ELT Blog

Article Review: ‘Zoom Fatigue’ and Their Simple Fixes

When I was writing about the challenges of using technology in teaching and learning, I came across this article. It had been published by Jeremy N. Bailenson from the Department of Communication at Stanford University, and the article is entitled Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue.

In his article, he amazingly describes every single problem, challenge, and pitfall I experienced as an educator who, in one day amid COVID-19 restrictions back in 2020, shifted from offline to online teaching mode and, as a result, became a full-time online teacher and online course founder of Online English Club.

Most of Mr. Bailenson's arguments, observations, and notices almost perfectly relate to me, as I used and sometimes overused the Zoom application to deliver almost all of my online lessons and teach my students online.

In the article, he explores the newly emerged phenomenon known as 'Zoom fatigue', which people experience as a result of having too many online videoconferences per day.

He outlines the four major reasons for Zoom fatigue, namely: [1] having too much eye contact at a very close distance between the host and the conference participants; [2] cognitive overload when communicating with participants both verbally and using gestures; [3] being exposed to self-reflection on the computer screen and as a result self-evaluating oneself all the time; and finally [4] extreme limitations on physical movement during the online videoconferences.

In the summary of his article he also proposes some interesting and valid suggestions to educators so they can avoid or minimize Zoom fatigue when teaching their students online.
Direct Eye Contact at Close Distance
Mr. Bailenson argues that the way we behave when communicating with our close family members, friends, or partners, such as maintaining regular eye contact and/or seeing their faces very close up, has now become the norm when we communicate with our newly made contacts, colleagues at work, and even complete strangers as well.

He references the findings of the research done by Takac et al., (2019) that "even when speakers see virtual faces instead of real ones, research has shown that being stared at while speaking causes physiological arousal". This in turn can make anyone feel exhausted, either at the end of each Zoom videoconference or at the end of the day when all the videoconferences are over.

He also gives us two examples: using an elevator and traveling on a subway full of people, and says that in these two settings, people would normally either look down at their mobile phone devices or just look away from the people standing very close to them.

Although I was really excited about teaching my students online initially, because now I did not have to commute to work on a daily basis and could stay at home in my comfort zone when the weather conditions were harsh with extremely cold days during the winter and anomalously hot days during the summer, I would still find myself exhausted to the point that I would simply lie on my sofa feeling unwilling to deliver my next online sessions. Looking back at those days, I would always wonder why on earth I was getting so tired if I were teaching my students online. This leads us to the second major cause of Zoom fatigue.
Cognitive Overload When Commmunicating
When hosting a Zoom videoconference meeting with participants, Mr. Bailenson points out that so-called non-verbal behavior becomes quite hard to maintain. This is because hosts must work a bit extra hard to showcase their emotions to their listeners, nod extra hard when they agree with them, and speak 15% louder (Croes et al. 2019). They do this in order to ensure that they are heard and understood by the people at the other end of the online conference.

Moreover, he also remembers that hosts often try to look at the camera of their laptops or computers, which is often a small hole on the top of the screens of their devices. They do so in order to create the impression that they are looking at their listeners and keeping eye contact with them. This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of online teaching. Although I have always looked at my students displayed to me through the small boxes on my Zoom screen when teaching online, I had to look at that little circular camera dot when I was recording 3-5 minute video podcasts for my other online course, and I found it really exhausting, as the author of the article described.
Seeing Oneself on Video All Day
Imagine you are at work and someone follows you with the large mirror next to you all the time, making you see yourself during an 8-hour work day in the office, writes Mr. Bailenson. He goes on to say that Duval and Wicklund (1972) proved to the world that when people see the image of themselves in the mirror, it is highly likely that they evaluate their appearance. Therefore, he argues that such behavior is prosocial and that "self-evaluation can be stressful".
Never have I paid attention to such small details as pointed out in the article, but as a teacher who taught his students online on a full-time basis for two years, I can say this with full confidence that this has always been the case with me. Reflecting back to 2020–2022, only now do I seem to realize that this was one of the major sources of my fatigue with the Zoom app. To make matters even worse or to ensure that my students, most of whom were teenage learners, were not playful but on track, focused, and engaged in the tasks I would assign, I would even force all of my students to keep their cameras on all the time, whether they wanted it or not. Now I see that it created extra pressure for both them and me.
Limitations on Physical Mobility
Mr. Bailenson reflects by saying that when we have face-to-face meetings, we tend to make various types of movements, such as standing up, walking around, striding, and so on. Although Zoom does not technically require anyone to remain seated, in most Zoom videoconferences, people are seen to be seated, and extremely lengthy Zoom sedentary meetings can actually cause great fatigue as well. Not only does it cause Zoom fatigue, but Oppezzo and Schwartz (2014) report that people who move around even inside the room tend to be more creative than those who do not.

Therefore, after two years of full-time teaching my students online from home, I not only felt myself less creative and productive, but I also started having pains in my back spine as a result of sitting too many hours in front of my laptop and teaching my students online, thinking that I was actually saving a lot of time and money by not commuting to and from my work and spending money on lunch and/or other small in-between snacks.

After reading, examining, and analyzing this article in depth, I now realize that I was actually losing my balance as well. Therefore, when one of my colleagues at Westminster International University in Tashkent encouraged me to pause my online teaching and engage in offline teaching, I started applying for the offline teaching opportunities at the higher education institutions in Tashkent (Uzbekistan).

However, teaching at the universities also required teachers to hold at least MA degrees, so I decided to apply for the MA in Teaching and Learning program that was launched at WIUT in 2020.
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