Keshreeyaji R. Oswal
I attend the University of Puget Sound, a private liberal arts university on the West Coast which is currently halfway through its first-ever fully remote semester. While the University was forced to hold classes via Zoom this semester due to COVID-19, the change has brought challenges and successes academically for both professors and students. As a student, I have been able to observe first-hand what some of the academic challenges and successes look like in the remote business classroom, and more specifically in Financial Accounting, Law & Ethics in the Business Environment, and Health Entrepreneurship.
The remote classroom changes the atmosphere of academic class discussions in many ways. Most noticeably, there is a significant decrease in student engagement in academic discussions, in part simply due to not being in a physical classroom. In a physical classroom, there is an expectation that students will not be disrespectful to other students by using their cell phones or taking frequent breaks amidst class discussions. In addition, when a face-to-face academic discussion is taking place in the classroom, both the professor and students are expected to maintain eye contact with the student who is speaking. Similarly, professors can stare at students who have not spoken and easily bring them into the conversation. On the other hand, Zoom does not have the concept of eye contact and the expectations for engagement change. What Zoom has is a green border around the speaker’s webcam view. Unless a student is speaking, others in the Zoom room do not even know whether someone is there if their webcam is turned off. Of course, I also miss having casual conversations with my classmates in the physical setting.
Zoom also affects how professors manage their classes in general. There is less of an expectation from professors to not take frequent breaks or not to use technology. Because everyone is attending classes from their living spaces or cars, it is assumed that students may need to attend to family matters. I have also observed that my professors, for the most part, have avoided calling on students to avoid an uncomfortable situation with the student. This is a reasonable point as some students lack the technology or quality internet service to properly participate in online class discussions. A new and dangerous virus, new learning environments, and altogether new conventions and expectations for learning!
From my very personal perspective, this decrease in engagement has impacted my learning in academic discussions because I am someone who learns through interactions with my professors and classmates. The back and forth conversations help me clarify my understanding of what my professor might be teaching. I by no means want to suggest that universities should resume face-to-face classes simply because in the past we had preferred a particular way of learning. Given the threat of contagion from COVID-19 community transmission, I am willing to accept the impact of learning online in exchange for the well-being of myself and my university community.
Business lectures have in many ways stayed the same due to the array of technological tools provided to professors—screening of powerpoint or Google slides and the professor talking. While again, online lectures are not preferable over face-to-face lectures, there are some benefits to using Zoom that help enhance the overall classroom experience. The professor’s ability to easily record lectures is very beneficial because I can listen to the professor’s interpretation of concepts again when I am doing my homework for studying for an exam. Recorded lectures are also beneficial to, for example, one of my peers in Accounting who is currently living in China with his family due to the COVID-19 lockdown (hence a different time zone), and is relying only on recorded lectures instead of staying awake throughout the night to attend classes. Notably, the benefit of having recorded lectures is dependent on the professor as they have the academic right to not record their lectures. In my case, two of my business professors record their classes while one does not record their lectures – presumably because some students may not maintain good attendance if the lectures are posted on Canvas. Zoom can also produce a transcript of lecture recordings at the end of a class but professors tend to avoid this tool.
In addition to the record feature, Zoom also has several other tools that professors can use to improve the lecture experience. These tools include Zoom polls which can help determine if the class understands a concept or if students need further explanation and practice. Zoom polls are typically multiple-choice and not-graded so, as a student, I can easily and without penalty share my current understanding of the concept in question. Zoom also has some emoticons borrowed from social media for reacting to the speaker, most of which verge on banality—Thumbs up, thumbs down, clap etc. Professors can have students easily provide non-verbal feedback through these emoticons. Through this feedback method, students who would not typically speak up may respond to an open-ended question through non-verbal feedback, if appropriate. Students can also ask the professor a question in the middle of a lecture using the Zoom chat feature without interrupting and the professor can choose an appropriate moment to respond.
While academic discussions and lectures take up a vast majority of my business classes, there are a few points that I would like to emphasize that do not fit elsewhere in this paper:
I have observed several instances where students have encountered technical difficulties — Wi-Fi for example — when speaking to the class, which has led to the professor suggesting alternative methods to communicate with the class. This leads to an awkward and slightly embarrassing moment for the student. For that reason, I believe it would be beneficial for professors to remind their students of the ways they can communicate with the class if they are having difficulties. Possibly, they could share an article about solving these technical problems from the university’s IT department.
Perhaps one of the biggest disadvantages of remote business classes across the board is the decrease in one-on-one time with the professor. Typically, in the face-to-face setting, I commonly walk over to my professor’s office if I am in the same building. Other times, I would ask a quick question to a professor passing by in the hallway. Of course, during their office hours, anyone can walk in and have a chat. In the remote setting in these COVID times, I can usually only speak one-on-one to my business professors through scheduled meetings or when they are holding their office hours – which have generally been reduced to once or twice a week and are not always convenient times for students as our professors typically schedule them around their normal and COVID-19 family obligations.
I have noticed a common theme of more patience and less confrontation throughout my classes. This theme is especially present in my Law & Ethics in the Business Environment course in which we go over the assigned readings and discuss a number of controversial or debatable topics. I recall taking a similar ethics class with the same professor and overall class structure in a face-to-face format, and remember that students, including myself, were more willing to share and defend an opposing argument. As a student, I valued hearing opposing arguments but at the same time, I recognize that we, as a society, are currently under a lot of stress, pain, and burden and therefore need to be supportive of each other.
Keshreeyaji R. Oswal is a senior with a major in biology and minor in business at the University of Puget Sound.
Keshreeyaji R. Oswal. (2020). Student Perspective: Learning Remotely in the Zoom Classroom. the Western ABC Bulletin, 2.2.