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Suhail Noor: Technology should leverage your teaching, never hinder it.

Suhail Noor is the Course Coordinator for the Master of Arts (Classical Arabic) for the Centre of Islamic Studies and Civilisation (CISAC), wherein he also lectures and tutors in Arabic language. In this post, Suhail looks at choosing the right technology to elevate his teaching practice.

The teaching scenario

Does this sound familiar? You have a scheduled one-hour online meeting, tutorial or lecture. You log on and are prepared to deliver the topic and ensuing discussion. 15 minutes in, students/participants are still having trouble hearing you or seeing your video. You also cannot hear them. While everyone waits, you try and troubleshoot the technical issues, and your 1-hour is reduced to 30 mins or you have to allocate another hour the next day and record the points you wanted to cover in the missing 30 mins. This was the challenge our lecturers and students were experiencing on a regular basis. To compound the challenge, teaching languages online requires not only clear audio, it also entails smooth video delivery or screen-sharing. It was this that prompted me to look for ways to improve our students’ learning experience in an online classroom. The search focusing on how good audio, video and screen sharing experiences could be explored, where students forget about the technology and focus on the learning. This led me to ZOOM.

What were you trying to achieve?
The goal at the end of the day was to choose appropriate online tools, in our case, a video/web conferencing platform that allowed our language-teaching staff to teach and engage students, and the difference between an on-campus experience and an online experience is reduced as much as possible (perhaps they will never be the same!) Ultimately, this is about providing equitable access to learning and teaching whether a student is on-campus or online.

  1. We wanted to find a solution wherein the students had a more hassle-free way of connecting to the online rooms. The most important feature of an online classroom or meeting is the audio component. The quality of sound for both host and students or attendees is paramount, especially in languages. I found this to be a problem in Adobe Connect. Adobe Connect requires flash installation and at times will not always connect to users’ microphones. In ZOOM however, the software detects your microphone and it is ready to go. All you have to do is unmute the “mic” button and begin to speak. The sound quality in ZOOM is amazing. An experience I have not had with other video conferencing/web conferencing tools. This was the most attractive feature.
  2. Being a language teacher, constant typing and annotating in Arabic and English is a requirement. In the online environment, this is achieved by an annotation tool. The annotation facility on ZOOM delivers. ZOOM smoothly performs this.
  3. Finally, our teaching staff and students’ time is valuable, there is a need to ensure that online meeting time delivers the learning activity promised. We expect students to deliver on learning outcomes, it is only fair that we deliver the teaching expectations we promise. In ZOOM, all I need to do is send a link and ask them to download ZOOM and we are good to go. They can also share their screens with me and I can also control their screen if need be. All this happens within the software itself, without installing anything else.

What did it look like?

CISAC initially piloted ZOOM in some of the Arabic language subjects in 2016. In 2017, the CISAC Learning and Teaching Committee made a decision to use ZOOM across subjects delivered in the 2017 sessions.

In the beginning of the session, students were introduced to the ZOOM and were asked to download the software on their computers (it is extremely small in size and easy to install). In my case and understanding that some of my students worked off various devices, I also encouraged them to connect using their mobile phones or tablets. The mobile application for ZOOM is wonderful. It is very easy to setup, has a chat feature, has annotation features and has a “press and release” option where you hold a button and speak, then release it and the mic mutes automatically.

All that is needed is to set up an online room link which is then shared via the interact page where students can click on the link each scheduled online meeting.

The biggest advantage of ZOOM is its meeting recording feature. When you stop recording at the end of the meeting, it produces both a video file of the recording in mp4 (in reduced file size), as well as an audio file of the meeting. It also creates a text file if you used the chat. This has made it helpful and efficient to record my classes, meetings and anything else I find important.

How can I make this happen?

It’s quite simple. You can either sign up on the free-account or pro-account here – using your Google account or your email. The user interface of ZOOM is easy to get used to and you can learn it quickly. The ZOOM website has great short videos explaining how to use the software. I find that the tutorial videos are very well designed, that when I help my colleagues learn ZOOM, I usually send them the short videos. I find that all the important tools are explicitly explained in an easy manner.

Suhail is happy to be contacted to chat about ZOOM. You can also refer to the ZOOM page on the CSU WIKI.