Online learners, instructors express Zoom safety concerns

Zoom has proved to be a popular tool in the transition to online only classes for colleges across the nation, but not everybody is on board.

When Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Brad Noble realized he would have to move classes online, he did not plan on using Zoom at all.

“Over spring break, I knew that most likely we wouldn’t be coming back, so I started figuring out how to move my classes online,” Noble said. “Cybersecurity is one of my areas of expertise, and Zoom is not secure. Additionally, Zoom isn’t what I needed. It’s not necessary that I see every student’s face for a lecture class. If it was a smaller class, it would be better.”

Noble discussed different options with junior electrical engineering major Dexter Elmendorf, of Alton, Illinois, who is a supplemental instruction leader for one of Noble’s classes.

“Over spring break, Dr. Noble and I discussed how to move the classes online, and he and I agreed that Zoom would not be the best,” Elmendorf said. “A problem with Zoom was that if there wasn’t a meeting going, the students really had no way to quickly message us. We also tried Twitch, but we couldn’t control who joined, and the students still wouldn’t be able to message us privately.”

Elmendorf said regardless of security concerns, Zoom was not what he and Noble wanted.

“Zoom’s video and sound quality really don’t hold up well compared to other streaming platforms, and it also has some serious data breach concerns, if you check the news,” Elmendorf said.

Elmendorf was referring to lawsuits in both California and New York that accuse Zoom of selling users’ data to Facebook.

Freshman computer engineering major David Mathus, of Godfrey, Illinois, is a student in one of Noble’s classes, and he talked to Noble and Elmendorf about a different application that they could use.

“I convinced [Noble] to use Discord instead of Zoom,” Mathus said. “Discord is a lot better. You can stream your screen like on Zoom, but there’s more noise control, and it’s harder to let people in who shouldn’t be.”

Mathus said Discord is a system of voice channels that users can set up to talk to each other, with video and text chat optional. Now, Noble has moved most of his classes to Discord, and said it works well.

“If you have a Zoom meeting coming up, you have to get dressed typically, and that immediately makes students less comfortable,” Noble said. “Discord is great. We have specific voice channels that students can message me on. I’ve actually had the class take some quizzes over Discord. If I’m not on Discord, the students can send me a [direct message], and I’ll be able to send back a reply right away, but if we were on Zoom, there’d have to be a meeting in progress.”

Despite concerns raised by students, faculty and staff, ITS asserts SIUE’s use of Zoom is safe. Some security concerns with Zoom fall under the term “Zoombombing”, which Associate Director of Online and Blended Education Matt Schmitz said is not currently a problem at SIUE.

“Zoombombing is when an uninvited or unwanted participant joins a meeting and harasses participants, or sends out inflammatory content in a meeting,” Schmitz said. “To my knowledge, there haven’t been any reports of it at SIUE.”

Mark Dorris, associate director for learning spaces and the help desk, said Zoombombing is very simple to control.

“Most of the fear [about Zoombombing] has been a bit sensationalized, but if people are worried about security, there’s plenty that they can do, like requiring a meeting password or setting up a waiting room,” Dorris said.

Schmitz said not sending out meeting IDs or links publicly is another way to prevent Zoombombing.

“We rarely advertise meeting IDs publicly,” Schmitz said. “They’re usually either emailed or posted on a Blackboard page for a class. And, if it’s posted on Blackboard, only some students and faculty can see it.”

Even if someone gets the meeting ID that shouldn’t have it, Schmitz said Zoom has one more level of security.

“You can lock meetings and stop anyone else from getting in, even if they have the link, like locking the door to your house,” Schmitz said. “There’s also options to require attendees to wait in a waiting room before joining the meeting.”

Any security concerns can be directed to the ITS help desk at 650-5500.

(1) comment

Edward Freame

In the era of the COVID 19, the zoom application has helped a lot to the teachers and students. And the aussie writers helps the students to continue their studies in this situation. This is one of the major sources of teaching and communication among the teachers and the students. Zoom has successfully made the online teaching and learning possible.

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