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Tools for Video Calls
Michael Noll
Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Want to see your friends, family, neighbors, and other loved ones during self-isolation? To find step-by-step directions for using video tools such as WhatsApp, Free Conference Call, Google Hangout, and Zoom, click here.

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How to set up face-to-face meetings with students, teachers, family, and friends

With everyone stuck in self-isolation, we’re all craving the sound of someone’s voice and the expression on their face. If you have an internet connection or even a phone signal, you can use several different online tools to talk with people one-on-one or in groups. Here are some options, with directions for how to use each.

 

WhatsApp

An incredibly popular app available on any smartphone via the Apple or Play Store. You can give it permission to access your various accounts, which automatically pulls up anyone you know who has already downloaded the app. The app offers two main options: chats and calls.

  • Chats are like texts.
  • Calls give you both audio and video options.
  • The options are on the top of your screen. When you’re in “chats” or “calls”, there will be a green circle on the bottom right of the screen. Click it to start a chat or call. You’ll be asked to select a current contact or to enter a new contact.
    • You can also create a group. Click “New Group” and select the people you want to add. This allows you to call (with a video option) multiple people at once.
  • When you send a chat message or try to call someone, if they have the WhatsApp app, they will get a notification on their end.

This app is very simple to use. It is owned by Facebook, so if you hate their privacy policies, you’ll hate these as well--just a head’s up!

 

Facebook Messenger

Requires a Facebook account. It doesn’t allow an audio or video option, but chatting can be a lot of fun, especially when you send GIFs (very short videos from movies, TV shows, etc). 

  • Works on smartphones and computers. The icon looks like a cartoon dialogue circle with a horizontal lightning bolt inside.
  • Go to http://freeconferencecall.com
  • On phones, Messenger is a separate app from Facebook that you will be asked to download.

 

Free Conference Call

This teleconference tools allows you to create a phone meeting where up to five people can participate for free—no internet required. 

  • Create your free account.
  • Your account will be assigned a call-in phone number, access code, online meeting ID, and a host PIN. 
  • To create a meeting, click “Host Meeting” on the right side of the screen. The first time, you’ll be asked to type in your name.
  • To host a call, you only need to send the people you want to invite the following: call-in number, access code, and online meeting ID.
  • As the host, you will need the host PIN.
  • At the designated time, people call the call-in number and type in the access code.
  • That’s it!

 

Google Hangout

This tool allows you to hold meetings and calls with multiple people, who can join by video or phone. The simplest method is to start a video chat and then invite people to join right away. 

If you’re using a personal gmail address (not your school address):

  • Go to https://hangouts.google.com to start your video chat.
  • Choose one of three options: video call, phone call, message
    • Even if you choose video call, people can still join by phone. You just won’t see their face.
  • When you click “video call,” your computer will likely ask if you want to give Google Hangouts permission to use your computer’s camera and microphone. If that’s okay with you (it’s necessary for the call to work), click “allow.” 
  • Once your video call begins, you can invite people to join you by typing their email into the invitation window that automatically opens.
    • If the window doesn’t open, you can open it manually by clicking the icon in the top right corner that looks like the figure on a restroom door.
    • You can also copy the link to the chat to send to people by email or text. This is sometimes the better method; invitations through the official invite window sometimes get lost in the vast Google system.

If you’re using your school email address:

  • Go to https://hangouts.google.com to start your video chat.
  • Choose one of three options: video call, phone call, message
    • Even if you choose video call, people can still join by phone. You just won’t see their face.
  • When you click “video call,” the next screen will ask if you want to join or start a meeting: click that option. Give the meeting a name--whatever name you want--and hit enter.
  • Your computer will likely ask if you want to give Google Hangouts permission to use your computer’s camera and microphone. If that’s okay with you (it’s necessary for the call to work), click “allow.” 
  • The next screen will say that you’re the first person to arrive at the online meeting. (Or, if you’re not, it will say that others have already joined.) Click “join” and the video call will begin.
  • A window will pop up with a link and phone number to send to anyone you’d like to invite to the call. Send it to them and then hang around until they show up!

