If you are finishing your work or school day with feelings of exhaustion or tiredness, you’re not alone. Fatigue while working and studying online has become an increasing threat to our well-being since we shifted to remote work at the onset of the pandemic. So what exactly is going on? You might have heard about it, it’s called Zoom Fatigue - a reference to the seemingly endless online video meetings our day now encompasses.
While it’s certainly a cute name, the effect Zoom Fatigue has on our well-being is noticeable. Not only do we feel more tired, we also feel disengaged with our work and colleagues, which in turn, leads to decreases in overall productivity. So how do we combat Zoom Fatigue? Online learning or remote instruction aren’t going away anytime soon for professors or students, so as we head into the fall term, let’s be mindful of what we can do to keep our bodies and mind healthy while learning or teaching over video calls.
We process information differently over video
When engaging in an online conversation, how do you know if a person is paying attention to you? Usually, we determine if a person is paying attention to us if they look directly into the camera. That is to say, if you’re engaging in a video call and the person you’re talking to is looking outside their window, you interpret that action in that they were not paying attention to what you were saying, or that they are distracted or disinterested. Translate that to real-life, how many of us have had 20 min conversations when all we do is look our subjects directly in the eye? Studies have shown that engaging in a “constant gaze” into a person’s face makes us feel uncomfortable and tired. With in-person conversations, we often glance to other parts of the room for differing forms of stimulation to keep our minds engaged - if it isn’t a problem with in-person meetings, why is it not welcomed on video calls?
Ok, this may seem counter-intuitive. For many of us, we’re looking to work more efficiently; how can we get more tasks done in a shorter time frame without sacrificing quality. Mastering that problem is a note-worthy achievable goal for many of us. So what is the low-hanging fruit in our work-day whose efficiency can be improved upon? The zoom meetings. One person talks - the rest just sit and listen. A professor lectures and the students just sit there for hours listening. We’ve all taken the zoom meeting as an opportunity to do other work - check email, respond to slack messages, finish writing that report. Ok, here’s the deal, you need to stop. Research has shown that attempting to do more things at once reduces productivity – the constant switching on-and-off of different parts of your brain as you switch tasks, can reduce productivity by as much as 40%. Plus, your ability to memorize discussion points that were conducted during the meeting is also significantly reduced according to a new Stanford study.
This is a very pertinent issue for students, as their instructors, try and offer your students tips on how to engage in video class lectures more effectively. Here are some more tips:
Stop looking at yourself
Why is that the first thing we do once we enter a video call is look at ourselves? You may not acknowledge it, but research says otherwise. On average, we spend more time looking at ourselves than the person speaking, during a video call. Now that’s some serious distractions - why is my hair so long, I look so tired, wearing this shirt was a bad idea. The list goes on. We use our time on video calls to analyze ourselves. How often in real-life do you stand in front of a mirror and just stare at yourself? Chances are, very little, yet we can spend hours a day or over a week on video-calls just looking at ourselves. Encourage your students to hide themselves from their own screen during the next online lecture.
Reduce background stimulation
So when we aren’t staring at ourselves on the screen, we tend to gravitate to looking at other people during the call. But we’re not necessarily looking at their faces, but rather, what’s behind them. If their TV is on - what show are they watching? That’s a nice sofa, where did they get it from? I wonder what books are on that shelf? Was that their kids running in the background? The list goes on. We distract ourselves from the tasks at hand by trying to understand our surroundings. If we’re on a call with 7 people, to our minds, we’re in 7 different rooms, and in each of those rooms there are moving parts that our brain are trying to process. Help your students out by placing yourself in front of a neutral background that doesn’t involve too many distractions. Try placing yourself in front of a simple poster or a plain wall; you can also encourage people who are not talking to keep their videos turned off.
Be available beyond Zoom calls
Regardless of how well you structure your lecture, students will always have questions – that is the natural part of learning. However, if you’re teaching large classes, it may not be feasible to only utilize the chat function in video calls. Answering dozens of questions at once while you’re lecturing is not very efficient. Try utilizing discussion boards where students are able to post questions and answer each other’s inquiries openly. If students want to speak with their instructors directly, try allocating more time in your day to answering student emails. Online learning is hard on students, and instructors must adjust their teaching structure to better adapt for online learning. If you’re looking for tips on translating your in-person course to online learning, check out this post.
Adjusting to our new normal is tough for both educators and students, but there are things we can do to improve our well-being while engaging in online learning. Utilizing these tips for both students and professors may be tough at first, but the benefit they yield will help improve student learning while studying online.