Note: The problem with Zoom meetings in academia

If there is any problem in a Jitsi or BBB call, instead of fixing the setup, many in public research institutions immediately switch to Zoom. What happens here: Two years into home office and “hybrid” meetings, most academics still don’t use basic things like lights and headsets. This weak infrastructure is the business model of the Zoom algorithm. And the Zoom algorithm is not even that good, it just filters out the worst sound problems. My point is, we would not have needed it, and we don’t need it now, we just would have needed proper equipment for work under these circumstances. Zoom is not the solution. Zoom lied about privacy and encryption, therefore it should be a clear no-go for public institutions. But most are convinced by its filters, which help them to not care about how to do proper online meetings. The reason: missing hardware ressources and no training. Which also provides endless fuel for unfair skepticism towards open source video conference tools. Any disturbance means: let’s switch to Zoom.

In the cooArchi software development we worked on a BBB instance. Everything went seamlessly, no sound problems, no connection losses. Shared notes, shared whiteboard. And it worked perfectly even though only half of our team was using headsets. Academics are missing this and are not willing to put in more effort than opening their laptops and Zoom.

It’s not that academics are lazy, most are on short term contracts and in general have almost no time to care for infrastructure or ressource building. And the IT departments are confronted with the demand for quick and easy solutions. But if we want to learn something from 2 years of homeoffice and “hybrid” meetings, it just is that we have to build these ressources and skills. The sustainable thing to do is not to just switch from Zoom to another platform (Webex, etc.). But to support and use the open source technologies, and train and provide your workers with the ressources for digital work. You want to outsource it? Fine, but don’t outsource it to Zoom, Amazon, etc. But to open source providers.


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