Navigating university online has been especially exhausting and challenging for students. However, instead of needing to make the dreaded and often stressful commute to class, students have the privilege of attending lectures from the comfort of their home and in their pajamas. Professors and courses are now portable; they are in student bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms.
Despite these advantages, the start of the semester has been uniquely challenging for UBCO students. Zoom fatigue and general exhaustion from being constantly plugged in have inevitably become a part of our new reality. University fatigue has plagued students much earlier than normal this semester, primarily because students are constantly using technology to check their assignments and course outlines, in addition to attending lectures via Zoom or Collaborate Ultra.
Learning online is particularly draining due to how much extra energy it takes to be an active learner in a video chat. When classes are conducted live on Zoom, social discourse is increasingly difficult to interpret and it takes significant effort to appear present and engaged—to be actively listening while also participating in class discussions. Moreover, students have to be extremely cognizant of their webcam and microphone settings to ensure they are following proper Zoom etiquette during class and not disrupting others. Where in-person classes simply require students to show up and listen, online lectures require students to utilize their multitasking abilities and heightened sense of awareness.
I asked UBCO students to voice their opinions in response to the question: How have you experienced Zoom/technology fatigue during this period of online learning?
Tianna Morgan, an English major, shared that online learning has impacted her physically, “Headaches are much more common with online learning. I’m constantly having to shut my laptop and close my eyes in order to handle a headache, which takes time away from learning. It’s frustrating because I want to be able to finish all the assignments of the course, but find myself having to nap constantly due to the strain on my eyes and the tension headaches I experience... and this takes time away from doing what I need to do, which puts more stress on me, making [the headache] much worse.”
Where Tianna experiences physical fatigue, Davis Hanson, a Biochemistry major, experiences online captivity, “There’s just no escape. Everything is online. Your classes, assignments, homework, quizzes, zoom class meetings, zoom meetings with group members. It’s all online and it’s stressful. It’s hard to pay attention or understand what’s going on; it’s tough to follow the more complex topics when you’re staring at a screen.”
Furthermore, Emmah Barber, an Engineering student, explained that her fatigue extends beyond just technology, “Zoom and technology fatigue, for me, is more than just experiencing strain from being on my laptop all day. It is social fatigue from having to rely on communication via emails, chats, and video calls. It is physical fatigue from attending classes and meetings at night because I’m in a different time zone than my peers. It is mental fatigue from feeling like I’m not being productive enough because I haven’t left my room all day [when] I’ve attended 5 hours of class over Zoom.”
Carolina Leyton, our EIC, expressed her thoughts, “I think Zoom fatigue manifests because for some reason it feels harder to keep track of things when everything is online. I also feel that being in online school can lend itself to overbooking yourself because meetings can happen one right after the other…In the past when we used to say our lives were on our computers, now that is literally true and it's exhausting to meet people, work, relax, all on your computer or phone.”
Evidently, UBCO students from different disciplines are collectively experiencing fatigue, yet in distinct ways. It is unexpectedly exhausting to be constantly plugged into technology for work and school. Whether this fatigue be physical, emotional, or social, the danger of burnout remains.
Dr. George Grinnell encourages students to find ways to cope, especially since this fatigue is already making itself known in September. He offered his perspective as a professor, “I have been hearing from many students that they find organizing the week and the day to be an ongoing challenge… Some find it challenging to focus on a class when at home and surrounded by so many interesting activities and diversions… I have heard from one student who uses a lockdown-style app that locks them out of their phone in order to ensure they can focus on school for a set period of time. And I have students who can already see that the opposite is a problem too. As one student put it, “Am I going to school from home, or do I live at school now?” Each one of us needs to find ways to not be at school, especially now that we are always at school. Whether this is going to the gym, taking a walk with pets, hanging out with friends, going for a run or a ride, baking, cleaning, feeding the dog, or whatever, it is so important to look after ourselves with time away from screens and school in order to keep ourselves whole. And when or if that doesn’t seem to be working, we can and should be reaching out to Health and Wellness for additional supports.”
It is vital that students make time to unplug and disconnect from this new virtual reality. Though this semester is challenging, students like Jayme Miller and Emmah Barber remain hopeful:
“Perhaps a positive of the whole thing is just really testing and improving your time management skills.” - Jayme
“I do believe that we will adapt and find a new sense of normalcy through this period in our lives, it is just going to take some time.” - Emmah
Hope is the key to surviving this difficult transition. We need to remain positive and remember that students will come out of this online experience with newfound skills, empathy, and resilience.