Zoom has announced a new Focus mode, which it says is meant to keep students from getting distracted while in a virtual classroom, while still allowing the teacher to keep an eye on everybody. When activated, Focus mode will make it so that a meeting’s participants won’t be able to see each other’s videos or screen shares, while the host is still able to see everyone’s webcams. It provides some of the control found in Webinar mode, without the complexity and lack of flexibility that comes with it — for instance, a teacher could turn on Focus mode while presenting, and then turn it off when it’s time for a class discussion. And, while hosting a Webinar costs money, Focus mode appears to be available to free accounts, based on my testing.
This feature comes as the new school year approaches in many districts, and as the threat of COVID-19 remains serious. It seems likely that virtual classrooms are going to be sticking around for some, so it’s good that Zoom is adding features to improve tele-learning.