u3a - Video Conferencing FAQs

Increasing use of video conferencing software over the past few months has led to many questions emerging over what is or is not acceptable under the Terms and Conditions of different products – and what flexibility is permissible with different products. Although different products do have some minor variations in the small print, the principles underlying the use of each product are broadly similar. The FAQs presented here are based on Zoom, but most of the answers are applicable to other products. The byword, as with any licenced software product, is read the Terms and Conditions and ask the provider if in doubt.

What is a Zoom Account?

The word ‘account’ has two different meanings in Zoom.

Any individual can create a personal account simply by providing Zoom with a user name and password. In return, they become a Basic User which enables them to use Zoom to set up a meeting with limited functionality.

Various types of licensed account can also be set up by an Account Holder. Zoom offers a range of different types of licence, but for most purposes, the PRO account appears to be the most useful. A PRO licence permits the licence holder to schedule and host meetings for up to 100 participants will. In these FAQs, the term Basic User refers to those using the free personal account and PRO licence refers to Licensed Users. Do note licences are linked to accounts and that affects their functionality in some circumstances, for example when appointing an Alternative Host, as a person with a licence on one account is not a Licensed User on another account.

For more information on Plans and Pricing refer to the Zoom website. Note the prices given on the website do not include VAT and are the cost per licence. Prices are provided for both monthly and annual licences.

Where do I find the Zoom settings?

Zoom provides two lists of settings. The shortlist of settings is found on the Application home page (the cogwheel under the user icon) and the long list can be accessed either by clicking on the link to more settings at the bottom of the shortlist, or by logging into the user account on the website and following the link to settings. It is worth exploring both these lists, but users are advised not to make multiple changes at a time, but rather to make a single change, check it achieves the desired result, and then make further changes. This is easier to undo if the desired change is not achieved.

Is it possible to meet for more than 40 minutes using a Basic licence?

The timer for a Zoom meeting starts when the host has opened the meeting room and there are 3 people present in the room, there is no time limit if just two people are meeting. Although the time is sometimes extended beyond 40 minutes by Zoom, this cannot be relied on – and the time extension appears to be happening less often. Many people find the 40 minutes time limit can be used to structure a meeting – perhaps building in a comfort break after 40 minutes and scheduling a second meeting to start 10 or 15 minutes later. If breaks are not appropriate, it is possible to get 60 minutes or more with some other video conferencing services, or consider purchasing a PRO licence.

I have bought my own PRO licence to use with friends and family. Can I use it to host U3A meetings?

Yes. A licence holder may schedule and host as many meetings as they wish as long as they do not exceed the number of participants permitted by the licence.

I have a PRO licence through my U3A and I want to appoint my friend, who has their own personal licence as an alternative host, but Zoom won’t allow me to do this. Why?

All Zoom licences are attached to an account. The licences purchased by a U3A are attached to their PRO account and licences purchased by individuals are attached to their personal account. If it is necessary for you to appoint an alternative host, you have a choice of appointing another licence holder within your U3A PRO account or asking your friend to get their licence transferred to the U3A account, and to pay the licence fee to the U3A rather than direct to Zoom; the second of these options creates additional complexity and it is probably simpler to appoint your friend as a co-host once the meeting has started.

What is an alternative host?

An alternative host is set up during the scheduling of a meeting and is a licence holder on the same account as the meeting host. The alternative host is able to start the meeting in the absence of the host and has the same privileges as the host. Basic Users cannot be appointed as an alternative host. It is not possible to appoint as an alternative host somebody with a licence on another account than that of the host.

Why appoint an alternative host?

Generally, it is probably unnecessary to appoint an alternative host, but if a meeting is critical, for example, an AGM or a meeting with people from other U3As, an alternative host is a useful safety net, should the host be unavoidably absent. An alternative approach is for another U3A member, with a licence on the same account as the meeting host, to use their host key and host the meeting.

What is a co-host? Is this the same as an alternative host?

Co-hosts can be appointed once a meeting has started, provided the meeting is being hosted by a Licensed User. Co-hosts do not have to have a licence on the same account as the host and Basic Users can be appointed as co-hosts. A co-host has similar privileges to the host. It can be useful to have one or more co-hosts, especially in a large meeting where co-hosts can admit attendees from the waiting room or watch the chatbox while the host is looking after the meeting.

Basic Users are not permitted to appoint co-hosts or alternative hosts. However, once the meeting has started, it is possible for the host to make another person host of the meeting and the original host can later reclaim the host privileges. This can be useful if the host needs to leave the meeting early or is called away.

How do I appoint a co-host?

There are two ways to do this, both of which use the menu options for an individual participant. Either use the mouse pointer to hover over the image of the participant and click on the 3 dots that appear in the top right-hand corner of the image, or hover over the name in the participant list and click ‘more’; in both cases, this opens the participant menu. There is a list of options, including ‘make co-host’. Click on this and the participant will become a co-host of the meeting and will be able to admit people to the meeting and have access to the in-meeting security features.

My U3A is considering purchasing some PRO licences. What additional functionality does this offer in a Zoom meeting?

