Reflections on a year of teaching online at Media and Learning Spring Conference

Zoom Fatigue can result from feeling too close to others. Like that awkward elevator moment!

On May 6th I joined the international conference Media and Learning Online Spring 2021. Around 200 colleagues from higher education joined to reflect on lessons learned during the pandemic. (disclaimer: I was one the advisory committee of the conference and also moderated one session). Most sessions had a steady 100 plus participants throughout the day. A sign that the content was relevant and the format right.

I’ve summarised some of the sessions I attended. They are ordered based on my personal area of interest. My apologies if one of the sessions is not covered (in detail) here! For a complete overview of all conference sessions, resources and video recordings, see this link: Media and Learning Online Spring 2021.

I was very glad to be invited to moderate the session on what we have learned about online teaching during the pandemic which examined Zoom Fatigue and how we can develop ‘Resilience’ as teachers. 

Zoom Fatigue – Why do women experience more Zoom Fatigue than men?

Zoom Doom? Zoom Gloom? Death by Zoom? The software Zoom has been so widely used in the last year that it has become a word to represent any video conferencing tool (MS Teams, Skype, etc). Geraldine Fauville of the University of Gothenburg presented research she had worked on led by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab in Stanford University.

The Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale (ZEF). It is based on five types of fatigue; general, visual, social, motivational and emotional. This scale enables reported fatigue to be quantified.

(How Zoom Fatigued are you? Measure it here. I scored 33 on the ZEF scale. Are you experiencing more or less Zoom Fatigue than I am?)

Close-up eye contact can cause fatigue. Think about how you feel being in a crowded elevator. It is awkward. Most people look away or look down. When you are forced to be close together this interpersonal proximity is uncomfortable. During a face-to-face meeting we ‘regulate the intimacy’ by how close we sit, where we look. Online it is more difficult since there is an expectation to ‘stare at the screen’ directly into everyone’s eyes. On the screen, faces seem large and everyone is looking into the camera. This perceived physical proximity is associated with the gaze. It is tiring for the brain.

We also experience Mirror Anxiety. Constantly seeing our own image in the mirror. This increases the chance we will continually compare ourselves to certain standards. It can result in a bad mood, depression and anxiety. And women are more susceptible to this. And then there is reduced mobility. In person, we often move about during conversations. During phone calls, we can walk or sit in different positions. Maybe when you are listening intently you like to look away, put your feet on the table, gaze into space to concentrate. This is not considered good practice during most video communication! The expectation is that you will stay in the camera view, facing the screen. This decreases your motion, and we are ‘trapped in front of the camera’. Yet we know that motion can really help learning and creativity.

We miss out on non-verbal communication and behaviour. This can be body posture, intonation and use of personal space. These are very important for communication, to help social judgement and task performance. These non-verbal communication cues are spontaneous and unconscious. During a video call you only see the head and shoulders. The communication power of the body in a space is reduced. This means that in order to try to understand ‘what the other person means’, you need to consciously and continuously monitor this non-verbal communication. We do this much more actively than if we were in a room together. Which also costs mental and physical energy. And for you as someone communicating via video, you have to intensify these cues. By nodding more vigorously than if in person. Could you imagine what face-to-face meetings would be like if we interacted as vigorously in person as we do when communicating online?

The ZEF Scale collected data from 10,000 users. The survey examines the frequency, duration and space between online meetings. The more calls, the longer calls are and the shorter the breaks, the more Zoom fatigue experienced.

Women experience greater Zoom Fatigue than men

There is also a gender effect. Zoom fatigue is experienced by more women than men. Why did 14% of women (1 in 7) vs 5%  of men (1 in 20) report being very or extremely Zoom Fatigued? Women are more susceptible to the aspects of mirroring, immobility and feeling stared at.

How can we reduce Zoom Fatigue?

