Student and Educator Zoom Fatigue
Tired of logging into Zoom for endless college meetings? Anxious about getting back onto the Zoom platform in the upcoming semester? Exhausted from sitting in your home office chair staring at the screen? Got Zoom Fatigue?
Like our students, many of us have already experienced Zoom Fatigue from both distance meetings and teaching, and therefore we have some understanding of our students’ experience. Whether using Zoom or another video-conference platform for distance education, the challenges of Zoom fatigue present obstacles to effective teaching and learning.
Students report experiences such as “It’s exhausting having to pay attention or go to class, and sometimes I’ll have to force myself to pay attention, which is a struggle” -Marco Demelo (1).
Educators like David Cutler report mixed feelings: “I feel differently now with having to rely so much on Zoom. I want to help my students as best as I can, but the hours on Zoom are draining, and I struggle to give the best feedback I can. It’s definitely taxing, but I don’t see any better alternative and I’m grateful for any chance to speak with students during these difficult times, even through video chat” (1).
Origins of Video Zoom Fatigue
One of the reasons it can be so exhausting is the level of attention it requires to conduct video communication while still attending to various modes of human expression. Professor Gianpiero Petriglieri notes that “being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “‘Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally'” (2).
Kari Henley, an expert on virtual events, argues that the brain doesn’t respond well to the typical video feed offered through a passive presentation of Zoom learning: “Webinar participants don’t see the speaker unless it is a tiny box, don’t see each other, and don’t feel a part of a group. As a result, we get bored, the brain gets tired, and we start doing other things. Just think about the emails, articles and other websites you personally have perused during a webinar. That is what your audience is doing no matter how valuable the information. It has become a digital Pavlovian bad habit. Our learning and retention go down to the bare minimum and we typically feel very tired afterwards, and our stress responses go up” (3).
Addressing Video Zoom Fatigue
One method of addressing Zoom Fatigue is for students and educators to strengthen their emotional intelligence. EQ increases our capacity to read and respond to facial cues and experience empathy for others. The greater proficiency we have in this area, the less conscious effort it takes to develop connections with others in an online platform. With increased connection to other learners comes increased focus and engagement.
Educators can make extensive use of the Zoom Breakout Room features to address this issue as well, as small group pairings or trios provide relief from attempts to read facial cues from dozens of participants, and allow one to focus on one or two other people. Both formal breakout room assignments with a focused agenda, and informal breakout room networking breaks can assist in creating a stronger sense of connection and belonging.
It also can be helpful to request that students unmute video (as often as possible) to allow more frequent viewing of participant facial and other communication clues while zooming, or to switch to Speaker View from Gallery View to see a larger image and absorb more expressive cues from the speaker. Alternately, it can also be helpful to intermittently (and deliberately) mute video, or look away from the screen for a few minutes, as image sensory overwhelm and eye strain can be factors in video fatigue as well.
Origins of Audio Zoom Fatigue
Professor Petriglieri also argues that “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” A recent German study demonstrated that even brief audio delays during conferencing “shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused” (2).
Research shows that when students sense a possible threat in a learning environment, the result is disengagement and a disruption to cognitive processing. Given delays of audio from sporadic wifi connections, distracting sounds from accidental unmutings, and attempts of multiple participants to speak simultaneously, audio challenges are another major factor in facilitating synchronous learning meetings and in creating Zoom fatigue.
Addressing Audio Zoom Fatigue
In order to reduce auditory distractions, educators can use the Mute upon Entry meeting setting and the Mute All feature to minimize these sound distractions. They can also ask students to use the Raise Hand feature to manage the timing of student contributions, and ask attendees to try out their cell phone hotspot options (if available) as a backup when their wifi is lagging and causing sound delays or audio/video freezing.
Audio and video challenges are not the only sources of Zoom fatigue. In the next article, I will explore the physical fatigue that often accompanies extended sessions of synchronous distance learning, and methods to address it.
2. “Reducing Zoom Fatigue” https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting
3. “This is Your Brain on Zoom,” Kari Henley, https://medium.com/age-of-awareness