Professors and students feel mental and physical Zoom fatigue

Students are experiencing higher rates of "Zoom fatigue" as 24% of classes are online. Photo illustration by Ava Sanborn | Photographer

By Megan Lockhart | Reporter

With more classes online this semester, Baylor professors and students have experienced the widely documented phenomenon “Zoom fatigue,” as many feel isolated and drained by both the lack of personal connection and longer hours of sitting at their screens.

“Zoom fatigue” is the worn out feeling that develops from increased virtual learning. Those who experience this phenomenon report feeling more exhausted and drained at the end of the day from interacting over Zoom or other virtual classroom platforms.

“The platforms naturally put us in a position that is unnatural. A combination of having prolonged eye contact and having someone’s enlarged face extremely close to you forces certain subconscious responses in humans. Our brains have evolved to have a very intense reaction when you have a close face to you,” Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction lab told USA Today.

Professors who are teaching completely through Zoom this semester at Baylor are limited to interactions with students through the screen. English professor Dr. Kristi Humphreys recalls how these constant interactions have taken a toll on her physically.

“I’m definitely experiencing strain on the eyes. I’m wearing my reading glasses almost daily now, when I used to need them once or twice a month,” Humphreys said. “I stand during most of my online teaching, so I don’t have problems with constantly sitting, but one thing that has been a surprising challenge for me is hand gestures, which now have to be higher for the students to see them on a screen than what comes naturally.”

Students have also experienced this condition. Baytown senior Allie Bishop noticed how changes to her normal routine affected her energy.

“I’ve had to implement many things into my daily routine that I normally wouldn’t have thought about,” Bishop said. “I noticed the first two weeks of classes that I wasn’t getting as much physical activity as I used to, and I realized that I’m not able to walk around campus between classes, which helped me feel more energized and awake.”

In addition to fatigue, professors and students have recalled feeling a personal disconnect from their classes as they have adjusted to online instruction. French professor Elizabeth Burnett-Henderson, who is teaching six online classes this semester, has felt this struggle with Zoom learning.

“I think you feel isolated. I think that’s a very general feeling amongst colleagues and I would imagine from students, but there are a lot of things that I would not learn just by being on campus. I feel very isolated from Baylor, not because anything Baylor’s done, but because I’m physically not on campus,” Burnett-Henderson said. “After being quarantined since March, you know, the walls have really closed in, and you long for that kind of opportunity to be with the students again.”

Bishop found herself craving more social interaction because of the lack of personal connections within her classes.

“Zoom is a great resource during these times, but it’s also super challenging to speak up in the online setting, to ask for help or just get to know your classmates,” Bishop said. “There is a lot of small talk with other students that I didn’t realize helped me to know I wasn’t alone in forgetting an assignment or not understand the material. Now I feel lonely at times with my struggle in certain classes.”

While some may feel they lack connection virtually, Humphreys feels online instruction has improved her ability to make personal connections with her students because of the new media skills she can implement in the classroom.

“I have to get creative and work harder at it when we are online, but I have enjoyed learning all kinds of new skills — from media recordings, to editing, to sound effects and thought bubbles — skills I can take into my face-to-face sections when we return to make sessions more entertaining,” Humphreys said. “I think this has made me a better teacher, but as for well-being, I just miss my students so much.”

Through the multiple struggles that have arisen from Zoom fatigue, professors and students have learned to adjust their routines to combat these new challenges. Bishop has begun taking evening walks to help boost her energy and Humphreys has implemented new media to involve her students more in the discussion.

“I play cheerful Christmas music much more often than I used to to better interact with [students] virtually,” Humphreys said. “I began putting thought bubbles above my head during lectures with options for discussion questions we can tackle in the blog or even just fun facts or funny reactions to something I did in the video that was awkward,”

For more information about combatting symptoms of zoom fatigue, the Academy for Teaching and Learning will be hosting a session for “Minimizing Zoom Fatigue” on October 14.