Breaking the Zoom Barrier Between Students and Professors

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Angelisse Alvarez

Contributing Writer

Zoom is a new mode of learning. Its potential opportunities continue evolving. 

Some professors experiment with methods that might engage students on Zoom.

This includes designing activities that fit and enhance the platform, along with reiterating kindness. 

“There are always random conversations about what people are watching right now,” said Dr. Andrea McClanahan, a communication professor.

These conversations result in chat histories up to 13 pages, demonstrating how non-academic discussion relaxes students.    

McClanahan implements a “how are you feeling today” scale at the start of classes. It uses photos and memes to represent a student’s current energy. 

“We have done random pics of dogs, Ben Affleck, Greek philosophers, and rubber ducks so far,” she said.

“The students seem to love it and I can gauge how they are doing at the beginning of class, and sometimes I throw that on the screen in the middle of a class too.” 

Dr. Laura Kieselbach, an English professor, talked about her class structure. 

“I just try to be myself,” she said. “I keep it light, I stay flexible, I make jokes.” 

In addition to screen sharing, Kieselbach provides editable Google slides for students to complete classwork and uses breakout rooms. 

“This helps me get to know them despite the distance between us,” she said. 

Kieselbach and McClanahan show pets and introduce family whenever visible on screen. Kieselbach’s sons often say hello. 

“Something about knowing, and sharing, that we are all human with families and lives and uncertainties is reassuring in and of itself,” said Kieselbach. 

McClanahan shares a similar sentiment. “I have a mandatory ‘must introduce any pets, parents, or kids that come near the screen,’” she said.

“Not really mandatory, but encouraged.” 

Professor William Broun revealed his own ways of innovating Zoom.

“Today, we did grammar skits,” he said. “They used things like filters, audio tools, bringing social media onto the screen.” 

On Halloween, he hosted a Zoom costume contest. Students helped pick winners who won a Starbucks gift card.  

“It’s a responsibility to let our hair down a little bit; to be more approachable and accessible to students,” Broun said.

To remind students that there is no stigma surrounding mental health in his classes, Broun often focuses class announcements on mental health, emphasizing equity and inclusion.  

Dr. Artress White, an English professor, gives a warm thank you at the end of every class.

“I always make sure to thank students at the end of class for sharing their thoughts and stories,” she said.

“I want to let them know their contributions are appreciated.” 

Student Kiyannah McGee talked about what her own professors are doing. 

“A useful technique Dr. [Jan] Selving used is doing a synchronous course except we would meet in smaller groups” she said.

“The smaller group setting made it easier to have an open discussion with one another.”

McGee shared what fun challenges Dr. Emily Sauers, an Exercise Science professor, gives on Zoom. 

“My professor, Dr. Sauers, allows us to do creative challenges where we all change our zoom backgrounds and see who has the best background,” she said. 

On how professors can accommodate students, McGee values honest conversations. 

“Lastly, having an open discussion in the beginning of class is something I’ve seen a few professors do,” she said. 

Student James Esposito believes that communicating expectations clearly is, “the best thing a professor can do.”

Student Karizma Washington also discussed important things professors should consider.

“It would be nice if professors tried to indulge in the life of students, or keep us interested by having different activities or interactive assignments,” she said.

“Like watching a movie related to the subject/class instead of piled assignments and busywork.” 

Instead of replicating face-to-face settings, Washington believes professors should re-approach Zoom. 

“Everyone is going through changes and different struggles right now,” she said.

“And I feel like professors need to acknowledge that and address online learning in a new way. For starters, by not teaching or operating in the same manner that they would in-person instruction.” 

Providing students with options to socialize outside of Zoom helps.

“I really appreciate it when professors have discussion posts or create GroupMe for the class,” Washington said.

“I learn more efficiently when I can discuss my experience with the class with my classmates. It feels like I am not alone.” 

Washington wants professors to routinely observe how students feel about class structure.

“If professors held weekly polls or questionnaires on how well the class is doing that would probably help professors figure out what they can try and adjust for students,” she said. 

“At the end of the day, professors should be helping, not hurting, and they should be more open and work with students instead of worrying about their set curriculum or standards.”

Ultimately, flexibility is key.

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