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Combating Zoom Fatigue in the Online Classroom

  • Zoom Fatigue
    Cognitive Overload:  Making a Zoom session engaging through interactive activities can combat Zoom Fatigue.  
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Have you sat through Zoom or other videoconferencing sessions and felt fatigued afterwards? Zoom Fatigue is Real. During the pandemic, if you have found yourself sitting most of the time and not being active while working and learning on Zoom, these factors are contributing to your Zoom fatigue. A Zoom environment can cause cognitive overload — think about listening to the instructor, while trying to comprehend the presentation and looking at everyone whose camera is on. You are constantly multitasking which has proven to hinder learning and comprehension.

This past year as many university and K-12 classes transitioned to online learning, April Lawrence, associate director of eLearning at the School of Education, presented webinars to William & Mary instructors on methods to combat Zoom fatigue.

As an educator with more than 20 years of experience working in virtual learning modes, she knows how quickly Zoom fatigue can happen. She suggests sharing an agenda at the start of each Zoom session so that students and attendees have a guide for the activities and expectations throughout the session. Designing Zoom sessions as a series of activities can help both presenters and attendees have a more engaging Zoom session. Read on to discover her instructional strategies for combating Zoom fatigue that can be applied both in virtual classrooms as well as Zoom meetings or presentations:
  1. Provide clear instructions
    Providing instructions at the beginning of class and continued guidance throughout a Zoom session are extremely helpful to students especially during long classes. Do not assume that just because students are more tech savvy that they know how to use all the features of Zoom. Verbal cues also assist students in understanding the expectations of the instructor that are unique to online learning such as having video and audio on or off. Remember there are also helpful Zoom tools such as the chat box for questions and an option to “raise your hand” using an icon on the video screen.
  2. Check for understanding
    Just as you would in a face-to-face class, it is important to check for understanding to ensure that students are comprehending the material being taught. Gauge the level of understanding by asking content-related questions. This may seem more difficult in a virtual setting, however using the Poll tool in Zoom provides individual insight into comprehension.
  3. Chunk your time
    Have you ever been in a Zoom session that felt like it would never end? Building in breaks or activities that allow for time away from the computer gives students a mental rest and time to regroup before resuming the Zoom session. Besides providing a break away from the Zoom session, examples of activities to encourage a pause include solving a problem, reading or listening to a podcast. Students could also be persuaded to go on a walk and communicate with others away from Zoom or use a collaborative annotation tool — any cross-platform mode that has the audience offline and then return to share or work together on an assignment.
  4. Utilize breakout rooms
    Breakout rooms are a great Zoom tool for collaboration and facilitating small group discussion. They can be either preassigned or random and a prompt can be used to provide structure to the discussion. They can also build community within the classroom that would naturally occur in an in-person setting.
  5. Invite guest facilitators
    Unlike in a face-to-face classroom, there are multiple modes of communication a professor must respond to during a Zoom session including microphones and the chat box in order to successfully communicate with students. Having support during these sessions allows the professor to focus on the presentation while a Graduate Assistant (GA) or Teaching Assistant (TA) can respond to questions or technical problems that may arise. A guest speaker or GA/TA could also take over for part of the presentation giving the professor a break and an opportunity to connect with students individually and answer questions. Another option to engage the class is to select a student panel to lead discussion.
  6. Use props
    Props, such as post-it notes, can be used to promote active learning. To quickly engage students and encourage discussion, have students answer questions with “yes” and “no” written post-it notes or have them find an object close by that represents who they are.
  7. Brainstorm
    Brainstorming can be an interactive learning mode on a digital platform and there are a variety of tools to engage students. Whiteboard in Zoom is a tool that allows both the professor and students to share their ideas by “writing on a whiteboard” on a shared screen. Every teacher knows its important for students to annotate as they actively read and Zoom has built-in annotation tools with the option to export and save for later reference. Google Docs is a free, live document sharing tool that can be used to collaborate during a synchronous class, especially if students are working together in small groups. Simply provide a link in the chat box of a Zoom session to share information and resources stored in a Google Docs. By adding the word “copy” to the end of a Google Docs URL, the document becomes a copy that can be downloaded and saved for personal use. Padlet is another brainstorming tool to quickly receive feedback during a presentation, where students can post comments on a board. For video sharing, Flipgrid is a tool that allows users to record and post videos on any mobile device.
  8. Allow time for reflection and conceptualization
    Every teacher knows the importance of metacognition and reflecting on new information learned. A prompt can be used to prime thinking and engage students in the presentation. Students can dually code information by making a concept map, graphic organizer, drawing, etc. An example would be to draw a square and divide into four boxes and write down or draw four takeaways from a presentation.