Teachers: Help Your Students Resist Zoom

When the global COVID-19 emergency began, schools switched to remote classes. The urgency of ensuring the continuity of classes left little space for debate on how to choose software that empowers students to learn. As a consequence, freedom-denying and privacy-violating software has seen widespread adoption in education.

Zoom, a proprietary online conferencing program that is becoming more and more dangerously popular, is an example of such harmful technology. Please don't ask students to install Zoom on their computers, or to use its web version which also runs Zoom code on their computers.

To all those teaching remote classes with Zoom

It is unfortunate that you are using Zoom, a nonfree program that spies on users and takes away your students' computer freedom, along with your own. Using Zoom, students are dependent on a program that a company can unilaterally pervert. Their freedom to learn about technology and how it works is destroyed.

If you direct your students to use Zoom, they may form a bad habit and continue using it beyond your classes, effectively surrendering their privacy over communication. They will not learn how to keep control of their data and computing.

You can use free software like BigBlueButton and Jitsi for teaching remote classes without losing technical performance and, most importantly, without surrendering your students' freedom. By choosing these and other free programs for education, you are enabling motivated students to learn about the software they use everyday, and some of them one day will be able to adapt it to their needs, serving a larger community. Those who will not pursue such curiosity, will still benefit from using a program that respects their freedom and doesn't spy on them. They will develop the good habit of not throwing away their freedom, too.

Choosing free software for your classes will positively impact life-long learning, a crucial skill for any student. In fact, students will learn that it is in their power to run, study, modify and share any free software they wish, according to their own curiosity and needs. In contrast, by adopting proprietary software, students are taught to become mere “consumers”[*] of a user interface, with no power over the technology they are using.

If you independently opted for using Zoom in your classes, we urge you to switch to something more ethical.

If Zoom was imposed on you by your school's administration, we encourage you to contact them and ask them to let you change to a free program. Ask other teachers for help, and explain why software freedom is paramount for education.

Last resort

If you can't remove Zoom, we propose this temporary workaround only as a last resort so that students can take your class without feeling oppressed by Zoom. We do not recommend it as a stable, long-term solution.

  1. A day or two before the class, post the visual materials in some freedom-respecting way, so students can download them. Any simple old-fashioned website is suitable for this.
  2. Invite students to phone the Zoom server; tell them the phone number and the code for the conversation. That way they can listen to the audio of the session, while they follow the visual materials alongside.
  3. Tell them that you regret the use of Zoom and show them which are the free programs to replace it. Direct them to https://www.gnu.org/education/edu-why.html to see the reasons why proprietary software such as Zoom has no place in schools (or in any other aspect of life.)
  4. If permitted, make a recording of the Zoom conversation of each session, and post it for the students in a freedom-respecting way soon after.

If your school uses Zoom for examinations and students refuse to use it, then you, as a teacher, could arrange a different meeting in parallel or an alternative exam session using one of the free programs mentioned above. Another possibility is to set up a kiosk with a computer that has Zoom installed and let students take the exam using that computer. That way, they won't be forced to install nonfree software on their computers, and the use of Zoom will be limited to the exam. If you do this, we recommend that the school computer run a free software distribution.

Simply by telling students about this possibility, which you can do more than once, you will help inspire resistance to Zoom and other freedom-trampling programs, and avoid inculcating surrender.

You will still be using Zoom, which is deleterious for your freedom. Some of your students will probably still be using Zoom, which is deleterious for their freedom. But, thanks to your efforts, some students will be able to avoid using Zoom, and that is a victory.

This workaround is meant as a short-term solution to enable students to avoid Zoom now rather than wait for the next academic year. In the long-term, it is crucial to migrate to free/libre software and online conferencing programs like Jitsi and BigBlueButton.

All software must be free, and this is a small step towards that goal. Saying NO to unjust computing even once is progress.

See examples of how people are successfully resisting nonfree software.

[*] The word “consumer” should be avoided or used with care.