With the new digital learning style due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students are now facing a phenomenon commonly referred to as “Zoom fatigue” — a term for the exhaustion that may be experienced from being online for so many hours. For senior Patrick Nguyen, he was taken aback by how exhausting Zoom calls have felt for him, despite being accustomed to staring at his screen for a large part of the summer.
“It wasn’t necessarily a mental fatigue as in I was being pushed really hard in my classes,” Nguyen said. “It was more so just staring at the screen for six hours [is] really draining, and I’m finding myself more sleepy and brain dead exhausted rather than overloaded with information at this point.”
Similarly, junior Stephanie Sevilla feels this same exhaustion as a result of staring at the screen. However, largely due to a prolonged concussion she experienced in late 2019 to early 2020, she also regularly struggles with headaches.
“I always end up having a headache at the end or in the middle of the day,” Sevilla said. “When I have a headache and am still forced to look at a screen, it just messes up my brain more. It also affects how I do homework later that day because my headache makes it much more difficult [to complete assignments].”
Headaches, among many other physical consequences of Zoom fatigue — eye strain, back aches, neck aches — can impact students’ ability to learn. Junior Vaishnavi Suresh says that aside from having to be in front of the screen all day, she struggles with having to keep the camera turned on for her classes. Suresh notes that it can be very nerve wracking and tiring, explaining both the pros and cons of having the camera on throughout her classes.
“I think [having your camera on is] good because you want to make sure your student is there,” Suresh said. “But it’s really tiring, especially for people in their teenage years. You focus a lot on how you look or how you comport yourself, and there’s a lot of social anxiety that comes along with it.”
Of Suresh’s six teachers, only two allow their students to turn off their cameras during a five-minute break in the middle of each class session. Since the majority of her teachers want their students’ cameras to be on for the full length of the class, Suresh tries to decrease her feeling of exhaustion by looking away from the screen as much as possible, both during and after her classes.
“I want to minimize the time that I’m spending on my computer since I think that the quality of work, for me at least, is going down,” Suresh said. “It’s so tiring that I start to spend less and less time and focus less and less on the things that I should be spending more time on. Whenever [my teachers] allow us to turn our cameras off, it helps me direct my attention to the things that actually are important.”
AP U.S. History teacher Bonnie Belshe says that she tries to have times in which she allows her students to turn their cameras off, hoping that her students take the time to get up, stretch and move around. In addition to these short breaks, Belshe encourages her students to complete their assignments by hand. For the first units in her class, she had students pick up printed copies of their readings instead of having them all be online.
“It gives them a chance to be away from the computer, whether it’s Zoom or Schoology, just giving [them] a chance to not have to be on [their] laptops,” Belshe said. “That’s why we’re doing [this] old school, on paper, which you can take with you, sit in your backyard, leave the laptop inside and get a little bit of space and separation, [which I] think is really good for everyone.”
Suresh believes that the amount of time per class should be slightly reduced. She believes that teenagers have too short of an attention span to be expected to focus for the full 90 minutes of class.
“I think that the school is making a good effort trying to deal with the whole situation around COVID-19,” Suresh said. “But at the same time, I think that 90 minutes on Zoom is just so exhausting, especially for people who have things like mental health disorders, which are really common among adolescents, especially at our school. It’s really, really hard to be online for 90 minutes because of a fear of judgment or a fear of just being there.”
Though Suresh has yet to find any solutions for Zoom fatigue, Belshe has bought things to help herself while teaching throughout the day –– blue light glasses, a comfortable cushion and a laptop stand.
Additionally, Nguyen has discovered a variety of strategies to try and combat Zoom fatigue, such as maintaining a good posture, leaning back in the chair and lowering his computer’s brightness levels. Nevertheless, according to Nguyen, it is still very difficult for him to always be attentive and focused, which he feels is a challenge that cannot be easily solved anytime soon.
“At the current moment, there’s not necessarily anything that I could think of that would be feasible to accomplish and be something that’s respectful to the demands that a teacher already has,” Nguyen said. “I feel like adding a bunch of new things for [teachers] to put into place would be kind of out of line. I think that the way classes are run isn’t actually too bad. But that’s not necessarily saying that everything is perfect.”