University of Oregon faculty members, staff and students have a new videoconferencing option in their toolkit with the launch of Zoom in late March.
By accelerating existing plans to roll out Zoom, UO Information Services was able to provide the campus community with access in time to support remote instruction, work and communications for spring term.
The cloud-based service allows easy online meetings, audio calls and group messaging.
Particularly valuable for an educational setting is Zoom's breakout room feature, which allows hosts to split a main meeting into submeetings for discussions, projects or activities. UO staff have also integrated Zoom into Canvas to facilitate remote teaching and learning.
"I am excited about the instructional possibilities offered by Zoom and I remain confident it will help us better serve our students during this extraordinary time," wrote Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips in a March 18 message to faculty members and instructors.
President Michael H. Schill announced on March 19 that the UO would provide remote education for the entire spring term in response to the coronavirus outbreak that is accelerating in Oregon and nationally.
"The situation with COVID-19 has been changing rapidly, to say the least," said Jessie Minton, vice provost for information services and chief information officer. "Thanks to a combination of significant prior planning and some heroic efforts from our information technology staff, we were able to anticipate the need for this tool and fast-track its deployment just in time."
Contract negotiations with Zoom were already underway in late winter as part of the communications and collaborative technologies program, formerly referred to as unified communications.
Prompted by the need to replace the UO's 30-year-old telephone system, Information Services launched the program in early 2019 to broadly address communication and collaboration tools, from telephones and videoconferencing to instant messaging and text messaging. Recommendations for tools, including Zoom, were shared with campus in November 2019.
"Zoom is part of our broader strategy for cloud collaboration products," said Matt Riley, chief technology officer. "In looking at what the UO was already doing for online education and what institutions across the country were doing, in listening to our consultants and campus partners, Zoom emerged as an essential piece of technology for UO to implement now."
Unlike personal Zoom accounts, the UO's central Zoom service ensures compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, known as FERPA. A limited Zoom service that complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which governs the privacy of health records, is also in the works to enable telehealth services and health-related research.
All UO faculty members and staff can host Zoom meetings with up to 300 participants. Students can host one-on-one Zoom meetings of unlimited length or meetings up to 40 minutes long with up to 100 participants. UO Zoom users can invite anyone to participate in a Zoom meeting, even if those invitees don’t have a Zoom account.
A handful of licenses for extremely large meetings, up to 1,000 participants, are being proactively provided to instructors of the UO's largest spring courses.
An array of how-to articles, including a getting started page, are available in the UO Service Portal. Zoom also offers video tutorials, live training webinars and hundreds of how-to articles in its own help center.
For hosting classes or meetings, Information Services recommends that people install the Zoom application on their computers. Employees whose UO computers are managed by IT staff in their respective units should contact those staff before installing Zoom.
As of March 23, anyone with an existing Zoom account associated with a uoregon.edu email address must choose to either transition their account into the central UO Zoom service or change the email address associated with their Zoom account.
Minton and Riley stressed that there may yet be bumps in the road as thousands of UO students, faculty members and staff start using Zoom for the first time at the beginning of spring term.
"I'm immensely grateful for everyone who contributed to this high-speed rollout, from Purchasing and Contracting Services to our cross-function teams in Information Services led by Jeff Jones, director of identity and directory services," Riley said. "But we also need to keep in mind that we just compressed a six-month deployment and training period into two or three weeks."
Due to COVID-19, people worldwide are relying on technology in an unprecedented way to support remote operations and the continued delivery of education, Minton said.
"We may experience some unique strains that this situation poses on both our own technology and the underlying infrastructure upon which we rely from other businesses and agencies," she said. "Even more likely, you may run into issues or limitations using these tools from off campus, as your home’s internet connectivity adds another factor in speed and performance. Your UO IT staff will try to help get you working again as much as possible."
Zoom joins an increasingly rich toolkit of collaboration tools available to UO students and employees.
In the year since it was launched, Microsoft Teams has grown in popularity for its instant messaging, persistent group chats, videoconferencing, audio calls, screen sharing, file sharing and integration with other Microsoft Office apps and OneDrive cloud storage. All UO students, faculty members and staff have access to Teams through UO's Office 365 platform, which also complies with FERPA, the federal laws protecting student records.
Further guidance about which applications to use for which purposes is under development.
Beyond fundamentally enabling work, teaching, learning and research, Minton and Riley hope tools such as Teams and Zoom will help members of the UO community feel more connected even while practicing social distancing.
"You don't have to limit yourself to meetings,” Minton said. “Connect with your coworkers. Use a custom virtual background from UO or your favorite photos. These digital tools can help us maintain our humanity during a really tough time."
Instructions for using Zoom with Canvas are available in UO Online's Instructor Online Workshop in Canvas; a Duck ID login is required. For help using Zoom for teaching, refer to the March 24 message from Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Janet Woodruff-Borden.
For other help with Zoom, staff and faculty members should contact IT staff in their respective units, if available, or the Technology Service Desk or they should visit the Zoom support page in the UO Service Portal. Students can contact the Tech Desk or visit the Zoom support page.
—By Nancy Novitski, University Communications