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In this episode, Phil Hill and Jeanette Wiseman discuss the longer-term implications of the rapid adoption of synchronous video conferencing systems.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman


Phil: Welcome to MindWires Musings, where we throw caution to the wind and take a more relaxed attitude to discuss the news in EdTech. We haven’t even talked for a little while through Musings, I’m looking forward to this. I’m looking forward to the holidays, too. I can’t wait.

Jeanette: Yeah, no, I’m looking forward to the holidays. It’s going to be very different. We normally have a lot of a lot of people in our house, so it’s going to be a very different experience. Probably the first time of my children’s lives where there won’t be a couple of hundred people here on Christmas Eve, so that’s going to be a new experience for sure.

Phil: For people who don’t know you or don’t know Albuquerque, you’re going to have to explain that.

Jeanette: Oh, yeah. Well, there’s there’s a thing called luminarias which are, if anyone has seen paper bags with sand and a candle in it, which I know sounds kind of strange for a lot of people, but it’s very beautiful. [00:01:00] They put out thousands and thousands of them in our neighborhood in Albuquerque, and it attracts a lot of attention. There are bus tours that go through our neighborhood and lots of people walking. And because we’re in this neighborhood, which is really beautiful, it’s sort of a destination on Christmas Eve. We’ve always had this open house since we’ve moved here, and it would mean that people that maybe we only saw on Christmas Eve, once a year, show up. We don’t see them at all, they just know this is part of their family tradition. I think for some people, it’s the place to go to have a safe place to stay with family. This is because of Covid the first time that we’re going to not have that open house. It’ll be interesting.

Phil: Oh, that’s sad. Too bad. I mean, especially for the girls. It’s interesting that they’ve never been without that.

Jeanette: It is. To me, it means that probably just cooking time less. Well, I’ll still cook everything, maybe [00:02:00] just not as big of quantities, but I’m an early bird. I’ll probably not have to stay awake till 2:00 a.m. or something. I’ll be able to go to bed fairly early on Christmas Eve. I’m hoping to be able to walk around, which I’ve never been able to do because of hosting this party. There’s some good parts to it that I’m looking forward to. We’ll see how the girls react.

Phil: What do you have with you? What kind of cocktail do you have?

Jeanette: Just drinking a little bourbon, little Woodford Reserve on a block of ice and a splash of water. How about you?

Phil: Pretty darn close. I am drinking a Midwinter’s Night Dram courtesy of our lovely friend Becky, who had provided this.

Jeanette: Oh, nice.

Phil: It’s limited release rye put out by High West Distillery. They put it out in the winter time.

Jeanette: That’s much fancier. I got my huge bottle at Costco, but it’s a good bourbon. I stand by it.

Phil: This [00:03:00] is our next Musings. We tend to specialize lately in video conferencing platforms. So are you ready to go?

Jeanette: I’m ready. Let’s talk about it.

Phil: Video conferencing platforms: Zoom, Zoom University. Microsoft Teams with their live video, Google Meetings, WebEx, Blackboard Collaborate. We’ve all talked about that and obviously that’s been a major factor during the pandemic. The more I think about it and the more I talk to academics – such as one of the conversations you and I had today in a focus group – and the more I read, I’m becoming quite convinced that this is a more fundamental shift in learning platforms than I think we realize. That’s got some implications to it. Quite honestly, part of the way this solidified in my mind where I needed to explore the subject is I was interviewing Michael Chasen, former [00:04:00] founder and CEO of Blackboard. He’s got his new company, ClassEdu, which we discussed, Class for Zoom as a product. As we were talking about this subject, the profound change, he had made a statement talking about how Zoom has become the learning platform, the most dominant learning platform, where that’s how students and faculty mostly, or as much as any other, are experiencing education these days.

So I’m paraphrasing our conversation, but that’s really the point that I wanted to explore, is that typically when we’ve talked about learning platforms, quite often it’s the LMS, but then we call it the learning platform so we can be a little bit more broad and include courseware and include things that are not technically the LMS. If you think about it, part of what I’m realizing is not just during the pandemic, but moving forward, the definition [00:05:00] or the perception of learning platform might be equal between the LMS and live video, synchronous video, or video conferencing, whatever you want to call it. The video conferencing as learning platform is going to be as significant as the LMS moving forward.

Jeanette: Well, I certainly think it’s significant. I think that for a couple reasons. I think it was Zoom itself, and we heard this again today in the focus groups. The simplicity of it, made it a very easy platform to go to, to replicate learning in the classroom and synchronous learning. It wasn’t thinking outside of the box. It was an application that was so easy to use. Everyone knew how to do it. There weren’t a lot of different options to it. For teachers, that was really important, but also for the students. I think it just didn’t make anyone have to think that hard about delivering online education. [00:06:00] I think for that reason, it was critical. Like, really, if we were to think about this spring, especially being able to move so quickly, I don’t think people would have been as nimble if Zoom wasn’t an option. I really don’t.

