By Ian Zhao
“Zoom fatigue” is a phenomenon which both university faculty and students suffer from as classes transitioned online during the coronavirus pandemic. It refers to “the tiredness, worry or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication” such as Zoom, Skype and FaceTime, according to mental health attorney Carolyn Reinach Wolf.
Performing arts instructors, like Renee Gerardo and Tara Demmy, have faced challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic after their classes transitioned online in March. Despite the challenges that came with online learning, they modified their class time using their creative skill sets to accommodate students and reduce the likelihood of “Zoom fatigue.”
Gerardo, a third-year graduate student, was teaching when the pandemic hit and all classes transitioned online in the spring semester.
“It was an interesting transition,” said Gerardo. “But it was only possible through the support of other people who are teaching movement-based classes online. They made it easier to understand what works and what doesn’t.”
Gerardo found a way to combat Zoom fatigue through altering the themes of her synchronous class time. She tries to center her classes around movement, which she believes helps students combat “Zoom fatigue.” Even during her once-a-week discussion with students in one of her classes, she often provides breaktime for physical exercise.
“I play music before and during the break so people can move or dance if they want,” said Gerardo. “I think going forward, it is important to schedule self-directed and asynchronous activities during class time so students get a break from the screen.”
Gerardo worked for 18 years as a certified dance instructor in New York. She said her own experiences with online courses as a graduate student provide a reference for how she teaches her class.
“If I know I am going to have a day of back-to-back Zoom meetings, I will make a point to get outside in the morning — if [it’s] not pouring rain — and I’ll walk with my coffee,” said Gerardo. “Every day doesn’t always feel easy, and there are definitely days that my brain feels scrambled, but I know that I need to tune out from technology. I love to read, so those days if I need to read, I read a real, paper book.”
Tara Demmy was teaching her first semester of THET285, “The Art of Communication and Presentation,” when the online transition began, and it proved to be exceedingly challenging at first.
Demmy has now been teaching the general education course for non-theatre major students for a year at the university. The primary goal of the course is to use acting techniques and exercises to improve students’ public speaking skills.
Demmy’s strategies primarily rely on constant engagement with students and providing breaktime.
“I think the question for me as a teacher is how do I modify acting exercises,” said Demmy. “But also, how do I pick new exercises that are really going to work on this platform. Exercises for facial expressions, for example, are much easier to analyze on Zoom because you are able to get really close to the camera.”
Marty Austin Lamar, the coordinator of the BFA musical theatre program at Howard University, is a strong advocate for providing resources and platforms for the mental health of students and faculty.
“The biggest thing that the university can do is to make sure that the resources that students and the faculties need regarding mental well-being […] are not only available but they continue to be made at large,” said Lamar. “[And] expanding the places where both the students and the faculties can go to get assistance.”
Lamar said he believes universities should not make assumptions about what learning or working at home is like because, when students are at home, the responsibilities of being at home could increase the overall workload.
“Universities having strategic plans would have encouraged patience and accountability and made room for students and faculties to have conversations instead of assuming at home we have more time.”
Lamar said it’s also just as important to avoid the assumption that there is equality and justice for all. Every student doesn’t have equal access to resources.
“It is unfortunate that so many will fall behind this season and we have not done the job of ensuring that every student has what they need.”