Airing of Grievances: Zoom University

Gabe Darley, Staff Writer

Dear Professors of Tulane University:

I’m writing you today as a student and friend.

I want to start off by thanking you for your hard work throughout this crisis! 

Without a doubt, the institution of online classes in the place of in-person ones has once again proven the dedication of Tulane University to its students and their continuing education. Zoom and Canvas have shown to be very useful tools for teaching and learning, and have made the transition from campus life to hometown life easier by a long shot. And these tools are only as good as the people who use them, so I appreciate all the energy the faculty of Tulane has put into making them work.

Cecilia Hammond | Senior Staff Artist

That being said, the introduction of Zoom and e-learning have come with their own host of issues. Given that summer school is online and fall courses may also be virtual, I urge professors to consider these grievances. 

Don’t make me turn on my camera.

It’s lonely to sit on one end of a computer and lecture to black screens, I get it. But I don’t even want to see my unwashed face and bedhead on my own screen, and I definitely don’t want to subject my peers to that. Everyone has your video pinned anyway, so I can promise you that my floating head isn’t adding anything to the classroom environment. While I’m required to stay home, I don’t want to put effort into my appearance. Please, let me be dirty in peace. 

Replacing tests with papers isn’t an “accommodation.

Something I’ve noticed while working from home is that my attention span is 20 times shorter. Believe me when I say that logging on to my 9 a.m. calculus class and sitting still in front of the camera takes every ounce of willpower I can muster. Introducing me to a seven-page paper topic in the place of what could have been a multiple-choice Canvas test is not an act of kindness. I’m having a hard enough time remembering to sit down and eat lunch during my daily 18-hour house arrest. There’s no way I can focus long enough to make leeway on yet another essay. 

Breakout rooms aren’t effective.

By my estimate, I’ll only actually speak once in every 40 times I’m put in a breakout room. To be candid, these are almost a nice mental break from having to listen to the lecture, except for the presence of one kid staring blankly into the camera at me waiting for me to tell him the answer to the math problem I can’t do. Work doesn’t happen here, professor, and I’m not sure what gave you the impression it would.

Don’t play me a video over screen share.

I’m willing to bet this BBC segment on ocean pollution is fantastic, but I wouldn’t know because it’s impossible to understand through the lagging Zoom connection. Participating in this kind of activity is what I imagine going to the “moving pictures” in 1923 felt like, as I’m sometimes seeing only three still images every 30 seconds. Send me a YouTube link, I’ll watch it later.

Class participation really isn’t going to be the same

I live in a household with five other people, which is a living situation that truly breathes life into the phrase “never a quiet moment.” When I attend your lecture, I’m most likely in a shared space. Either I’m sharing the dining room with my sisters (who are constantly fighting), the kitchen with my parents (who continuously blast NPR), or the basement with a running drying machine (which sounds like a a combination of a leaf blower and a vacuum cleaner).

On any given day, I would sooner join the next load of laundry in the machine than unmute myself. There are ways to continue to make class interactive! Whether that means looking for answers through the Chat window, using Kahoot or maybe just asking for a thumbs-up reaction every now and then, so be it. But I don’t think forcing random students to verbally answer questions through their computer microphone is really fair game.

I recognize that as a school and community, we are doing our very best to handle the barrage of things being thrown at us daily. The tools we have for online school are undoubtedly great substitutions for in-person interactions in a crisis like this. 

But let’s not pretend that Zoom is something that it’s not. It’s not a classroom, and it’s not business as usual. It’s something entirely new and needs to have its own set of guidelines.

If you’re one of those professors that’s evil for fun, I’m sure you’ve been rolling your eyes for five minutes. But I believe a good teacher, someone who truly cares about the wellbeing and learning potential of their students, listens to feedback and adapts. These are small changes you can make as a leader and educator to make your students more comfortable. Why not make them?

Sincerely,

Student navigating Zoom University