COVID-19 has changed virtually everything about academic and professional life. Yes, we often engaged in digital interactions long before the pandemic took over. Recently, however, virtual communication has completely replaced the face-to-face conversations we once took for granted.
Among students, video conferencing applications provide a powerful tool for learning through collaboration. While these users struggle to come to terms with the sudden change to their academic trajectories, many appreciate the strong relationships that video conferencing has allowed them to build with both their instructors and peers.
Under a video-oriented system such as Zoom, students can log into virtual classrooms from the comfort of home. Their classes run much as they would in person, with lectures, presentations, and discussions all playing heavily into online learning. This new normal requires a bit of adjustment, but it can ultimately optimize learning from afar.
There are other applications, many already established and successful before COVID-19 became a household name—such as Blackboard Collaborate in combination with discussion boards—that offer equally robust learning experiences. Here, information is pre-loaded, but professors still lead classes at regular scheduled times, and students submit weekly assignments.
How Is Video Conferencing Helpful in Education?
Face-to-face interaction serves an important function in many classes. While readings and assignments provide ample opportunity to learn and reflect, many students make the most important discoveries while discussing key matters with one another. With online education, this can be accomplished through chat rooms or on a discussion board. Unfortunately, such methods may fail to achieve the full impact of in-the-moment conversation.
Therein lies the power of video conferencing. This exciting solution brings students and instructors together in a virtual space where they can converse much as they would in person.
Some students actually favor video conferencing, as mandated muting and other protocol prevent a common problem seen during in-person interactions: a handful of people dominating the discussion. Those who feel uncomfortable cutting in can rely on a ‘raise hand’ function to ensure that their thoughts are heard. As such, many find video conferencing sessions easier and less stressful to follow.
Tips For Effective Video Conferencing
Video conferencing apps provide exceptional value for today’s college students, but they’re far from problem-free. While many systems are intuitive enough to ensure easy operation for otherwise tech-illiterate users, issues with etiquette can quickly derail meetings. Success relies on all users minding their manners.
Don’t worry if you face a learning curve as you adjust to new digital tools. You’ll be a pro in no time if you follow these video conferencing best practices:
- Keep settings on mute when not talking. Even low-quality speakers can easily pick up background noise. This can prove distracting for other students. When in doubt, keep your account on mute until you request permission to speak up—or until your instructor specifically asks for your input.
- Pay attention to lighting. Side lighting works best for most video chats, especially when derived from natural sources. Overhead lights are also acceptable. When in doubt, position yourself to avoid backlighting, which will make you look washed out.
- Clean up your video conferencing space. Determine in advance what fellow conference attendees can see by testing out your course’s app of choice. Depending on your room’s decor, you may need to make a few layout changes. Don’t forget to tidy up before class. Like it or not, trash or clutter strewn about your room will reflect poorly on you as a student.
- Keep household members in the loop. Whether you’re currently living with family members, roommates, or a significant other, it’s critical that you clue everybody in on your class schedule. Otherwise, you risk unintended interruptions. Consider posting a schedule on your door or using a ‘do not disturb’ sign to indicate when class is in session.
- Dress the part. Some college students make a habit of wearing sweats or other casual clothing to class, but most understand that it’s easier to remain alert and attentive when dressed appropriately. The same concept should apply to video conferencing. It doesn’t matter if your classmates can only see your upper half; wearing excessively casual clothing mentally prepares you to slack.
- Prepare for all video conference sessions. Your time is valuable, as it the time of your instructors and fellow students. Treat them with the respect they deserve. If you make every effort to arrive for in-person lectures on time, you should do others the courtesy of following the same protocol for video conferences. This means signing in promptly and with all readings and assignments complete. If you’re not yet familiar with your course’s video conferencing app, test it out in advance to ensure that you’re ready to make full use of it as soon as class begins.
- Don’t multitask during video chats. The temptation to check email or browse social media can be strong. If you’re like most students, you’ve succumbed at least once or twice during in-person classes while somehow managing to avoid detection. This won’t be quite as easy now that your classes have moved online. With a webcam focused on your face, it will be obvious when you’re not paying attention. If necessary, consider keeping your smartphone in a different room. This will eliminate temptation and force you to dedicate your attention exclusively to your course.
- Take advantage of one-on-one time. Your relationships with instructors are just as vital in today’s altered learning environment as they were in the age of traditional office hours. The connections you cultivate now could make all the difference as you seek recommendations for jobs and internships later on. Unfortunately, this is no longer a matter of dropping in on short notice. If your instructors offer the opportunity to schedule one-on-one video conferences, reserve your meeting as soon as possible. Once you’ve scored a meeting, prepare by developing a list of questions or concerns worth addressing. Record the meeting or take notes to ensure that you recall—and utilize—your instructor’s feedback.
- Connect with fellow students outside of class. Now is not the time to abandon the concept of the study group. Such gatherings serve a greater purpose than merely cementing material covered in class. These meetings help you build strong connections that you may one day draw upon as you seek professional opportunities. Additionally, small groups can provide a valuable source of emotional solace during a difficult time. Feel free to reach out in chat or via email to arrange for virtual versions of study groups. Set up a specific time to meet each week. During these sessions, you can cover not only class material, but also tips for making the most of digital learning.
As a college student, it’s only natural to mourn the loss of the college environment you once held dear. Video conferencing may not offer a full replacement for the on-campus college experience, but that doesn’t mean it lacks value. With a little effort, this cutting-edge approach to learning can deliver impressive outcomes while helping you build the personal connections that are so vital to academic and professional success. A little video conferencing efforts can pay big dividends, so don’t hesitate to embrace this modern take on academia.