Which Video Conferencing Tool is Right for Me?

May 27, 2020

In this period of remote learning amid a pandemic, many schools took advantage of the free resources technology companies offered teachers to help them connect with their students at a distance. For many districts and schools, the transition to distance learning was so abrupt that there was not much time to develop standardized practices and to guide teachers during the mass onslaught of free offers.

In my last blog, “Educators, Students, and Parents in America – We Understand Your Struggle,” I encouraged educators to try to avoid introducing new tools during a time of so much uncertainty and stress. Along with other education technology coaches, I suggested schools utilize the tools that their students and families have been using prior to the school closures. And to complement the idea that they should be utilizing what they already have, I wanted to discuss the myriad of video conferencing tools that have now become more and more popular

As the school year comes to a close, it is great time start thinking about the fall, and what that means for the “beginning of school.” Some school districts may continue distance learning, and all districts should have a plan in place for distance learning should they need to use it immediately.  The most-used tools among teachers are video conferencing platforms. So what is the real difference between the top 3 video conferencing solutions in education – Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft® Teams?

In my own personal experience, I have been using Zoom for over two years for remote professional learning. This solution helps me see teachers in their classrooms and easily allows them to join my video conference. Zoom was a major improvement over a previous solution we were using.

When Zoom announced they were removing the 40-minute time limit on their basic free account for K-12 schools affected by COVID-19, the number of users skyrocketed. Some schools experienced a painful learning curve because the great power became a terrible weapon in the wrong hands.  In those first weeks, Zoom users everywhere added a new word to their vocabulary – “Zoom-bombing” – as schools new to this technology had to learn very quickly how to protect their meetings from malicious behavior.

To their credit, Zoom released directions and security features to help teachers keep their meetings secure. Although the security on free teacher accounts have improved, schools who purchase the enterprise version would have more security and control by being able to push policies to all the users.

When the pandemic hit, Konica Minolta started rolling out Google Meet for video conferencing Already a G-Suite Enterprise Customer, it was easy to deploy. For my colleagues, Google Meet is easy to schedule since it’s built into our email and calendar tools. Joining a call is easy – all you need is the link or the app on your phone.

Around this same time, Google enabled all schools using G-Suite for Education to access Google Meet. This is normally a premium feature, but they offered it for free through September. Google Meet may lack some fun features that Zoom has like virtual backgrounds and gallery view, but its security compliance can provide school IT staffs with a sigh of relief. Meetings can be restricted so that only users in the domain can join calls. When teachers reported problems with students accessing meetings without a teacher present, Google released directions on how to set-up Google Meet to avoid those situations. For schools using Google, it made sense to go with Google Meet. Once a school activates Google Meet, a teacher can create a meeting in their calendar, email and classroom without having to download an extra application.

Video conferencing has been available for free in Microsoft Teams since the beginning.  Like Google, Teams is a secure platform that complies with FERPA and COPPA. Due to a surge of teacher feedback, Microsoft has released more features and policies to help teachers better control their meetings and prevent abuse from attendees. Within Microsoft Teams, a teacher can easily start a call in several places: calendar, chat, channel or Outlook. Teachers can also start group meetings without having to add guests individually by clicking on the “meet now” button on a Team’s general or private channel. Since meetings in Teams are housed within the platform, accessing the tools is a bit cleaner compared to the other video conferencing solutions.

Unfortunately, all the free offers will eventually expire. If you are in a district that hasn’t yet standardized on a video conferencing platform, I would encourage you to consider the following when selecting a video conferencing platform:

  • Budget
  • Ease of use and distribution
  • Ability to compliment the platforms already in use by the school
  • Security measures and compliance
  • Ability to custom create policies at an enterprise level

Please see the chart below for a more detailed comparison of these three conferencing tools. And for even more remote learning tips and tricks, you can view All Covered’s three-part virtual event on G Suite and Office 365 on demand. As always, let us know how we can help! Email Education@AllCovered.com.

Judy Nguyen
Teaching & Learning Consultant