Improve your mental health and make your online classes more engaging and easy to digest
Let’s face it.
We are kind of getting sick of Zoom, or Teams, or whatever other videoconferencing tools we are using. It’s exhausting.
Being in front of a computer all day long is exhausting. But we were all used to that before Covid-19, sort of. But being in front of a computer with our camera and microphone on most of our day is exhausting to a whole new level. We are in the spotlight all the time, all of the sudden.
Whether is a department meeting, or a research committee, or a virtual class, Zoom has become our ‘can’t live without’ app. And while there are many benefits we are for sure valuing — especially the convenience when it comes to unnecessary meetings — , it can be challenging and it can easily become a burden for both students and professors.
Zoom classroom fatigue is real and more common than we can imagine. In this post, I go through simple strategies that will help you and your students fight online classroom fatigue. Not only this will improve your mental health, but it will also make your online classes more engaging and easy to digest.
1. Balance synchronous and asynchronous activities
When it comes to online classes, it is important to understand that time and pace have not the same connotations as in a traditional physical classroom. While you can plan for 3 hours of face-to-face teaching, you may not do so for online lectures.
Remote learning, to be effective, needs to rely on different activities that happen both during and outside the lecture hours.
Being in front of a zoom conference for over 40 minutes straight is just unproductive. Students, no matter how engaged they are in your lecture, have many distractions at their disposal and easily space out from the conversation.
A great way to avoid the loss of your students’ attention and fatigue is to blend both synchronous and asynchronous activities all along during your lecture hours.
You can follow the flipped classroom approach, for example, and give your students material to read and analyze before the zoom meeting (asynchronous) and then conduct a Socratic seminar during the lecture time (synchronous).
Not only this will make the zoom lecture more interactive and rich, but it will also give the opportunity to students with technical and technological issues to follow up with the class and not left behind.
2. Plan frequent short breaks
Our attention span in online lectures is shorter than in traditional in-person classes. We receive stimuli from different sources and the opportunity for procrastination is vivid.
If you want to keep the attention of your students and help them keep up with the lecture content is important to plan frequent brief breaks.
Imagine your lecture as a bunch of Lego blocks. Instead of having one big construction handed to your students, give them small chunks so they can assemble the pieces.
A good idea to implement this is to break your slide presentation in small sections and inserting a ‘break alert’ between your sections. This will help you not forget having frequent brief breaks, even when you are in an inspiration zone.
Planning the breaks when you are preparing your lecture is essential because it gives you better control over the amount of content you want to share. In this way, you make sure you finish a concept or topic before having a break and avoid the loose ends. Also, if your students know in advance when they will have breaks, they are more likely to put extra effort to keep focus until the next break.
3. Assign discussion leader roles for each session
Interaction can be challenging when you are conducting online lectures. And sometimes you may feel you’re talking to a computer and that no one is behind those black squares.
You ask a question and an awkward silence takes over. It can be because students are shy, disengaged, distracted, or just have connection issues. Whatever the reason is, it is always a painful situation for everyone in the (virtual) room.
An original way to prevent this from happening is naming discussion leaders among the students. At every lecture, you can randomly select 4 to 5 students to be the leaders and moderators for the discussions of the day. By assigning these roles, you are empowering students to voice their opinions and also inviting them to take ownership of their learning.
In virtual classrooms, interaction is difficult because students don’t feel solicited to interact and they feel there is no implicit, nor explicit, request to take part. When you give them the responsibility to lead the discussion, they become accountable for their learning.
The leader roles are not only something beneficial for the students assigned with this mission but to class as a whole. Sometimes it is easier or more acceptable to be called out by a classmate than by the professor. Other students feel also responsible for their classmates’ performance as leaders and are keener to take part in the discussion and keep the interactions.
4. Make space for fun
Teaching and learning can be fun. Games, energizers, and ice-breakers are a great way to break the monotony of a course. Not only they bring up some fun to the classroom, but they also increase focus and improve learning.
If learning through games is effective in the physical classroom, there’s no reason it wouldn’t work remotely.
Like you plan for breaks and a blend of synchronous and asynchronous activities to do during your virtual classes, you may also make time for fun.
You can, for example, start your class with a short fun warm-up game to set the ambiance.
You need not prepare a complex ice breaker. Something as simple as doing a gif contest will do. You can ask your students to share a gif that represents their current state of mind — and body — at then have them vote for the best one. Everyone would have a laugh and will get energized to start the lecture.
You can try also an emoji tournament or a show and tell. 10 to 15 minutes is enough to get the ambiance going and give students time to energize and get ready to absorb new knowledge and stay focus.
Another effective way to make learning fun is by instilling some gamification into your assessment activities. You can host fun quizzes or polls all along with the lecture by using apps such as Kahoot, Flippity, Playfactile, or Slido. You’ll be assessing student knowledge and guaranteeing some entertainment and diminishing Zoom fatigue.
5. Use break rooms frequently
It’s quite difficult to maintain student engagement and follow up on students’ learning when you have to give virtual lectures to a big number of participants. When your class size reaches 20 or more participants is hard to ensure everyone is keeping up.
To avoid losing your students to distractions, you can use break rooms to work with smaller groups. If you use the Zoom premium license you can create break rooms easily by setting them up on your account settings. If you don’t have the premium license or you use another videoconferencing system that doesn’t provide the breakout room option, you can program short slots to work with each group of students separately.
So you can program the first 40 minutes to give your lecture to the entire class, and then have 10 to 15′ one-to-one group-meeting slots with each team to follow up on their learning and progress. With the breakout feature, you can assign students from the same group to different virtual rooms so they can work together without the distraction or mess of other students working in similar activities. Also, it is easy for the professor to identify students that are struggling with the course notions and provide more personalized support to each participant, without spending much more time in office hours giving help to students.
Breakout rooms are also great for teamwork and to increase student participation.
We all hope we’ll be back to our physical classrooms soon. Everyone — students and professors — misses face-to-face learning. In-person classes will return, eventually. However, online will not go away.
Remote learning and remote work will be now part of our new normal. Hybrid, flexible, and flipped classrooms will become the new norm. The use of digital tools and online learning platforms will continue to speed up. And some meetings and other gatherings will continue to be held online.
No matter what the future of education looks like, one thing is for sure, Zoom will continue to be part of our daily life. So, if we want to keep our mental health and prevent burnout and fatigue, we better start using strategies to make our virtual courses more energizing and easy to digest.
Online teaching (and learning) need not be painful, we just need to reimagine our teaching approach and have the proper tools to make it memorable and rewarding for both students and teachers.