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‘Zoombombers’ Force DOE Teachers to Switch Online Learning Platforms

 Just as teachers and students were beginning to get used to the transition to online learning, on Friday, April 3, New York City officially banned all Department of Education (DOE) schools from using the online platform, Zoom.

“The DOE has received various reports documenting issues that impact the security and privacy of the Zoom platform,” Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza wrote to principals on April 4. Zoom, originally created for businesses and organizations, provides a reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chats, and webinars. In order to set up a Zoom meeting, the host of the meeting is provided with a code and a password, and then shares that same code and password with everyone they wish to invite to the meeting. Once provided with the Zoom code and password, anyone with this information is able to join in that particular meeting. Because anyone with the code and password is able to access the meeting, that also allows hackers an opportunity to crash and join in on Zoom meetings. Additionally, any student or person who has the code can give it to others.

When the Mayor closed all school buildings on March 16, teachers quickly learned how to utilize online platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet/Hangouts, in order to continue teaching their lessons virtually. Google Meet only allows students registered on their Google Classroom by their teacher, to attend live video chats. Unlike Google Meet, Zoom grants access to live video chats via an access code and password, which can be given out and shared with anyone. Due to recent instances where hackers, also known as Zoombombers, have joined Zoom chats and were showing inappropriate racist and pornographic images in the middle of online school sessions, teachers are now advised to abandon all future Zoom meetings and learn another online platform, like Google Meet/ Hangouts or Microsoft Teams.

For some, the lack of privacy in Zoom is not surprising. Occupational therapists and physical therapists are not permitted to use the Zoom platform, since Zoom is not compliant according to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 2018.

Fortunately, some teachers opted for other options from the start. A junior high teacher at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy spoke to The Rockaway Times about why she chose to use Google Meet over Zoom originally. She said, “Google Meet is much easier for my students for several reasons. Most importantly, they are extremely familiar with many of the Google Apps, including Google Classroom, Slides, and Forms, and they all have Google Chromebooks, making this a familiar platform to use. Additionally, when the students log onto the Google Calendar, all they have to do is click. They don’t need to input any codes or copy and paste any links. Since I do not need access to the whiteboard feature, like the math teachers do, there was really no reason to use Zoom. I also do not like the side chats in Zoom. In Google Meet, the teacher can see all the chatting and students can’t communicate among themselves. I was never comfortable with the Zoom Waiting Room feature. Just like in a real-world classroom, I need to see what all my students are doing at all times in their virtual classroom, as well.”

In a similar fashion to how Google Meet and Google Hangouts relate to the Google Classroom App, Microsoft Teams is a hub for collaboration that integrates people and content through Microsoft Office. Local DOE Social Worker, Rory Efron, described her experiences using Microsoft Teams. Efron says, “First, you have to create a team and you create it with a certain amount of people. I have one with just my IEP office team and then I have a few different teams of class members and staff members. Once you create the meeting, you simply schedule a meeting or join a meeting that was scheduled by another team member.  Once you are “joined in the meeting” you can dial a parent’s phone number and they can join the meeting as well. It can be done through their email addresses, too. A nice feature is that you get an alert from the team on your computer, so you don’t miss the meeting and you can ask questions to one another. This way we are always in touch with our teams.”

Whether using Google Meet/Hangouts or Microsoft Teams, one opinion is shared by all teachers and administrators. The security and privacy of all students is the number one priority.

By Marina Cregan

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