A Student’s Perspective: 5 Reasons Why the Virtual Classroom Didn’t Cut it This Spring

Published by Carrie O'Donnell
on May 21, 2020

Our Student Perspective series follows the real challenges that students are facing in their own words. It’s imperative that we consider the student’s voice when planning for teaching and learning. The following piece was written by Sophia Dolberg from Pima Community College in Tuscon, AZ.

Just a few months ago, I thought “Zoom” was the sound to indicate that a car raced by. I never thought it was another way to FaceTime.

And there’s so much more I learned since my courses went online. I learned that my math teacher’s toddler will never sit quietly and runs off every chance she gets. I learned that my music teacher is obsessed with Jimi Hendrix by the pictures on his wall and my psych teacher looks like the actor Sam Elliot with an untrimmed mustache and scruffy beard. These are some of the unintended things my instructors taught me online, while under the COVID-19 lockdown.

But they have also taught me that live sessions on Zoom, at the helm of unprepared teachers, can be a poor replacement for in-class instruction and here’s 5 reasons why.

1. Slow Down.

Live online lectures are a lot more challenging and harder to follow, but they don’t necessarily need to be that way. Professors tend to talk too fast or drone on and on without taking breath. It’s very boring to just listen without a break. I try to take notes but I can’t keep up. Instructors, please slow down or offer a needed break or pause during their lectures so the students can check their notes. In class, I didn’t have this problem with the same instructors. It left me wondering: Do they all feel so nervous on Zoom that they rush through? Is it that they can’t see all of our faces like they did before? Please slow down. We’ll catch up.

2. Ask for Questions and Check for Understanding.

When the students have their mics muted and their cameras off, it’s a challenge to ask questions and clarify something in a large group online. Some students are more shy online and some feel invisible. This was especially true in challenging classes such as math and statistics. Most students don’t want to appear to be the only one to ask a question so we silently listen and hope that when we review our notes that we’ll figure it out. There’s a better way. As a rule of thumb, assume that we do have questions if you are covering something new or going over something that you know other students find challenging.

3. Encourage Replay.

Beyond the outright struggle to stay engaged, many students don’t pay attention to the live Zoom class because they figure that they could just listen to the recording later. I haven’t done a poll of my friends but I bet most don’t go back and listen to the recording in its entirety or even at all. It’s human nature to intend to do something but then never do it because you aren’t motivated. Give us an incentive or reason to go into the recordings. It can be a little quiz or ask us to recall something specific that we would not have known from anything else we’ve done in the class.

4. Keep Us Focused.

When the instructor purposely turns off the videos and mics of the students so that their lecture isn’t interrupted, lack of focus was almost guaranteed. We know you are not looking at us so we are not looking at you or the screen you are showing. We have our TV’s turned on, playing games on our phones, Snapchatting with our friends, whatever to occupy our time. We didn’t do that in the live class because we were watching you and you were watching us. We need that eye to eye connection or some way to get us actively involved in what you are teaching. It’s hard for us to passively watch and not be seen.

5. Let Us Know You Care That We Are There.

Most instructors have stopped taking attendance regularly or at all as did before we went online. When factoring attendance into the grade book, it can make or break a letter grade. Because of the lack of seriousness of attendance, students are missing out on the extra credit or getting credit for showing up. Add a new participation credit for attending the Zoom sessions or participating in the chat. Doing this would let us know that you care that we show up and that we try to engage in the live class.

Having said all of this, I appreciate that it’s been as hard for my instructors to make the switch online as it is for us students. I’d say the best that we can all do is to remember that the best connection is a human connection, even when we are social distancing during a Zoom session.

Sophia Dolberg Pima Community College, Tuscon, AZ

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