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Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Penn State students are attending Zoom University through at least the summer semester.

New Student Orientation and all summer classes are being held remotely, and students will use the teleconferencing platform Zoom to attend classes virtually. Fortunately, Zoom is fairly intuitive, but there are some common road blocks new users face.

Some of these tips are obvious, and most are easily discoverable via Google. Nevertheless, here is a simple guide to Zoom, from joining a meeting to avoiding embarrassing mic moments.

How do I join a meeting?

This presented a surprising amount of confusion at the beginning of the remote learning period. If you try to join a meeting from the Zoom app, it asks for a passcode, which people usually don’t have. Instead, people who hold meetings will share links to their meeting.

For classes, a link to the Zoom meeting will be posted in Canvas and all you need to do is click on it when class starts. For clubs or one-on-one meetings, someone will usually email you a link or post it in a group chat.

People hosting a meeting have the option to enable a waiting room, so when a participant joins the meeting, they see a screen that says “waiting room” until a host lets them in.

Using your camera and audio

Right before you join a Zoom meeting, a window will open, giving you options for your audio. Assuming your laptop has a mic, choose the “join with computer audio” option.

Once you’re in the meeting, mute yourself immediately. It’s common Zoom etiquette to be muted unless you’re actively speaking. Also, at some point you will inevitably forget to unmute yourself. It happens to everyone.

You’ll almost always want to leave your camera on. However, some very kind professors who teach lectures don’t require cameras. In these kinds of classes, mics and cameras are usually automatically disabled.

The buttons for your mic and camera are in the bottom left corner of the screen.

Bonus tip: you can temporarily unmute yourself by holding down the spacebar. This may be obvious, but it took me a month of attending Zoom University to notice.


Where should I be during Zoom meetings?

Ideally, you should attend Zoom meetings in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Many people use their bedrooms.

In my experiences, most people sit at their desks or on their beds, although I have attended meetings sitting on my floor.

If you don’t want people to see your room or just want a change of scenery, you can also change your background.

How do I change my background?

Go into settings in the main Zoom app — not in the meeting — and click on “virtual background.” Zoom comes with a few different built-in backgrounds, but most people use custom pictures. Click the plus sign in on the right side of the screen. Then choose a photo from your photo gallery.

Popular options for backgrounds include the background from The Office, the apartment from iCarly and the fiery background from the “this is fine” dog meme.

What are those buttons at the bottom?

The bottom of the screen in a Zoom meeting has several options, most of which are self-explanatory.

“Participants” is a list of all the people in the meeting. It opens a sidebar on the right hand of the screen. In the sidebar is a “raise hand” option and buttons to say yes or no. However, most meetings don’t use these, and you can’t tell that people are raising their hands unless you have the participants tab open.

“Chat” is where people can type questions or comments for everyone else to see, and “Reactions” lets you choose one of two emoji reactions to be displayed in the corner of your video.

“Share” allows you to share your screen with everyone in the meeting and is almost exclusively used by instructors. Hosts have the option to ban non-hosts from sharing their screen.

You’ll rarely use most of these features, as chat is the most common if you’re a student.


How do I change whose video is visible during a meeting?

Most meetings default to “speaker mode,” where you can only see the video of the person speaking and a few other participants. You can change this by clicking the box in the top right-hand corner that says “gallery mode,” so you can see video of all participants.

If you need to switch to a different window, you’ll still be able to see a small box in the corner of your screen displaying your video, whoever’s speaking, and a few more people.

What is Zoom bombing?

Zoom bombing is when someone attends a Zoom meeting with the intention of being disruptive. Sometimes this takes the form of harassment or shouting obscenities and slurs, and sometimes people spam the chat function.

This isn’t super common, and Zoom is trying to find ways to prevent it. Also, this should go without saying, but definitely don’t do this. Zoom bombers can be prosecuted.

What security measures are in place?

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Zoom has implemented a variety of security measures that you may encounter during your meetings, and instructors have been using them more and more frequently.

In the latest update, Zoom made it easier for hosts to lock meetings so new participants can’t join, and made waiting rooms for new participants default.

If your meeting gets Zoom bombed, the host does have the ability to remove disruptive participants, although the more common reaction is to end the meeting before things get more out of hand.


You can find even more Zoom features in addition to these basic functions if you play around in the settings for a while.

There are options to change the skin tone of your reaction emojis, change Zoom to dark mode (or light mode) and something called “touch up my appearance” — although the last one didn’t change anything when I clicked on it.

There are also accessibility features where you can change the font size of your chat, or where hosts can enable software to put subtitles on a meeting. Most instructors aren’t aware of those options, but definitely let them know if you think you could benefit from them.

No matter how prepared you are, your first Zoom meeting can still be a bit overwhelming, but people will be understanding if something goes wrong.

If all else fails, at least now you can impress your peers with a funny background.

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