Too Much Zoom?

man with hand over eyes burnout

What is Zoom fatigue?


Over the last few months, there have been multiple articles written about Zoom fatigue in mainstream publications. The endless hours spent online in front of students, colleagues, friends, and family can be exhausting. Worse, this amount of meetings can become counterproductive to communication, learning, and our well being. According to experts, there are many reasons why long and frequent Zoom calls are so challenging. This post summarizes those findings and presents possible solutions to Zoom fatigue specific to online learning.

Why is Zoom draining?

The BBC conducted interviews with two academics who study workplace dynamics, Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at INSEAD, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, describe Zoom fatigue in terms of physical reactions to the calls, as well as the psychological impact on individuals.1

Their findings include the following challenges:

  1. Audio and video feed are delayed by a second or more and that confuses the brain, which is trying to process facial cues and the rhythm of normal speech.
  2. The sheer number of course sessions, happy hours, and other online meetings don’t allow for downtime between calls. There is little time for self-care.
  3. Watching ourselves on screen can make us self-conscious about our appearance and speech.
  4. Communicating online is a constant reminder that our lives are not normal.
  5. The space between social lives, work, and family has collapsed.

How to beat Zoom overload

Consider the well being of yourself and your students. To combat the sense that you are “on” most of the day, take breaks, walk, stretch, and designate dedicated alone time. Find ways to transition between the competing interests in your life instead of jumping directly from a Zoom call to cooking dinner.

Starting or ending class with five-minute conversations that directly address students’ (and your own) state of mind gives everyone permission to process and share that experience. The Zoom classroom lacks that space before and after learning where students might talk about the difficult exam they just took, or when faculty can speak to a student privately or answer questions. Students could be sent to breakout rooms to discuss issues privately. Adding a break in a long class session can also give everyone time to walk away from the screen.

Give everyone permission to stop staring at themselves (and each other). While it seems logical that engagement will increase when everyone sees each other, sometimes it may counterproductive to require faces to be on screen. Under normal circumstances, eye-contact is not sustained and side conversations and more frequent turn-taking break up the attention paid directly to the speaker. To ease that tension, you may want to take a break from requiring video connections. As it is, if someone is having bandwidth problems, turning off video will help them at least hear the session.

When laying out ground rules for participation, tell students they may switch video off if there is no active learning at that moment. You can also request that students upload a picture to their Zoom profile to display when they are not on camera. This should help break the perception that people not on the screen aren’t paying attention during a Zoom meeting. When working heavily with slides, you too can shut off your video during that part of your meeting.

Integrate smaller conversations into class sessions. Video meetings reduce the natural flow of conversations and lead to fewer moments when students feel comfortable enough to questions or offer opinions. One way to invite inclusive conversations is to open breakout rooms for students to discuss a topic or pose questions to each other or TAs. When the groups reconvene the instructor can ask for summaries from the rooms or answer questions that weren’t resolved. Another tactic is to allow students to think about a question for a minute before asking them to speak up. This allows the focus of the class to make the shift mentally to turn-taking conversations. Finally, to support students who may feel uncomfortable asking questions on camera, allow them to pose them in the chat instead.

References

  1. The reason Zoom calls drain your energy, BBC.com, April 22, 2020
Elise Mueller, Ph.D.

Author: Elise Mueller, Ph.D.

Elise Mueller is the consultant for the language departments at Duke. Her goal is to support their teaching through sound pedagogy and educational technologies. She leads fellowships and workshops on blended teaching, student reflection, portfolios and course design. She is currently grappling with the meaning of a liberal arts education in the 21st century.