If possible, hide your own image on your screen. This reduces the mirroring effect. You can still be seen by others, but you won’t see yourself. Shrink the size of the screen in which the faces appear. I tried this a few moments ago in a meeting and it makes a huge difference. The faces I was talking to were not so large on my screen which meant I felt less like I was being stared at, and less pressure. You can also simply turn off the incoming video (I do this very often, during meetings and also when teaching). I can focus on the teaching. And not get distracted by a student who is smoking in the garden, or a colleague who has their camera pointing right up their nose! Increase the distance between yourself and your camera. Use a good microphone and a long cable for your earphones or use cordless headphones. Use an external key board on your computer so you can move around and not be tied to your screen. 

Also, stand up! This allows you to move more, and to gesture more naturally. After her presentation, I asked Geraldine if she was standing up and she was. I was also standing during the session for my role as moderator. It gives additional energy and expressiveness to our communication.

Finally, we should not overschedule the number of meetings we attend. They should be shorter. There should be more space between them. I try to schedule and provide regular screen breaks during my lessons (even if it is 5 minutes). I regularly challenge my students to go outside and take a picture of a plant or their street (and then to add it to their Zoom background). I also asked students to inform me when they need a break in case I run over.

However from an educational perspective, we need to ensure that those planning the education (management and time-table makers) need to establish appropriate policies. And even if we are scheduled for a 90 minute online lesson, it is up to us as lecturers to plan, adjust and modify how we use that time. That can also include a ‘check-in’ at the beginning, sections where students switch off incoming video and do a silent reflection, or take a break outside and post a picture in the chat. Organisations can also set up policies (e.g., a certain number of online hours scheduled per day, with sufficient breaks in between). We can also have guidelines for certain meetings where we agree there is no video.

This presentation got us all thinking and reflecting. The links to the research are here: Publication with Zoom Scale and Publication with Gender Effect.

How resilient are you as a teacher?

Rebecca M. Quintana from the University of Michigan has designed and is running a new MOOC on Resilient Teaching. Resilience is ‘being able to spring back into shape, position after being pressed or stretched’. Which ‘shape’ will we spring back to post pandemic? Education can be viewed as a series of ‘interactions’. We can plan education to strengthen these interactions. Planning for resilience creates multiple alternative ways of facilitating these interactions. Allowing education to be flexible. Three perspectives were shared:

  1. Designing for Extensibility takes possible changes or additions into consideration (consider the most basic version of the course and which elements you may need to change in the future).
  2. Designing for Flexibility is about anticipating and responding (consider which elements may need to change and how to facilitate that).
  3. Designing for Redundancy focuses on finding pieces of your course that could perform similar operations and could be interchangeable (consider creating multiple alternative ways of facilitating interaction wherever possible).

Rebecca polled the conference attendees on their biggest concerns when teaching online. Concerns were ‘Maintaining engagement between students, instructors and materials’ (43%), ‘Having the time and support necessary to create an effective online course’ (25%) and ‘Building a sense of community in the online classroom’ (18%).

Marco Kalz is full professor of technology enhanced learning at Heidelberg University of Education. He shared unpublished research into how higher education lecturers coped with the pandemic. We are moving from a non-navigated reactive response (e.g., Emergency Remote Teaching) to more navigated practices of adaptation and transformation. The research examined what factors have influenced the instructional resilience of lecturers in higher education. What are the experiences of these lecturers in maintaining teaching quality and which factors contribute to demonstrating instructional resilience, during Emergency Remote Teaching in Higher Education?

Instructional resilience was based on; individual variables (e.g. general resilience, TPACK, Big 5 and Self-Determination) and the contextual variables (e.g., Workload, and available support from organisation, technical and social). There were 102 valid responses. 75% experienced a decrease of ¼ of their teaching quality while 20% saw no change. Those who found online teaching a challenge also reported a perceived decrease in quality. 50% perceived no increased teaching load while 15% reported a decrease and 37% an increase. The activities that were well implemented during teaching online were presentation of content and feedback. Peer feedback and interactive discussions were considered more difficult. The support from the institutions was high but did not influence the perceived challenges of online teaching. Older staff showed higher resilience than younger staff. A lecturer’s own rating of their ability to use technology was an important predictor for how well they managed in the new context. The concept of ‘Instructional Resilience’ was defined in more detail. 

