Life on the other side of Zoom

There are plenty of twitter threads and articles describing the challenges of online teaching. They all look different after some eye-opening conversations with my daughter about how undergraduates are experiencing life during the pandemic.

I found it helpful in understanding what life is like on the other side of Zoom, and thought I would briefly share her experiences.

Whether students are living at home or in off-campus housing, their worlds have largely collapsed into their 10′ x 12′ bedrooms. There they watch 3-4 hours of lectures each day on their laptops, sitting at their desk or lying on the bed three feet away.

When we work, read, etc in our bedrooms or beds, our body disassociates that environment from sleeping. When we spend our evenings staring at computer screens, it disrupts circadian rhythms. When we don’t sleep well, we have difficulty concentrating, learning (creating new memories), and responding quickly (testing).

They do their homework in their rooms as well, also on their laptops. Add in that many classes have added more homework to make up for lost class time or lack of “participation” and added new complications to that work. Courses requires different combinations of learning platforms (e.g., Canvas), homework submission sites (e.g., turnitin), teleconferencing (e.g., Zoom) and software (google docs, MS Office, etc.)—not to mention multiple deadlines.

When they’re done for the day, they most likely catch up with friends or watch something, in their rooms, at their desk or on their beds, on their laptops and phones.

Life for them is small screens in small rooms, outside of which there are few structured activities or outlets for getting on with the rest of life. As a colleague noted, the drama of life outside the classroom is largely unseen as it happens alone in rooms, on screens. Internships cancelled. Studying abroad cancelled. Visas cancelled. Current jobs gone and future ones evaporating. As we approach the end of the semester/quarter, the uncertainty about whether Fall term will be more of the same has started to creep in as well.

Our graduate students face similar conditions: having family and kids at home, spouses working (particularly healthcare workers), and facing their own immediate economic uncertainties.

Anything we can do to acknowledge this experience is valued, anything we can do to improve it is vital. Adapting individual courses by adding more content doesn’t necessarily improve their overall educational experience or well-being.

I don’t have good answers—just wanted to start a conversation.