Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak had in-person gatherings prohibited, businesses and schools around the world find themselves switching to work-from-home and remote learning respectively. As a result, the popularity of one video conferencing platform in particular, Zoom, had skyrocketed.
Zoom is well-liked by educators for a few reasons. Besides accommodating up to 100 participants, teachers can utilise zoom’s services such as breakout rooms, polling, and hands up functions to stimulate their students. However, being primarily a video-conferencing platform not designed specifically to be a classroom, there are also some limitations to Zoom. For example, Zoom only has a basic built-in whiteboard function with the main plus-point being that it allows participants to annotate anywhere on the screen in the middle of a screen share and not just on the whiteboard. The free version also only allows 40 minutes of lesson time; a much tighter restriction compared to other similar services. For you to conduct full, uninterrupted lessons, paid zoom plans may be necessary (starting at $14.99), resulting in lessons being less accessible for you and your students. Furthermore, security could a concern. Zoom does not have functions that allow you to prevent unwanted “zoom bombers” who disrupt classes by exposing students to obscene images. While Zoom has been trying hard to fix these problems, many schools have banned the usage of Zoom in the meantime.
Left: User annotating on Zoom’s screen share using a tablet. Photo by Zoom.
Right: Demonstration of Zoom’s online whiteboard. Gif created by the writer with imgPlay.
Luckily, there are plenty of great alternative platforms for online teaching out there in the market. In fact, many teachers often use multiple software to serve different purposes when teaching. We know it can be arduous to sift through the multitude of options to find the most suitable platform, so if you are one of those still scouring the web, this article is for you! Listed below are 4 amazing platforms that are good alternatives to Zoom for online teaching.
1. MICROSOFT TEAMS
Microsoft Teams is a popular video conferencing app among schools because it’s part of Office 365, so it’s free for Microsoft account users and integrates with all the other tools educators may already be using (Word, Powerpoint, Excel). It supports up to 250 people on each call, and is much safer in terms of privacy and data security. Teams primarily targets businesses but some of its nifty features like background blurring and AI-powered noise suppression can still be very useful in an educational context as it helps create a more conducive setting where students are less distracted and better focused on the ongoing lesson on the screen. You can check out more details on Microsoft’s website.
One of the most underrated video conferencing apps, Jitsi Meet’s free service offers video conferencing for up to 75 participants with no time limit. No registration or download is required on computers, but an app must be downloaded on phones and tablets devices. Then, simply create an URL on Jitsi’s website and share the link with your students to instantly have a virtual classroom with impressive speed, fully equipped with common features such as chat, session recording (to Dropbox), screen sharing and kicking out or muting an unruly participant. Password protection is also available to prevent unknown participants from entering your virtual classroom. For more tech-savvy teachers, Jitsi even offers the unique ability to customise your own virtual classroom via Jitsi Videobridge. Jitsi is also integrated with Google Calendar and Office 365. However, one major downside is that since all participants have the same operating options, the teacher will not have exclusive controls over videoconference. You can watch this youtube video to learn more about Jitsi.
Targeted at tution businesses, TutorRoom offers an online tutoring platform with features such as video calling, instant messaging and online whiteboard that is suitable for schools of any size. Its interface is simplistic and intuitive, allowing for a fuss-free experience. It also allows students to study on various devices, including both PCs and mobiles. One of its iconic features is its ability to help you optimise time by scheduling your classes easily. Simply submit your availability and students can choose a consultation slot from there. Tutor Room also has a feedback system to help track the progress of your students and provide them with constructive feedback. However, the limitations of TutorRoom include its accessibility (it does not have a free version) and its complex process in creating a new account. As some reviews pointed out, it is also time-consuming in uploading media or lesson materials.
Screenshot of HeyHi’s online whiteboard
HeyHi’s online whiteboard is a one-of-a-kind online teaching tool that can both function as an independent platform or as a complementary service to your video conferencing app. Specially designed with educators and students in mind, HeyHi is an application through which teachers can host virtual classes with a shareable whiteboard as its dominant feature. HeyHi is free to download and users on the free subscription plan can set up a virtual classroom for up to four participants, making this the ideal app for facilitating in-depth discussions and small group consultations. You can invite up to 100 participants for webinars.
