With almost 20 years of teaching Finance in Publishing at New York University’s MS in Publishing program, which provides an in-depth knowledge of how publishing functions, I have helped populate the publishing world with financial wisdom. Typically I teach a class two evenings a week at one of NYU’s midtown or East Village campuses. The mandate to start teaching with Zoom was presented to me just before the mid-term for both of my graduate school classes at NYU. Shorty afterwards, New York City would initiate the PAUSE protocol—as part of the State’s attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, one of the busiest cities in the world would lock itself down and retreat indoors. In that week of the change-over from classroom to Zoom, the Monday class was the last one to be conducted “live” and the Thursday class was to be conducted over Zoom.
As someone who has worked in the business world for nearly 40 years using Webex, Skype, and many other online collaborative tools, Zoom in my mind was just another teaching tool that would assist with the goal of keeping on track with the syllabus. NYU provided quite a bit of instruction and guidance on working with Zoom and how to run a Zoom class, but nothing prepared me for the reality of Zoom teaching.
What I did not count on is the change in student behavior over the past few weeks and how we seem to be missing the teacher/student interaction that makes higher education more impactful. The first class was an experiment in using the technology, but as the semester continues, patterns began to emerge.
Primarily, classroom decorum is out the window. Students are now working from their old high school bedrooms in their parents’ houses so I am getting to see my fair share of stuffed animals, band posters and rambunctious dogs and cats in the background. Can you please pick up the dirty laundry sitting on your bed? While I did not mind small meals in the classroom, Zoom class has turned into full-fledged 3-course meals, with parents bringing in plates of food in the middle of class. I see that cameras go on and off during Zoom class (maybe eating, trips to the bathroom, napping) and frequent “muting” of microphones to control the sounds of munching. Notwithstanding the frequent dog barking or parent conversations off camera, classroom behavior has been modified to reflect meddling parents and nosey pets. More than one ready-for-primetime cat has walked across a student keyboard and got its face in the camera. Don’t these animals know that it is class time?
Separately, student attire has morphed into sleepwear. Tee-shirts and sweatpants seem to be most rampant among the “Zoomers”, indicating that if we have to work remotely, I might as well be comfortable. I am not sure NYU advised the students to show up for class dressed as if they are in the classroom, but teachers need to be prepared to see students at their most casual which explains why many turn their cameras off during class. I must admit that I am teaching with a dress shirt but I am also wearing sweatpants which are not visible on screen (I hope).
Most notably, the student attention span obviously drifts off after about 75 minutes. I agree it is hard to stay awake when the classroom is now only 15” across (or in my case, 21”)
Based on my experiences of teaching with Zoom, I’ve come up with some new best practices that others might find useful.
- Reduce the class time a bit so students are not falling asleep after 90 minutes.
- If students know that a 2 ½ class is now 90 minutes, I think it makes them work harder to get in more content in less time.
- As a teacher, I prefer to tell them ahead of time what time frame we are going to work under and also what we expect to accomplish this class.
- Ask questions of those who have their cameras on and question those who turn their cameras off to see if they are still there.
- I use WORD, Excel or a white board to replace the classroom blackboard and then I post the completed file to the class website.
- I have given up on advising students on proper attire or class time decorum.
I am pleased that the Zoom alternative has worked for me and my students and that we are able to make do while the pandemic plays out, but I prefer to be in the classroom and actually see the students rather than a box with a name on a screen. I am hopeful that in-person teaching can resume safely in the fall.
Have a great idea, some interested experiences or some insights on improving Zoom teaching, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.