Part I: What do you think of Zoom University?

May 19, 2020, 11:25 p.m.

On Monday, Frankly Speaking had the Stanford community weigh in on the question: What do you think of Zoom University? We received a record number of replies; we will publish some today and some later this week. 

Honestly, I feel uniquely blessed — my courses translated pretty much seamlessly to an online format, but I think that’s particularly doable for CS classes. In some ways it’s been nice, and I’m far enough along in my degree that I’m not missing out as much on a lot of the in-person benefits — I have friends to be my Zoom project partners and do my p-sets within all of my classes. As a TA, though, Zoom University sucks. It’s so much harder to connect with students and offer the kind of support I would in person. Engagement was already tough live — it’s much harder now. I worry for the students who don’t have the strong network that I have; I’m sure their learning suffers for it. 

— Maya Ziv ’20

There’s no substitute for the wonderful experience of being in class together and seeing students engage with each other’s ideas. I’m sad not to be there in person. But I have also seen really great work being done, and I find myself compensating for lack of in-person contact by making many more individual meetings. I surveyed my students in Week 5 about their needs and responses to online teaching, asking how I could improve their experience. Many asked for more challenging tasks in class, most seem happy for the extra office hours contact, and all have been very good sports this quarter. But many are considering taking an internship instead of returning for another quarter online. 

— Anonymous faculty member

I live in Shanghai and had to come back because the outbreak was getting worse in the states. Trying to take classes at 1-6 a.m. everyday means I basically can’t function during the day. Why should I waste my money on subpar online teaching? Tuition isn’t just for learning in the class. It’s also everything outside the classroom. Stanford should be doing whatever it takes to hasten the resume of in-person classes. Kindergarten to high schools have fully reopened in Shanghai (5 months after beginning of outbreak in China). Will Stanford be ready by September?

— Joshua Chien ’23

I have never been less engaged in learning material than I have over Zoom. Part of the issue is the sheer mental energy it takes to follow information and words through a video format. If my mind wanders for even a second during Zoom class, it takes me double the time to catch back up to what the professor or classmate is saying. I shudder to think how it will feel to take classes over Zoom once we are no longer on a mandatory pass system. 

— Anonymous graduate student

Every Wednesday, I have three classes totaling five hours of class. When I had back-to-back classes on campus, it was tiring, but I had respites in between. During class, I could stretch or look out the window. Between classes, I would walk across campus and enjoy the scenery.

At Zoom University, however, I spend that time staring at a screen. Two of my classes require me to keep my video on, so I’m afraid to even stretch lest I look like I’m not paying attention. I find myself sitting painfully still for five nearly-consecutive hours, performing my attentiveness in a way I never had to in person. Without the micro-breaks I used to have, I can’t pace my energy throughout the day, so I end up burning out by the end of class one.

If we have to do another quarter online, I’d like individual class sessions to be shortened. Two hours isn’t too long to sit in a lecture hall, but it is too long to be staring at a screen. I’d also like classes to be video off by default unless discussion is a substantial part of the course. Lastly, to substitute for shorter classes, I think professors should give more short take-home assignments. Yes, I dislike homework, but being honest with myself, I learn far better from applying concepts than I do from watching a talking head. The less time spent on Zoom, the better.

— Tiffany Zhu ’21

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to [email protected] and op-ed submissions to [email protected]

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