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ELLLO Teacher Podcast

Listen to the creator of elllo, Todd Beuckens, discuss things happening in education and hear interviews with movers and shakers in the field.

Episode #2 - Teaching with Zoom

Jose Domingo Cruz talks about his book Teaching with Zoom - Advanced User's Guide.


Todd: Hello. I'm here with Jose Domingo Cruz, and he's the author of Teaching with Zoom 2: An Advanced Users Guide. Hello, Jose. How are you today?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Hey, Todd. I'm doing good. How about you?

Todd:I'm not too bad. Not too bad. Well, actually, I'm not doing good, now that I come to think of it, because I have to go back to teaching online on Monday. I was teaching face to face, so I thought I would bring you on and talk about teaching online.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Sure.

Todd:So, are you currently teaching online yourself?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Yes, at one university. And I teach at another one where I teach, at least as far as I know right now, in the classroom.

Todd:Okay. So, do you have a preference? Which one do you prefer?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Oh, if I had to choose honestly, I would prefer teaching in the classroom. I like being with my students, being able to see them in front of me.

Todd:Yeah. Actually, me, too. Even though I'm a tech guy and I do lots of tech tutorials and stuff, I do prefer face to face, but I look at it kind of like the microwave, right? Like, a meal cooked over a stove tastes better than a meal in a microwave, but the microwave does do some things better than the stove.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Absolutely. I totally agree with that. I like to cook myself, and then some people are surprised when I tell them there are certain things that are better done in a microwave.

Todd:Right. Right. And I feel that way about online. Like, there are some things that are just better if we do them online, and there are some benefits now that we've been teaching online.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Yes, absolutely.

Todd:So, I thought we would talk about that a bit. So first, you are an expert on Zoom.

Jose Domingo Cruz: I guess so.

Todd:So, can you tell us a little bit about the book that you wrote?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Yeah, let's see. About April of 2020, I started becoming well known for somebody who seemed to know what they were doing with Zoom. And as that reputation grew, I caught the eye of a publisher and her name is Dorothy Zemach. She's already famous for a bunch of other things, but she's also a publisher of books. She basically just sent me a message out of the blue and said that, "Would you like to write a book about Zoom?" And I thought, "Sure, why not?" And I guess, I was just lucky and that I had an opportunity to take in a lot of questions from a lot of people who needed to have them answered. I researched those questions, and then people sort of saw that I knew what I was talking about enough so that a publisher asked me to write the book. Wrote the book in Spring of 2021, and it's been selling on Amazon ever since.

Todd: Oh, great. So, let's get right into some Zoom questions.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Sure.

Todd:First one, camera's on. How important do you think it is for students to have their cameras on when you're teaching?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Oh, well, especially when I'm teaching, I mean... And I can only say this as a teacher, but I really like being able to see my students faces, and from there... Maybe students don't know this, but a teacher can see so many things. If they're bored, if they're having a little trouble understanding, if they're really enjoying the lesson, they can even see things like if they're a bit distracted by having to take care of their baby brother in the crib. And then, to be a little bit more understanding when they say, "Could you say that again?"

If you don't have your camera on, as a teacher, you don't get those little visual cues and it makes it harder to actually deliver the lesson. I've been very lucky in that I have very cooperative students and in all of my classes, I have absolutely no problem getting students to turn on their cameras. But I do understand when other teachers say that, "Yeah, it's really hard to teach to what is eventually a black screen." Because if there's a certain number of students who won't turn off their cameras... Oh, I'm sorry. Won't turn on their cameras, it makes it much easier for almost everybody to turn off their cameras.

Todd:Yeah, I pretty much agree. What I do is I do the toggle on and off method. So, I say, "Okay, I'd like your cameras on, but I'll tell you when I want them on." And so then, as a reward I guess, they can turn the cameras off. And they're always really quick to turn it off, I noticed. And then, you say, "Okay, can I have your cameras back on? I need your cameras on for like three minutes or five minutes."

But here's the interesting thing about the camera on and off. They almost always have their cameras on, in breakout room. My students do. Even if they have it off, they're kind of... You know, we have small classes so they're quite chummy and friendly with each other.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Right.

Todd:And when they go to breakout rooms, they almost always have their camera on.

Jose Domingo Cruz: I, of course, don't have any scientific data on any of this, but it would be really interesting research to be done on what are the motivations students have in turning their cameras on and turning them off, to what degree peer pressure plays in something like that. Like I just mentioned before, if most of the kids have their cameras off, especially students in an Asian culture; Japan, Taiwan, Korea. How much peer pressure will make them want to turn them off if almost everybody's turning them off. And then, I think there's a third one that I would like to explore if I was doing some research is, what does the particular sort of... What should I say?

