Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Reference Guide for New Zoomers

In order to continue our long tradition of community gatherings while practicing social distancing to help protect our community from the worst effects of the novel coronavirus, Sustainability Salons are being held via teleconference using the Zoom platform.  One silver lining to this pandemic situation is that we’re having participants who usually can’t attend in person because of distance or physical limitations (e.g., allergies).  Here are some tips that may help you navigate the process.

You’ll be able to connect from your computer, tablet, or smartphone (of course the larger the screen, the better your experience!).  If you have a problem getting connected, read the tips below and try again, or look on the  Zoom web site for answers — there’s a pretty comprehensive Help section (click on Support in the upper right).  

Some of you have used Zoom before, others have not.  If you haven’t, you’ll need to install Zoom on your computer, but it should be pretty easy (you may need your own password, for your system to allow the software installation; this doesn’t go anywhere else) — you’ll click on the link I give you in this email, and it’ll bring up a registration form, and then Zoom will send you another email with a signon link.  Click that a little while before the meeting is scheduled to start, and it’ll prompt you for each step (the link opens a web page, and from there it asks to download and run the application, or just open it if you already have it).  The whole process is pretty simple and automated, so you should find yourself with a Zoom window in the middle of your screen.  As with most windows, you can click on the boxy symbol to expand it to full-screen, as you prefer.  It may look plain at first, but it will soon have a number of little boxes with names and perhaps images of people.  And if you move the cursor a bit, a row of buttons will appear along the bottom of the window.  

Mute:  With so many participants, it won't be practical to have everyone talking.  You’ll start out muted (shown in the lower left of the Zoom window, as a picture of a microphone with a line through it), and likely remain muted for most of the time.  If you need to say something to everyone, there's a "Raise Hand" option in the Participant window, but please wait for a host to ask you to un-mute, then click that microphone icon — and then be sure to mute again afterward, or things will get pretty noisy.  

Chat:  There is, however, a chat facility — so if you have questions for a speaker or comments in between, you can type it in and we’ll figure out when best to present it.  We'll have one or more co-hosts moderating the chat window, keeping stack, prioritizing questions, and conveying them to the speaker (or whoever).  To see and use the Chat window, click on the Chat icon on the bottom of your Zoom window — it looks like a little word-bubble.  

Video:  I set it up so that everyone can use video, but you don’t need to — you can toggle on and off with a button (a video camera icon) on the bottom left of your Zoom window.  If your video is on, folks may see a little thumbnail of your image.  If it’s off, just a black rectangle with your name. With this many people either the thumbnails will be really tiny, or they won’t all be shown — we’ll probably have multiple screens worth.  It also may affect sound or video quality due to bandwidth limitations — again, I don’t know with this many people, so at some point we may just say “Hey everyone, turn your video off!”  Our priority is to provide a good view of the speakers and their slides, and perhaps occasionally someone else participating in the discussion.  

Sound:  You can listen to everything on your computer/tablet/phone speaker, or with headphones or earbuds, whatever is most comfortable for you.  If you need to speak, those devices probably have microphones as well, but if not, at the time you sign on you’ll have the opportunity to test it and the option to use a phone for sound instead — you’ll be able to see the presenters and their slides on the screen, and hear and speak through a phone call (it’ll give you a number to call.  You’ll need to have your phone on for the whole time, though, so be sure it’s plugged in and you don’t have limited minutes!).  You’ll probably want to put the phone on Speaker mode and set it beside you, or use earphones;  it’d be a long time to hold it to your ear!  

It is also possible to use a smartphone or tablet for the whole thing, if that’s more convenient for you.  The interface will be a little different — there’s less space on the screen, of course, and a somewhat different sign-on procedure.

In theory you could have several people at one location, but note that a laptop microphone might not be adequate for each of you to be heard by others if you're not close together right in front of the computer.  (If so, you can also use a phone for sound instead as just mentioned). 

It is even possible just to dial in on a regular phone, and you’ll be able to hear and be heard — but again, please mute your phone — with eighty people on the line with random background noises, it would get pretty hard to hear!  (we can also mute you, if you’re on a phone without that function).

Sign-on:  You should have a Zoom Invitation in your email.  As noted above, just click on the meeting link therein and it’ll take you to the registration page — provide your name and email, and you’ll receive the meeting link (and phone numbers in case you want to just dial in — but again, you’ll have a richer experience if you can use a computer, tablet, or even smartphone.  There will be multiple phone numbers because many people use Zoom to have meetings distributed around faraway places).   One last note — if something goes wrong, you can just go back to your confirmation email and click the link to start over. 

If you are using a phone, my test this morning showed that there are a couple of possible hitches, easy to circumvent once you know about them (so I’m telling you now to save you the frustration I had a couple of hours ago!):  If you have autocorrect, predictive text and/or automatic capitalization on your smartphone, it’s very hard to get past the CAPTCHA step (obscured text you have to type in manually to prove you’re a human being).  In my test, I kept failing because the phone tried to re-spell the nonsense word as a real word!  On my iPhone, I went into Settings, then to General, then to Keyboard, and scrolled down to un-set those options.  Then it worked fine!  I don’t know the Android equivalent, but it’s probably similar. 

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