Apart from removing the 40-minute restriction on meeting length, a licence holder can appoint co-hosts, access the polling tool and permit participants to join a meeting by phone. If a meeting is being recorded, the recording can be made to the cloud rather than to the local device, which makes less demand on the local device. Breakout rooms are available to both basic and Licensed Users, but in order to access them, they must first be turned on in the Zoom settings on the website.

Although the 100-user PRO licence is sufficient for most of our needs, we need to be able to accommodate more people at a meeting from time to time. Do we need to purchase one or more licences for larger meetings?

If there are many larger meetings, it might be appropriate to purchase these licences, but if it is just an occasional meeting, such as an AGM, it might be more appropriate to purchase a large meeting add-on. It is best to discuss this with the Sales department at Zoom, but it is understood that a single large meeting add-on for up to 500 or even 1000 participants, can be used for a licence holder to schedule a meeting and appoint an alternative host, who would still be able to open the meeting if the original host was unavoidably absent.

The Zoom Terms and Conditions make it clear that licences are allocated to recognisable individuals and are linked to their email addresses. Licences should not be shared – and usernames and passwords should be kept confidential. Although it is possible for a licence holder to start a meeting, make a participant host and leave the meeting, this could be interpreted as not acting in compliance with the T&C if it is being used as a way of sharing the PRO licence. Similarly using the host key in order to enable another person to host meetings regularly is acting against the spirit of the T&C and using in a way not envisaged in the description of host key functionality given on the Zoom website.

Before considering how to save money on licence costs, perhaps start by considering how much is normally spent on room hire costs. This will provide a figure against which to consider licence costs. Then consider how many meetings require a licensed host if the use of the Basic User accounts is maximised. Are there U3A members able and willing to host the remaining meetings – remember the host does not have to be the group leader. Once this exercise has been done, it may be found relatively few licences are required, at a much lower cost than room hire costs.

Zoom does not offer discounts to voluntary organisations, but a conversation with the Sales department suggested some Sales Executives may be able to offer a small discount. In addition, there are some re-sellers who offer substantial discounts, but these resellers may also require a subscription to their services.

What about the host key? Is this a way of sharing a licence?

The host key is personal to the licence holder and should not be shared. It is perhaps most valuable if a meeting is scheduled without an alternative host and the host is not available to open the meeting. If such a meeting has been set up to permit entry before the host, that is with a passcode but no waiting room, it is possible for a participant to claim the host rights using the host key of the person scheduling the meeting. This enables that participant to start the meeting with access to all the controls normally available to the host. There are full details of its usage on the Zoom website.

Zoom support advises that the host key should only be used if there is no other way of starting the meeting and recommend the use of alternative host instead. It is clear the intention of the host key is not to enable multiple meetings to be scheduled and opened by a variety of people using the host key. Using the host key in this way has the potential to result in security problems.

I am concerned about security. How can I avoid unwanted participants in my meetings?

There are a number of functions built into Zoom that assist with security. When scheduling a meeting, Zoom advocates the use of passcode and waiting room and it is impossible to schedule without enabling at least one of these functions. Once in the meeting, the host can exclude unwanted visitors using facilities in the Security button. In a large meeting, a co-host can monitor the waiting room and can ask participants to provide additional identification if they are unidentifiable (for example if the name is iPad2). Zoom advocate avoiding recurring meetings as there is a risk the joining instructions may pass into the public domain.

One of the basic rules of security is not to share credentials with anyone. Username and password should not be shared and host key details should only be shared when essential.

I run an interest group that meets weekly. Some of the members have problems with accessing the meeting, so I have set this up as a recurring meeting. I now need to change the time of the meeting. Do I have to re-schedule?

Recurring meetings always carry some risk as the joining information can be easily shared. This can be ameliorated to some extent by using the waiting room. In the list of scheduled meetings, no dates or times are included for recurring meetings and they can be started at any time. If you are using a recurring meeting, ensure the waiting room is enabled and edit your email notifying the participants of the meeting so that it shows the correct day and time – and perhaps draw attention to this change in the text of the email.

I seem to be missing some functions on my toolbar when hosting Zoom meetings. What can I do in order to get them?

Some functions, for example, breakout rooms and participant screen sharing, need to be enabled in the Zoom settings menu on the Zoom website. This can be accessed either by logging into your account on the Zoom website or by clicking on the Settings button in the Zoom application and then on the link to ‘view more settings’ at the bottom of the page. When making settings changes, if you are uncertain what the change will do, make only one change at a time so that you can revert to the original settings more easily. Do note some functions are not available to Basic Users and the buttons for these functions are not on the toolbar for Basic Users.

I read from time to time about changes made in Zoom functionality, but I don’t seem to see these changes. Do I need to do something in order to get the updates?

Zoom does not update automatically. In order to update the application, click on the small icon at the top right of the Home screen in the application. This opens a menu including ‘check for updates’ – clicking this provides access to the latest updates and information about what is included. Zoom does update regularly and it can be worth checking for updates on a weekly or monthly basis.