Virtual Graduations & End of Year Events in the time or Coronavirus: Zoom

I’m the tech guy for a private K-12 school and have had to do a lot of work to pull off the various end of year events. Many other people have shared content that I’ve found helpful, and I hope in posting this someone else might find it useful. Mostly, I write these blogs for me, to document stuff and help get my thoughts together. I’m going to do a series of posts on the tools and techniques I’ve used. I’ll start with Zoom.

Despite privacy and security concerns, we have been using Zoom for many of our meetings and classes. Many of those concerns are addressed by paying for a Zoom for Education account which has a better privacy policy and security features.

Our licensed Zoom accounts support 300 attendees, but that isn’t enough for end-of-year events. I have upgraded my account to support 1,000 users and we also have a 500 user Webinar account. Zoom can also stream to an outside service like YouTube Live. We have invited students to join an event via Zoom, and parents, and other adults to use the YouTube Live stream.

Webinar vs. Meeting

The main differences between the more expensive Webinar version of Zoom and the regular version:

  1. Meeting attendees cannot share video or audio. You can enable users to unmute themselves, but by default attendees are passive participants.
  2. Webinars have a new role of “Panelist” who can share their audio, video (with permission), or screen. They can also use the chat feature to chat with all panelists, or all panelists and attendees.
  3. Webinar supports a Q&A function that enables attendees to ask questions and for panelists to answers those questions either publicly or privately.
  4. Chat in webinar has some different options, including allowing attendees to only post to attendees or everyone. Direct chat between individual participants is not allowed.
  5. Webinar allows you to force what view attendees see (host view, active speaker view, gallery/grid view).

We use the webinar version for our various performing arts shows. By setting “Set video layout for attendees” to “Follow host view mode” and setting “Hide Non-Video Participants” in the host’s Zoom application settings. This allows us to rapidly hide/show webcams of people we want on stage. Our improv groups used this to great effect, constantly changing who was on stage throughout the show.

For end of year events, if you want everyone to see each other then you should use the standard version of Zoom. If you want to control what attendees see, you should use Webinar.

Virtual Webcams

One very useful trick is to use virtual webcam software. This basically adds a fake webcam to your computer that you can use in Zoom. You can use the virtual webcam to play recorded video or output from live video production software. I’ve used this to mix recorded video into a Zoom without resorting to screen sharing (which has drawbacks, including really slow transitions when starting/stopping sharing, and that it takes over the entire screen).

I primarily use Telestream Wirecast for both live video production and to act as a virtual webcam. They have a tutorial on “Using Virtual Camera Out in a Zoom Meeting” which gives a pretty good overview of the process. I’ve also experimented with using ManyCam.

I’ve used Wirecast and a virtual webcam to have slides and video side-by-side in some end of year events. This allows me to make the speaker (in the video) the same size or larger than the slides.

WARNING: security features in macOS Catalina and newer versions of Zoom broke virtual webcam support. Apparently, there is a new version of Zoom that is supposed to come out today (5/22) that fixes this. Prior to that, your only choices were to downgrade to Zoom 4.6.x or to run the following from the command line:

codesign --remove-signature /Applications/zoom.us.app/

Streaming to YouTube Live

Sometimes it is really helpful to stream to more people than your Zoom account can support, provide an option for those who don’t want to use Zoom to attend, or to be able to embed a stream within a webpage. Zoom has documentation on how to “Streaming a Meeting or Webinar on YouTube Live.”

Note: you will have to enable your YouTube account for live streaming and it can take 24 hours for the change to go into effect.

For an event, you’ll probably want to know the URL of the stream ahead of time. For that you’ll have to enable Custom Live Streaming instead of using the built-in support for YouTube Live within Zoom.

WARNING: be careful in testing your setup between Zoom and YouTube Live. If you start streaming and then stop, you won’t be able to use that URL again. I now send out links to a landing page on our website instead of the direct link to YouTube. That way I can change the link at the last second if I need to.

 

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