Professors must be flexible with students to combat Zoom fatigue

By Apr 19, 2021 1:22 AM

It’s April at GW, which means finals are approaching, internship application season is in full swing – and students are absolutely burnt out.

GW’s ultra-competitive environment leads students to feel perpetually stressed and overextended even in normal times. These times are not normal – and yet, students are expected to perform as if nothing is wrong. The inherent challenges of online classes and the general disruption caused by more than a year of pandemic life have left students facing an entirely new dimension of burnout.

Unlike last year at this time, students don’t have the option of taking their full courseload on a pass/no pass grading scale, making finals unnecessarily stressful for students dealing with personal struggles. Rising seniors are facing a second summer with slim internship opportunities and are at a loss for how to fill in their resumes before entering the job market.

With almost all academic, extracurricular and work activity moved online, it is even harder than usual to concentrate or cobble together any semblance of a work-life balance. As students gear up for finals and submit internship applications for the second year in a virtual environment, professors should be cognizant of how uniquely overburdened we all are right now when they form expectations of how students should perform – on things as small as turning cameras on or as significant as assignment deadlines.

Students, especially seniors, face burnout at this time every year, but the added strain of the pandemic has combined with Zoom fatigue to make this time of year particularly unbearable for students. Students are expected to perform at the same capacity and balance as many responsibilities as before the pandemic but are facing more challenges. Currently, many students are struggling to see their classes as worth their time. Many classes simply involve students sitting in front of a screen for hours while a professor lectures. Ask any GW student, and they will tell you that’s no way to learn.

But the life of a GW student is usually not centered solely on classes, which is a point of pride for the University. Students spend their off-hours involved with campus organizations, jobs and internships, which are just as important to the GW experience as courses. With everything relegated to an online format, it becomes even harder to draw a boundary between work, school and extracurriculars. Everything blends together into an overwhelming hodgepodge of work that needs to get done. In one day, students could go from attending virtual class to clocking in to their job to running an event for a student organization to watching Netflix without moving from their desk or couch. This sheer lack of variety and boundaries make it so much harder to drill down and focus on coursework.

Professors are in a position to implement policies in their virtual classrooms that would mitigate student burnout and fatigue. For starters, professors should not require that students turn their cameras on for class. Seeing their students’ faces is helpful for professors to gauge attention and participation, but some students don’t want to reveal their living situation or can find it difficult to focus when staring at themselves on screen.

Professors should also ensure that their one-on-one office hours are available, acceptable, advertised and encouraged for students by mentioning them in class and beyond just the syllabus. Classes can feel highly impersonal right now, and office hours provide a smaller setting for students to feel more connected and comfortable asking their professors questions. As for in-class activities, professors could break up the monotony of Zoom classes by utilizing breakout rooms for discussions on Zoom that require students to actively participate in class rather than just listen. Breakout rooms also give students the opportunity to create bonds with the other students in their classes. Although this group work is helpful in class, professors should not expect students to work on group projects outside of class. Many students cannot operate at their normal level right now, which makes it difficult to distribute work fairly to each member of a group.

The biggest thing a professor can do outside of all of these action items is be understanding and flexible. Professors should not judge students who don’t turn their cameras on. They also should excuse students having things like food, pets, other people or the outdoors in their frames during class. Everyone is just trying their best to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt. Being flexible with attendance policies, grading and having an open line of communication with students is paramount as we struggle through severe burnout together.

Just as students expect their professors to be understanding of their capacity and mental health, students should also show empathy and grace to their professors. Many professors are struggling with child care, familial crises and so much more. Students should be forgiving when professors have pets or children interrupt class, when grades come in later than usual or they don’t have their camera on. Students must remember that professors are people too and should extend the same level of understanding we are asking of them.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus.

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This article appeared in the April 19, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.

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