Phil: I completely agree. I guess what I’m wrestling with in my head, I would go beyond the ‘Zoom saved our bacon’ type of view, which I think is very accurate. But wait, this is going to have long lasting repercussions and we’re not going backwards. A lot of the reason I’m seeing it going even beyond what you just described is it gets to the technology adoption curve and it gets to the fact of, if you look at the LMS, it took a decade or more before you could say you went beyond the early adopters and innovators and crossed the chasm and got into the majority of faculty [00:07:00] in particular, and of students who were using the LMS on nearly a daily basis. It took a long time. It went through a typical adoption curve and different difficulties.

With Zoom in particular, and other video conferencing systems, we went to the mainstream in a matter of weeks this spring. As you rightly described it, fit the characteristics of what you need to serve the mainstream. It was something familiar. It was something that worked, intuitive. Now the same people – it’s not just that it worked and allowed them to finish spring. They’ve been working with this for six months now.

Now you’ve eliminated that whole barrier to EdTech adoption where traditional faculty, mainstream faculty who are saying, oh, I’ve never done it that way, I don’t know what to do now, they know what it is. They [00:08:00] know they can do it. It wasn’t perfect, but they’re adopting it and they know about it. We’re hearing this more and more. They’re starting to say, well, I’m actually seeing some of the benefits of this. This wasn’t just saving our bacon. It’s like, wow, this is going to continue to be used. That’s part of what I’m wrestling with.

I hear skepticism in your voice.

Jeanette: Well, I mean, there’s a couple of things. I mean, yes, it worked and yes, it can. There’s definite benefits. I think especially in the higher ed space, there are opportunities for students to be learning online. A lecture setting that doesn’t need maybe the community that you would find in a classroom, doesn’t need the hands on skills base that maybe you need in the classroom. There are real benefits for learning in this platform. What I question and what I hope people don’t fall into is that I think there are a lot of things that you can do online that [00:09:00] can make a course much more successful than just trying to replicate in a classroom setting using Zoom. I think that if people are, to just take one more baby step or maybe two more baby steps towards really, looking at pedagogy and curriculum delivery online that interaction, rich media, rich community, rich discussion tool, could take another step.

There’s things I can just take things a little bit further that I think can really enhance the online environment and make it so that maybe in some cases and some courses is even better than an in-person environment. I think flexibility is the number one thing that I’m assuming, it’s just the flexibility and the ease of use. I’m just saying that let’s take it a little bit further.

Phil: But when you say let’s take it, I guess that gets to the point. I’m trying to describe what I think is going to happen. We need to think beyond, [00:10:00] though, what should happen or what do we want to happen. Part of the point I’m trying to say is we do know a lot about how technology gets adopted. Part of what I’m observing is, for better or worse, this is becoming … let’s just make the argument this is becoming coequal with the LMS as the default learning platform.

Jeanette: Absolutely.

Phil: Video conferencing, and therefore that raises there are some implications such as how do we improve it with better engagement, better pedagogy? Microsoft Teams is coming in with a whole richer set of tools on chat and collaboration. So they’ve got an approach to say, let’s take it a step further. Engageli replaces Zoom, but it’s very strongly focused on a pedagogical engagement model. Class for Zoom is a plug in on top of Zoom to add education specific features. I think those are the main contenders right now.

But I think [00:11:00] we’re in a world where it is now the second learning platform, that really isn’t second. It’s like 1A and 1B, one is synchronous, one is for asynchronous, by and large. Now the question is, how do we do better with this?

The reason I think that’s so significant is because there’s so much history of EdTech where the adoption issues are driven by faculty, instructors, course designers, reluctant to try things out, or a lot of times it doesn’t make sense, or there’s just a perception and a barrier or resistance to doing things differently. We’ve in a rapid period of time, blown through that whole chasm and gotten into the mainstream. Now they’ve had six months of experience. So we’re past that. Now the question is, we have, in one view, a new normal. What’s going to happen moving forward and what are the [00:12:00] implications?

Jeanette: Well, I mean, there are really good ones, too, right? There are. For how many years have we heard that being able to take a required course was almost impossible because of enrollment issues? A lot of that can be perhaps solved with having those courses available to students.

Phil: So in other words, that online courses are going to be easier or less resistance to get them started when needed. Oh, wait, I’m misinterpreting you, perhaps saying even for a course that’s not, quote unquote online will have options for students to take them remotely.

Jeanette: I’m saying that the options will be there. So if you have to take psych 101 to graduate, you’re going to have the availability to do that any semester you want because it’ll be available to you online. I mean, you can look at things like ways to improve it or to create the HyFlex model that Kevin spoke [00:13:00] so eloquently on early on about this, but I feel like that might not be an option for a lot of campuses. What is an option is to provide this online. I also think those really large lecture courses, I don’t think they’re coming back in the next maybe two semesters anyway. I’m thinking maybe 2022 before we start seeing that.

