10 Tips for Educators Using Zoom to Keep your Online Classroom Safe for Children

Zoom is a free, user-friendly video-conferencing platform that includes many features for holding effective online meetings and lessons. It is no wonder therefore, that once classrooms moved online due to closure of schools during COVID-19, many teachers and educators chose Zoom as the leading platform to deliver their lessons remotely to students. But along with the many benefits the platform provides, the rapid increase in users exposed many safety threats as well.

As Zoom was originally designed for business conferences rather than for online teaching, it wasn’t intended for children’s use when it was first developed. It includes special features such as screen-sharing and recording that can be helpful during business meetings, but can place children at risk during online lessons if taken advantage of by the wrong people. Security breaches within the platform have placed Zoom in recent headlines globally, as a result of children’s exposure to harmful content through the app.

One recent example happened in the UK where a hacker interrupted a zoom session and streamed child sexual abuse material to 60 children taking part in a fitness class (link to article https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/07/zoom-hacker-streams-child-sex-abuse-footage-to-plymouth-children). Another serious incident happened in Singapore when during a Geography lesson for girls that was delivered on Zoom, the children were exposed to sexual images that appeared on their screen with the hackers making sexual and offensive comments, one of few cases that led Singapore’s Ministry of Education to suspend teacher’s use of the app for teaching students. (link to article https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/1897805/stop-using-zoom-singapore-schools-told)  This type of hacking with the intentional disruption of meetings/lessons by uninvited attendees is commonly referred to as ‘zoombombing’ and is happening more often all around the world.

While the company has been working relentlessly to fix different security threats and improve features to help protect their users, there are different precaution measures you can already take if you use Zoom as your virtual classroom, to prevent disturbing events such as ‘zoombombing’ from occurring.

Tip 1: Keep the link/meeting ID of the lesson private

Many cases of ‘zoombombing’ happened when links to meetings or the meeting ID were shared publicly in open forums online or on social media. Sometimes the meeting ID was shared publicly by mistake with attendees taking a screenshot of their online lesson and then shared it on social media, unknowing that the user ID was also displayed in the picture they took. This allowed uninvited guests to access the lesson and interrupt as they please.

To prevent this, make sure the link and meeting ID is only shared with those who you want in the lesson, and if screenshots are taken of the lesson, they are not shared publicly and no identifiable information is displayed. Also be sure to make a unique and hard to decipher meeting IDs with every new lesson.

Tip 2: Always use the waiting room feature and disable the function of participants entering before you.

The waiting room feature allows the host to identify each person who enters the meeting and approve them one by one before allowing them to go into the meeting room. This prevents unwanted and unknown guests from entering the session. Zoom has recently set this feature to default as part of the security measures it has taken to help protect users. However, make sure you keep this feature enabled with each lesson. Also make sure the function “Join before host” is disabled to prevent a situation where someone might enter before you are there.

Tip 3: Protect your lesson with a password

Another way of controlling participant’s access to the lesson is by locking each new lesson with a password that enables only those who have it to enter. Changing the password with each lesson and not reusing old lesson’s passwords will also help in minimizing the chances the password will end up with the wrong person. When you share the password with those you invite, make sure you do so through safe and private channels.

Tip 4: Once everyone is in, lockdown the meeting

Once you know that every person you invited to the lesson is already there, you have the possibility to lock the lesson to prevent anyone else from joining. To do that, click the Participants button at the bottom of the Zoom window, and then press “Lock Meeting”.

Tip 5: Limit screen-sharing to host

Screen-sharing is a useful tool for educators who want to share and discuss specific content with their students during the lesson. However, if this feature is not locked to the host alone, it allows any participant to decide what to display on the screen at any given time without control. By limiting this feature to yourself as the host, you prevent attendees from displaying unwanted content such as pornographic images.  Furthermore, you can disable a specific participant’s video and turn it off in case of inappropriate exposure in front of their own camera.  

Tip 6: Mute/Remove participants who crash the session and/or act inappropriately

As the host, you have the ability to mute or remove any person from the meeting at any time. This includes the option to mute participants who are using offensive language or making sexual comments to prevent the rest of participants from hearing it, or the option to throw out uninvited participants who manage to ‘zoombomb’ the lesson and disrupt it. You can remove or mute a participant by hovering the mouse over the participant’s name and choose the desired action.

Tip 7: Report users who share violent and illegal material during meetings

Another recent feature that was added to Zoom is the ability to report disturbing incidents or users who hack into meetings and ‘zoombomb’ the sessions. With any violation of Zoom’s terms of service, the company will take necessary legal action.

You can report during the meeting by pressing the security icon and then the report option. It will then ask you the name of participant and reason for reporting with the option to add additional information such as screenshots or photos that describe the problem. If you would like to report after the lesson has already finished, you can send an email to trust@zoo.us with the description of the incident – including date of incident, meeting ID, participant you want to report if applicable and type of violation. 

Tip 8: Always use the most recent version of Zoom

Since Zoom is constantly improving its features and tackling security threats, it is important to keep updating the version you have to make sure you are using the latest one with the newest features. With every new version, make sure you check the security settings and ensure that all security features are set to maximum safety standards.

Tip 9: Receive parental consent for children’s use of the app

While any person of any age can join a meeting, according to Zoom’s Terms of Service, only people above the age 16 are allowed to create their own account. As the teacher, it is your responsibility to ensure parents are aware of the terms of service and that they consent to their child joining lessons through Zoom. Discuss with them the possible risks and advise them to supervise how children use the app.

Tip 10: Consider using safer online platforms for lessons

There are other video conferencing applications that are more secure than Zoom. If you or your school are still using Zoom, it is worth looking into more safer options for online lessons. Google Meet for instance, requires the host to use more complicated and unique meeting IDs making it harder for others to hack and discover. Furthermore, external participants can use links to meetings only if they are on the calendar invite for the meeting or if they have been invited by in-domain participants from the Google Meet session. This makes it more unlikely that the lesson will be bombed by uninvited users.

No online platform however is 100% safe from security threats, and any platform used for virtual lessons should always be done after taking all the protection measures to keep your lesson safe.

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Report it, Don’t ignore it If you see child sexual abuse images online.