College classes in the age of Zoom pose interesting problems for students who are removed from the classroom and left to their own devices.
Zoom, the video conferencing platform where most classes are taking place this semester, hosts virtual classrooms with camera and audio features that allow students to participate and collaborate — almost as if the class were in-person.
Still, these virtual classes require more than a device and internet access. And, often, they are less engaging and rewarding than on-campus classes, according to some students.
Brandon Fuentes, a sophomore majoring in psychology and English, moved to a new home at the start of the pandemic and said, with virtual classes, there are sometimes up to five people using the same wifi, “which is not great.”
“My Zoom setup is most definitely camera and mic off unless I have to speak or ask a question,” he said. “It depends on how engaging the professor is, but it can be incredibly distracting to try to do classes and Zoom from home, especially early [morning] classes.”
However, some professors require students to have their video on during class, so that there is more accountability. Otherwise, a student could join the meeting, turn off the video and go back to bed without the professor knowing.
Fuentes is currently working for a construction company on the weekends while managing virtual learning.
“[Online classes are] definitely easier said than done, but it works out,” said Fuentes. “I feel tired but also grateful to be able to work and further my education right now. Professors have also been fairly understanding, as long as you communicate with them.”
That is not to say that communication is perfect — some students say it’s either a barrage of emails or crickets on the other side. Kyra Robinson, a senior who is majoring in marketing, said her professors — except one — rarely email her.
“I feel like a lot of them are kind of slacking on communication,” she said. “I think it is worse because they are not online classes. They are structured as in-person classes, so there are still the Zoom meetings that you are supposed to be watching. I feel like the content is made to be taught in-person, but I do not feel any connection to the class.”
Robinson added that her wifi has already crashed multiple times this week, leaving her without access to the internet and unable to do any of her school work. She has also been helping her younger brother, an incoming freshman, with the transition to virtual college.
“I feel the worst for freshmen because they literally have no knowledge of e-Courseware or online textbooks. They just don't. I am always thinking, ‘What did we just throw them into?’ I don't know.”
Students in some majors, such as theater performance and engineering, are doing hybrid classes on campus, where students receive more hands-on learning and the benefit of being around their peers and professors. The University has limited this type of instruction so far to
hold down possible virus spread. Freshman Jesse Gomez said it is better than what he initially envisioned this semester would be like.
“Yes, to an extent the pandemic is ruining my freshman experience,” he said. “But at the same time, this is probably the best the school can do without it getting shut down not very soon after opening up.”
Gomez, whose Zoom setup is his laptop on his kitchen table, said he keeps his camera on to hold himself accountable during lectures.
“I think it is definitely harder to focus in the Zoom rather than the classroom,” Gomez admitted. “Oddly, it is a bit hard to try not to look at your own camera and maybe not get self-conscious about how you look through the camera. It just might be a ‘me’ thing, but you can see people playing with their hair and adjusting their cameras.”