So, after having completing four out of nine weeks of our online spring quarter, I still find myself debating how well Zoom has lived up to the role of replacing face-to-face classes. I’ve written some articles about my uncertainty in Drexel’s ability to successfully run a term that is fully remote without it deteriorating into a completely chaotic state, and I still feel as though it is too soon to draw a verdict on the actual level of success. There are many aspects that I have personally enjoyed, but there are, of course, some undesirable consequences that have surfaced as well.
The biggest upside to Zoom is that, so long as you have a working internet connection and a device with access to Zoom, you can attend class. There’s no longer the threat of classes being cancelled due to severe weather, a mild sickness or any other common reason that in-person classes get cancelled for.
In the same vein as this, I’ve also noticed that there is more consistency in terms of everyone being at class on time. Because there is no more need to commute to class, people are capable of getting to class without the delays that each day’s commute would potentially bring. Had this quarter not been moved to online, I would have been commuting to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays via SEPTA, and I know that I would have been late on at least a few occasions because of the frequent delays in public transport. So, for those of us who would have had longer commutes, Zoom has thankfully removed that obstacle.
Another positive side of Zoom is that it has seemed to improve the level of participation during class discussions. Now, this is something that is very dependent on the class and the students, because I know there are some students who don’t feel as comfortable participating in an online class as they would in a face-to-face one. In my experience thus far, my peers have been more talkative than normal, and I have also stepped up my participation. I think it’s mostly psychological, but I am far less nervous with this online form of communication. I would mostly attribute it to my experience with running a gaming platoon of over 50 members for the past two and a half years, which has made me very comfortable with the type of online communication that Zoom makes use of. However, for people who haven’t had much experience with this kind of communication, I would imagine that adjusting to Zoom has been a slightly difficult task to tackle alongside classwork.
Unfortunately, one of the big gripes that I have with Zoom is that it allows for us students to slip into some undesirable practices. To some, it’s probably tempting to wake up five minutes before class and just turn on your laptop to experience the entire lecture while in bed. I would advise against this, for you won’t receive information as well if you just wake up and immediately start taking it in. Maybe your brain is already wide awake and ready to learn, but for me, I need at least an hour or two to fully wake up. One thing that I appreciated about having to attend a class in person was the need to wake up at least an hour before class so that I could be there on time. Yes, it may have felt like a chore to make yourself presentable for a 9 a.m. class, only to return from class and go right back to bed for a few more hours. But it did make the learning experience consistent by ensuring we were always wide awake (unless, of course, we had a sleepless night).
Another thing that I really dislike about the online experience is the simple lack of a physical space. I realize now that as much as I complained and whined about having to go to class, I did take for granted just how much being in a physical space with other people can completely change the feeling of a class. Zoom has worked for the most part, but it can’t replicate the feeling of walking into a room and sitting down at a desk with the presence of fellow classmates around you. It makes the experience immediately social, and that is something that I think all college students thrive off to at least some degree. Zoom does preserve some of that feeling by at least allowing classes to take place in real time, but it’s not the same, for obvious reasons.
Sadly, there is no fix for this. There’s just no feasible way to recreate this feeling in my opinion, and it’s a real shame. Those little conversations that you’d have with your friend in class, the times when you would drop your pen only to have the person next to you pick it up for you and hand it back, the moments when you would miss what the professor said and have to ask someone. They may all seem inconsequential, but the unique moments really added to the personality of a class. Without them, I feel as though it becomes more difficult for classes to really standout.
With the announcement of the summer quarter following in spring quarter’s footsteps and being held fully online, I’m curious to see how students will continue to adapt to this alternate way of learning. There are clear pros and cons to remote learning, some of which aren’t changeable, and as students, we are the ones in the best position to make note of said pros and cons. So, next time you are preparing for a class or are in the middle of a class, try to take stock of the good things you are noticing as well as the bad. You may gain some level of insight to your personal likes and dislikes of remote learning.