“Zoomed Out” yet? 5 tips to reduce over-saturation


In the two weeks since we shifted to 100% online instruction and remote office-living, I have spent a total of 28 hours on Zoom between teaching and meetings. This does not include another 10 hours spent on video calls with family and friends. To say I am a bit “bug-eyed” and “ergonomically-challenged” would be an understatement. But, in some ways, I feel more connected to certain students, peers, and family members than I have in a long time.

Earlier this week Beckie Supiano from The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a piece that caught my eye: “‘Zoomed Out’: Why ‘Live’ Teaching Isn’t Always the Best.” The piece discusses the realities that Zoom is now a central tool used in teaching, learning, and engaging with peers, friends, and family. It notes that many experts are uncomfortable with this “default mode of remote instruction” and share thoughts by professors and researchers who believe that if used inefficiently or ineffectively, it poses a threat to retention and faculty > student connection.

WSU-Vancouver’s very own Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning, is quoted in the piece. He said in a tweet:

“You know how wiped you feel after that series of Zoom-call meetings you had today?” he wrote. “Because it’s a lot of the energy of face-to-face without many of the psychological rewards of face-to-face? That is your students, too. Consider other ways of communicating.”

Mike’s comments segue nicely into my 5 tips for reducing what I am calling “Zoom fatigue”:

  • 1) Don’t talk at-them; talk with-them.

    I am not one to lecture during my in-person class sessions for more than 10 minutes at a time. I see students gloss-over, lose interest, slump in their chairs. So I am already disciplined in this way – breaking up lectures with discussion and in-class activities. But – that is me, and everyone has different teaching styles. If you are accustomed to heavy lecture and limited interaction, one adjustment you can make in Zoom is pretty simple… talk, pause, discuss, allow for chat comments, and repeat. Take a breath, make sure they are still with you, and ask them to use Zoom features to show they are paying attention. Passive engagement features include chat, reactions and emojis.

    Zoom reactions
    Zoom responses
  • 2) Use break-out rooms for small group discussions.

    Zoom has a terrific feature I tried out for the first time this week called “Breakout Rooms.” You can set them up in advance – or in real-time as students arrive to your session. I used breakout rooms so my Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) teams could meet-up with their CCE Leads. They are also useful for small group discussions or activities. >> Learn more about setting up breakout rooms.

  • 3) Record sessions, allow for optional attendance.

    For these final six weeks of classes, I opted to only mandate attendance for team meet-ups with me or CCE Leads. Instead, I encourage students to join me via live Zoom sessions held during normal class times MWF. I am there, ready with my Topics of the Day and prepared for questions, coaching, and mentoring as needed by those who join me. I usually have 6-15 show up each day and it is great to catch up, see their faces, meet their pets, siblings, and parents, and keep things moving in my curriculum. I use the time to walk them through subjects relevant to the current lesson, assignment overviews, or tutorials. I record each session and post the Zoom recording, along with relevant resources and links in a new space I created in Blackboard. >> Learn more about recording your Zoom sessions (to the Cloud) vs. (locally to your computer)

  • 4) Offer alternative ways to connect.

    If you are concerned about your own Zoom fatigue or the fatigue of your students, consider some alternative ways to connect:

    > Pre-recorded lectures using Panopto

    > Email and/or announcements

    > Text messages (Remind is a cool tool where you can send text messages to students who opt-in to receive them)

    > 1:1 meet-ups with students via phone, blocked out email times (seeing this with my kids’ teachers), or virtual office hours via Zoom

  • 5) Run your own mini “town hall”.

    I attended the WSU Town Hall on Mar 23 and really liked the format. People had the option to submit questions in the week leading up to the meeting that would be answered live by the panel and those attending the session could write in questions, comments, or share resources via chat during the session itself. I like this idea as an alternative for students to engage with faculty as well. A few thoughts:

    1) You could send out a “call” to students a few days before your scheduled town hall session asking them to submit questions about a select topic and then spent the live session answering those questions and allowing them to use the chat to provide additional comments or notes.

    2) Run your live session and use a tool like Padlet for students to submit questions you answer on-the-fly. Submissions can be anonymous.

    3) Is someone in your household particularly fun, interesting, or talented in a way you could tie into your live session? If so, consider an interview format where they join in and answer questions “from the gallery” about specific topics. For example, my daughter Sawyer is an amateur photographer who has developed some great skills in photo editing using Photoshop and Lightroom. I could ask her to sit with me and my digital communications students for a live write-in session where she could chat with them or run a live demonstration. This style could also work with a virtual guest who joins your town-hall-style session. >> Learn more… The Zoom Blog has some tips on running town hall meetings.

I believe that Zoom-fatigue is real and one that should not be ignored. It isn’t really about the tool – it’s about screen time and forcing your brain to be in a certain mode for extended periods. Ultimately you have to experiment, mix things up, and do your best to respond to the needs of your students. Course content can be delivered in multiple ways. Get creative and innovative – use a mix of modalities and delivery methods. As always, you got this and Go Cougs!

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” and “Teaching Tidbits” categories.

Leave a Reply