Jose Domingo Cruz: The environment that the teacher creates play in getting the students turn them on and turn them off. For example, with you, you asked them to come on and off in certain situations. And with me, I've learned a way to get the students to turn the cameras on. And I know just how to make it so that they feel comfortable keeping their cameras on all the way through both in the main room where I'm giving the lesson, the information for the breakout rooms, and in the breakout rooms. What part of that, or where that can be controlled, I think would be interesting.

Todd:Yeah. Yeah. I guess, it's going to depend a lot on the situation, really, isn't it?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Yes.

Todd:So, another one is, how do you feel about doing tests online? How much do you trust the students? How much cheating do you think is going on when the students are to test online?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Depends on the type of test. For example, if you're talking about a writing test. I have classes where I have to assess the students on their writing. It's specifically a writing class. I have classes on reading. I have classes on speaking. Now, when it comes to reading comprehension and speaking ability, I found ways to make it so that then it is actually fairly difficult, because of the time constraints and the things that I ask the students to do, for them to cheat.

I've thought about it a lot, but writing is the most difficult thing to control because even the efforts that my university made, and they thought that they would use a particular feature in Moodle called... Well, it doesn't matter what it's called, but it's called Safe Browser. That basically locks down your computer so that when you start the test, you can't access any other part of your computer. It made me think, "Do these administrators realize that almost every student owns a smartphone?"

Jose Domingo Cruz: So, you lock off the rest of the computer, but then, whatever it is that they couldn't do on their computer, they can go do on their smartphone.

Jose Domingo Cruz: And the reason why I'm relating this is that what things like that end up doing is it takes the honest kids, the kids who don't want to cheat, they actually want to see their skills in writing, and it makes the test harder and less savory for them. And then, it actually makes it easier for the kids who are going to cheat to say that, "Well, look, you had me on a Safe Browser. There's no way I'm going to cheat." And you see that they clearly cheated, and you're, "Oh, there's nothing I can do about it."

Jose Domingo Cruz: And I think, at a certain point, the teacher has to balance out the idea that do I make life miserable for the honest few? There might be only one person that you might think is cheating, but are you really going to clamp down on the other 39 and make the test harder for them, right?

Todd:Yeah, I agree. I think it's wasted energy.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Yeah, I do.

Todd:If students are going to cheat, they're going to cheat, and I don't really care that much about assessments. You know what I mean?

Jose Domingo Cruz:


Todd:People are there to learn, so either they're learning, or they're not.

Jose Domingo Cruz:

Right, right.


Jose Domingo Cruz:

If I had my way, I wouldn't have a final test. If I had my way, I'd make a whole bunch of low stakes assignments all the way through and tell them, "Listen, you better put your nose to the grindstone on all these assignments, because you're not going to be able to make it up on some kind of final, or you're not going to be able to ask me later on like, 'Can I just do some extra work?' No, do the work right now."

Todd:Yeah. That actually leads to the other point is doing task-based activities or collaborative activities online.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Wow.

Todd:So, do you have any suggestions or ideas about doing collaborative work remotely?

Jose Domingo Cruz: I have not actually gotten to the point where in my normal classes, I do anything in terms of task-based work or project-based learning. But I think, everything that I noticed that was hard about teaching in the physical classroom, in some senses, was magnified, was exaggerated in the online world. And one of those things was to make sure that the students understood the instructions and to make sure that they knew the technology. Like, even knowing where the mute button was, or in the case of turning cameras on and turning cameras off, that they knew where the gallery view button was. So that then... I don't know about you, but I always look at Zoom in gallery view. Do you?

Todd:Usually, yeah.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Right? And I think a lot of these kids, if they don't know that gallery view is available, they're going to be much more prone to turning their cameras off.


Jose Domingo Cruz: Depending on where they are on that top strip in speaker view, they can't even see their camera. You can only see the first five or first eight people on the top strip. So, making sure your instructions are clear, making sure that the breakout rooms aren't too long. Some things take like a good 15 minutes of discussion, but when you've got a breakout room going for 40 minutes and because all you guys are in a group, you've got to do the research and do all of this. Put it into bite-size pieces, bring them back into the conference room, have them do a de-brief, maybe break it up with a couple of other relevant sort of mind puzzles or questions to the group. Even if it is task-based... I'm sorry. Project-based learning, try not to coop them all up into a breakout room with the same people all the way through every week. I think, keeping it fresh... It's easier for a class to get stale in online learning. I think, too, that aspect of it is also exaggerated.

Todd:Yeah. Definitely, you have to keep it lively.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Yes.

Todd:Actually, there's a lot of activities I found that are much better done online.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Now, that's true.

Todd:I do a lot with PowerPoint. I do a lot with Excel, like, Excel worksheets. I do a lot with some HTML stuff and puzzle-based. And the puzzles actually work better on Zoom because they're all looking at the same screen.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Right.