Phil: We’re hearing that from educators more and more, aren’t we?

Jeanette: Yeah. I think that those are the types of things that once people start getting more used to our big gen ed courses are going to be delivered by the Zoom or online. It’s going to become more of the norm. I mean, who knows the implications of that? Then you can start thinking of, OK, that’s what’s happening. Are there going to be more of a push to have freshmen really engage at the beginning? Are they going to start taking more of a backwards curriculum model that you are taking some of those major courses first so that you have that on campus skills approach? I [00:14:00] don’t know.

Phil: I think a lot of implications of maybe doing that. One that I guess I wouldn’t qualify it as positive or negative, it’s something that will be interesting to see as we’ve gotten used to the LMS almost as a portal, that’s your entryway to tools, and pre-pandemic, even for video conferencing, the majority of cases where students experience video conferencing, they got it through the LMS. It was a third party added, but it was through the LMS. It’s interesting, you talk to educators now, or students now. I listen to my daughter who’s in college, and you almost hear that they equate class time with their video conferencing.

You’re getting this perception where on its own video conferencing as a learning platform, it’s now being perceived as a huge part. It’s not through the LMS by and large. Now, a negative part [00:15:00] of that is yet another system that teachers and students have to know about. It raises the question, what are they going to want? Do they want the video conferencing to go back to be experience or triggered through the LMS? Or are you going to start seeing it vice versa? Or you’re going to see that students and faculty are comfortable experiencing them in parallel. How do you integrate them? I think there’s just a big open question that if this is now one of the default learning platforms, what are schools going to want to do in terms of student experience?

Jeanette: Right. I think there’s another piece in terms of the student experience especially, is that you can’t discount the Zoom fatigue that a lot of students have been feeling. I don’t have college students yet, but I do have a poor seventh grader who is in online courses, online class from eight o’clock in the morning till three o’clock [00:16:00] in the afternoon. She has after school activities, if you can imagine that are still gathering. She’s on Zoom for maybe another hour after that voluntarily, that’s a long time. Then she has a 30 minute lunch. It’s a lot.

Phil: You give your daughter a 30 minute lunch?

Jeanette: The school gives her.

Phil: My views on that. First of all, I agree fatigue is a real issue, particularly for students, and something’s got to be done about it. The other thing I’d have to say is where this can work out is very age dependent. As I look through the K – 12 market, particularly K through five or six, that’s a completely different ballgame than university in terms of whether it’s appropriate or not. But I guess I get back to my main point. I think it’s here. It’s almost a coequal learning platform with the LMS. Instead of viewing ‘let’s go back to what we used [00:17:00] to do or we should do something different’, it’s now embedded in academic culture. I’m seeing a major shift where people are thinking, well, how do we improve it?

Jeanette: I was just going to say sort of echo that. I think a good example is that we had a faculty member, full time faculty member who said that up to six months ago she had never even had one online conference, she never met with anybody online. She opened up Zoom for the first time because of the pandemic. She was the one that said, I don’t know if we’re going to completely go back. Her point was that, for especially large lectures, she said the students seem to be able … the learning seems to be better, and that she said the ability to have experts in chats answering questions frees up some students, that maybe there’s just that one student always asks the question and now there’s more students asking questions. She was a real proponent for it and she [00:18:00] had never even opened it up.

Phil: So I certainly am not saying it’s better in every case, but of course, the story you mentioned is very instructive because somebody who had never even looked at it and thought about it, or willing to even try it before the pandemic, and suddenly within six months, it’s like I’m not going back. Boy, I see better engagement with it and I’m going to use it. That’s a rapid adoption, or a rapid example of blowing through this chasm and serving the majority.

There’s a risk to the LMS market of being boxed in as asynchronous, only part of the courses. So I think there’s a lot of open questions about how you integrate those systems and how you deal with student experience and in terms of data, cohesive data., so you can look at student learning.

Jeanette: I agree. The only thing the last thing maybe I would mention to think about, though, for those systems is [00:19:00] that I think primarily the success that we saw on Zoom was because of the simplicity and the intuitive nature of it. I think that if it wasn’t for that, that this adoption and this thought of we can continue to do this, wouldn’t be there. I think that that there’s lessons to be learned in that for any EdTech provider.

Phil: Yeah. Intuitive, simple. This helps me figure out my blog post, but that’s a key aspect of the majority, when you get to technology adoption, if I’m going to have to do it, just make it easy. Let me be able to figure it out quickly. It simplifies things. That’s exactly it. It’s a key part of mainstream adoption.

We promise not to make more than 50 percent of the Musings podcasts about video conferencing, but we also think it’s a very important factor moving forward for EdTech. It’s important to understand these significant [00:20:00] changes are happening. Great talking to you, Jeanette, and thanks for helping me hopefully figure out how to write this blog post, but not tonight because I’m going to enjoy my rye some more.

Jeanette: That sounds good. Great talking to you. Thanks.

Phil: Sure. Bye.