Opinion: Online learning needs to change to combat Zoom fatigue

Learning online can present its own set of challenges

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By Charlie Carey

In March, when COVID-19 shut down colleges and university campuses for most students in Vancouver, our usual way of learning was turned upside down.

I wasn’t expecting my return to school to be online and without face-to-face contact with professors and fellow students. Returning to learning after a long hiatus, this sense of community and a collegial institution was a major factor in my decision to return to school.

Hindsight really does give you a 20-20 vision. Although doing their best to pivot into an online format in a short amount of time, it’s clear that both students and professors alike were not technically or emotionally set up to fulfil the requirements of online learning.

Although students are supported by the student services department at Langara College through their student success workshops, the reality of learning online this semester goes beyond what the college can provide in a 20-minute workshop.

 

Zoom fatigue” is definitely real. Having been described as “having to be on all the time” by South Carolina’s Clemson University professor Maria Shuffler, who researched learning through Zoom, this type of mental exhaustion at the end of the day is more draining than just about any other way of learning.

A great disparity has also been shown between learners who have the financial privilege of owning the necessary technical tools to get online at home and those that simply don’t. Also, some may not have a safe or private space at their home to learn without distraction.

Online learning presents its own challenges

I count myself increasingly lucky that I had the tools necessary to connect online. For those students who may only have a mobile phone, or who need access to computer labs and campus services at all times, I imagine these barriers would make it almost impossible to be learning at the moment.

Moving forward into 2021, and the second half of this academic year, I hope courses can be rewritten for online learning, rather than trying to tailor old in-person curriculums to an online format. The difficulties we have experienced deserve an overhauled approach.

I hope that the mandatory requirements for being online, and effectively chained to our screens every day, will be loosened. I hope classes will rely less on three-hour Zoom meetings and more on self-directed learnings with guidance available inside office hours.

The idea that learning online is somehow “easier” is just simply untrue. For anyone who ever thought this (including myself), I can categorically say it’s been well and truly debunked.

 

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