to an informal survey of area officials.
They point to ease of use, solid mobile device apps and features such as easy screen sharing and breakout rooms as the main reasons.
“I don’t really need to be an expert on Zoom. That’s why I like it,” said Monticello School Superintendent Vic Zimmerman.
Most log onto Zoom as their primary choice, with a smattering of others being used, including Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Ring Central and the City of Monticello’s choice for meeting broadcasts, GoToMeeting.
Video conferencing in general has led to phrases such as “you’re mic isn’t on” and “please unmute” being uttered as much as any others in 2020-21.
“Someone jokingly said that it is like holding a seance where everyone says, ‘John, can you hear us?’” quipped Bement School Superintendent Sheila Greenwood, who uses both Zoom and Google Hangouts.
Google Meets and Hangouts are used quite a bit in schools, which were already set up with Chromebooks that tie directly into Google products like Classroom and Google Docs.
“I use Google Meets for most district meetings and mostly Zoom or WebEx for out-of-district meetings. We decided as a district to use the Google format since it was already supported,” said Hillary Stanifer, the Superintendent of Blue Ridge schools.
Mary Lucille Hays, a teacher in the English Department at the University of Illinois and a Journal-Republican columnist, prefers Zoom during the day and Google Meets away from work.
“I use Zoom for work. I like the wide variety of tools I can use, like sharing my screen, having students go into breakout rooms,” she said. “For family meetings and social calls I’ve used Google meet. It is fine for that.”
Sometimes the choice comes down to what an agency was already using when the pandemic hit and forced more remote meetings.
“Ring Central is the cloud-based phone software we also use for both organizations, so there is no added cost for video conferencing,” said Shelly Crawford-Stock, the director of Monticello Main Street and the Monticello Chamber of Commerce. “Ring Central’s video-conferencing is powered by Zoom and has most of it’s features.”
She said the only downside is Ring Central does not have some of the cosmetic features of Zoom, and that software integration can be a challenge with Ring Central compared to a full Zoom meeting.
How long did it take to become a video conferencing expert? Some say two weeks.
Others say full proficiency is still in the future.
“I’m sill working on that,” joked Cerro Gordo School Superintendent Brett Robinson.
Kirby Medical Center CEO Steve Tenhouse said he had the basics down in a couple of weeks, but that “figuring out the sharing of screens when using multiple screens was tricky.”
Hays agrees, but she also has tech-savvy college students helping her.
“It was a steep learning curve. I started a year ago and fumbled through, but now I feel pretty confident. Still, my students teach me new tricks all the time. A few weeks ago, one of them started drawing on a slide I was sharing. I still don’t know how they did that,” she said.
Tenhouse notes that video conferencing has been essential, and is likely here to stay, at least in part.
“We have found it to be a very efficient use of people’s time rather than traveling to meet in person for our remote locations,” he said.
The downfalls? A major one: No internet, no meeting.
Sluggish internet can be just as bad.
“Reliable internet service is vital,” said Robinson.
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But all agree that, while it has its place, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.
“I, personally, like in-person because body language and being in the same room seems more authentic to me,” said Greenwood. But the school official added she “wouldn’t hesitate to make it an option again in cases where we need to keep everyone safe.”
“We will probably go back to mostly in-person, but it is good to know we could quickly pivot to videoconferencing if we had a need,” added Tenhouse.
Our informal panel also agrees that video conferencing is here to stay, even if it is diminished when the pandemic is over.
“I think for some groups and association meetings where you have people coming from all over the state or country, we’ve learned the value of video-conferencing as a time saver and a way to increase participation,” said Crawford-Stock.
“However for local meetings, I suspect most folks will want in person meetings again as soon as possible. In that case, we may need to determine solutions like live videos so those who aren’t comfortable in person yet have an opportunity to participate,” she said.
For Greenwood, some of the humor that comes out of video meetings will be difficult to replace. Like when her school board attempted to replicate a certain 1970s sitcom featuring a lovely lady, a man named Brady and their six children.
“I think it is funny how everyone looks like the Brady Bunch opening credits and how everyone waves goodbye to each other at the end of a meeting. I like when people turn on their cameras because I feel like they are more engaged than those who don’t have their cameras on,” she said.