How did universities maintain quality video production during the pandemic?

The panel included Lana Scott of MIT, Marco Toffanin of the University of Padova, Labhaoise Ní Dhonnchadha of NUI Galway and Alastair Creelman of Linnaeus University. The panel discussed the elements of a good educational video. It does not have to be entertainment. Can you see and hear the lecturer and their personality? Is the content relevant? Is the audio quality sufficient? Is there a clear link to learning goals? The right format of video should be created with a clear production design outlined in advance. Keep it simple and don’t overcomplicate the process. At MIT, it took some work to convince faculty that they could record at home. Many filmed with their iPhones, then got better microphones, cameras and green screens. Support staff ‘walked through’ the homes of the faculty, to advise on best recording location (maybe the bedroom!), helping them set-up lighting and checking sound quality.

Perhaps we all had unrealistic expectations that overnight, ‘faculty would become content producers’. They needed help with editing and post production. Padova combined Zoom and Kaltura but needed a good editing tool to integrate. Sometimes something as simple as stitching two clips together can become very complex. Most did not recommend software that was not supported by their university. Or that students install unsupported software on their personal devices. Stick to those with university licenses. MIT set-up covid-safe recording studios with sufficient space and strictly followed safety guidelines. OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) was used in some cases because it is a free format.

The discussion turned to legal information on authoring rights and privacy of participants. Some were supporting staff regarding using Creative Commons. In Europe, in some cases staff could own the copyright if they moved to another location. Though this was becoming more complicated when that content was co-created with support from the university. Whereas in Galway, staff are fully responsible for this process. Or they support students by giving advice on finding high quality copyright compliant images. At Linneaus not much video was being reused. When teaching a sensitive subject, faculty have to be very careful about making it public. Net Hate and trolling can happen if the wrong content appears in the wrong place out of context. MIT helped staff to find good copyright free images and video. They also have access to graphic artists and student assistants to create animated after affects. It is important to have a good storyboard. In the US, content created remained the property of the university.

Free your students from their screens – Its time for Podcasts!

Podcasting in full swing at Saxion

Podcasting is hot. The panellists were Alexandra Mihai (Maastricht University), Jantine te MolderTim Dalhoeven & Dennis Broekhof (Saxion University of Applied Sciences and Giselinde Kuipers & Luuc Brans (KU Leuven).  Podcasting technology should be used intentionally and linked to learning objectives. Courses have become video heavy and there is space for more audio content to be created. Our reflex is to transform the lecture to video. But in a lecture, it is your voice that carries the message. ‘We like flashy things and we like to make our lives more difficult!’ but podcasting is an alternative approach. And we can use our voice, one of our most natural attributes. We can free the student from the screen so learning can take place in different spaces. The teacher can be present in asynchronous environments. Content can be small one minute introductions to each week, or re-caps. Active listening can be developed as a specific skill.

We’ve been told to keep our message short because learners have short attention spans. But long form podcast and audiobooks are quite popular and easily consumable. Yes, we can handle long and deep discussions! Sitting and being immobile is really killing us. Podcasts free us from our desks so we can run, walk or move while listening. Saxion produces a variety of podcast formats, with students also involved. Tips when recording include getting to know the person first before you record the podcast with them. Aspects involve story telling, sound design, recording and editing. Zencastr was mentioned as a useful tool to support this process. 

Leiden University shared their link on What if Education Education 2030 In this series, colleagues explained how they were running a course and asked those around the world for their experiences. Podcasts became the format of choice. This resulted in interviews with the academics who wrote the articles that students were studying. Increasing the engagement and involvement of students. The content was reaching a young and wide global audience and from different countries. A podcast can replace a lecture and appeal to students in a different way. Consider the audience and tone, how it fits in the course and how often to release episodes. Establish a clear script to give signposting, add jingles. You need to stop academics talking too much so they need to be briefed in advance.

