Eduvation Blog

Counteracting Zoom Fatigue

Good morning!

 Well, another 47 cases of COVID19 in CdnPSE… almost all of them in Ontario. The third wave is well underway in this province, if not across Canada. Nonetheless, every institution is confidently predicting a return to campus for September (albeit with several caveats). Today I round up even more for you.

 What caught my eye last night, though, was a combination of new stories about outages at Microsoft and efforts to escape Zoom meetings – so today, I’ll share some insights and tips about avoiding Zoom fatigue, and improving virtual meetings.

 Just in time, too, because I’m joining my college CMO roundtable this afternoon – where else? – on Zoom!



COVID on Campus

Since yesterday, there have been 47 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs, almost entirely in Ontario. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of >1500 cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)

Cambrian College reported another case at its Barrydowne campus yesterday.  Cambrian

Ontario Police College now reports 112 cases (up from 102), and has extended the suspension of all in-person instruction. The outbreak began Feb 25.  London Free Press

Queen’s U now has 20 cases on- and off-campus, up from 10 yesterday. 14 are variants of concern (VOCs), and the PHO expects more cases among off-campus students.  Global

Red River College reported a case Friday (which I previously missed) at their Notre Dame campus in Winnipeg.  RRC

Western U’s student outbreak linked to house parties has doubled since yesterday, from 22 to 45 cases, and is “still growing in number.” Most of the new cases are secondary infections, not people who attended the 10 parties Mar 2-6.  CBC

Wilfrid Laurier U has confirmed 2 on-campus cases this month, in the Clara Conrad Hall and MacDonald Hall residences.  Kitchener Today



Fall Plans, Part 4

If you’ve been paying attention, you will notice that virtually every CdnPSE is promising “increased” on-campus instruction in September, and “hoping” for a return to full in-person activities. (See my master spreadsheet for colour-coded announcements.) While BC expects to have all young adults vaccinated by July, other parts of Canada may be waiting until late September or October – making certainty a challenge at this point. McMaster U, one of Canada’s leading medical institutions, has a reassuringly cautious position on the matter…

Algonquin College president Claude Brulé wrote last week that, “with vaccination rollouts, we remain optimistic and hopeful for increased face-to-face teaching delivery options” this fall. Ultimately that will be subject to PHO decisions.  Algonquin

Capilano U is “planning for maximum in-person classes and activities at our campuses and learning locations in September,” following PHO Bonnie Henry’s direction last week.  North Shore News

 Conestoga College already has ~5,500 students learning in-person on campus, and president John Tibbits says that for September, “the question is not whether the college will be open or not, it’s a question of how far, how much further we can go.” He does not think the college will be completely open by Fall, and thinks recent PSE announcements have been “too optimistic and focused on marketing.”  CBC

Holland College (PEI) is promising full-time on-campus classes for all students this fall, although class sizes will be smaller and masks will still be required indoors. Students and faculty will be divided into cohorts of up to 50, and scheduled to minimize interaction between cohorts. Some blended learning will be provided too.  CBC

Loyalist College “is planning for a safe return to campus and in-person learning” this fall, writes president Ann Marie Vaughan – although “we will be prepared to shift once again to multiple forms of delivery upon the advice of HPE Public Health.”  Loyalist

McMaster U has “tremendous optimism” that vaccines will allow a return to campus classrooms and residences this fall, but recognizes that the pandemic is “a dynamic situation,” and although other institutions have been making announcements, “we don’t want to overpromise on a bunch of items that we think we can’t deliver on.” A decision will be made in April, but “realistically we’re looking at a blended environment.”  Hamilton Spectator

Mohawk College president Ron McKerlie is “hopeful” for more F2F learning this fall, but “we expect there will still be some restrictions in place that will limit our on-campus activities.” Plans will be announced by Mar 31.  Hamilton Spectator

North Island College is preparing for “more in-person learning on campus” this September, as recommended by PHO Bonnie Henry. NIC will deliver programs “on campus, digitally and a blend of both on campus and digital learning.”  Education News Canada

Redeemer U plans to continue offering courses through “dual delivery” this fall, allowing students to participate in the classroom and synchronously online.  Hamilton Spectator

uWaterloo is still developing a plan for Fall 2021. Associate Provost Chris Read says, “the planning is certainly underway, but we haven’t committed to any specific direction yet. The message that we’re hearing loud and clear is that the vast majority of [students] are looking forward to getting back on campus, in-person, so they can have that community and their peers, and that face-to-face interaction that’s so important in the learning environment.”  CBC



Fatigued and Fed Up?

