Teaching tech: A Q&A for faculty weighing the benefits of Teams, Zoom and Echo360

Illustration of faces on a remote call

From Microsoft Teams to Zoom to Echo360, many faculty at Colorado State University got a crash course in how to use new technologies for teaching remotely last year when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

But which platform is preferred? Which are most effective for learning? Which are easiest for faculty to use, and what levels of support are available for each?

Early on in the pandemic, Zoom experienced some security issues with well-publicized instances of “Zoom-bombing” around the country, in which non-students gained access to online course sessions and disrupted classes. But at the time, Zoom had features to enhance student engagement in a virtual environment that Teams lacked, like “breakout rooms” for small group study and the capacity to have more faces visible at one time.

Teams added similar features last fall, and it has been the platform preferred by IT staff at CSU because the University has an enterprise license for Teams, whereas there is no campus-wide license for Zoom.

Echo360, a lecture-capture technology that can record and livestream audio, computer screen content and video of instructors, was available on campus in some classrooms and auditoriums before CSU pivoted to remote instruction in March 2020. But last summer, IT staff more than doubled the number of spaces equipped with Echo360, installing it in almost every general assignment and dozens of departmental classrooms.

Whatever tool they chose for their courses, faculty were advised to embed as much as they could into the learning management system Canvas, so that students would have a “one-stop shop” to access all their learning resources.

Brandon Bernier
Brandon Bernier

We asked Brandon Bernier, vice president for information technology, and Gwen Gorzelsky, executive director for The Institute for Learning and Teaching or TILT, about the latest advice for faculty on the benefits and drawbacks of the various tools for remote learning available at CSU.

Q: Is Teams still the preferred platform for faculty to use?

A: While Teams is still the recommended platform for campus, what’s most important is that faculty use what helps them teach the best. Recently, Teams has gained more parity with Zoom in its feature set, allowing for breakout rooms as well as up to 49 images on a screen. Additionally, we have an enterprise campus license for Teams that doesn’t cost users anything additional to use, it leverages CSU credentials for authorization, and provides a robust collaboration ecosystem with its integration in the Microsoft 365 platform (productivity tools, unlimited file storage, etc.).

Q: Do faculty and units still need to obtain individual licenses for Zoom since we don’t have a campus license for it?

A: This is correct. CSU receives educational pricing from Zoom, and we coordinate all the sales centrally through RamTech. If faculty or departments need licenses, all they need to do is contact RamTech.

Q: Are there still some security concerns around Zoom, like the Zoom-bombing we saw early on?

A: One year ago, Teams and Zoom were different products and took different approaches in terms of functions and user experience. Since that time, both products have made tremendous gains both in functionality as well as security. Today, they are both secure platforms, and most users have adapted to the feature sets available in the products to prevent incidents involving unauthorized access leading to incidents like Zoom-bombing.

Gwen Gorzelsky
Gwen Gorzelsky

Q: Is the guidance for faculty to avoid using multiple tools so that it’s not confusing for students?

A: Yes, and we recommend using the tools provided by and supported centrally, as well as those supported at the college level by our distributed IT colleagues, to ensure consistency for students across all courses and to minimize tool fatigue. This approach enables students to focus their cognitive energies on course content, rather than on navigating multiple tools.

Q: How many more classrooms have been equipped with Echo360 since last July?

A: Echo360 has been installed in an additional 128 classrooms since last July (79 general assignment, 45 departmental and four LSC ballrooms). Echo 360 has a number of uses and can be good for asynchronous, synchronous and hybrid use. It all depends on how the faculty leverage their pedagogy. One of the differences between Echo 360 and MS Teams/Zoom is that Echo 360 is primarily a lecture-capture system focusing on video recording. The video recording can then be uploaded seamlessly to Canvas for student viewing. In addition, when used as a player, Echo 360 supports auto-captioning, which makes accommodations available more quickly for students with disabilities and improves resources for all students.

What are some of the common technical challenges that you’ve heard from faculty who are teaching hybrid or completely remote?

Common technology challenges reported by faculty are:
• Limited internet bandwidth and dropped connections on the student side.
• The difficulty of simultaneously managing both the in-person and remote learning environments when teaching hybrid/hyflex.
• Challenges monitoring features in Zoom and Teams (chat, raised hands, facilitating the breakout rooms) while presenting. For example, it can be difficult to see the chat and raised hand features if you are sharing your screen with the group.
• Motivating and engaging students through virtual platforms. TILT offers an Active Learning Strategies table that suggests approaches to engaging students in all course delivery modes. An Online Teaching: Research-Based Practices document includes approaches to motivate students (section 3) and engage them (section 5). Further resources are available on the University’s Keep Teaching site and on TILT’s Resources for Hybrid, Blended, and Online Teaching page.

Forever Stalwart: Rising Above the Pandemic

This article is part of the “Forever Stalwart: Rising Above the Pandemic” series, telling the inside stories of how the CSU Ramily has rallied its brilliant minds, great hearts, creativity and collaborative spirit to continue its land-grant mission and overcome the challenges of COVID-19 with innovation and resilience.