It seems that society has been trying to adapt to a new mode of communicating with groups of people during this pandemic. From office meetings to social gatherings to classes, video conferencing platforms have thrived during the drastic changes that the past year and a half have imposed. That’s not to say the new communication channels didn’t come with their own set of problems, from privacy, distraction, and the so-called “Zoom fatigue.” Zoom’s latest feature tries to address at least one of those by making sure students are distracted by their classmates.
Video conferencing chat may have a bigger negative impact on kids going to virtual classrooms than adults in digital offices. In addition to being deprived of much-needed face-to-face interaction with teachers and classmates, keeping younger students focused has proved to be very difficult while they’re sitting at home. Worse, that freedom also tends to distract other participants in the call, potentially leading to a rather chaotic class.
Just in time for the start of the school year, Zoom is pushing out what it is calling a new Focus Mode. In most cases, it is like Webinar mode with a focus on the host or speaker. The difference is that Focus mode is not only easier to use but also more flexible since it can be turned on or off at the flip of a switch.
In Focus mode, a participant won’t be able to see anyone else other than themselves and the teacher. The teacher, of course, can see everyone, but it’s the kids that are more easily distracted by what their classmates might be doing on camera. Focus mode also blocks students from even sharing their screens with other participants.
Unlike Webinar mode, Focus mode seems to be available to all users, including those with free accounts. Zoom is also advertising other features that could help make online classes be more bearable, at least. Virtual backgrounds and suppressing background noises also help minimize distractions, while breakout rooms and “Raise hand” indicators let teachers have more control over class activities.