Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

USC Prof: I Like Teaching On Zoom

New York Times op-ed:  I Actually Like Teaching on Zoom, by Viet Thanh Nguyen (USC):

Zoom 49 Participants (2020)Here’s an unpopular opinion: I like teaching on Zoom.

Many accounts of teaching on Zoom or other online platforms recount its horrors. And much is horrible: teachers and students without stable internet connections or adequate technology; too much intimacy, with overcrowded homes that teachers or students might find embarrassing for others to see; and not enough intimacy, with the human connection attenuated online.

As a college professor, I, too, miss some of the elements of teaching in a classroom, including the intellectual energy that can flow around a seminar table, the performative aspect of lecturing to a large audience and the little chats that take place by happenstance during breaks or after class with students.

What I don’t miss is my 10-mile drive to campus and back. I don’t miss pondering my wardrobe choices in the morning. The relative informality of the Zoom era means that I would feel overdressed if I wore a blazer to teach. And if I don’t wear a blazer, I don’t have to wear slacks. Or put on shoes. Why would I wear shoes inside my house, anyway?

More important, with my smaller graduate classes of 10 to 20 students, I have noticed little falloff in intellectual quality. Looking at 10 or 20 faces on a screen is manageable, and the experience is a pretty faithful replication of a real-world seminar. Breakout rooms for smaller discussions are simple to arrange, and they lack the cacophony of overheard conversations in live settings. My teaching evaluations have been positive if a little less effusive than usual, perhaps because of the lack of human warmth that being face to face makes possible. ...

I am now teaching about a hundred undergraduate students in a class on the American war in Vietnam. If a lecture is only someone talking for an hour, that can indeed be stultifying on video — but that would also be true in a classroom. Back in the live era, I did my best to animate my lectures by roaming the lecture hall, memorizing the students’ names so I could call on them, encouraging questions and using PowerPoint slides replete with photos, historical quotations and clips of movies and documentaries. Teachers who haven’t done multimedia lectures might reasonably experience an extra burden of work preparing them for Zoom.

But multimedia lectures work easily and even better on Zoom. I no longer have to memorize students’ names — their names are listed underneath their faces. And on Zoom, the students get a close-up of the photos and video clips, and with the lectures automatically recorded, they can review them or, if they miss a lecture, listen to them later. ...

We are all now participants in a forced experiment in mass online teaching. Many might go back with relief to in-person teaching after the pandemic, but it seems likely that some of video conferencing’s benefits will remain, and that both teachers and students might want to be given a choice about how to mix online with face-to-face learning.

Regardless of what impact videoconferencing will have on our teaching after the pandemic, I am sure college professors can all agree on one thing: We should never, ever have in-person faculty meetings again.

(Hat Tip: Barry McDonald)

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