Converting Zoom lectures into organized class discussions engages students and reduces their online fatigue.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Two months ago, we discussed preparing students for Zoom and working with students in a Zoom class; last month, we reviewed suggestions for making online presentations, using visual aids and managing large classes. In this issue, the discussion will focus on strategies to combat Zoom fatigue.
Some of us are finding a challenge with Zoom fatigue, both for ourselves and our students. We are teaching all – or most of – our classes on Zoom, Moodle, Canvas, or other software programs. We also are attending Zoom meetings and holding virtual appointments with students. Zoom fatigue is real. This month, we will emphasize how to help reduce online weariness for students.
Strategies to reduce Zoom fatigue
Zoom fatigue is powerful and recurring and true for whatever software program - Moodle, Canvas, Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime and others - you are using. It is part of our everyday lives during this pandemic.
There are many tactics to help students cope with Zoom fatigue with most of them incorporating ways to make students more active and engaged with the material. Since Zoom classes tend to become lectures for students, we need to convert the lectures into discussion sessions. The following 10 suggestions may be helpful.
- Provide an agenda for each class session indicating the sequence of topics that will be covered. This provides students with the whole picture of what you have planned for the class. Reviewing the agenda as you go through the lecture, demonstration, or discussion helps students stay on track and focus on the material.
- Include organizers in your lecture. When shifting from one section to another, use a slide with an image or a quote appropriate to the new topic. It gives students a sense of what is coming next and provides everyone a chance to take a short break while you can ask questions to ascertain whether students have understood what you just explained.
Remember this opportunity requires planning for questions. Do not ask, “Is there anything that is not clear?” or “Does anyone have any questions?” Both subtly indicate the students must be dumb if they have questions since you just reviewed and explained the ideas. Instead, ask questions such as, “What are the three most important aspects of what we discussed?” or “When would the suggestions I just made be inappropriate, ineffective or inefficient?” Note that these questions promote critical thinking while the first two do not.
- Explain the reasons screens freeze during Zoom calls and remind students to do what they can to prevent it. It is frustrating for students and often takes rebooting their iPad, laptop, or computer which reduces their time in class and can cause disruption since you must admit them again from the waiting room. A major reason screens freeze is insufficient operating memory and students should turn off YouTube, video programs and other software that use a lot of memory. Other reasons include motion, which means moving back and forth in front of the camera, getting up and down, or moving around in the camera’s range. Students should try to minimize their large movements.
- Encourage students to prepare for the Zoom lecture or discussion. If they have done the reading and developed questions or completed activities, they are typically more interested in what will happen in class and more likely to actively participate. Placing their notes in front of them provides a place to make corrections and suggestions for questions and comments on the material.
- Require activity during Zoom classes. Whether it is a three-hour class, a one-hour class or some other time period, students are not used to just simply listening. Build in time for small group discussion using Break Out Rooms, a great technique for starting a new topic or applying a set of concepts since it motivates students to think about the material with peers and then report out their ideas. It also promotes thinking. You can ask students to post their thoughts on the chat function and you can read them or call on them by name or raised hands. Just moving the hands and using the chat or reaction functions keeps most students engaged.
- Encourage students to doodle, take notes and fidget. Students have a lot of energy and sitting in a chair focusing on a screen is not an engaging activity. Students’ minds can go to sleep with passive sitting regardless of your expertise at explaining new ideas and reviewing concepts. The more they move their hands and keep their minds engaged, the more they focus on the material and new concepts. Additionally, the continual focus on you and other students in thumbnail images eliminates awareness of non-verbal cues and peripheral vision which new research has found strains the brain. Encourage some movement but not so much that students’ screens freeze.
- Schedule stretch breaks where everyone closes their video cameras (to avoid freezing) and moves about, stretches, and loosens the tightness from sitting and focusing on a small screen. These breaks give students a chance to use the bathroom, move their body and breathe deeply without disrupting the entire group.
When announcing the break, provide a specific time frame, such as 10 minutes. (A longer period of time may be required for longer classes.) Recognize sitting in a chair and focusing on the teacher or slides requires a lot of attention and energy. There are no other students to watch or notice and limited opportunities to read the reactions of their fellow students.
- Discourage multitasking or working on other projects and assignments since that reduces attention to what is happening in the virtual classroom. Although many of our students and ourselves are proud of being able to do many things at the same time, the result is often reduced attention to one or more of the functions we are supposedly doing. Encouraging a single focus also teaches them how to stay attentive.
- Do not assume students are not paying attention if they are not smiling and looking at their screen camera with bright eyes. Many students pay attention by thinking, writing on paper, and musing over what we are saying. They do not process information in the same way, and we need to recognize that fact and not assume someone not directly looking at you is not paying attention.
- Hide your video from yourself so you are not always conscious of how you look. In regular classroom teaching, we rarely saw ourselves when explaining ideas or demonstrating techniques. Instead, we were focused on student faces and non- verbal behavior. Zoom has made many of us more attentive to how we look and whether we smile, often to the detriment of our comfort in the classroom and our effectiveness as teachers.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.
Click here to read how another culinary instructor, Leigh Uhlir of Kendall College described Zoom fatigue in students and herself.