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Zoom adds new features for students and educators

(Image credit: Zoom)

Zoom has announced a raft of new features and functions in response to requests from the education community.

The new tools aim to enhance the hybrid learning experience for both educators and students, boosting Zoom's already widespread appeal as an online meeting tool, especially for those working remotely (opens in new tab).

Central to the list of new attractions is virtual background support for Chromebooks, video messages in Zoom Chat, enhancements for Breakout Rooms as well as Anywhere Polls.

The thinking behind the move by Zoom is to make it easier for teachers to engage with and manage their students, especially those who might be joining classes remotely, as well as submitting their homework assignments.

Key new features include virtual background and blur for Chromebook use, because of the popularity of the laptop with both students and teachers. The tweak will work for Zoom for Chrome Progressive Web Application (PWA) users.

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“Virtual background and blur for Chromebooks are extremely beneficial to our students and teachers. Many students were reluctant to turn their cameras on before this feature enhancement,” said Rod Smith, Chief Technology Officer, Clayton County Public Schools and one of the education customers who requested it.

Next up are enhancements to Breakout Rooms, which are already popular in the educational sector. Program Audio enables meeting hosts to share content with audio to Breakout Rooms, while offering the ability to share videos with audio.

Using the LTI Pro integration enhancement, educators can populate Breakout Rooms from the course roster. In a boost for easing administrative chores, this can be called upon to assign Breakout Rooms in advance, then automatically sort students into Breakout Rooms.

On top of that, Zoom has built in additional features for Chat and Waiting Room, including the ability to send audio and video messages into Zoom Chat, along with the option for renaming participants in the Waiting Room. Similarly, asynchronous video allows users the time to consider their responses and then record as needed to provide thoughtfully crafted responses.

Following the improvements, users will be able to click “video” at the bottom of the chat client and record up to a 3-minute video message that goes directly into the out-of-meeting chat channel. The thinking behind this is that it will be useful when students have to submit brief video assignments and suchlike.

Renaming participants before they join the meeting can be useful for attendance taking where students may be using shared devices, for creating an anonymous student group, or for affirming gender identity.

Finally, Anywhere Polls will now offer the storage of polling content in a central repository, allowing it to be accessed from any meeting on an account, instead of being associated with a particular meeting. Instructors should find the feature makes it much easier to reuse polls and will also be beneficial for grading. Zoom notes, however, that this feature will be available soon rather than right away.

“Delivering happiness to our customers is the core of what we do at Zoom,” said Johann Zimmern, Global Education Strategy Lead, Zoom. “We work closely with our global K-12 and higher education customers, taking their requests into account and involving them in feature development. As a direct result of this, Zoom developed these exciting new features for education.”

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Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.