I just gave my first UQ departmental seminar using Zoom. As in most places, our usual practice is to have visiting speakers present their work and meet colleagues in the same field. When large numbers of Chinese students were prevented from returning to Australia in the first round of the coronavirus epidemic, the cost to the university’s budget was such that nearly all travel, including paying for visitors’ travel was cancelled. As it’s turned out, a good thing to. This left big gaps in the seminar program, so I volunteered to present a paper in one of the vacant slots.

By the time the seminar was scheduled to happen, budget cuts were the least of our worries. Lectures were stopped for a week while we switch to all-online teaching, and (nearly all) meetings were cancelled. So, I decided to present the talk from home using Zoom. It went quite well, even though my home Internet is a bit flaky (the much-delayed National Broadband Network is supposed to arrive here next month, and may improve things). In the subsequent discussion, it was pointed out that we could invite people from outside the department to take part. For example, one of our PhD students had a paper accepted for a conference that’s been cancelled, and could ask some of the key people who would have been there to hear the presentation.

It also struck me that we could have gone back to the originally scheduled speaker, and had them do a Zoom presentation. That leads immediately to the question: why carry on with the tradition of flying colleagues in to have them talk to us, when they could just as well do it from home (or at least, from their home campus)? The difficulties are much less than those with online-only teaching.

Of course, I would say that. I’ve been pushing the merits of videoconferencing and related technologies for decades, and regularly respond to travel invitations by offering a video presentation rather than attendance in person. But now that lots of people are experiencing the process and finding it works reasonably well (and in fact has substantial advantages), returning to the old ways once the crisis is over may be too difficult to justify, especially since our budget is going to be stringently rationed for a long time to come.

20 thoughts on “Zoom

  1. would that be the national broadband network we couldn’t afford years ago (because market) and was going to be better ,faster and cheaper?

  2. I’ve read that Zoom isn’t great for Q&A past about 5 participants. Did you find that, or did you use a different solution? Or just not allow questions (which seems to defeat some of the point, otherwise just throw it on youtube etc and be done)?

  3. As someone who first taught online 15 years ago, I was vastly amused by the barely suppressed panic on display in some discussion boards by academics (mainly Americans) told they had to start doing the same last week.

    In the 1980s a pilots’ strike led me to start arranging regular teleconferences of interstate managers using the Telecom facilities in Sydney and Melbourne. They were such obvious time and money-savers we kept using them after the strike was over, instead of resuming face-to-face meetings. I’ve never understood why organisations have been so slow to embrace the technology in the intervening 35 years.

  4. Yes, hopefully a silver lining of coronavirus will be a re-evaluation of work from home and teleconferencing.

  5. There are pluses and minuses; you save burning fossil fuels in travel but cloud data centres do consume big chunks of energy.

    Of course, this energy could be sourced from renewables.

  6. Robert Skidelsky is critical of working from remote locations, saying that it does not satisfy our need for building social relationships at the workplace.

    Another aspect is that the time saved from travel is not used as leisure so the benefits of modern labour saving technologies are not experienced by those that use them.

  7. akrog: my understanding is that that shift is very positive. It’s hard to overstate how gross travelling at walking speed in a car is, and that’s what commuting is for a lot of people. You can see that in the air quality of cities that have shut down the commute.

    The challenge here would be an Australian heatwave with everyone working from home, but I suspect that would just be “a very long weekend” in grid terms.

  8. Moz, to a certain extent I agree. However, I’ve been involved with various internet groups and when you meet them in the flesh it can be quite a shock as the perception is challenged by the reality.

    We seem to express ourselves differently between online and in person. Maybe if the visual was used, eg FaceTime, then impressions may be improved.

    But the travel thing is nuts, such a waste of resource.

  9. Zoom presentation study extension suggestion.

    Add Design Your Study

    Start a project and add collaborators, giving them access to protocols and other research materials. Built-in version control tracks the evolution of your study.


  10. Zoom presentation extension? From presentation to paper!

    ” and could ask some of the key people who would have been there to hear the presentation.”

    Design Your Study

    Start a project and add collaborators, giving them access to protocols and other research materials. Built-in version control tracks the evolution of your study.


  11. May +1

    JQ, you always seem to be one step ahead of the news.

    “The most maddening part about working from home: video conferences

    “Employees struggle with confusing software, subpar hardware and the awkwardness of still-developing social norms. But when it works, it can lead to genuine connection.

    Remove spaces for link.

    https://www washingtonpost.com /technology/2020/03/16/remote-work-video-conference-coronavirus/

  12. “Some teachers are growing stressed dealing with the challenges of online teaching, including the lack of face-to-face interaction and sometimes unreliable technology.

    ..we need to rethink how education can be effective for students’ overall cognitive and noncognitive development (the educational goal in China) with e-learning. There are challenges in teachers interacting with students through online education, as only a few teachers take students’ feelings and interests into account.”


  13. > I’ve been involved with various internet groups and when you meet them in the flesh it can be quite a shock

    Rarely so much for me now that photos are ubiquitous*. Although I still get bit by the carefully curated photos (less so videos) and it turns out that in the flesh someone is much less conventionally attractive and often much fatter**.

    What does still happen is people dealing with groups differently, and it’s hard for me to tell because I’m much affected, but I think more people now struggle with larger groups in person? Viz, I can function much as my online persona when there’s 1-3 other people, but as the group gets bigger I either retreat or flip into a performance mode which is draining but apparently fairly charismatic.

    I see that when I meet someone for coffee and they’re pretty much as I expected, but when we join a larger group their presentation changes.

    * I once had the entertainment of meeting someone after a long online friendship and they were ~2m tall. Not knowing that made them unnecessarily hard to find at the airport.
    ** online dating seems to exemplify this, to the point where my standard first date now involves a 10km bike ride or some other physical activity… that weeds out a lot of people where it’s just never going to work out.

  14. There goes the expense account, travel allowance, and expansive tax deductions. Maybe more bigger, better, gift offerings will offset the losses? Nah, not likely, the “events” industry is too big and well connected a rort to fail.

  15. I once had a meeting with X held at the offices of Y in city Z. On the morning of the meeting X and I both got on the same plane to Z and had our meeting at Y. The only thing missing was that we didn’t share a taxi from the airport.

  16. Zoom’s share price has gone up 15% in the past month. They are the product of the moment.

  17. Background check.

    Hand Mirror
    A one-click camera check, right from the menu bar

    Yeah but why?
    You know when you have to join a Zoom call but want to check your face first, or make sure nothing too embarrassing is in frame? And so you open Photo Booth or something? But that’s like 5 keyboard-presses at best? Maybe a one-click thing might save you half a second or something?

    Why not just open Photo Booth instead?
    Are you even reading this? 🙈 
    Opening Photo Booth was exactly what I was doing, but I would use Spotlight, and sometimes it would open Photos instead, or I would open Photo Booth so much that if I just typed “Phot” in Spotlight it would default to Photo Booth and not Photos, and that’s nice but not what I want — if I type “Phot” and hit return, I would expect to open “Photos” and not “Photo Booth”. So that was getting annoying and I decided to build this instead.


  18. JQ, time for an update of zoom.

    Zoom iOS App Sends Data to Facebook Even if You Don’t Have a Facebook Account

    Zoom’s privacy policy isn’t explicit about the data transfer to Facebook at all.

    Users will need to update to the latest version of our application once it becomes available in order for these changes to take hold, and we encourage them to do so. We sincerely apologize for this oversight, and remain firmly committed to the protection of our users’ data,” the statement added.


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