Virtual Classroom Vs Zoom at GSA

Zoom and Virtual Classroom (aka Collaborate Ultra) are both video conferencing tools that we have access to at GSA. This blog post will provide an overview of both tools, their main features and how they can support your Learning and Teaching.

Most teaching staff will likely be using both these conferencing tools either as hosts or participants, so its good to get acquainted with the interfaces of both tools.

Zoom is ideal for meetings, either one-to-one or with large groups. It has a ‘work’ focus, and facilitates discussions very well.

Virtual Classroom on the other hand is ideal for teaching and learning situations. It has a Classroom focus that facilitates learning and is fully integrated into GSA’s Canvas VLE.

Installation differences

Zoom can run either in a browser, or as a standalone software application on your computer, mobile or tablet. The browser version has limited features, so it is suggested to install the app. New security settings in Zoom require all participants and hosts to have an account. GSA staff can request account activation by contacting their line manager. You can download the zoom client from the Zoom Downloads page.

Virtual Classroom is fully integrated into Canvas at GSA. At present, you will need to email to enable Virtual Classroom in your course.  Once enabled, the link will be available in the course navigation menu, from which you can schedule, host and join sessions in the Virtual Classroom.  Students can join the room here or follow the link supplied. No signup required. You can also invite guests from out with Canvas/GSA to join your session via the link supplied when you schedule a session. The Virtual Classroom runs in browser, so it can be joined on most devices that have internet access.

Main Features 

Both Zoom and Virtual Classroom allow video conferencing with large groups and support standard conferencing tools such as breakout rooms, hand raising, chat, screen sharing, window sharing and app sharing. 
Virtual classroom has a useful whiteboard feature, that provides a blank canvas for drawing, sharing and collecting information etc. See the video below for a brief overview of the user interface.


Recording in Zoom is currently turned off at account level for security reasons, so GSA staff are unable to record zoom sessions. 
Virtual Classroom sessions can easily be recorded and stored in the cloud. See the above video that shows how to start and stop recording. Recorded sessions can be found by clicking the menu shown below.

Inviting students and external guests

For Virtual Classroom, you can direct students to the session by asking them to access the Virtual Classroom link in the course menu. You can also link to this page in any emails or announcements. External users can be invited using the guest link that is generated when you schedule a session.
When inviting students using Zoom just send them the invitation generated when you schedule a Zoom session. This could be in an email or Canvas announcement. Anyone with the link will be able to join the session.


Both these conferencing tools offer a streamlined way to host online meetings, discussions, seminars, lectures and more. 
You will likely be using both tools as part of your work. For work based meetings we would suggest using Zoom as it offers a professional approach without being located within Canvas. 
For any learning and teaching, we would recommend using Virtual Classroom. The fact that it is integrated into student’s canvas courses help make it feel more connected to the coursework they have already undertaken. Sign up and security is handled by Canvas, in addition to the class lists, enrolment, assessments etc. Remember your can still invite guest participant using the link generated when scheduling your session. 
Recording of Virtual Classroom sessions is a vital feature that allows students to revisit information, and is useful for catching up if students cannot attend at a certain time.

Further Information 

For more information for GSA Staff, please visit the Engaging Students Online Canvas course.

We have had positive feedback from teaching staff who have started using Virtual Classroom and would welcome any further feedback. You can also email us at for further help, information or to enable virtual classroom in your Canvas course. 

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