At this point, most of us are used to life in a pandemic, including in our academic lives. We have migrated from traditional classrooms to zoom meetings, accustomed to breakout rooms and screen sharing. I, like many of my peers, have grown tired of zoom and eager to return to the classrooms. However, I understand the situation we’re in does not allow for in person group meetings.
Last semester I found myself struggling. Yes, I understood the material and was making the grades, but I found myself struggling to engage with the class virtually. Zoom lectures are far more cumbersome than regular lectures, the lack of face to face communication makes it easy to zone out in class. The breakout rooms are even more inconvenient, especially when your classmates aren’t eager to speak up and share their thoughts. You end up in a small group, all silent, maybe silently staring if your instructor requires cameras to be on. The camera situation might even make the whole class uncomfortable. Yes, you see your peers in face to face classes, but you don’t see each other face to face all at once. In one of my classes last semester, I found it uncomfortable to speak up, knowing that all my peers were definitely paying attention to me, unlike physical classes where you have anonymity of seating location to rely on. I could tell my peers also felt uncomfortable, as long pauses lingered between sentences and silence went on for minutes at a time during some points.
This semester, while similar to last semester, has some hope. Instructors are getting more creative with how they have us engage with class material. They are finding additions and alternatives to the dreaded breakout rooms. One of the most interesting alternatives I have seen used and have personally used myself, is Course Networking. While the name is vague, the site essentially allows you to interact with your peers in a very social media like way. When I initially joined the site for one of my classes, I thought the idea was ridiculous. However, I have noticed myself engaging more with my peers and the course content as a result of the site. To best describe its layout and usage I would say it is as if reddit met facebook. You can make posts and polls on the site and then react and comment on the post just like facebook, but for every action on the site you get these points called “anar seeds”, similar to reddit’s idea of karma. Instructors can use the anar seeds to count as points towards attendance for the class.
With the use of tools such as Course Networking for virtual classes, I hope for this semester to be more interactive and engaging than the last. Of course, nothing will replace traditional learning, but using interactive media can help make virtual classes less of a drag.