By Zena Taher
Victoria Leonard’s students have been silent for exactly five seconds.
The fifth second of stillness is always when her blood pressure starts to rise.
The quiet began after she posed a question directed at her class during a lesson over Zoom. At this point, an answer from a student is unlikely.
Leonard is one of many professors at College of the Canyons (COC) who have experienced Zoom burnout, a specific type of exhaustion resulting from an excess of video meetings.
“On campus, I could teach a four hour class and feel energized at the end,” says Leonard, a professor of communication studies at the college. “At the end of a Zoom day, I’m exhausted.”
Although the platform allows staff to connect with students more directly than an online class would, teaching over Zoom creates barriers that would not be present in a physical classroom.
In a Zoom class, educational professionals lose the ability to read a room and adjust their teaching styles or speeds based on nonverbal feedback from students.
Staff have to work harder to make sure students understand the material being taught, which contributes to burnout.
“When I’m in front of a class, I can look out at the classroom, look at people’s faces and tell if they’re bored, tell if they’re confused,” says Neil Walker, a professor of psychology at COC. “I can’t do that on Zoom.”
This loss of connection has also made it more difficult for professors to get to know their classes, adding to their frustrations with Zoom.
Professor David Brill, who teaches in COC’s media entertainment arts (MEA) department, says he feels one of his strengths is connecting with students one on one.
“I like working with students face to face,” he remarks. Teaching over Zoom has made leaning into his interpersonal skills more difficult.
Additionally, the move to online teaching has led to a heftier workload and blurred boundaries between work and downtime.
Walker says simply setting up class pages, assignments and discussions can be time consuming.
On the other hand, Leonard cites emails and added graded assignments as contributors to her increased workload. “I’m working more hours than I’ve ever worked in my life,” she states.
Tyler Prante, a professor in the economics department at COC, says the shift to remote instruction has led him to create a schedule.
Staying organized helps him prevent work from spilling over into his free time.
He designates times for grading, answering emails and teaching.
“I have to compartmentalize,” elaborates Prante. “Because otherwise… there’s always something in your inbox.”
Professors have been coping with Zoom burnout in various ways.
“I’ve reached out to a bunch of colleagues to start dialogues about what they are doing and how they are coping because I felt very isolated and alone,” reports Leonard.
Putting herself in students’ shoes has also helped her to be kinder and gentler towards her classes.
Prante explains he makes time to go outside each day. Breathing fresh air and being active helps him feel more balanced while staying safe during the pandemic.
Walker has been doing more volunteer work, delivering meals to homebound seniors.
He says volunteering more often has allowed him to be directly in contact with people. It feels good to volunteer, he adds, which balances out the negative feelings he has about teaching remotely.
Brill adds he and his team are discussing ways to do things differently during the Spring semester, particularly in his advanced multimedia journalism class, which requires more hands on instruction.
Distance learning has been difficult for professors. However, instructors are finding ways to adjust as they prepare to face another semester of off campus instruction.
Overall, professors seem eager to return to the classroom.
“I think the faculty want to be back,” concludes Prante. “Everybody does.”