How to create an online classroom with Zoom

COVID-19 is sending countries around the world into lockdown and there’s no telling when the lockdown will be lifted. It really depends on which country you live in, and how available tests are there. People who can (a very small number of the population) are shifting to a Work from home model. Schools, colleges, and universities have been closed but many institutes are trying to shift to online learning.

Note: Be careful what you read online and beware of fake news about COVID-19.

Online learning has been around for a long time in the form of online courses. There are specific services that allow you to take courses online e.g. TreeHouse, Udemy, Coursera, etc. but they do not have live instructors. If you’re an educator trying to continue teaching during the lockdown, you will need to know how to create an online Classroom.

There are lots of tools that let you host online meetings but Zoom is what we recommend using for a classroom.

Why use Zoom?

We recommend using Zoom because of the following reasons;

  1. You can use the service for free.
  2. Anyone that is invited to a Zoom meeting (or your classroom), can join it without creating an online account. This is helpful if you’re teaching children that may not be able to create accounts on their own.
  3. With a free account, you can host/teach 100 students at once.
  4. Participants can ‘Raise a hand’ to ask questions.
  5. Zoom lets you create a classroom and have students join it from any platform.
  6. There is a group chat feature integrated into Zoom.
  7. You get a Whiteboard and you can share your screen if you need to.

Class duration

This is an important one which is why we’re going to address it separately. Each session, with a free plan, can last 40 minutes. You can start another and that too will last 40 minutes.  You can hold unlimited one-on-one sessions.

You can read more about the Zoom plans here.

Create an online classroom

Visit Zoom, and create a free account. Once you’ve created your account, you will be taken to the dashboard. This is where you can create a meeting that will basically act as your online classroom.

Give the meeting a name and add a description. You can enter what chapter of a book will be studied in class under the description.

The meeting can be created in a time zone of your choice. Additionally, you can add a password that participants will have to enter before they can join the meeting though it’s probably not a good idea if you’re teaching younger children.

The ‘Video’ part is something to pay attention to. You can allow both the host (that’s you), and participants to be online via video. This can be great because it gives everyone at home a little company but, it will impact network bandwidth and at this time, most networks are under a lot of strain. If you can do without video participation, limit it so that only you are using a video.

Next, there’s the ‘Meeting options’ section. You can enable the ‘Enable join before host’. This allows participants to join a meeting even if you’re not there on time. And finally, you might also want to enable the option that will automatically record the meeting/classroom session. Click ‘Save’.

Invite students to a classroom

Zoom offers multiple ways to invite students to a classroom. It supports online calendar invites via Google Calendar, Outlook, and Yahoo. You can also copy a link to the classroom (indicated below), and send it over any medium of your choice e.g., email, chat, text message, etc.

Joining a classroom

When your participants visit the link you’ve shared with them, they will be given a small file to install on the desktop. This is the Zoom app. It’s simple to install. Once the app has been installed, it will open and participants will be able to view the meeting.

On joining, each participant enters a name. This is the name they appear with in the classroom and it can’t be changed once the session starts.

Zoom has a lot of helpful guides available for those discovering the service during COVID-19. If you or any of your students are having trouble learning how the service works, check out the resources they have available for free.

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How to create an email signature in Gmail

Email signatures are basically how you sign off an email. Granted, your email and the contact information associated with it will tell your recipient who a message is from but there is plenty of other, useful information that can be added with a signature. Entering it all each time you send a message is time consuming and there is plenty of room for error and typos which is why email services and clients alike support email signatures.

An email signature is your name, and anything else you want to add with it like phone numbers, an address, business hours, social media links, or maybe a message that will help whoever you’re emailing get in touch with you quickly. Here’s how you can create an email signature in Gmail.

Email signature in Gmail

Visit Gmail and click the cog wheel button under your profile picture (sign in if you’re prompted to). From the menu, select Settings.

On the Settings page, go to the General tab and scroll down to the ‘Signature’ section. Enable it and you will get a text field where you can create the signature. The text field supports RTF so you can use different colors, select fonts, different font sizes, font styles, images, and links in your signature.

Gmail has a new feature where users can create multiple signatures. It is still rolling out but once it does, you will be able to access it form Gmail’s settings, and change which signature you use on the fly when composing a message.

An email signature that you create in Gmail will be added automatically to a message if it is sent from the web interface or one of Gmail’s mobile apps. If you connect your Gmail account to a desktop email client like Outlook, the signature will not be added. You will have to create a signature in Outlook.

Email signature etiquette

There are no laws on what you can or cannot add to an email signature. You can add almost anything but it’s a good idea to consider that you’re utilizing a communication tool and the signature is supposed to help improve it. To that end, you shouldn’t make the signature difficult to read, or include content e.g., images that may not load properly on all devices or platforms that your message might be read on. Likewise, you should also make sure that you keep it up to date and that any information that’s included in it e.g., a phone number, is accurate.

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How to set up Google Authenticator for a Gmail account

Two factor authentication is normally set up with a phone number. When you sign in to an account secured with 2FA, a code is sent to your phone and the code needs to be entered on the sign in page in order to get into the account. The only problem is that if someone really wants to get into your account, a phone number isn’t the best tool to use to secure it. You can use alternative methods for 2FA. If you’re using it for Gmail, you can use the Google Authenticator app. Here’s how to set it up for a Gmail account.

