Avoiding Zoom Fatigue in the Virtual Classroom: Top Five Best Practices

Published by Carrie O'Donnell
on May 12, 2020

With more than a month of obligatory online interactions behind us, we’re starting to encounter a very real hurdle- Zoom Fatigue. Of course, this new kind of exhaustion isn’t specific to Zoom. The same hyper-connected state of being is plaguing users of all video conferencing products as we work from a distance and battle isolation in the season of “stay home, stay safe”. As a long time virtual company, O’Donnell Learn has always embraced new technologies, especially those that help increase team communication and collaboration. The emergence of video conferencing technology brought our virtual team closer together by improving our ability to better share accomplishments and connect emotionally. Over the years, we learned that without best practices around video conferencing, fatigue is inevitable. When we brought these same practices to our learning experience design projects, we discovered just how applicable they also are to the virtual classroom. Here’s our top five:

Top Five Best Practices for Video Conferencing in the Virtual Classroom

Set Expectations. Always start with an agenda, whether hosting a lecture, discussion session, or virtual office hours– with room for “water cooler” chat. Structure the time in advance, share and follow the agenda, close with action steps.

Tip: Post the agenda in the chat area for participants to follow. Assign a timekeeper to stay on track.

Mix Things Up. It’s unrealistic to spend an hour or more in front of a computer screen and expect to listen with the same level of attention start to finish. Avoiding long lectures will help learners engage. Instead mix things up every 6-10 minutes. Pause to ask questions in the chat area, post an onscreen poll, use the breakout rooms for a peer learning activity, take a quiz, or even a simple personal break once in a while.

Tip: This practice is proven to improve retention.

Host vs. Post. Consider if every lecture needs to be live. If not, give yourself and your students a break from the demands of being “on” and post recorded sessions your students can view anytime. Then, use lecture time to bring together a portion of the class for more active learning experiences.

Tip: Include a short assignment to gauge comprehension and mastery of session material.

Recognize limits. More than ever, empathy is needed in the virtual classroom. Everyone’s home environment brings different challenges from limited internet or privacy to familial obligations. Reduce connection stress by being flexible and sensitive to other’s online needs. For example, create options to engage in video lectures by providing a dial-in option and don’t be afraid to give the learners, and yourself, a break by ending a session early when you sense energy dropping.

Tip: Assure your students it’s okay to join a live video stream in audio-only mode. Not everyone wants to be seen on the screen.

Respect Your Own Off-Screen Boundaries. Build in downtime and avoid back-to-back video lectures, meetings and calls. It might seem easier, but the exhaustion is cumulative and eventually, will steal from the efficiency. Plus, too much screen time also interferes with sleep patterns. For 1:1 student meetings, use a mix of video, voice and email communication. Not all communication needs a screen.

Tip: Create an interactive Google document where students can post questions. Check in at a set time each weekday to respond.

Video conferencing can be an amazing communication tool when embraced for what it is and respected for what it is not. Resist the temptation to make it your automatic mode of communication with students and colleagues. Why video chat when an email or phone call will do? Keep it all in balance, because at the end of the day, your isolated friends and extended family are going to need some video chat time with you too.

Tip: Thinking toward the Fall semester? Our LX Design Center is filled with videos, tips, tools and resources to help you get started.

Carrie O’Donnell is the CEO of O’Donnell Learn, a leading learning experience (LX) design firm dedicated to helping learners achieve their goals and flourish in life. ODL is passionate about partnering with institutions and their faculty to deliver learner-centered design and innovation.

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