Things in my Zoom class that just make sense


Helen Ruhlin, Op/Ed Editor

This piece was featured on The Simmons Voice’s and Simmons Radio: The Shark’s podcast “Welcome Home.” Click here to listen.

Zoom school has been a lengthy journey. We’ve had some good times, some bad times and we’ve certainly become experts on bedridden camera angles. Between guest cat appearances, frozen computer screens, and painfully awkward virtual farewells, there’s a lot that goes unsaid amidst this relatable remote learning process. I decided to make a comprehensive list of all the glorious fails and cumbrous trials to change that.

1. Forgetting to unmute yourself.

We’ve all fallen victim to this at least a half dozen times by now. Your professor asks a question that you surprisingly know the answer to. You formulate a coherent talking point in your head, maybe you even go so far as to quickly type it out before finally mustering the courage to speak up. You raise your hand and by some grace of pure luck your professor notices and calls on you to answer.

The handcrafted words that you practiced a minute ago begin to flow from your mouth with ease. After about fifteen seconds of impeccable oration, you glance at the screen to find not a classroom full of mesmerized peers as you’d expected, but rather a dozen faces staring at you in confusion. And then there’s the hesitant “I think you’re on mute” that comes from a fellow student who simply couldn’t bear to watch your mime act any longer. The aftermath can go one of two ways: You apologetically repeat yourself at a nonsensical speed, or you lose the original thought entirely and resort to the ol’ “I forgot what I was gonna say––it wasn’t important.”

2. Forgetting to mute yourself.

This one has potential to be even worse than its counterpart. It’s a devastating rite of passage that’s plagued conference-call users for years. Whether you’re filming a Tik Tok, bad mouthing someone on a Zoom call to another in the room, secretly watching TV, or perhaps having a flatulent reaction to that burrito you ate for lunch––it’s tough to come back from a forgotten click of your mute button. The good news is, most of the time it leads to harmless interruptions. Dog howls, cat meows and pretty much anything that has to do with a pet is an easy recovery. All you have to do is put your furry friend on camera and magically you go from being a noisy disruptor to the host of an adorable guest appearance in no time.

3. Breakout groups, especially the one-on-ones.

“Uhhhh, do you guys know what we’re supposed to be doing?” is easily the most common opening line for breakout groups of all studies. Half the time you actually do know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, but something about that blissfully dumb intro provides a bonding icebreaker for you and your ten-minute confidantes.

Most often, these little chunks of group work are meant to be spent discussing prior readings, but you almost always finish that conversation in half of the allotted time. Inevitably, the dialogue shifts to everything else going on in the world: weather, politics, Zoom fatigue, and the infamous “do you guys know what we’re doing in this class?” which is always a top-notch one liner for your professor to silently pop in and hear.

4. Chatbox.

The chatbox feature is a wonderful tool for a multitude of reasons: it allows you to participate if you don’t feel comfortable speaking up, hyperlinks to relevant material are a mere click away, and emojis let you express your feelings in a way words never could! While keyboard communication can be a major plus in the classroom, it brings about a whole new batch of risk as well.

There’s a little tiny pulldown bar that displays in the chatbox giving you the option to send your message to everyone or just certain people. Typing too fast, having shaky fingers, or basic negligence can lead to you sending an intentional note to an unintended audience. A general rule of thumb here is to not type anything out that you wouldn’t want everyone to see… or just text your friends instead.

5. Ending a meeting.

Like many of the day-to-day Zoom nuances, this is more of an awkward scenario than a true con. After a long live session, when all the last-minute questions and final sidetracked thoughts have been said and done, your professor finally bids you farewell. The following three steps make up the essential yet cringey sequence of ending class that we all relate to:

First, there’s the wave. For some, this means an unmuted “thank you” and a 360° hand rotation, for others––a smile and a Queen Elizabeth-esque swivel of the wrist should do. Then there’s the actual selection of the Leave Meeting button that inevitably results in a painfully uncomfortable two-second delay during which you must avoid eye contact at all costs. Finally, there’s the familiar sigh of relief and stretch of your contorted body that’s been hunched over for too long. A dramatic slam of your laptop screen signifies the ending of one class and beginning of a snack break.

6. Screen sharing.

Screen sharing only made the list by way of the unnecessary yet unwavering commentary that goes along with it. When you click the proper button indicating Share Content, it’s no surprise that the content on your desktop automatically becomes visible to the class. We know this. We’ve known this. Yet no one seems to trust the Zoom engineers because regardless of how many times we’ve gone through the process, there’s still a “can you guys see my screen?” every class.

Maybe it’s for reassurance, maybe we’ve become superstitious of what will happen when we don’t say it, regardless, all we can do is smile and give our professors a great big thumbs up to signify that yes, we can see your screen.

7. Interrupting one another.

If anything, virtual learning has made us all masters of body language. During live sessions, there’s a certain art to avoiding an interruption of one another. If you’re feeling especially motivated, you can put your Zoom view on Full Grid mode to see everybody’s face, watching for mouths about to open or hands on their way to being raised. Despite the preparation and attention to detail, cutting someone off or retrospectively being cut off, is inevitable. And that’s not even the worst part, it’s the cumbersome followup that truly takes the cake. You both end up apologizing at the same time and by kind nature, simultaneously encourage the other to “go first.” Sometimes after all of the verbal etiquette has been carried out, you both end up having the same idea in mind anyway and it ends with “I was gonna say the same thing.”

8. Panel view.

Last but absolutely not least, is the fall of the hand-raise due to your professor’s obscured view options. Maybe they’re sharing their screen, or forgot to set their Zoom options to Grid View, whatever the case may be––you can never guarantee that your professor can see your raised hand. It’s sad enough when someone else gets called on ahead of you, but it’s even worse when no one offers up a response. You just sit there on-camera, ever so slowly lowering your arm or disguising the move as a head scratch as you realize the professor will never notice unless you break the silence.

In a way, I think the strange, often embarrassing moments within our Zoom sessions remind us that we’re human. I’d honestly be concerned if anyone was able to shift from in-person social cues to virtual ones flawlessly. So if something on this list happens to you, don’t take it to heart because 1) I’ve done them all ten-fold, and 2) it just means you’re trying.