When PSU announced that the coming spring and summer terms would continue to be remote, I had conflicting feelings. On one hand, I’m happy that PSU is looking out for students, faculty, and staff by minimizing physical contact. It’s comforting to be part of an institution that values health and safety. On the other hand, I (and every other Viking I’ve spoken to on this topic) am disappointed that after a year of remote learning, we still won’t the inside of a classroom for at least the next few months.
I have an edge over “Past Erika” in March 2020, however – I know what to expect. I’m used to living remotely now. I know the ins and outs of Zoom … at least in theory. For instance, I didn’t know that there was a shortcut to “raise hand” (“Option” + “Y” keys) until this week. Although I miss traditional learning, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well Zoom classes work for me. Don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world, I prefer the classroom format and wish we could look forward to non-remote terms sooner than this fall. But by using Zoom, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my learning style.
The Zoom format provides the schedule and structure of regular meeting times, which is helpful to people like me who struggle staying organized and on-task without a timetable to hold them accountable. I’m much more engaged on Zoom than in classes that are entirely on D2L, because having faces and personalities to match to the names leads to more lively discussions (at least in my experience.) In classroom settings, I struggle a lot with social anxiety and self-doubt, leading to stumbling over my words or declining to share my thoughts at all. In virtual classes, there is the added buffer of seeing the instructor and classmates through a window, lending me more confidence to speak up and share comments verbally … and if I’m still feeling shy, I can always type out my take in the class chat.
The benefits of Zoom don’t end with me. Zoom classes have helped make the class dynamic more accessible to students with special circumstances; those who’d like to attend classes in person but can’t always make it there. Life sometimes presents obstacles that make regular attendance difficult —for example, becoming ill or injured, being your family’s only source of childcare, a lack of funds for regular public transportation, or having mental or physical disabilities. Being able to learn remotely during the times you can’t make it to class has made education more equitable — instead of worrying about piling up absences and missing crucial material, students can focus on learning.
Perhaps as we move forward through the pandemic and beyond, schools and colleges should consider ways to offer Zoom classes alongside solely-online courses and traditional in-person lectures. This idea might seem silly, but consider the ubiquity of online-only courses — even pre-pandemic, it was a rare college that didn’t offer a selection of online courses. Critics didn’t think it would work, but online learning is now undeniably part of academia alongside traditional lecture halls. Maybe Zoom is the happy medium that blends classroom and keyboard, creating a more flexible way of learning.