Zoom fatigue: Students, professors on distance learning's prevailing tool
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Since the global spread of COVID-19 in March, WU students and employees alike have been finding new means of communicating and socializing. One of the most common ways people meet during the pandemic is through Zoom, used by universities across the country, including Willamette. Students and professors have different opinions on the efficacy of the program, and how it either benefits or hinders the style of learning and culture that the university has.
One of the most common complaints about using Zoom for classes is that it’s very easy for both students and professors to feel like they are spending all of their time on the application. Sociology department professor Emily Drew expanded on this perspective in an interview, saying students “feel like they’re on Zoom all day. Like [for] 8 hours, and that is the work. And then you get off of Zoom, and you’re on a computer, for movies, for readings, for projects.”
Brianna Kurtenbach (‘22) added on to this point, saying that with this new system of constant exposure to technology comes “Zoom fatigue”, and that it’s very mentally draining to have all or many courses online. She also said that since students are able to attend a lecture or meeting from any place, “there’s no reason to miss anything… you better be [in class], one way or another.” Drew said that learning about “Zoom fatigue” gives her compassion for her students, and helps her understand why this environment can be so stressful.
The pressure to maintain good grades and be engaged has been a stressor for students. Isabella Richter de Medieros (‘21) said that although she personally has not experienced many issues with concentrating on Zoom, she understands that this is not the case for everyone. “The standards that we were being held to, and the grading standards, and all of that kind of stuff that we were being held to in a normal world… I feel like that’s a very unrealistic expectation to hold on students in this world which is on fire,” she said.
Kurtenbach has experienced this feeling of being overwhelmed, and thinks that there should have been more opportunities for students to reset over the course of the semester. She said, “I think physically they just need to, in the schedule, allow us to have one 3-day weekend, or just a day off in the middle of the week randomly.”
Richter de Medieros expressed a desire for more relaxed attendance and grading policies. “The absence policy needs to be extended, because it’s already an ableist and crappy policy. You miss 2 classes and your grade just tanks? Like that’s unacceptable! Especially during a global pandemic, where not only students may be getting sick, but more and more students have to work.”
There have been some positive experiences among the negative, however. Drew said that despite Willamette being switched to predominantly remote learning, she has still seen a fair bit of engagement in many of her classes. She said, “I think my overall experience [with online learning] is one in which I’ve had really generous students who are willing to meet me more than halfway, to make it work.” Richter de Medieros said that she has also had positive experiences on the other side of this, having very accommodating professors that are willing to work with her to make sure she succeeds.
Drew said that she thinks some students have experienced learning benefits because of Zoom. “I’ve really enjoyed that people are experiencing less social anxiety in class, given they can turn videos off, or if they want to click a pen loudly or do something with their feet, they can just mute it.”
When asked about how Zoom has shaped the culture of learning at Willamette, Kurtenbach added on to her previous point by saying that there is much less time that students have to get a break, saying that as a student, “you’re engaged in some form all the time in Zoom, whether it’s meetings, classes, study sessions…”
Drew added that there are fewer opportunities to connect with students more personally, and that forming those integral relationships between faculty and students now feel more scheduled than anything. She said, “Now I’m not going to have any chance encounters, or wiggle room to just connect on that one-on-one personal way.”
Students and professors alike are hopeful that Willamette will resume their regular in-person classes by the fall of 2021. Kurtenbach said that online learning is “detrimental to the way that Willamette runs its education, which is in-person, discussion-based, small groups.”
Drew added, “My hope is that we would re-emphasize being back in classrooms, that I wouldn’t want to see the pandemic change permanently, this thing we have to offer via high-impact teaching.” Though no one is entirely sure about the future of learning at Willamette, many are hopeful that as the pandemic improves, the chance for regular classes to resume will increase.