Combatting “Zoom Fatigue”: Passive Class Participation

Skyler Simpkins ’23

Opinion Editor

We have all, inevitably, treated our Zoom class as a podcast: low volume in the background while we go about our daily lives. Our virtual classes have merely turned into white noise embedded in the daily routines of pandemically-bound Americans. How can we counter this force: the overwhelming urge to neglect the idea of being enrolled in classes due to their encapsulation on a pixelated screen at which we must strain our eyes? There are multiple ways to fight this so-called “Zoom fatigue,” but these ways often involve the unwanted invasion of privacy into the homes of students. So how do we combat “Zoom fatigue” while also protecting the privacy of students?

The easiest solution to the problem of “Zoom fatigue” is to ensure that students always keep their cameras operational. Aside from the erroneous requisite of technological access to a computer camera that is not inclusive to all socio-economic backgrounds, this plan does little to help students learn as it impales students’ realm of privacy. When students are forced to follow the camera requirement, they quickly build up resentment for the class. Their minds float to concerns about what can be seen in the background, if the class can hear their parents fighting, or if their personal life choices will be exposed to numerous people they may not even know. “Keep your cameras on” has become a feared phrase in modernity as it allows students’ insecurities to block their pathway to learning and general productivity. However, without a camera, life is a reality like that described above: classes are uninteresting podcasts that are no longer an element of our day. Cameras are not the only factor in maintaining interest in class; instead, classes could be modified to require either active or passive participation.

Participation in classes always keeps students on their toes. This class participation does not always have to be a graded component; instead, the professor uses these tactics to ensure that their students are tuned to the lessons of the day. (Participation should sometimes be a graded component; however, the grade is less important than the professor providing adequate means for students to participate in the activities in class). A professor should call on students at random to ask them a question about something in class. These questions should never have right or wrong answers as this only increases the anxiety of the students.

When students are allowed to voice their opinions on scientific anomalies or eighteenth-century literature, the educational process is cherished and not condemned to right or wrong. Active participation such as this, however, does increase the anxiety of some students; instead, passive participation can be used to maintain interest in class while not increasing the stress of students too afraid to speak or give their opinions in class. The best way passive participation has been used in my classes so far has been through the software Poll Everywhere. Through this software, students answer questions in a variety of formats. Professors track the answers made, and some professors only grade on the participation aspect of the question, not the answer. This is the best way to ensure students stay engaged in Zoom class without unnecessary invasions of privacy or triggering of students’ anxiety.

“Zoom fatigue” is not an unconquerable force in modernity. As long as professors introduce participation methods that do not unnecessarily stress the students, Zoom classes will no longer be mere white noise but an actual participatory element of our lives. Our new academic terrain calls for patience and understanding by both students and professors. Introducing participatory elements with no correct answer is a great way to reign in students’ attention, disallow wandering attention spans, and allow professors to maintain a more significant relationship with their students across the screen.

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