Teaching in the age of COVID-19: Real-time video conferencing

Mar 17, 20
Teaching in the age of COVID-19: Real-time video conferencing

video conferencing

As programs face unprecedented pressure to protect learners via social distancing, many will turn to video as their preferred method to continue delivering educational content. The need to do this in “real-time” makes conferencing applications an obvious choice for content delivery. Programs may already be familiar with this technology for conference calls, further lowering the bar for early adoption. Studies demonstrate the educational content via live video is at least as effective as a live lecture [1]. Further, they have been used to deliver additional content, such as small groups and simulation [2]. With current technology, these tools are widely available and easy to use for educators.


Zoom is a remote video conferencing tool that enables participants to communicate and meet virtually through multiple ways (e.g. dialing in, video call, audio call) and devices by using cameras, microphone, and screen share. Currently, this is probably the premier chat software that most institutions are using in various degrees.


  1. Free one-to-one meetings with no time limitation.
  2. Group meetings are free for up to 100 participants for 40 minutes. With a paid account (between US $15-20/per user/per month) more users allowed and there is no time limitation.
      • Many institutions provide a subscription, particularly in light of COVID-19 relegating meetings to being remote.
  3. Meetings can be recorded and shared.
  4. Features can be expanded on paid plans.
  5. Focussing on the speaker’s camera and microphone makes Zoom more integrated and immersive, while still allowing the speaker to have center stage.
  6. Audio Zoom attendance via phone is a possibility in selected countries.
  7. Meetings are available via dedicated applications or via standard browser.
  8. Ability to chat with the group or individual participants
  9. Allows for breakout groups for small group sessions
  10. Since you can record locally (both sound and video), it is helpful for conducting research (especially qualitative interviews etc.).
  11. BONUS: You can also change your background so that it feels you’re in a scenic location, like a very swanky house.


  1. Although there is an academic pricing plan, Zoom can still be expensive for large groups.
  2. On fullscreen mode, users may not see the toolbox of Zoom.
  3. When a meeting is on, Zoom cannot be fully minimized and gives an error popup which is not ideal. However, you can have windows that float on top of the Zoom app window.
  4. Cloud saving of meetings’ recordings is only available on paid plans.
  5. HIPAA compliance ONLY available for an extra cost and needs to be set up – so watch what you say.
      • Check if your institution has a HIPAA compliant version. mMany have both, so be mindful which you are using.
      • Pro-tip: Defer confidential content like M&M rounds that require patient specifics until later (e.g. post-pandemic).
  6. Some may find watching a video speaker less engaging than in-person. Additionally, it can be difficult for the speaker to hear questions or comments from the audience as well as interpret nonverbal signs that the audience is not understanding the content.
  7. With large groups or tech-heavy presentations (e.g. video embedded and fast animated presentations), the connection can lag and cause video delay.

Tips for success

  1. Record your meetings and share them with participants later. Zoom meetings can record on a local hard drive, so you needn’t pay for expensive cloud facets of the app. Just archive elsewhere, like a YouTube or Vimeo channel with links for access later.
  2. The breakout groups feature enables users to separate into smaller groups where they can discuss and share ideas in a smaller and/or private forum.
  3. Use bandwidth wisely when you have multiple participants. Opening up multiple cameras can restrict your bandwidth and decrease the quality of live streaming.
  4. Remind participants to Zoom in a quiet space while talking in a meeting.
  5. Use headphones for better sound and to eliminate feedback echo.
  6. Remind participants to mute themselves if not speaking and to unmute if speaking.
  7. If several participants are talking at once, it may be helpful to utilize the chat function.

Cisco Webex Meetings

Cisco Webex Meetings is quite similar to Zoom. It does video conferencing and screen sharing and allows for dialing in, video call, audio call, as well as multiple devices for access including touch-tone phones, smartphones, and computers. There is also a Webex Teams option that rolls in messaging, meetings, whiteboarding, and screen sharing into one medium. Webex additionally provides Webex-enabled devices for video cloud calling equipment.


  1. Free option with up to 100 participants per meeting with unlimited meeting time.
  2. Paid plans available from $13.50/host/month, $17.95/host/month, and $26.95/host/month. The most costly plan is the business plan, which may be provided for you by your institution, and allows for more cloud storage and other features.
  3. Meetings can be recorded and shared on paid plans.
  4. Similar to Zoom:
      • Focuses on the speaker’s camera and microphone allowing a more classroom-type feel.
      • There is an option to call into Webex via a touch-tone phone or with your smartphone or laptop application or with a browser. The application provides more features, if available.
      • Chat is available with the group as well as  individual participants.
  5. The audio-only mode in the smartphone app automatically mutes and allows for ease of use while multitasking (i.e. driving).
  6. Integrates with Microsoft Exchange if utilizing the Business plan.
  7. Can be made HIPAA compliant if using the business plan.


  1. It can be pricey if not utilizing a group business plan through your institution.
  2. Premium features are expensive.
  3. Limited to 1 GB of cloud storage if using the free option.
  4. Use is not as intuitive nor as popular as Zoom.
  5. Similar to Zoom, it can be potentially less engaging to watch a video speaker who is not directly engaging with audience members and speakers may not be able to respond appropriately to nonverbal audience cues.

Tips for success

  1. Integrate with Microsoft Exchange so meeting invitations include Webex information.
  2. Record meetings to share with participants later.
  3. Important to note that for presentations with live audience members and remote participants, live audience members should have microphones for remote participants to hear them adequately.
  4. Similar to Zoom:
      • Try to use it in a quiet space to minimize background noise.
      • Use headphones for better sound and to eliminate feedback echo.
      • Remind participants to mute themselves if not speaking and to unmute if speaking.
      • If several participants are talking at once, it can be helpful to utilize the chat function.

Stay tuned for the rest of this burst series, and if you missed it, check out our introduction post. For more information regarding remote work and education, check out ALiEM Remote.

Don’t want to reinvent the wheel for your weekly resident conferences? Check out ALiEM Connect, a live educational telecast with a concurrent moderated backchannel discussion.


  1. Cook, David A., et al. “Internet-based learning in the health professions: a meta-analysis.” JAMA 300.10 (2008): 1181-1196. PMID: 18780847
  2. Cooper, Jeffrey B., et al. “Video teleconferencing with realistic simulation for medical education.” Journal of clinical anesthesia 12.3 (2000): 256-261. PMID: 27175411




Author information

Yusuf Yilmaz, PhD

Yusuf Yilmaz, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Education Research
Innovation and Theory (MERIT) Program, McMaster University

The post Teaching in the age of COVID-19: Real-time video conferencing appeared first on ALiEM.

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