Google Authenticator for Gmail

First, you need to install the Google Authenticator app on your phone. You can get it for iOS from here, and for Android here.

In order to set up Google Authenticator for a Gmail account, you must have a phone number set up with your account. Visit this link and enter the password for your account. If you do not have a phone number set up with your account, click the ‘Add a mobile phone number’ option and set it up. Google will walk you through the process but you must have the phone on-hand.

Once you’ve set up Two Factor Authentication, scroll down the Two Factor authentication page and click ‘Set Up’ under Authenticator app.

The web page will show you a QR code. Switch over to your phone.

Open the Google Authenticator app and tap the plus button at the top. In the menu that opens, tap the ‘Scan barcode’ option and then scan the code on the web page.

The web page will ask you to enter the code shown in the app. Enter it and the set up will be complete.

How it works

When you sign into your Gmail account, you will have to enter the password for it, and then the code from the Google Authenticator app.

The code expires within a minute so if you see the number turn red, it means it’s about to expire. You must enter it before it expires. If it expires, you will get a new code. The old one won’t work. Use the new one, and then complete signing in.

If you ever need to remove the app, you can return to the Two Factor Authentication page, and click the Remove button under the Google Authenticator app. Your phone number will still be associated with your account and a code will be sent to it when you next sign it. It will have to be removed separately.

How to remove the background from a GIF

Creating GIFs is fairly easy if you have a video to begin with. There’s no shortage of apps that can convert a simple MP4 to a GIF file. There are even tools that let you record a screencast and save it as a GIF. Editing a GIF frame-by-frame isn’t that hard either but there is far more to editing a GIF than just adding a frame or removing it. If you have a GIF that you want to remove the background from, and focus on just the subject, you’re in for a lot of work. Unscreen is a web app that can remove the background from a GIF. The app has a free version and a Pro version is in the works.

The free version adds a watermark to the GIF after removing the background which you can probably edit out with the right app.

Remove background from GIF

Visit Unscreen and upload the GIF you want to remove the background from.

The background is removed automatically and if you leave it at that, download what’s left of the GIF, you won’t have a watermark. If you use one of the background options though, you will get a watermark.

All that said, the app does a good job of removing the background from GIFs that are live subjects, and those that are animated.

With the free version of the app, you get a low-resolution GIF which may be a deal-breaker. For a high-resolution GIF, you will have to get the pro version. Since the Pro version has yet to be released, we don’t have a price point for it yet, and can’t say if it’s worth the price tag. The app does take care of a lot of the heavy lifting out of removing the background. You can use other, free apps to add a new background to the GIF. Adding one is a lot easier than removing it from each frame.

As for removing the background, it depends on the content of the video and GIF. If it is obvious what the object is and what’s the background, you’re going to get an excellent GIF/video in the end. A static background like a wall with a moving object in the middle will do well. With videos or GIFs that do not have a specific object e.g., in a screencast where the entire screen remains the same for the most part with just a cursor or pointer moving around, the results won’t be as good for obvious reasons.

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How to hide the website shortcuts from the Chrome new tab page

The new tab page in Chrome has always had a speed dial; it’s a set of websites that users visit most often and it gives users a quick way to open them. The speed dial used to populate based on a user’s browsing history which meant they could update if the user changed which websites they were visiting most often. Chrome recently added the ability to set the speed dial/website shortcuts yourself which means they won’t change based on browsing history. It’s useful but if you don’t like the feature, you can hide the website shortcuts from the Chrome new tab page.

Hide website shortcuts from Chrome NTP

Open Chrome and a new tab. Click the Customize button at the bottom right. In the window that opens, go to the Shortcuts tab. At the bottom, you will see a switch called ‘Hide shortcuts’. Turn it On.

When you open a new tab page, the shortcuts are all going to be hidden. The search bar will still be there. The shortcuts have just been hidden though. If you turn the switch back Off, your shortcuts will return as they were. You won’t have to add them all over again.

Chrome has added a lot of customization options for the new tab page. Most of the new customization options you see now used to only be possible with extensions.

The Shortcuts tab in the Customize pop-up has one other option; ‘Most visited sites’. If you select this instead of turning shortcuts off, you will change how speed dial behaves on the new tab page. Most Visited Sites will switch from the custom sites you’ve set manually and they will populate based on your browsing history.

You should know that this is one of the settings that are synced with Chrome sync. If you’re only interested in hiding the website shortcuts from a particular Chrome installation, you should either disable Chrome sync from it or turn off ‘Settings’ under the sync options. You can also try using different accounts on the Chrome installations that you want to have different settings for but this is an option you should only use if you don’t need other data like bookmarks and browsing history to be synced between all your Chrome instances.

The website shortcuts offer quick access to websites but a lot of users prefer a clean interface that they can use to search for something. Chrome’s history will still allow you to enter part of a URL and have it autofill the rest. It’s not as fast as the speed dial but it works with the keyboard and maybe a better option for some.

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