KU Leuven shared a link to their series on culture and inequality Podcast – EUCCI and Podcasting for Sociologists: lessons learned from making an international teaching podcast on culture and inequality in pandemic times – section CULTURE ( You need an RSS feed. Sound cloud is the most used platform for creating an RSS feed. This is then posted on Spotify or  Apple Music. A good podcast on a well-known public platform signals quality and seriousness to (prospective) students and key note speakers. The audience polled at the end of the session agreed that podcasting has an important role to play in higher education and the audience had become more interested in making their own podcast in the future. I admit, I should really give it a go sometime soon! (enough video for now).

Jisc Survey – UK Higher Education student online learning experiences

Sarah Knight of Jisc shared research findings on how UK higher education students experienced learning online. DEI Pulse 1 HE student briefing 2021 ( Students were mostly satisfied with the online education they received. They considered digital skills and how to learn online as being an area to focus on. Online is different to in person and it asks a lot to stay focused. Trying to teach 200 students in a large online class has many challenges. Lectures should be a social experience. Sanna Brauer of Oulu University of Applied Sciences gave an overview of their vision for the Smart Campus Oulu University of Applied Sciences ( This is a platform and partnership model for innovation, collaboration with SMEs, accelerating the digitalisation of society. 8 universities and colleges in Finland are working together in this initiative. 

Creating engaging and interactive learning experiences at a distance

Rod Cullen & Orlagh McCabe of Manchester Metropolitan University introduced the TREC approach to active learning. Their icebreaker immediately set a positive tone. In a Padlet we all posted a meme that captured our mood regarding teaching in the current situation. This was quick, fun and easy to do. As well as a great way to get a visual overview of where the audience is at and to keep us active.

How you experienced online teaching? Post a meme on the Padlet

They shared definitions of interactive teaching and learning which focused on discussions, debates, problem solving, collaboration, quizzes and polls, mind mapping and more. Watching, listening and taking notes are not considered very active! Their TREC approach involves four stages. A Trigger (what students already know), Review (sharing different opinions), Evidence/Expectations (compare and contrasting), and Consolidation (getting student to reflect on their position). Break lessons into smaller sections by provoking interest every 10 to 20 minutes. Change the pace, create a buzz, simulate and facilitate, encourage more critical thinking and deeper learning. See further here: TREC approach to active learning 

Deborah Arnold from AUNEGe shared how they are stimulating active learning with the eLene4Life Dynamic Toolkit and how teachers across Europe used it as part of a community of practice. And Richard Beggs of Ulster University contrasted Consuming and Creating: Encouraging active learning in the fully online environment. The blank screen of switched off student cameras facing teachers online proved challenging. Planning immersive activities based on constructive alignment proved challenging. Fully online teaching is not about mirroring face-to-face, but reinventing it. Consuming, passive activities can be moved to the asynchronous space outside of class and can be self-paced. While creative, active learning activities should happen in the synchronous space and involve collaboration and discussion. They used digital story telling as an example of how to engage the students. Students enjoy being interactive in class if it is valuable. The pandemic has moved digital teaching forward and there has been some exceptional practice. 

Some Universities were better prepared than others for the shift online

Richard Goodman of Loughborough University gave an overview of their 10 years of preparation for the pandemic. They were already doing live lecture capture for a while and equipped 140 rooms with full lecture capture back in 2017. All lectures were automatically recorded with an opt out for teachers. Once the pandemic kicked-in they were already prepared. They copied all recorded lectures from the previous year into their learning management system. Then they programmed a combination of flexible education (in physical rooms, in Teams, on demand). These schedules were visible to staff and student on their time tables. It was also adaptable which meant flexibility during the second lockdown in November 2020. All exams were run online. They provided virtual drop-in sessions to support faculty in their teaching. Most of the lecture recordings were not edited. Students find the content they need and go straight to it. They now have a large archive of online content of recorded lessons. The new content for this year, which was pre-recorded, was shorter than the live lectures.

