Support students in the blended and online environments? UnZoom!

In our group (PBL#3), much of our discussions for Topic 4 revolved around synchronous and asynchronous online learning activities, their benefits and challenges, and tools to implement them. Our discussions intrigued me to think deeper about the abrupt movement from on-campus courses to online courses due to the pandemic and the challenges different stakeholders in academia, from students to study directors, faced. Among all, I was more specifically thinking about the immediate attention the videoconferencing tools received and the one-to-one mapping of activities probably lots of instructors all around the world tried to make between their previous teaching (learning and assessment) activities and an equivalent online one. The most straightforward mutation for all activities that required the presence of students at one place at the same time is to use an online platform mandating synchronous interaction of its users such as videoconferencing tools, let’s say Zoom.

Have you ever gotten tired of all the Zoom meetings you had in a row at your job? Have you ever experienced a situation in which you spent lots of time and energy preparing and conducting a Zoom meeting with your colleagues and it was in vain without concluding anything (that if it was held face-to-face, at your workplace, communication would be easier and more fruitful)? My answers to these questions are “yes, unfortunately, several times”.

Zoom fatigue and its consequences are most probably not just real for me but my students and likewise for you and your students. Zoom fatigue is the popular and brief replacement for the more generic term “videoconference fatigue” and it refers to the experience of fatigue during and/or after a videoconference, regardless of the specific video conferencing tool used. LIbby Sander and Oliver Bauman have described in their blog post how Zoom meetings are different from in-person meetings and discussed that Zoom meetings, due to their specific attributes, take up a lot of our conscious capacity and they increase our cognitive load. Therefore, when we think about synchronous online learning activities we should not immediately select to have Zoom sessions as if other instructors do the same students end up with nothing but fatigue. If we do so, we also unwittingly discriminate against some of our students. A group of researchers at Blekinge University studied Zoom fatigue and concluded that young introvert women are affected more than others. But the question is what to do instead?

The easiest and maybe even the most frivolous answer is not to use Zoom or UnZoom. Of course, under the pressure of very limited time and resources, Zoomification of education is perhaps one imperfect and temporary solution and, understandably, we cannot easily rethink the design of our courses and we go with the most straightforward solutions. However, knowing different types of synchronous and asynchronous activities and tools and when it is suitable to use them can help us make better decisions considering what we expect our students to achieve in our courses. For example, not all contents we deliver in our synchronous lectures need to be delivered synchronously. We may provide students with recorded videos (if feasible for us) or find and use open educational resources that students can refer to them asynchronously. After a period given for watching the videos or going through the other materials provided, we may hold a workshop/seminar to synchronously interact with our students and engage them in active learning and discussions and guide them through critical thinking activities in which they can apply what they’ve learned. During the workshop(s) we can use, for example, Padelt, Menti, and Google docs and ask students to reflect on what they have learned and find if we need to review some parts or emphasise specific aspects.

Our teaching practices should be dynamic and adaptable based on the situation with the focus on approaches that maximize student engagement and consider students through the whole development cycle of designing or redesigning our courses and not with the focus on the easiest and shortest path to do the tasks on our plate. I want to conclude my post with a quote by Terry Heick:

“The best teachers are the ones that change their minds”

Terry Heick

and I provide some useful links for you if you are motivated to rethink your approaches in your online courses.

Useful resources:

Online Tools for Teaching & Learning

Synchronous and asynchronous learning

Choosing the right mode and technology for your teaching

2 thoughts on “Support students in the blended and online environments? UnZoom!”

  1. Thank you Farzaneh for your insights. I have also thought about how online teaching affects more to women (in particular in my field) and I am looking forward to discuss with you findings.

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