All along, whiteboards have been the quintessential fixture of any physical classroom because teachers and students alike use it to pen down their thoughts and ideas and illustrate concepts, a practice which has shown to improve students’ knowledge retention. With online learning, HeyHi allows teachers and students to continue reaping the benefits of the traditional whiteboard, with increased efficiency even. For instance, unlike traditional whiteboards, HeyHi’s whiteboard is expandable. Teachers can create more space for notes by simply swiping to shift to another section of the board, or by zooming out. You can also create new whiteboard pages without affecting the original whiteboard that you and your students have been working on. On top of this, HeyHi also allows students to download everything that has been written on the whiteboard for easy future references. HeyHi whiteboard’s expandability also solves the problem of annotations remaining on the screen as the screen changes and the need to be entirely erased as the class progresses that Zoom users face when annotating on the screen share of other participants.
User shifts to another section of HeyHi’s online whiteboard to continue writing. Gif created on imgPlay.
What sets HeyHi apart from other online teaching platforms is its unique user interface that is specially designed to help students focus on class contents. Upon entering a lesson on HeyHi, students will immediately see a gridded whiteboard that occupies much of the screen with the video image of their teachers and classmates on the right margin of the screen. This deliberate placement ensures that the video images of participants are less conspicuous as opposed to zoom’s active speaker and gallery view. This creates a more conducive learning environment where students are less likely to be distracted by the faces and videos of their peers and teachers while the lesson is ongoing.
HeyHi’s online whiteboard. Photo by HeyHi.
Beyond this conducive and comfortable learning environment, HeyHi’s whiteboard also provides students with the opportunity to collaborate with their classmates to complete assignments or worksheets. Students can join forces and cross-check their understanding of class materials, gaining the invaluable skill of teamwork. HeyHi’s whiteboard also fosters creativity by allowing students to create mind maps. Mind mapping is a tried-and-tested strategy that reliably enhances students’ learning by drawing connections between concepts, and HeyHi whiteboard allows for that to continue even after classes are shifted online.
You’ll be pleased to know that HeyHi also aims to lighten educators’ workload by automating administrative matters. With the need to juggle between delivery of quality course content and the needs of individual students, HeyHi’s online whiteboard’s in-built calendaring system helps educators stay organised by automating the booking and scheduling process. During video conferences, HeyHi also records students’ attendance effortlessly for you. With the time that is freed up, teachers can in turn offer more guidance to students.
Left: Student books an online consult with the teacher. Gif created by the writer on imgPlay.
Right: Screenshot of HeyHi’s attendance taking tool.
With so many classes a day, teachers reasonably find it difficult to keep track of all that is said. Fortunately, online teaching tools also provide teachers with the luxury of recording their classes for future references. The benefits of these recordings include allowing students who were unable to attend online classes to catch up on course content without requiring any additional time by the teacher for make-up lessons. While online whiteboard recording for HeyHi has not been implemented yet, you can easily solve this by recording your sessions with tools such as Loom, Panopto, and Quicktime (click here for an in-depth guide on how to create an online whiteboard recording or a useful list of six free software for recording video lectures).
Loom’s screen recording interface. Photo by Loom.
Beyond delivering quality tools for online classes, developers at HeyHi do not take security lightly. HeyHi mandates all online lessons to be accessible only by a Meeting ID and access code to ensure the safety of online classes. While the regular reminders to not reuse existing sessions may be a hassle for some teachers, the safety and security of users are of utmost priority, and HeyHi’s additional layers of protection are necessary and reassuring. Parents need not worry about their children being affected by hackers with malicious intent.
In the long run, being the versatile software that it is, HeyHi can still be extremely useful even after the COVID-19 pandemic. HeyHi can double as a tool to produce educational videos that can be used in conjunction with physical lessons. On HeyHi’s online whiteboard, teachers can write and illustrate their ideas to create pre-recorded videos of lesson contents which can then be easily played back to aid your students’ revisions at home. Pandemic or not, HeyHi’s got your back.
With all that is said and done, the most crucial feature of HeyHi is its accessibility. Since HeyHi’s online whiteboard is accessible in browsers, any additional downloads or installation process is not necessary. Even so, HeyHi’s application is free for download in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Please refer to HeyHi’s pricing page for more information on the different subscription tiers.
If you are an educator looking for more platform options besides Zoom to help your students adjust to online learning, we hope that this curated list has provided you with some useful suggestions. Among these apps, HeyHi’s online whiteboard is a uniquely all-in-one software that makes online teaching engaging, fruitful and convenient.