Zoom University is not a sustainable mode of learning

Photo of Trousdale Parkway with a corner view of the Student Union building.
Charles McCollum | Daily Trojan

Students have had mixed feelings about learning remotely — some have capriciously nicknamed the online learning format “Zoom University.” Indeed, students spend all their class time in front of a camera on their laptop or phone on Zoom to attend class. This is a novel form of higher-education learning, where the classic issue of another student sitting in your unassigned-assigned seat holds no bearing. That being said, “Zoom University” comes with its own problems — and a lot of students are starting to speak up about it. 

The semester has a reduced schedule; for USC, classes will end Nov. 24. The administration decided that an early end would help regulate the coronavirus’s impact on students who go home for holidays and return for finals, which some anticipated would lead to a big spike in positive cases. Though the University’s level of foresight and precaution  regarding the virus is appreciated, students are still suffering academically. 

Much of this suffering can be attributed to students’ declining mental health during this period of remote learning. Once able to walk around the campus and see the smiling faces of friends and fellow students, being quarantined in one’s home for weeks at a time while feeling overwhelmed academically is not an ideal situation by any means. 

Moreover, given the pandemic’s uncertainty, plans have been thrust into action without much consideration of their implications. Students have noticed an increase in the density of their workloads because of the shortened schedule. Professors have declared that they are trying to adjust to the new format of learning, but for many undergraduate and graduate students, it seems that professors have not been taking into consideration the added workload. Cramming at the last minute for assignments and seemingly impossible deadlines is not benefitting anyone, certainly not students.

Additionally, many students no longer have an active daily routine to cling to and find themselves even more distracted with this new form of learning. College students are accustomed to waking up for a day of school, maybe stopping at their favorite coffee shop on their way to class and interacting with a handful of people as they maneuver through the University campus. Now, many students are waking up a few minutes before class just to turn on their Zoom cameras from bed. According to The Washington Post, students (who, needless to say, are experiencing a complete deprivation of structure and incentives to pay attention) are finding it difficult to stay focused on Zoom. 

Much of that distraction probably comes from staring at multiple screens or paying attention to what someone’s room looks like instead of what the professor says. Adding to this distraction problem is the fact that many students are not feeling confident in the subject matter they are being taught. The obligation to turn one’s camera on to gain attendance credit does not translate into an automatic understanding of the material. Students are working themselves to the bone to get homework in just to meet deadlines without grasping the substance of the material. This constitutes a major problem for prominent universities, where tuition is expensive, and students are paying to get a quality education but are finding themselves scrambling, not learning. 

This begs the question: What’s the solution? Students certainly want to be able to express to professors that they aren’t learning and that academic changes must be implemented to improve learning quality. At the same time, however, the semester is flying by (less than five weeks remain before finals) and students may be more interested in bucking down and doing what they can than in risking time and effort on seeking out change that may ultimately prove fruitless. 

Either way, this has been a decisively challenging start to the semester for tons of students — with midterm season now in full swing, the fact that many students are expressing a lack of understanding of class material poses a real problem. The idea that the University prioritizes profit over the quality of education it provides its student body also poses a serious issue. With the spring semester quickly approaching, everything is still up in the air. That being said, Zoom University will likely be sticking around a little longer and could become the new standard for collegiate learning — and if that is the case, universities must make substantive change.