Way back in 2019 if you heard the word “zoom,” you likely equated it with the witching hour when you were trying to wrangle your kids into bed or the bath, but they were “zooming” all around.
Now, in the year of our Lord, 2020, “zoom” may just be named the Word of the Year. It has become the gold standard for businesses and schools to communicate remotely with their customers, colleagues, and students. More than that, it has become an integral part of many families’ social distancing plan.
Much like cell phones and other pieces of technology we use in our everyday lives, we have become drug-like dependent on it. If we woke up tomorrow, and Zoom was gone, many of us would be entirely lost. Sure, there are other video conferencing options, like Google Meet, but Zoom is a robust platform that offers reliable connectivity.
This past spring, Zoom announced that they would be lifting the restrictions on meeting times for educators. In truth, this move solidified them as the leading provider of remote learning platforms in schools. Teachers, who had never before incorporated this level of technology into their classrooms, were inundated with trainings and protocols and best practices for how to meld the traditional brick and mortar classroom into this digital environment.
School districts wiped the sweat off their collective brows when they realized that they would be able to escape this catastrophic situation for the low low price of free. Entire plans were developed and presented to school boards outlining the use of video conferencing as a viable means for delivering instruction. It has become a part of the infrastructure to the point where teachers are abruptly redesigning tried and true curricula for this new age of education.
This is a truly progressive time that is a silver lining of this otherwise dumpster fire of a year. The antiquated structure of education is crumbling, and what I see as the future of learning is dawning. But I fear we’re taking a lot for granted.
As a business, it would behoove Zoom to take advantage of their sudden rise to glory by cashing in on what would be a very lucrative payday. In fact, I predict that once the education-minded administration gets things rolling, we may see government contracts cementing Zoom’s place in the world of education. However, government is anything but fast acting, and schools are funded by state budgets, so any action would take years to take effect.
So what if starting next year, Zoom decides to rescind the free frills we have become accustomed to? What if they do so at the start of the new year? They’ve built their reputation and enough goodwill that nobody would blame them if they did. And who is going to foot the bill for the breakout rooms, recording options so we can make our lessons available to absent students, and unlimited time for us to hold synchronous classes? No school district has that money in their budget without making major sacrifices.
I priced it out roughly for my own district with minimal frills, and it came to a shade under 100K per year. Is that a reasonable cost for what is being offered? Probably. But most districts work out technology budgets years in advance, and this is a price tag that is too big to swallow for most on such short notice. No funding is coming down the pipeline to absorb some of this cost, and it’s an imminent issue looming over all of our heads, even if we don’t know it yet. It’s something all school districts must look at as a future cost, but it would be impossible to sign off on if Zoom cuts off the freebies this year.
So what can be done? Well for starters, all teachers need to take what they learned about Zoom classes, and apply it to other technologies. Learn how to adapt so if you get a call that you can no longer use Zoom starting tomorrow, you know how to pivot on to some other platform without too much inconvenience.
Remote learning plans need to be flexible. Classes can’t last the entire hour if we can only use it for free for 40 minutes. Teachers need to be able to easily communicate with students on a dime if plans need to change for whatever lesson they may be doing. Parents and students need to be flexible as well to changes that might occur. Times are tough right now and we’re all getting used to a lot of change, but it’s the way things are, and we just have to deal with it.
I’m not saying that the ball is going to drop tomorrow, but I think it’s crucial we prepare for what happens if it does. If we want to truly make this progressive form of education a foundational piece of what learning could look like in the future (under better circumstances, of course) we will need to prepare contingency plans and be ready to adapt at the speed technology changes, which is pretty darn fast.