I Might Need a Visit to the Ophthalmologist after This Semester
Being partially remote this semester was interesting to say the very least. I am rather introverted so I quietly jumped for joy at the idea of not having to travel back and forth from my off-campus apartment to the main campus several times a week for class, work, and extracurricular activities. Returning to Colby College in late August 2020, I honestly thought we wouldn’t last but a couple months. The travel from my hometown Poughkeepsie, NY, to Waterville, ME, was a few minutes shy of six hours, so the health risks of living on campus were very real. There was no way to know if my peers would take the virus seriously, or if they would rampage on the weekends without any real concern for the rest of us who decided to come back for the semester.
Pursuing a double major in statistics and women’s gender and sexuality studies, I took both STEM and humanities courses this semester. Within the STEM class, I saw a familiar phenomenon: blank stares at the professor and jokes falling flat because the crowd was rough and the screen made it even rougher. We met once a week in person and had around three weekly video lectures varying from four minutes to forty keeping us company. In my three humanities classes, however, the palpable energy that fostered conversation and aided the flow of the class had gone dry. It took close to three weeks before people turned on their cameras and actively engaged in discussion.
Having the option to get up and walk away from the Zoom call during class without any real punishment made it even easier for me to not pay attention or tune out a conversation I would’ve been eagerly listening to had it occurred in a physical classroom. Breakout rooms helped from time to time because they mimicked small-group discussions that were always beneficial for stirring up good points, but it all depended on who you were in a group with. If your group included two other students with no camera on and nothing to say, the room was unbearable, but if your partners were engaged and had something to add, the conversation would flow and it would sometimes feel even better than if we were actually in the same classroom.
Doing work outside of class required even more motivation than semesters in the past, especially if your class was fully asynchronous. I had lots of classmates that easily fell behind in video lectures or online modules simply because all their professors seemed to have unlimited amounts of time to assign hours and hours of lecture material that normally they would’ve had to fit into a single fifty- to sixty-five-minute class session. Keeping many of the deadlines the same, the pressure was on to stay safe and stay sane with heavy workloads and shortened semesters. Often extensions were refused or met with scrutiny. It was almost like our professors forgot that our reality was far from normal. The virus ravaged through our towns and cities, and political unrest was at our doorstep, yet school ran like business as usual—as if we were working in a vacuum.
The parts of online learning I enjoyed most were the office hours. Gone were the days of waiting in long lines outside your professors’ offices in the hope that they could squeeze in five minutes for your question. With schedulable appointments in this virtual environment, you were almost guaranteed your professors’ undivided attention for whatever issues you brought to the table that day, and I felt much closer to a lot of them through these conversations. I also appreciated the autonomy that many the professors gave us. With the flipped classroom structure we could learn at our own pace, doing more or less when we saw fit. Additionally, prerecorded lectures allowed us to stop time in its tracks. I didn't have to run from classmate to classmate for something I had missed in a lecture or go to office hours for the professor to reexplain a concept I hadn’t originally understood. I just had to return to that day's lecture and clear up any confusion with the click of a button.
However nice it was, these connections came at the expense of serious strain on my eyes and body due to excessive screen time—people are calling it Zoom fatigue. Some days I would spend 10-14 hours in front of the computer screen because of the work my classes demanded. Slumped over and typing for so long exacerbated my already terrible posture (thanks for nothing, violin lessons) and forced me to master all the best yoga twists to relieve my back and shoulders of the massive tension I was holding. By the end of the semester I had invested in blue light glasses to block out the screens’ lights because I was having trouble sleeping, frequently waking up with migraines. We arose to screens and went to sleep with screens. To take a break from screens we used more screens. Each day felt like a never ending Cyberchasemarathon.
All in all, this was my best semester, academically, since I’ve been at Colby. In contrast, going online and living off campus definitely took away the incentive to make more friends and be more social, especially since each day left me exhausted. However, with the autonomy to pace my coursework and the project management skills I learned to keep from burning out too quickly, I left the semester feeling incredibly accomplished for having made it through, given the extremely grim circumstances. For anyone going online, I advise you to use a Pomodoro style of studying; buy some blue light glasses; if possible, use a tasking platform like Google Keep; and sprinkle fun activities that have nothing to do with work throughout the day so you don’t go completely insane.