Using Zoom for Online Classes and Meetings
The Folk School is all about community-building and hands-on experiences. But sometimes we offer online courses (and sometimes meetings) to a wider audience or under extraordinary circumstances. The information here is intended to do two things: 1) help you decide if you have the resources necessary to successfully and satisfactorily participate in such a class before you sign up and 2) help you join the class and participate.
We use a platform called Zoom, which virtually defines the industry standard for videoconferencing for classes and meetings. It is reasonably easy to use even if you are uncomfortable with technology, and this page is intended to help you use Zoom.
You can connect to Zoom using just about any computer or handheld device you want, including laptops, desktop computers, iPhone and Android phones and tablets, and Linux computers. On some platforms you’ll use a Web-based interface, on handheld devices there is a Zoom app you can download. If your computer, phone, or laptop is less than four or five years old, it’s likely you can use it in a Zoom meeting.
The main issue for many people is Internet bandwidth. If you have a slow connection, it is unlikely that you’ll have a satisfying experience with an online class, mainly because of the vast amount of data that has to move across the Internet for video. In our experience, if you have a connection with 1 gigabyte download and 250 megabits upload, you’ll be fine. If you’re using a cellular signal, you should be good if you have four bars and anything but an E connection.
Maybe here’s a more realistic test: if you can successfully stream Netflix or Amazon Prime, it’s a pretty good bet you can do a class using Zoom.
Tip: You can turn off your video in Zoom, so that the instructor and other students can’t see you. That isn’t as much fun for everyone, but it might save enough bandwidth to make a slower connection usable.
To fully participate in the class, you’ll need to be able to interact with the instructor. That means that the device you use will need to have a microphone and a webcam (web camera). Most modern laptops, phones, and tablets have what you need; desktops may or may not. If your device doesn’t have what you need built in, you can purchase microphones and webcams. Unfortunately, we can’t help you with this since we’re not sitting in front of your device.
Zoom has a test page you can use to test your system and play with it to see how it works. See the link in the sidebar.
For a geeky list of system requirements for a PC, Mac, Linux, iOS (iPhones), iPadOS (iPads), and Androids, see the links in the sidebar on this page. If the information on those pages gives you the same experience as reading ancient Greek (assuming you don’t know ancient Greek), either contact us or talk to your neighborhood 13-year old; he or she can tell you if you have what you need.
Joining a Class or Meeting
Within a day or two before the class, all registered students will receive an email with a Join this Class link in it. Open that email in whatever device or computer you want to use for the class, and click that link. Depending on the device, that will either open an app or a Web page. From there, what you do depends on the device or app. See the Joining a Meeting link in the sidebar for detailed information about joining a meeting for whatever kind of device you are using.
Tip: You do not need a Zoom account to join a class or meeting, only if you intend to host your own meetings. But that is separate from a Folk School online class.
Tip: Zoom has a feature that lets you call into classes and meetings by phone, bypassing the need for enough Internet bandwidth for video. If you don’t have the bandwidth, and don’t mind just listening to a class without seeing anything that is going on, feel free to call in. But Folk School classes are highly visual and interactive, so you won’t get the full experience of the class if you just phone in.
In the Class or Meeting
Once you’ve joined the meeting, you should be able to see the instructor and other students, and they’ll be able to see and hear you, assuming you have a webcam and microphone. Please mute yourself, since everyone will otherwise be able to hear the background noise from wherever you are: the dogs barking, phone ringing, kids screaming with glee, whatever. You can unmute yourself when you want to ask a question or make a comment. You also have various options to customize the Zoom display; see the Zoom Help Center link in the sidebar for more information.
- For music classes, consider wearing headphones with a boom mic. That way you can better hear the instructor as he or she plays, yet still be able to hear yourself. (Don’t use noise-canceling headphones! Or at least turn off the noise cancellation feature.) Headphones aren’t really needed for other classes, since in most you won’t be making sound along with the instructor.
Hat tip to Liz Kane for this tip!
Have you found anything that makes participating in Zoom meetings work better for you? Please share them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
If you have any questions, please email us well in advance of the class, and we’ll do our best to get you answers. Please understand that The Folk School doesn’t have the resources to help you select hardware or remotely help you resolve any issues with the Internet bandwidth, hardware, or the Zoom software.