After my Tuesday morning, afternoon and night of back-to-back Zoom classes, I felt utterly exhausted, drained and unfocused. I tried to participate in class, but my voice was lost in the five others shouting the answer at the same time. When we were split up into breakout rooms, it felt awkward and the group fell silent after a minute of mindless discussion. The class lecture and discussion was live, sure, but live only by definition. You see the faces of your professor and your peers, you are in real time and you can hear their voices — but so much is lost behind that computer screen.
In an average classroom setting, getting to know your professors and peers in person is almost inevitable. Your professor may call on you to answer questions, you might have to present in front of your peers and you can become attuned to the collective noise -— the breaths, the sighs, the ticking of the clock. These noises are normal for a classroom environment, but what happens when your roommates are laughing in the next room, your neighbors are blasting music or there are dogs barking outside your window? These types of ambient noises are detrimental to learning but seem to come hand in hand with Zoom class from home. According to Dr. Victor de Andrade, an audiologist and lecturer, this increased ambient noise affects “more complex cognitive and learning abilities, as a result of learners’ poorer motivation and higher levels of annoyance.”
I know that, in addition to the detriments caused by ambient noise, sitting at the screen for hours has the potential to end my learning and curiosity for the day. The exhaustion of staring at the computer screen for hours stifles my critical thinking skills and drives me to watch Netflix or take a nap instead. Preventblindness.org explains how increased exposure to blue light through computers, phones and tablets “can disturb the wake and sleep cycle, leading to problems sleeping and daytime tiredness.” In addition, overexposure to blue light can increase cortisol levels in the body, which is our stress hormone. An overexposure of our body to cortisol can increase risks of experiencing anxiety or depression, according to blockbluelight.com.
Columbia University Professor Sandra Okita writes, “Social interaction plays an important role in learning. Interacting with other people has proven to be quite effective in assisting the learner to organize their thoughts, reflect on their understanding and find gaps in their reasoning.” Okita brings up a brilliant point. After leaving the classroom with other students, there have been many times where I have felt utterly confused, or I have left lectures filled with excitement and pending curiosity. However, after a Zoom call, I leave the meeting alone and tend not to think of the lecture at all. A lack of change in scenery may also play a part in this as well. I no longer have my time to think as I walk through campus after class. In fact, my bed is staring at me the whole time and it seems all I want to do is jump right back in it.
Another detriment of Zoom affects professors, which in turn, also affects students. Your professors can judge how a lesson went simply by reading the gazes of their students. Are the students’ heads nodding in agreement or are they nodding off in boredom? Additionally, students are allowed to listen to the thoughts and questions of their individual peers in an orderly manner. You raise your hand, speak and a conversation ensues. However, on Zoom, there appears to be a constant need to apologize, to stop a thought from happening — whether it’s another student talking at the same time or when your internet connection lapses, it creates an uncomfortable environment for constructive conversation. In fact, it has the potential to discourage students from sharing at all, leaving everyone in an awkward situation.
Anthropology teaches us how important communication is in human interaction and especially in learning. Professor Susan. D Blum from the University of Notre Dame explains in an article that the skills that humans learned in how to effectively communicate, like “eye gaze, patterns for rapid turn taking and near universal reliance on microsecond timing” is taken away from us on Zoom. She writes, “All the communicative signs that embodied humans rely on are thinned, flattened, made more effortful or entirely impossible. Yet we interpret them anyway.” and calls the current situation “a tale of human-technology-semiotic mismatch.” Blum explains how the ways we are normally accustomed to communicating are minimized or entirely taken away through the computer screen and humans are “attuned to each other’s complete presence,” meaning being aware of the actual person and their breaths, movements and the flow of a conversation. Instead of communicating the way we are used to, we are now misinterpreting each other’s presence through the awkward and clunky conversations via Zoom leading to a “mismatch” between humanity and technology. Zoom class can try to come close to replicating an in classroom environment, but technology can never truly be a substitute for the human interaction we need to live and to learn.
Online learning even affects our ability to retain information that we just learned, making things like exams harder for us. Zoom is an alternative that is necessary to continue our higher education in these difficult times, but it doesn’t come without a price to pay for students and professors alike. Our levels of exhaustion, frustration, tiredness and decreased motivation play major negative roles in the era of Zoom learning. In order to be successful, we all have to go the extra mile to stay engaged and focused.
Clarissa Del Re is a senior majoring in English.