Students and teachers struggle to utilize online meetings for class

More stories from Amanda Kohutek


8:25 am. A quiet bedroom. With baggy eyes and a slumped posture, a teenager sits on their computer. Slowly, their screen reloads and changes from the waiting room to display many small boxes with names inside. Once the teacher’s face appears on the screen, their first Zoom meeting for a day of online learning has begun.

On Aug. 17, AISD began online schooling for the beginning of the school year. The new schedule divided class-time into two sections: an asynchronous time with students working by themselves, and a synchronous time together in a video meeting on either Zoom or Office Teams. Despite the recent addition of a hybrid schedule for students, the struggle of conducting a class over video chat remains. 

“I do not like how impersonal it feels,” AP Language and Composition and Advanced English 3 teacher Kristin Linn said. “It’s extremely difficult to really build any sort of rapport or camaraderie or anything between myself and my students because I typically just stare at a black screen all day.”

Visual classes such as American Sign Language require students’ cameras to be on, while some other teachers ask their students’ cameras to be on purely so that they can teach to actual faces. Nonetheless, students are becoming less and less likely to keep their cameras on in class. Often unbeknownst to the teacher, the reasons attributing to student’s turned off cameras are unique to each individual. 

“It depends on how I feel, if I wanna do my hair or if I don’t,” junior Natalie Garcia said. “If I wanna get ready or not, or if I wanna make up my room. Ultimately, it depends on whether I want to put in the effort or not.”

For some students, turning their camera on doesn’t seem like an option. Freshman Lana Sanchez has struggled to attend any Zoom meetings for her classes this school year due to her feelings about being on camera or being asked to speak. 

“I hate being the center of attention,” Sanchez said. “I already feel uncomfortable with my voice. Speaking in front of people, especially people I can’t see or don’t know is frightening to me. I would like to attend meetings, but my anxiety gets the best of me.”

To remain respectful of their student’s comfortability and anxiety, some teachers such as Linn allow for cameras to remain off during their meetings. 

“I understand that it’s very awkward and uncomfortable for most of us,” Linn said. “Even though it’s such a tiny, little image on a screen, it always looks so much bigger to you because you see yourself differently than anyone else does. That’s why I don’t ever push when it comes to asking for videos to be turned on.”

Even with the option of having their cameras off, there are still students who don’t attend Zoom meetings at all. Based on the data that teachers collected from the first six weeks, the students who attended the class zoom meetings consistently maintained higher grades than those who did not. Beginning in the second six weeks, teachers are allowed to offer extra credit to students who attend the meetings as an incentive to garner more students. 

“I really think that there should be some sort of recognition for those students that have been showing up every day,” Linn said. “They’ve been in the trenches with us. As hard as it’s been on all of us, they’re still there every day. I think it’s something that we as teachers don’t always remember to recognize.”

Other teachers are getting creative with ways to keep their students engaged and coming to class meetings. AP Biology teacher Brian Crawford has themed days on Zoom such as Bring Your Pet day and costume days, while English 3 teacher Molly Haney is having drawings for gift cards and free grades of 100 for students who are present in meetings. 

“It’s helped keep Zoom attendance more consistent, which is what I wanted, knowing Zoom attendance is a key component in student success,” Haney said. “This third six weeks I am adding a participation grade for Zoom attendance which will give credit to all of the attendees, not just the lucky ones.”

A key feature of Zoom is the ability to create “breakout rooms,” which organize the students into smaller groups designated by the teacher, allowing them to discuss with fewer people or work on a group assignment. Despite its intention of being a smaller discussion space, breakout rooms are becoming one of the things that students dislike most about their daily Zoom meetings, according to Garcia. 

“Breakout rooms are not my thing,” Garcia said. “It depends on the people I’m put with, but for the most part, no one does anything in my breakout rooms. No one likes to talk or turn on their camera.”

Some teachers may not be aware of these grievances as breakout rooms continue to be assigned in many classes. Linn, however, said she is aware of the faults of breakout rooms within her class, though she continues to try to utilize them.

“They have the potential to be very effective,” Linn said. “I think it depends significantly on who happens to be in that breakout room and how comfortable those students happen to be with each other. And that presents another challenge for me because I don’t know all of my students, so I’m not quite sure how to group them where they feel most comfortable.”

Some of the most direct problems with Zoom come from the technology itself. With the system’s heavy dependence on Wi-Fi, students and their teachers often deal with extreme lagging or freezing when their Wi-Fi is overwhelmed with activity. Sometimes, Zoom will simply kick the user out of their meeting, leaving them to get back in the waiting room or miss the rest of the meeting altogether. 

“Sometimes it’s awkward talking over someone because of the lag and the difference between frequencies of people’s internet,” Garcia said. “People talk over each other all the time.”

Throughout the struggles of schooling online in a pandemic, communication between the students and teachers has been greatly decreased. With little to no feedback from the students, it’s hard for teachers to fully grasp what each student may be feeling about the Zoom meetings for their class. 

“Understand that not everyone has a quiet home environment, that people have other commitments in the way that some people have to take care of siblings, pets, or stuff like that,” junior Sydney Hermance said. “There are 50 minutes required of us each day at certain time periods, and yes, we try to set that time aside, but sometimes things come up and it’s hard to work around that stuff.”