Todd:They don't have to hunch over. You know what I mean? They're all literally on the same page. We have the metaphor they're on the same page, but they're...

Jose Domingo Cruz: Exactly.

Todd:... literally on the same page so it's very easy for everybody to contribute and know what's going on.

Jose Domingo Cruz: And the other metaphor is that they're all sitting at the front of the class in the center chair.

Todd:Yes, exactly. Yeah. Proximity. Yes.

Jose Domingo Cruz: I've always imagined... Because it was kind of same for me at one point in my high school career that I sat at the back of the class because that's because that's where my friends sat. But I have bad eyes. I have really thick glasses. Even though I wanted to study, but I wanted to sit with my friends. I couldn't see the classroom blackboard very well. But now, I don't have to stand out in that "Oh, why is Jose sitting at the front of the class? Doesn't he like us anymore?" It don't have to be that way, but I can actually see, if I'm a student in an online class, the material really well.

Jose Domingo Cruz: One other thing that I find works really well in an online class, way better than in a physical classroom, is when you're trying to get the kids to do pronunciation practice by getting them to repeat after you.

Jose Domingo Cruz: I tell them, "Okay, everybody mute your microphones." Because literally you can't have everyone's microphones on when they're all chorus repeating with you in an online class. And what I find they're all doing very well is that they're actually repeating in a louder voice. Now, of course I can't hear, so I can't tell. But they look like they are, and where that goes into is another benefit is they... When you tell them, "Okay, let's go to Quizlet and let's prepare for a Quizlet live. The best way to practice is if you say the words out your mouth", they're actually doing it. You can see them on their cameras saying these words because there's nobody around them. Nobody can hear their voice.

Todd:Well, on a kind of a similar issue, it's like having horse blinders on, right? The students can't talk to each other, which is, of course, a bad thing, but it's also a negative thing because I've noticed that there's no more classroom discipline management issues. There's almost none because the students, they can't just sit and get chatty and talk and lose interest because they could send maybe chat messages, but they can't talk. And I actually love that about the online classes; that it kind of keeps everybody focused a bit.

So, anyway, wrapping up here, who's your book for? Can you talk a little bit more about your book, and would you like to say anything about your book?

Jose Domingo Cruz: Well, the one thing I would say is I hope you like it. I hope you find it useful. I wrote it because I had all these answers in my head, and then somebody was encouraging me to put them into a book so it's easier to read. I hope to that people find the book useful. What was that first question? Sorry, I'm also an old man. I forget things very easily.

Todd:Oh, I don't know. Maybe we're two old men. I don't remember what the question was. Maybe it's like some tips for using Zoom, or...

Jose Domingo Cruz: Oh, right. Okay. Oh, and I remember, who did you write the book for? I wrote it primarily for people like me; people who are instructors who suddenly found themselves having to do online work. So, not necessarily experts in online teaching. I write it from the ground up, like, how do you treat your students. I wrote it for people who don't know a lot about computers, so how do you take care of security in the Zoom room, much less on your own computer. So, basically, for people who got thrown into this situation who have to teach classes online, that's who the book is for.

Todd:Oh, that's great. Well, I'm going to order my copy today.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Okay.

Todd:And if I'm going to maybe take the train up to your neck of the woods, we're fairly close to each other,...

Jose Domingo Cruz: Yes, we are.

Todd:... I'd like a signed copy if that's okay.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Oh, my God. That would be easy. But I got to ask, Todd, you're a super techy guy. Are you sure you need my book?

Todd:Actually, I really struggle with some stuff with Zoom and actually, I think, your book, I've seen it, I've taken a peek at it, some of your preview stuff, and it's a really good reference. Because, like, "Oh, how do you do this? And how do you change that?" There's just so many little things with Zoom.

Todd:I'm actually very good with creating tasks and activities, but often, I don't go really in depth in the software. I learn how to do three or four things, and then I just stop there. I don't really delve in deeply. I'll give you an example. I was on Zoom the other day and I had not been on Zoom for a while because I've been face to face. And I wanted to do just something with the background and I couldn't figure out how to do it. So, your book would be the perfect way.

Jose Domingo Cruz: I hope so. Yeah, I hope it's in there. I hope I don't disappoint you when you buy that book and go, "Hey, wait, there's nothing in here about my problem." But then, you can always just call me up, eh?

Todd:Oh, all right. All right. Thanks, Jose. I appreciate it.

Jose Domingo Cruz: Thanks a lot, Todd. Okay, man. No problem.

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About the Teacher

Todd Beuckens is an ESL teacher with over 25 years of classroom experience. He has an M.A. in Learning, Design and Technology from San Diego State University. He is currently based in Japan and is the creator of the following sites.

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