You can also schedule a video chat for later if you have a Google email account:

  • Go to https://calendar.google.com to create an event.
  • Scroll through the days/times to find the date/time for your video call. Just click on the calendar, and a window will open asking you to name your event--whatever name you want.
  • The window will also ask you to add guests. Type in their email address.
  • Where it says “Add conference,” click the space to the right, which will bring up “Hangouts.” Then click “Save.”
  • Google will send you reminders to join as the event gets closer.
  • To join, click on one of those reminders or go back to https://calendar.google.com and click on the event. There will be a green quote box icon next to the phrase “Join Hangouts.” Click on the phrase to join the call.
  • Your computer will likely ask if you want to give Google Hangouts permission to use your computer’s camera and microphone. If that’s okay with you (it’s necessary for the call to work), click “allow.” 
  • Once your video call begins, you can invite more people to join you by typing their email into the invitation window that automatically opens.
    • If the window doesn’t open, you can open it manually by clicking the icon in the top right corner that looks like the figure on a restroom door.
    • You can also copy the link to the chat to send to people by email or text. This is sometimes the better method; invitations through the official invite window sometimes get lost in the vast Google system.

 

Zoom

Zoom is a tool used by a lot of companies to hold meetings with people scattered across the country. It’s now being used by individuals to video chat with their friends and families. You will need to create a free account. It’s possible that Zoom will limit you to a 40-minute call if you have 3 or more participants. They are currently waiving that restriction but may reinstate it.

To set up a Zoom meeting:

  • Go to https://zoom.us/.
  • Click on the “Sign Up, It’s Free” button in the top right corner.
  • Once you’ve set up an account, click on “Meetings” in the column of options on the left side of the screen.
  •  You’ll see a blue button with “Schedule a New Meeting.” Click it.
  • Name the meeting and choose a date/time and click the buttons on the following options:
    • Decide if you want people to enter a password to join. It’s not necessary but may keep out hackers.
    • Decide if you want the host (the person setting up the meeting) to have video, audio, or both.
    • Decide if you want the audio to be from a computer, a phone, or both (it’s often best just to choose both).
    • Decide if you want to allow people to join before the host. (It can be a good idea so they’re not waiting around for you if you’re latere.)
    • Decide if you want to enable the waiting room. This keeps out anyone you don’t want to join. When they try to join, the host will get a notification and can allow them to enter--or not. A waiting is not required.
    • Decide if you want to record the meeting. (Totally up to you.)
    • Click the blue “Save” button.
  • Once you have scheduled the meeting, you’ll see a screen with all of the information you just entered, along with a link that you can send to anyone you want to join the meeting (Join URL). 
  • There will be a blue “Start this Meeting” button in the top right corner.

To run a Zoom meeting:

If you have never used Zoom before, you will need to download the Zoom app. Clicking on “Start this Meeting” or “Join Meeting” for the first time will automatically pull up a window asking you to download the app. It is safe and widely used, though of course everyone has their own comfort level with apps. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you will be asked to sign in or create a new account. Ignore that. Close it out. Then, go back to your original “Start this Meeting” or “Join Meeting” button.

  • All controls for a Zoom meeting are on the bottom of the screen. To reveal them, move your mouse to the bottom of the screen. Options include:
    • Mute/Unmute
    • Start/Stop Video
    • Invite
    • Manage Participants (If you want to mute or unmute others)
    • Share Screen (You can share your desktop or a particular program that you have open). To stop sharing, scroll to the top of the screen while sharing and click “Stop Share.”
      • This is a useful option for teachers who want to show a PDF, Powerpoint, or other document to their students. It also allows students to show documents to their teachers.
    • Chat (A chatbox for typing messages to everyone in the meeting or particular participants.)
    • Record
  • When you end and leave a meeting, you’ll likely get a window asking you to update the Zoom app. This is safe. Zoom is constantly tweaking little things to make the app work more smoothly.