Michel Beerens of the NewMediaCentre at Delft University of Technology explained how Delft managed cooperation, experimentation and frustration in times of crisis. They have a library with video content and they help staff find relevant material. Studios with green screen and do-it-yourself studio booths are provided with relevant software. The 2,500 lecturers at the university ensured there was a lot of variety in how lecturers made the switch. Creating video from their kitchen table or home office or recording at campus. Adjusting and updating content. Lecture capture boomed at the beginning. Lots of teachers came to campus and recorded in front of an empty lecture hall. Teaching in the lecture hall was a format they and students were used to. Those teaching from home had many new support questions which challenged the team, about software or how to film video at home. The different systems used made it complicated. Faculty wanted to have better cameras and audio. And to know how to edit the videos made at home. At a certain point, lecturers started to reflect on whether the recorded lectures was the kind of education they wanted to deliver. One way transfer of content. Faculty missed interaction and stimulating students to study. The big question was how to create interactivity. Lecturers became creative, developing their own solutions. They used Open Broadcasting Software, started live streaming to students via Twitch platforms and opened their own YouTube channels. They set up green screens for better quality content,  bought better cameras and microphones. Delft shifted from centrally arranged support to providing more locally organised solutions. This facilitated more two-way interaction.

There was also a new challenge. Where to store all the new material recorded and how to make it accessible. The content was in different formats. Support staff had to check which licences were involved in order to maintain the new individually purchased software. They are now piloting Hybrid Virtual Classrooms (synchronous teaching that combines teaching to in-person and online students). They are running a pilot on converting lecture halls into hybrid virtual lecture halls.

What do we do with all that video? Keep it or bin it?

Jade Stappaerts & Stef Stes of KU Leuven explained how the pandemic influenced the use of educational video. The amount of video recorded increased steadily. With the same question of how to store it all (see graphic). The internet traffic increased dramatically the moment the epidemic began. The viewing of videos on their Kaltura platform also increased significantly. They expect this volume to remain similar after covid. 

KU Leuven’s decision tree for media storage. Keep it or bin it?

Their policy is that if a video has not been used for more than a year they move it out of the Learning Management System and store it externally. If someone wants to access it after this time, they can see a low resolution version, and then, via hotspot, access the old version at the original quality. It was clear that each university has its own policy (e.g., the University of Amsterdam keeps everything for 7 years). KU Leuven presented their decision tree which helps them in the archiving process. It is based on the following factors; is the material up-to-date and complimentary, length of the video, audio-visual quality, meets the guidelines for digital accessibility and has the necessary didactic multimedia qualities. Leuven shares viewing data with faculty about how their videos are being viewed. They recommend a maximum length of 15 minutes per segment. This may involve cutting up long recordings into shorter chapters. Quizzes and tags can be added. If students watch the same section of a video many times, this may indicate that a section should be clarified by the teacher.

Jim Bain of Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, explained their approach. Staff are backing up different versions of recorded material resulting in duplication on different servers. This increases demand on space and raises costs. They have a basic two-year retention policy on their cloud storage. This is for content on the virtual learning environment. After two years, the teacher is informed their content will be deleted unless the teacher decides otherwise. Jim stressed the importance of directly involving both staff and student reps in this decision-making process. It was the students who originally drove the need for lecture capture. They now have live lecture capture available in most teaching spaces.

Carlos Turro Ribalta of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia explained that most lecture rooms are automatically recorded during the pandemic. If the teacher does not use the scheduled time in the lecture hall, this will result in a recording of an empty room. They set up a ‘people detector’ to scan all the videos. This software filters out these empty videos and deletes them. They have their own policies regarding where to store the media and for how long. They select which videos to keep based on number of views, most ‘liked’ by students, using the people detector, and those videos that have been edited.

There were excellent presentations from our technology partners. However, I do not have space to go into that here.

Thanks for reading this far! 

As mentioned above, I could not report on all sessions but hope this overview is helpful. The full recordings are an excellent resource to explore further: Media and Learning Online Spring 2021.

Editor’s note: this article has been republished from Zac’s blog.


Zac Woolfitt

InHolland University, The Netherlands