Zoom in, Zoom out

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Image description: the word “zoom” made up of black and white stripy lines. Both letter “o”s spell out “zoom in” and “zoom out” in capital letters.

When my mother warned “If you keep looking at screens your eyes will go square”, I don’t think she was referring to online classes, but, nevertheless, I wonder if my tutors would accept that as a reasonable excuse for missing lectures. There has never been a more technologically convenient time for a shift to virtual learning, with platforms such as Teams and Zoom enabling work to continue almost as normal.

Almost, but not quite. Video calls do not mean the same meetings take place over an online platform. Instead, we have all had to adapt our lectures, classes and tutorials to fit a virtual format. Online teaching is both physically and psychologically different, and we have all had to adjust to this new method of learning. Technological competence has never been more essential, which is less of an issue for the students, who were born and raised in the age of technology. Instead it is tutors who have had to master screen sharing, annotations and the dreaded share audio.

Although technical glitches are less common as we get further and further into the term, the initial shock of online teaching comes with navigating a new world of muted mics and audio delays. Very quickly we have had to learn the new etiquette for accidentally talking over people, muting yourself mid-sentence or worse, unmuting yourself at an inopportune moment (yes, I have been in a meeting where one of the participants unmuted themselves while ranting about said meeting).

Our first experiences of platforms such as Zoom most probably emerged over the summer, as a way to speak to old friends or family. However, reconnecting with people who you know is very different from meeting a brand new tutor; online platforms can make these relationships with new people quite limited. Reading body language and facial expressions becomes complicated, and the lack of pre- and post-meeting chit-chat lends an abruptness to classes which remove some of the mitigating factors of working in such an intense environment. 

Imagine going to your classes every day in front of a mirror. This is what we are faced with in every Zoom and Teams meeting; I am Narcissus and the small zoom square is my pond. I’ve given more presentations to myself this term than I have done to any of my classmates.

Online teaching for many students means sitting at one desk for hours at a time, a daunting prospect when you consider that some of them can work for 12 hours in a single day. Every element of this new schedule is draining, from the constant screen exposure to the muscular impact of constant sitting and working. “Stretch at your desk” routines aren’t quite enough to offset this sudden and overwhelming transition to stationary work. Most of us are probably working at desks in our rooms, redefining your emotional relationship with such a space. I know several students who avoided working in their rooms pre-COVID in order to separate their work life from an area associated with rest. The emotional strain of work and play being confined to one room cannot be overstated.

Imagine going to your classes every day in front of a mirror. This is what we are faced with in every Zoom and Teams meeting; I am Narcissus and the small zoom square is my pond. I’ve given more presentations to myself this term than I have done to any of my classmates. For many of us this is more exposure to our own faces than we’ve ever experienced before – something which can be incredibly distracting. 

Apparently, the introduction of virtual learning coincided with an increase in sales of corporate-wear tops and jogging bottoms across online clothing shops. One of the biggest benefits of working with a waist-up camera is that I am free to wear the comfiest bottoms I own, including pyjamas and onesies.

Put yourself in space or on the top of the Radcam. I once completed a class in my tutor’s office sitting at her desk.

Online classes created a multitude of opportunities for comfort while learning, from slipper socks to hot water bottles. With one tap of the camera-off button I am free to munch on crisps or whatever I fancy (please remember to mute yourself if you’re going to try this at home) with the simple excuse that turning your camera off increases bandwidth.

My flatmate is Italian and spent most of her classes in virtual Trinity in her garden sipping prosecco and catching a tan. Virtual learning also brought us the gift which is the virtual background. Don’t let boring professors fool you into thinking that blurring the background of your call is the solution; get creative! Put yourself in space or on the top of the Radcam. I once completed a class in my tutor’s office sitting at her desk.

As well as eliminating any journey time, working from home also allows us to remain in a space in which we feel comfortable. After a particularly tense class we might feel grateful that we are only a few steps away from our bed, or perhaps even in it. There can be no getting lost in the maze of college quads, or accidentally walking into the wrong meeting. 

The most powerful feature to emerge from virtual learning is the temptation of the WiFi button. We’ve all done it, whether you’ve got the energy to turn it off and back on and act out a whole “oh no, I think my connection is terrible!” or you’ve just outright turned it off. Too many tutorials have gone by with that tiny button mocking me – such a simple exit strategy and a foolproof one at that. The WiFi button is the modern equivalent of catching a ‘nasty cold’ – my advice is simply to use it sparingly so as not to arouse suspicion. This way, we may continue to deploy the WiFi button when needed. 

Though it has both pros and cons, the simple fact of virtual learning is that it is essential during the national lockdown. We are lucky to live in an age where online classes can be conducted at any capacity. The alternatives might have included classes by email, phone call or a lack of classes altogether, and during a global pandemic beggars can’t be choosers.

Art by Iona Shen 

 

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