When the first lockdown was announced in March, many universities were forced to fully or partly online. Online classes became the norm, socializing became digital, and screen time increased. The classroom became a forgotten pastime, as we only needed a good internet connection and a comfy place to sit, in order to go to university. A brief period between September and October saw some of us return to face to face teaching, until a second lockdown sent us back online. The venue for online classes – zoom.

In April, a Zoom announcement revealed that “over 90,000 schools across 20 countries” are teaching online classes through zoom. The peak of the pandemic in March saw 200 million daily meeting participants on zoom, compared to 10 million daily pre-pandemic participants last December.

It goes to show that many universities have turned to zoom, particularly during lockdown, in an attempt to keep students working towards their degrees. Zoom has provided a way for students to attend classes from the comfort of their own homes, which is particularly useful for students who are self-isolating, commuting and living in areas with high infection rates. This will continue to have both negative and positive effects on students, who have had to adapt to the idea of ‘zoom universities’ for the foreseeable future.

A significant side-effect of online classes on students, is the increased amount of students suffering from ‘zoom fatigue’. The increased academic and time demands of spending hours a day on zoom, can be mentally and physically straining on students. Students have enough going on in their personal lives, without the pressure of trying to gain their degrees (which can affect their future careers) during the pandemic.

A News@NorthEastern article by Molly Callahan, saw Callahan speak to Laura Dudley, a behavior analyst at Northeastern University. Dudley said that when zoom shows someone their own face “in addition to those of the people with whom they’re speaking. This has the effect of “putting a giant mirror in front of you during a meeting,” …. And, without being able to establish eye contact, it’s hard to know when people are and aren’t looking at you, which can contribute to zoom fatigue.

“As such, people are spending a lot of time worrying about and checking whether they look approachable and professional…. It’s draining to feel like you have to be ‘on’ for the entire meeting” Dudley added.

Dr Linda Kane, a Cyberpyschologist at Edge Hill University, suggested that the main causes of zoom fatigue are due to the long and short term effects of students having to increase their screen time during the pandemic, especially as “it is difficult to tease work and leisure apart” when you’re online all day.

“The unique thing about this idea of zoom fatigue is that it possibly comes from the overexertion of trying to monitor things like social interaction, which is quite effortful. So, you’re trying to fill in the gaps [left by the pandemic, when it comes to work and socializing],

and you can see your own face online, and being self conscious, and self presentation can feed into that as well”, adds Kane.

The cyberpsychologist also spoke about the importance of maintaining connections with each other, as aspects of our lives start to go online. You can pre record online lectures, but it doesn’t have the same effect that online lectures have, when they are taught online. Kane suggests that a lot of the benefits of these types of lectures come from them fulfilling the need for students to have “human connection, and contact and relatedness, and a lot of the learning comes from that. So, schools that have been fully online have still managed to instill a sense of community, and the communication that has been very effective. Ones that have been less effective have sort of assumed that students will just get on with it, but not fully acknowledging the amount of challenges that students may face, that have studied in a different way before [the pandemic].”

There are a number of zoom tips for students who are facing these challenges and who want to avoid or ease symptoms of ‘zoom fatigue’ such as:

Take a Break After Online Classes: If zoom meetings are draining your energy, use zoom when you have too and then take a break, before using your laptop again. This break could simply be getting something to eat, reading a book, or going outside for a little while.

Turn Off Your Camera/Mic: The idea of having to present ‘your best self’ when you know others can see and hear you and your surroundings, have been causing you additional stress. If possible, you may want to consider turning off your camera and mic during zoom classes until you need to (for example, when it’s your time to speak). Without the worry of always having to be on view, you can sit in a more comfortable place, have a snack, and concentrate better on the work you have to do.

It is important for students to remember that zoom isn’t just for online classes, you can also have fun, as a lot of student unions, theatres, pubs, and clubs have started to provide virtual activities for people to get involved in on zoom, in a relaxed and informal manner. Pub quizzes, shows and workshops (like cook o’ longs) can be a great way to enjoy zoom, without the pressure of unviersity. For example, some universities offered free tickets to a Harry Potter zoom quiz, hosted by Warwick Davies, while others held netflix parties, so you can watch movies with your friends from afar.

For the foreseeable future, it seems that zoom and video conferencing in general, are here to stay. If students are able to recognize when they’re feeling the effects of zoom fatigue and have the resources and options of how to deal with the fatigue; means using video conferencing platforms like zoom don’t have to be the daunting or exhausting nightmare, it appears to be.

(I: @thegirlandthecityofbooks)