February 25, 2021

SMITH | Transferring Out of Zoom University

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I am not built for Zoom University. I mean, no one is. Aside from neck pain and eye strain, video conferences and lectures deny us the oxytocin we glean from in-person interactions, reduce our ability to decode subliminal cues such as body language and introduce other neuropsychological road blocks. Throw in some unstable internet connections, frozen screens and audio lags and it’s easy to see why people are itching to return to in-person instruction. There are, however, some parts of Zoom University that I hope stick around even after we shift back to in-person learning. 

There are certainly benefits to having Cornell be accessible with a few clicks rather than a trek up the slope — and I’m not talking about being able to roll out of bed at 7:55 a.m. and still be on time for your 8:05 a.m. lecture. While my inquiries in a couple GroupMe chats about the positives of Zoom University received that answer a few times, there were also other insights. Colden Pro ’21 particularly loves how guest speakers from around the world have been able to zoom into classes. One of the highlights for Jen Grell ’22 was being able to meet Jane Goodall through one of her online classes. 

Removing the need to be physically in a lecture hall has also been more accommodating for students that may be feeling too unwell or have other barriers to attending lectures in person. Chelle Davis ’22 appreciates recorded lectures as well as how Zoom has normalized taking classes remotely,which can be helpful for people with difficulty accessing campus or for those that may find it easier to not be in Ithaca at this time, but don’t want to delay graduation. 

Stanford opinion columnist Rachel D’Agui shared her personal experience with the accessibility benefits of Zoom University and life becoming virtual that I highly recommend checking out. She now does not have to walk long distances (which causes her pain) to attend class and her disability does not increase her likelihood of being late. She also does not need to lug heavy physical textbooks around and she can join campus groups that she could not have previously because of the physical commitment. I can relate to this in a lot of ways. While mine was not a permanent disability, I would have greatly appreciated being spared the steep walk up the stairs to Baker when I had a severe hip injury my freshman year. 

My personal favorite part has been the mass recording of most classes’ lectures, and I’m not alone. When I asked other students if there are any aspects of Zoom University that they want to stick around or like, many were in favor of widespread lecture recordings because, as one anonymous student said, “It’s nice to be able to rewatch concepts that you might have missed or didn’t understand too well during lecture.” Another student added that being able to watch recorded lectures with captions has been helpful. As someone who (somewhat controversially) enjoys Netflix and YouTube subtitles, I agree. 

My method of note taking and studying has changed quite a bit since classes went virtual. I now typically take sparse notes and try to focus more on the lecturer and then re-watch and take more thorough notes by watching the recording (except for you, CHEM 2080). I’ve come to realize that this method is very helpful for me, and I hope widespread class recordings don’t go away with masks and surveillance testing. 

It’s naive to assume that we will return to a “normalcy” untouched by the events of the last year. In the instance of Zoom University, I can only hope that this experiment proves to be a learning experience for the University as well as the students. It is worth the administration and faculty’s time to look further into whether or not some modifications made for the COVID-era are worth keeping around even when we no longer need to have as much concern over infection. 

Students, if you like something about the class structure, tell your professors and encourage them to keep it around! And while I solemnly hope I won’t have to apologize to my virtual lab partners for the video not working and the audio lagging for much longer, there are some parts of Zoom University that I hope stick around. 

Emma Smith is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]Emmpathy runs every other Wednesday this semester.