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Zoom slowing you down? Try alternatives for enhanced online learning, career prep, EC professor says

March 31, 2020

Seth Powless

As distance education and remote work expose flaws in many of the commonly used conferencing platforms, Earlham College professor Seth Powless recommends “outside-the-box apps," including Tik Tok, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Signal and Slack as alternatives.

“Apps like WeChat are popular in China and are very global-student friendly,” said Powless, assistant professor of global management and an expert in supply chain management and student connectedness related to technology. “Signal is my favorite because it has encryption built in. Companies working with employees in the 24-to 35-year demographic seem to prefer Slack.

“The value to these is that they often operate on lean internet principles which compress and refresh data more efficiently than desktop or web-based browser programs,” he said. “They are also familiar to students, operate on mobile platforms like IOS and Android and integrate well with respect to assignment files, videos, group chats, and video-chats.”

These apps also have value for students as they prepare to apply for jobs or graduate school, Powless noted.

“Most organizations utilize video chats and video meetings, so requiring students to post and create selfie-vids academically is pivotal; it gives them exposure and professional experience, and helps them become more comfortable being on camera.”

National reports are illustrating other flaws with commonly used conference platforms, Powless said.

“Software platforms like Zoom, GoTo Meeting or Microsoft Teams are being flooded by a significant number of educational organizations, from kindergarten all the way through graduate school. You also have companies, organizations, and industries that have shifted to conferencing software on a global level within similar timeframes,” Powless said. "There are learning curves within each platform itself for novice users and, as such, this also pulls at the resources within each ecosystem, further slowing it down,” he said.

The term "Zoom-bombed" was recently coined to underscore the challenge, Powless said.

 “The platform has limitations with respect to latency, security, size of the internal support systems, reliance on servers and outdated Internet infrastructure, and a lack of human capital with respect to IT architects and programmers for again, a host of reasons including individuals getting sick, fewer people in these industries, and lean support systems relying on fewer workers in technology.”

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a College That Changes Lives. We aspire to provide the highest quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences. We expect our students to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success.

Princeton Review ranks Earlham in the Top 20 nationally for Best Classroom Experience, and U.S. News & World Report recognizes the College as one of 55 institutions taking pioneering approaches to serving students, and ranks EC 7th for the percentage of international students on campus, 25th for “Best Undergraduate Teaching” and 34th for “Best Value.”

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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