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Zooming beyond covid theta2023
01 June, 2023

Zooming beyond COVID: Did the pace of learning really Zoom, or just the tools?

An analysis of aggregated Zoom data from across more than two thirds of the Australian higher education sector illustrates how Zoom usage has changed during the 18 months since the COVID-19 lockdowns ended.

How has the higher education sector’s usage of Zoom changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, what has happened since lockdowns ended and why?

As Australia’s leading education sector Zoom partner since 2014, AARNet’s Zoom customers include around two thirds of Australia’s universities, over 100 K-12 schools and many research institutions, libraries and government departments focused on education.

During COVID, Zoom usage peaked at 70 times higher than it was in 2019, exceeding 1.2 billion meeting minutes in a single month at the height of the lockdowns in the eastern states.

Data from 2022 and the first three months of 2023 show that usage remains 10 to 15 times higher than what it was pre-COVID. The gradually changing ratio between the number of meetings held and the participant minutes identifies a trend for shorter meetings with more participants per meeting. In 2023, an extra two people join every Zoom meeting on average compared to pre-COVID numbers, with Zoom continuing to be the platform of choice for teaching, even in organisations where other choices are available.

There are three common patterns in the higher education sector’s approach to online learning this year:

  • Hybrid learning spaces: most universities either have or are planning to create simple hybrid learning spaces. The emphasis from universities is to be back on-campus, but with all types of learning spaces enabled for hybrid use.
  • Specialist vs hybrid: universities are predominantly focused on hybrid approaches to learning spaces rather than providing specialist facilities for online delivery. Teaching on-campus and online students simultaneously has commercial benefits, but whether this really provides equal learning experiences and long-term outcomes for both online and on-campus students is still open for assessment.
  • Who makes the choice to activate a hybrid class?: at this stage, it is generally left to the individual faculty, course co-ordinators or academics to allow an on-campus class to be attended online.

With universities shifting to synchronous online learning and teachers and students becoming more familiar with online tools, four primary benefits have emerged:

  • Resilience: universities faced with disruptions to on-campus teaching due to natural disasters such as floods can act quickly to continue teaching their students.
  • Domestic and international reach: universities can more easily work with students in other states or countries with the online tools they now have in place, so they can grow their student base without adding additional infrastructure.
  • Automated accessibility: recent additions to Zoom include auto language translation and captioning integration into learning spaces, allowing those with English as a second language or disabilities to learn more easily.
  • Security and online risk: with an increase in usage, security of online tools has increased and there is recognition that the same security considerations apply for online learning as for on-campus learning.

COVID created a highly reactionary rather than planned increase in online learning, with the period since seeing more goal-aligned outcomes. The continued ten-fold increase in hybrid learning suggests many new opportunities for attracting and retaining students.

It remains to be seen how the mix of refreshed facilities, technology and pedagogies can produce equal or improved academic outcomes and greater student engagement in future.

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