Zoom, the Great Unequalizer
By Marisol Cruz
Last spring quarter and the current fall quarter have both consisted of computer screens rather than a bustling campus. While many class lectures tend to be pre-recorded and posted asynchronous to their original lecture times, teaching assistants’ (TA) sections usually remain synchronous and held over Zoom. In some synchronous class lectures, students are able to turn off their cameras and mute themselves on Zoom to allow the professor to lecture without distractions from the 100 students or more that are enrolled. In contrast, Zoom sections tend to consist of 10–20 students — much smaller than a 100-person lecture. As such, TAs often expect students to turn on their cameras; some may even mandate it in order to receive credit for attending the section.
Attending a section on zoom from one’s personal bedroom, or even shared bedroom, is a stark contrast to attending a section in a classroom on campus. Not only are you staring at your fellow peers through a screen, but you are also peering into their households. While some teachers may assume a turned-off camera means that a student wants to go on social media while in bed, undetected during class time, it can in fact point to extreme inequalities that need to be addressed.
The fact of the matter is that during a pandemic, we are still expected to maintain our previous in-person university rigor when students are currently not on the same playing field.
Here’s where tuning into Zoom sections can become an uncomfortable experience for some. Some students may not have a household where they feel comfortable turning on their camera and sharing their living situation. Others may not have quiet households where they can turn on their microphones, as younger siblings, parents or even extended family members may be staying and working from home due to the pandemic. I have seen students tune into Zoom sections on their phone in their car, sometimes donning a work uniform. While I commend these students for ensuring they receive their education during a pandemic while also picking up a job to help support their families, students shouldn’t have to feel the need to compromise or make sacrifices. Furthermore, there are students who may not even be equipped with technology to tune into Zoom sections at all.
Ultimately, Zoom discussions just aren’t as enriching as in-person discussions were. You’re unable to turn to the person next to you and ask a question or simply ask how their day is going. There’s a disconnect with fellow peers, that leads to awkward silences and lulls in a discussion that is meant to be productive and helpful to the class. In an already uncomfortable situation for some, it may be nerve-wracking to provide meaningful answers during a discussion over Zoom.
However, in order to combat these issues, I have seen many TAs employ different methods of discussion engagement after receiving feedback from students during spring quarter. The use of discussion posts on GauchoSpace and the UC Santa Barbara student-run website Nectir, have been used. These alternatives allow students to work on their own time, which can lead to more elaborate, thought-out responses to lecture material and readings. These two options also make it easier for students to engage with one another. In Zoom, only one person can speak at a time, but discussion boards allow one to engage with multiple students and their ideas at once. Some classes have employed a combination of mandatory discussion posts for class credit and an optional Zoom meeting for students that are able to attend. These accommodations promote a productive learning environment while also acknowledging students’ needs during a pandemic.
Feigning a sense of normality in a pandemic is not only nearly impossible, but it also isn’t the right decision. The fact of the matter is that during a pandemic, we are still expected to maintain our previous in-person university rigor when students are currently not on the same playing field. Online learning over Zoom highlights disparities in education, and we shouldn’t remain oblivious. We should promote flexibility and ingenious ways of learning to reach all students.
Marisol Cruz wants students to be prioritized during a pandemic that has led to an increased reliance on a platform that has only further emphasized rising inequalities.
Speak Up in Class Now or Be Called Out in Your Career Later
By Kenneth Moody
My dad recently showed me his weekly calendar of Zoom meetings, and it was so mind-boggling that all my brain could think was, “That’s rough buddy.” My dad has around 60 Zoom meetings during the workweek, and some even happen simultaneously. Initially, this frightened the introvert in me, but if this is the future that I am walking into after college, then I need to use my 10 meetings to prepare while the number is still relatively small. Instead of coming into Zoom classes, turning my camera off and not talking, I should be trying to practice participating and being mentally present because my career may very well depend on it.
Right now, remote activities are treated like a temporary lifestyle change in the hope that everything will “go back to normal” once a vaccine for COVID-19 is finally produced. However, after half a year of quarantine and headlines warning of second waves, I think that “normal” is never going to be the same as it once was. As students prepare to launch out into this new world, we should be taking this changing world into account when we go about our day-to-day lives.
An article from USA Today discusses how the workforce will be increasingly digitized as companies are starting to reorganize how employees work together as a result of COVID-19. Occupying physical space won’t be as mandatory as it used to be, as many companies are considering having rotating office schedules or just reducing office space in order to save money and mitigate health risks. This is making platforms like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams more cemented in everyday working life.
No industry is absolved from these changes either. Some of the occupations that we always expect to be in physical space, like dancing, are being forced more and more into an online space. Notable dance studios in Los Angeles, like Movement Lifestyle and Millennium Dance Complex are either losing their studios due to cost or turning to online classes. This is not something that just afflicts the accountants, computer scientists and human resources of the world.
This matters to me as a student because university students are known to lack the confidence to dive into the workforce after graduation. In a survey done by Gallup-Strada, around 88% of college freshmen indicated that they were coming to college for the purpose of getting a good job, but only 34% strongly felt that their field of study adequately prepared them to be successful in the job market.
I do not want to look back with regret in a couple of years, having received a bad work review because I built a habit of being checked out and unresponsive in Zoom meetings.
This is striking for me because, although I was not surveyed, I am one of those 88% who are aiming to get a good job by attending university. While Zoom participation may not be the biggest challenge when preparing for my future career, I would be shooting myself in the foot by not grabbing this low-hanging fruit. I do not want to look back with regret in a couple of years, having received a bad work review because I built a habit of being checked out and unresponsive in Zoom meetings. I need to start approaching my classes remembering why I’m at UC Santa Barbara so that my actions line up with my intent. I’d encourage all students to do the same.
However, in all of our classrooms, there are always two groups — students and a teacher. Teachers who want to prepare students for the workforce must also be careful with how they operate around the topic of participation. If there is a class full of eager, talkative students, then participation flows easily, but far too often I have experienced the class that consists of one student who does all of the talking and 17 who might as well not even be there. While I feel like I as a student have the responsibility to contribute to the classroom community as best as I can, the teacher should also organize discussions to better encourage more students to speak.
While there are a plethora of methods to encourage student participation; one that takes relatively little effort from the teacher is cold calling. In an academic article by Elise J. Dallimore, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, she identified that business graduate students strongly suggested cold calling as an effective practice to get students to participate. One professor that reflected on the effect of cold calling students noted that “students prepare better, and well-prepared students make more insightful contributions.”
While this method of engaging students often receives mixed opinions regarding the idea of involuntarily putting students on the spot, this method is quite analogous to what is going on in the world today. My dad has this phrase: “Change can happen in one of two ways. It can happen with you or to you. Your actions determine what you will experience.” That is what cold calling, Zoom participation and the consequences of COVID-19 all have in common.
I cannot control the pandemic nor the lifestyle changes I’ve made because of it, just like how, as a student, I cannot control whether I get called out in class or not. Making the choice to participate on Zoom is entirely under my control, and I want these changes to happen with me so that when I’m paid to attend 60 meetings a week, I can be thankful for the practice I’ve had with 10.
Kenneth Moody wants everyone in his Zoom sections to have some good arguments with him during class this week.