As the new idea of learning through an “online environment” rose in schools during early 2020, debates circling the consequences of this kind of education grew prevalent among parents, teachers, and students alike. On March 18th, 2020, it was decided by the Hawaii Department of Education that remaining online for school would be the better and safer option, but it is notable to many that this environment lacks the privileges of social interaction and personal connection.
These issues seep into the year 2021, with students across the state logging into school from home each day. Educators want to give students the most effective learning experience they can, and one of the many ways to do this is through the use of online tools and software, specifically Google Meets, Webex, and Zoom — but which of these video conferencing programs are the most effective and overall best to use in an online environment? Each of these applications have been used for schooling purposes before, but there has been no clear cut decision on which site is preferred in schools across the United States, including Mililani High School. Each platform’s categories and areas of use vary in quality, and it is important to dive deeper into which may be the most useful in different situations.
“Using Google Meets, I like that it allows you to see everyone in a call at once, too. It’s just a nice feeling, seeing all your other classmates and their reactions to the lessons, knowing you’re not alone if you don’t understand something. It’s like, the closest thing to really being in class with classmates,” said Junior Madilyn Kubo.
She, like many other students, prefers online schooling during the pandemic rather than in-person classes.
Price is often a significant factor in people’s decision, as well as each software’s various meeting features. All of these programs are available for free, with group meetings ranging from 40-60 minute call length limitations, additionally offering upgrades to other plans. Both WebEx and Google Meet’s starter plans allow 24 hour group calls and 150 participants, WebEx charging $13.50/host/month and Meet charging only $8/host/month. Zoom asks for payment by the year, $149.90/host, which is roughly $12.50/month, for 30 hour group calls and 150 participants. Zoom and WebEx go on to offer another plan, $199.90/host/year (roughly 16.50/month) and $26.95/host/month respectively, both including features like more storage and room for participants. Along with these general call properties, hand raising, polling, and adjustable grid viewing are features that all three programs have available.
In addition to these general features, security is important when handling information online. When recording meetings, both free versions of Google Meets and Zoom allow for encryption, which is security surrounding the meeting data. WebEx requires the first payment for this kind of protection.
MHS teachers primarily use Google Meets for the classroom experience while there are other teachers and clubs that use WebEx and Zoom to meet. This may be based on the teacher’s preference or previous experience with specific programs. Most students end up learning the ins and outs of every software they are exposed to.
“This is going to sound silly, but it’s the vibes of everything. I feel like Zoom and Webex can be more intimidating to join. I like that Google Meets shows you who is already in the class before you join, I hate being the first person in,” said Senior Katelyn McAniff, who, in addition to many other students, has been dealing with the difficulties of online learning in terms of motivation and going through her final year of high school. “Yeah, it’s kind of sad. Like, when lockdown started last year and then the class of 2020 didn’t get their graduation. Now the seniors this year won’t even have a school year.”
In order to successfully mirror the qualities of “normal” school, the perseverance of both students and teachers in focusing on schoolwork and utilizing new resources will be crucial. It may be up to what kind of teaching style or event is occurring in terms of picking the right platform – Google Meets, WebEx, or Zoom. These mediums and their varying features help to make these events and school meetings possible, and staying informed about each different option is essential when considering varying classroom needs.