Although personally I love Zoom meetings and online conferences, that may well be because I’m basically a tech-loving introvert – and I don’t have whole days of back-to-back meetings, either…


Metastasizing Meetings

Joshua Kim complained last October that “the shift to universal remote work seems to be correlated with a metastasis of Zoom meetings,” endless days of back-to-back meetings that are “an energy drain and a productivity killer.” He theorizes that it’s easier to find virtual meeting space, and with zero travel friction and academic “norms of inclusivity,” we wind up inviting too many people to too many meetings.  Inside Higher Ed


“Left unchecked, Zoom meetings will follow the same time and soul-sucking path as email. Taking the friction and time lag out of communications causes an increase in quantity, but not necessarily in quality.”Joshua Kim,



Zoom Fatigue’s Impact

Some medical experts report that Zoom fatigue can actually be tougher on extroverts than introverts. They miss the body language and social cues of in-person conversation, which they excel at interpreting in the moment – and can be frustrated by mute and other controls that limit interaction. Extroverts might benefit from larger screens, louder audio, fun virtual backgrounds or other ways to crank up the stimuli. For introverts, on the other hand, the structure of Zoom meetings is a welcome relief from “spontaneous water-cooler chitchat,” and some may prefer video meetups for social activities – although they will find dozens of faces draining. “Portion control is critical for everyone,” says uToronto psychiatry prof Roger McIntyre.  Wall Street Journal


I have long been frustrated by the ways Microsoft has deliberately crippled its Teams platform, dropping my 4K webcam to 480p, refusing to accept my virtual camera, sharing video in choppy frames and mono sound. That’s why I prefer the amazing quality of Zoom – and yesterday I was reminded of its reliability too…


Microsoft Crashes Again

Microsoft suffered another global outage last night, knocking MS Teams, Exchange, and more offline for everyone everywhere. MS reportedly implemented a change to an authentication system that took some MS 365 services down, and it took almost 4 hours to roll back the change and restore most services.  The Verge


Looking for a Zoom Exit?

If you can’t bear another “soul-numbing” web meeting, there’s a free web app called Zoom Escaper that lets you sabotage your Zoom call with “bad connection” static, echo, barking dogs, a crying baby and more. The echo and baby sound most convincing, but “if you’re prepared to fake the existence of a child in order to get out of Zoom meetings with your co-workers, then perhaps you have bigger issues with work.” The Verge


(I provide you with this information not to encourage you to use it, of course, but to alert you to the possibility that your co-workers might be trying to avoid meeting with you by using it!)



Improving Zoom

Here are a few interesting ideas to help you overcome Zoom fatigue – your own, or someone else’s!



Zoom Out

Part of the psychological intensity of Zoom calls is caused by the close-up webcams we use by default: the impression of someone’s face 2.5 feet away intrudes upon our personal space. Instead, try backing up to a medium shot in which your hands and arms are visible; show your body language, and others won’t have to strain for non-verbal cues.  Quartz


Take the Right Breaks

Cal Newport recommends that while working from home you take scheduled breaks, outside your work context, and ensure you don’t encounter tasks or obligations you can’t resolve during the break (which create “mental drag”). Email is not a break. A 20-30-minute walk outdoors might be ideal. “When work happens in the same place as life, it’s hard to know when the workday begins and ends.”  Fast Company


Convey “E-Charisma”

The flair and charm that let you command a room in person don’t translate directly to a Zoom call: online, people focus more on what you say than how you dress or move. But experts recommend you ensure your face is well-positioned in frame, well-lit, and that you exhibit plenty of “nonverbal energy like nodding to show that you’re engaged.” Executive coach Ora Shtull recommends “a simple, warm smile (without teeth showing)” while others are talking, “a broader smile when someone on the call makes a joke,” and otherwise, “try to look thoughtful in the most natural way you can.” (But you also don’t want to spend time self-consciously watching your own image onscreen!) Invest in a high-quality microphone so your voice isn’t lost, slow down your speech and articulate carefully, and vary your pitch for emphasis. Consciously acknowledge what others have said and ask questions to make “space” for others and ensure give and take in the conversation.  Wall Street Journal


“The people who got along with physical charisma and style in the pre-Covid era really need to work on their substance game because we’re being more sized up for substance in the virtual era whether we realize it or not.” Leigh Thompson, Kellogg School of Management



Engage the Room

Virtual presenting, especially in a webinar, is like “speaking into a black hole” when audience body language, facial expressions or laughter are invisible and inaudible. Sometimes, “because we feel as if no one is listening, we speak as if no one is listening.” The solution is to create call and response exchanges using the text chat, polls, Q&A breaks or even simply by asking rhetorical questions.  Harvard Business Review


Fight Groupthink

With the shift to WFH, business leaders expected the break in routine, informality and new technologies would alleviate the “groupthink” that tended to prefer conformity and complacency over innovation. Unfortunately, the reverse occurred. Virtual meetings frequently allow one or two voices to dominate, while everyone else just wants to “get it over with.” Zoom fatigue leads to “psychological unease that makes speaking up feel burdensome and daunting,” and without body language we can mistakenly assume agreement where there is none. To counter the weaknesses of the medium, ensure people attend Zoom meetings with some key points they want to share, try rotating hosts, encourage follow-up by email, call on quieter participants first, and try using polling or whiteboards to keep everyone engaged.  Fast Company



And ICYMI, check out my blog, “10 Tips to Look Your Best Online”.




The folks at SAIT have a wonderful sense of humour…


Open House from Bed

Last month, SAIT released two 15-sec spots to promote their Virtual Open House (Mar 19-20). In the first, a young man sits in bed with his laptop, munching potato chips and sipping soda. In the second, a young woman slurps thai noodles for dinner while gazing at her ipad. “It’s never been easier to attend.”

As always, thanks for reading! Please do let me know if you spot something interesting, thought-provoking or cool happening in the world of higher ed.

Stay safe and be well,


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