In early 2020 the entire world was rocked by a pandemic unlike anything ever seen before. We’re still reeling from its impacts. While schools around the country—in truth, around the world—quickly sent students home to learn using online teaching tools, many eventually called them back, only to begin shutting things down again as the virus continues to pose a threat.

Through it all students of all ages are continuing to learn online. That’s really pretty amazing when you think about the challenges that have been faced. Fortunately, even at the outset of the pandemic school systems were able to rely on some existing online teaching tools for establishing virtual classrooms. These online teaching tools offered a variety of advantages, but also presented some challenges—none really adequately and comfortably replicating the in-person learning experience.

Google Classroom is a Popular Zoom Alternative

Google has a big brand to put behind Google Classroom, and the popular virtual learning tool offers a number of benefits—it’s easy to use and offers many common online teaching tools for instruction and learning.

Imani Francies, a former fifth grade science teacher, says: “As a teacher who worked during the pandemic, I find that Google Classroom is the best software for younger children to host any online tutoring or classroom. It allows you to host various classrooms, and students can easily access materials because you can store them online in each classroom.” Google Classroom also allows for video and text chats, she says. “This makes it noticeably easier for teachers and students to interact and engage because it is a one-stop-shop for everything that the student and teacher need to finish a tutoring or class session.”

There are some drawbacks, though. While Common Sense Education says that “Google Classroom is an excellent tool for any classroom that frequently uses G Suite products like google Docs, Slides, or Sheets,” its primary drawback, they note, is that “integration with student information services is still in development” and “no standards-based grading options” are available.  

Google Classroom isn’t the only online teaching tool, though.

Beyond Google Classroom

Earlier this year, in recognition of the rapid move to online learning platforms spurred by the pandemic, ZDNet provided its list of “the best learning management systems for education, enterprise, and small business.” In addition to Google Classroom, the list included: Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, SAP Litmos LMS, Adobe Captivate Prime, Schoology, Docebo, Edmodo, Brightspace, Absorb LMS and TalentLMS. They provide a review of each, offering both pros and cons.

Perhaps because of some of these drawbacks, it didn’t take long for teachers, professors, parents and others to begin looking for other online teaching tools as the pandemic impacted the country.

Zoom, which had quickly emerged as a popular option for connecting during the pandemic, suddenly became a go-to resource for teachers, students, and parents as they adjusted to distant learning.  

But, despite its popularity, ease of use and strong attention to the user experience, Zoom wasn’t built as an online learning and teaching tool. Users began to struggle to understand how to use Zoom for education, or how to use Zoom for online classes. Teachers were searching for Zoom tips for teachers and advice on how to teach a class with Zoom, or how to create a virtual classroom.

School systems also struggled to come up with the right combination of online teaching tools to aid interaction (like video capabilities) and tools for instruction (like attendance-taking, or attention tracking). Simply figuring out ways for everyone to be visually present whether in the classroom or other locations proved to be challenging.

“Over the summer, our school invested in new technology that created video-enabled classrooms that let both students who were attending class and remote students feel as if they are in the front row of the classroom,” says Saman Abbas is a science and engineering teacher at Malden Catholic High School. The school partnered with LogMeIn to install GoToRoom equipment with cameras with intelligent video framing capabilities. The system, says Abbas, “has cameras with intelligent video framing capabilities that follow my movement and highlight the flow of conversations in the class by learning who is talking and reframing the scene on the speaker while keeping everyone else in view.” The sound system also focuses on the voice of the person speaking, while the whiteboard feature allows him to share the board image in real time with remote students.

Of course, seeing other classroom participants isn’t the only important aspect of online learning. Some educators began to look for other options, including open source alternatives, to help fill the gaps.

Open Source Online Teaching Tools

Joshua M. Pearce, PhD, who teaches a graduate course in Open Source Scientific Hardware at the Michigan Technological University and is director of the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab, is one example. Pearce uses a free and open source alternative to Zoom, Jitsi, to teach his graduate course in Open Source Scientific Hardware. “The course shows students how to leverage open source development methods to obliterate the costs of doing science,” he says. Its features include video conferences, instant messaging in chat, and the ability for students to raise digital hands, he says. “The feature I use all the time is switching up screen share so that students can share their work in a discussion with the class.” Jitsi is actually not a single program, but a collection of free and open-source multiplatform voice, videoconferencing and instant messaging applications for the web, Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS and Android, Pearce says.  

And then Class for Zoom emerged.

Class for Zoom Bridges the Gaps of Legacy Online Teaching Tools

Zoom has great functionality, but it wasn’t designed for classroom use. While it allows for lectures, has a whiteboard, and can accommodate breakout groups, there is so much more that teachers do in a physical classroom that just wasn’t transferring over to a virtual classroom environment.

Like taking attendance or giving and grading tests and assignments. Or accommodating group presentations from one or more students who could share their screens, show videos or other information. Or helping teachers manage the classroom to draw out quieter students, keep an eye on those who had the potential to become disruptive, or monitor and manage participation and attention.

We felt there was room for an online teaching tool built for hybrid or virtual classrooms. So we went to work to develop a tool that would offer better connections, greater engagement and seamless interaction with important LMS systems that teachers at both the K-12 and higher-ed levels rely on.

We’re biased, of course. But we think Class for Zoom is the best option for educators, students, administrators, parents and others as they navigate the new world of remote teaching and online learning. Why would we share information on other options? Because in addition to being biased, we’re also confident that Class for Zoom provides robust and seamless functionality to mirror the classroom experience, wherever students and teachers may be.

Check it out. We think you’ll agree.