October 20, 2020
Pre-pandemic, some students preferred online classes while others preferred in-person ones. Today, unfortunately, they are left without this choice when continuing their studies. The decision of many universities to switch to virtual learning systems, left many students wondering if taking a gap-semester would be a better option. For those who chose to continue their education this fall, this new process of learning became a challenge filled with a plethora of attendance requirements and Zoom calls.
Zoom, a software platform for teleconferencing, is used by college professors. At the beginning of the semester, many professors sent a Zoom link to students that would be used as a recurring link for every scheduled class period. As reported by The State News, all Michigan State University courses are required to utilize passwords for registered students to gain access to class sessions. This regulation aims to prevent security issues similar to what MSU encountered when first switching to remote-learning in March. Although seemingly beneficial, wth many students taking on full course loads, keeping track of correct Zoom links can be one of the many struggles they encounter with online instruction.
After finding the link and password for a class, a student’s profile is added to the sea of black squares present. Although they do have the option to turn their cameras and microphones on, most times students choose to keep their cameras off and mute themselves until the need to comment or ask a question. Even if students do wish to show their faces or keep their mics on, muting themselves while the others speak seems to be the most efficient way to eliminate background noise during calls.
Although eliminating background noise and other distractions is an important goal for many students, some do forget. For instance, as a student at MSU, many of my classes are structured in the way this article previously referenced. One day, a classmate of mine didn’t notice she was unmuted while a guest speaker was presenting. Consequently, she continued to have a conversation with her roommate that consisted of constant giggles. At times, the guest speaker would try to talk over her and ultimately began taking long moments to pause when my classmate’s audio became louder. My classmate eventually muted her audio after a painful 10 minutes. In-person classes make situations like this much easier to handle, allowing professors to approach and manage the situation.
Another issue students face with Zoom calls is a professor’s request to turn on cameras. While many don’t require it, some force this option, making this a very controversial issue. Some professors believe turning on cameras increases productivity because students are more likely to pay attention if they know they’re being watched. Others argue it also helps professors gauge the understanding students have of material presented. Additionally, when it comes to attendance, how do professors know who is really there when student’s cameras are off? Do students join the lectures and then walk away from the computer once going incognito? Truthfully, turning on cameras does allow students to be properly accounted for, but while cameras are helpful for professors, many students carry a different perspective.
Some students are worried about privacy. Having cameras on means that other students can record what they do or say in Zoom calls without their knowledge and this can lead to “space-shaming”. Reason further explains that some students may have to take Zoom calls in a bathroom, small closet or other unsuitable environments, and while virtual backgrounds are an option for Zoom, the application has not perfected them. Any form of movement can glitch the backgrounds, exposing more than desired.
Overall, it’s hard to deny that virtual learning has been tough on students and professors over the last two semesters. Students are not only learning new material through their classes, but learning new educational platforms as well. Likewise, professors face the same challenges with understanding modern internet applications and shifting their usual way of teaching.
As said by the United Nations, “We’re all in this together,” is starting to become a never ending reality.
Kate Snider is a senior majoring in Advertising with a concentration in copywriting. Outside of class, Kate works at the Creative Center – a new organization started within Comm Arts to assist other creatives with their portfolios. She is continuously inspired by encounters with new people and places. Post-graduation, Kate plans on looking for work in Portland, Oregon to expand her hobbies of hiking and photography.