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Avoiding screen fatigue with course design
Based on MB Hub blog post Avoiding Screen Fatigue written by Iwona Gniadek. Original published July 27, 2021
Revised by JJ Cloutier
Content review November 2023
- In-person vs. online synchronous engagement
- How to minimize fatigue
- Housekeeping guidelines to include at the start of your next synchronous class
- Teaching tips to alleviate screen fatigue.
- What to take away from this
- Help for your online or blended course
Screen fatigue, known by its new moniker as Zoom Fatigue, is a feeling of weariness during or after attending a videoconference. Everyone is likely to experience it, with differing symptoms such as eye/emotional distress, avoidance of social contact, and feeling too mentally drained to do anything after a class (Fauville et al., 2021). Toney, Light, and Urbaczewski (2020) found that screen fatigue turned students into ‘Zoombies’ with “vacuous, glazed, undead eyes” (p. 41) during virtual classes.
Vacuous, glazed, undead eyes.Toney, Light, and Urbaczewski. 2020
Have you been incorporating synchronous classes in your online or remote courses? Have you or your students’ experienced screen fatigue? In this post, we explore the occurrence of screen fatigue, look at its causes and discuss possible ways to avoid or minimize it.
In-person vs. online synchronous engagement
First, let’s consider an event not held online, such as an in-person professional development conference. You attend the conference along with tens or hundreds of others. For the duration of the conference, you are likely to be on high alert for networking opportunities, learn new things, and catch up with acquaintances. You spend an extended amount of time sitting and listening, perhaps with your days starting earlier than usual and ending later, often with social events included. To be honest, there is little respite while you are in conference mode. Despite its obvious benefits and potentially life-changing opportunities, attending an in-person conference will likely physically and mentally drain you.
The intensity of engagement in an in-person conference can be compared to online synchronous classes. A class delivered via platforms like Zoom or Webex requires increased levels of attention for both the speaker and the participants. The speaker needs to exert more energy to deliver their talk while the participants try to interpret what is being said with limited visual clues. Added to this are perhaps occasional sound distortions, objects and people constantly moving on the screen (slides, participant video streams, chat), the prolonged sedentary position as we fix our gaze on the screen, and a large amount of close-up face time with others (Bailenson, 2020). These aspects contribute to being drained after a videoconference.
The self-video stream even further impacts our well-being and participation in a videoconference. The persistent self-view draws our attention, and we tend to look at ourselves, constantly judging our appearance and performance, as we would in a mirror (Bailenson, 2020). In the image on the left, the participant’s video stream is located in the bottom right corner, and it is persistent. Despite the small size, it still creates a mirror effect and may draw the gaze. By switching our attention from others to self, we disconnect momentarily from the class (Gniadek, 2021), thus increasing our cognitive load as refocusing on the class demands mental energy. Consider that you glance at yourself hundreds of times during a videoconference – it will tax you!
How to minimize fatigue
How can instructors avoid or minimize screen fatigue during and after synchronous classes? The following tips will help students manage their participation better and help reduce their screen fatigue.
Housekeeping guidelines to include at the start of your next synchronous class
- Decrease the size of your class window so it’s not in full-screen mode on your monitor. This will create distance between you and the class window.
- Use an external keyboard to increase the distance between you and the screen.
- Sit up straight; avoid leaning forward towards the screen and the class window. This will alleviate the strain on your back, neck, and eyes.
- Hide your own video. You don’t want to see it at all.
- Use a wallpaper to block or blur your background. This may not matter to you, but it will matter to others by reducing their visual stimuli.
- Reduce the size of the participants’ video streams so that their faces are smaller. Switch view to gallery mode and avoid pinning speakers, where they stay enlarged on your screen.
- Leave your phone in another room and close off other tabs and websites in your browser. Conserve energy by focusing on your class only. If you are using your phone to attend this class, take a moment and block all your notifications so nothing distracts you from the class.
- Occasionally, stand up and stretch – feel free to switch off your camera when you do so. Also, look away from the screen to rest your eyes periodically.
Teaching tips to alleviate screen fatigue.
What to take away from this
Screen fatigue results from prolonged periods of time spent in front of the screen. Students may be expected to attend several synchronous classes in one day. Therefore, for each course, it’s worth considering if synchronous classes are needed, their purpose and length, and the optimal design to alleviate the onset of screen fatigue.
Last but not least, Fauville et al. (2021) developed a scale to measure the level of fatigue after videoconferences, and you and your students can self-assess by taking Stanford University’s Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale questionnaire. Before selecting Submit, you will get your results in five areas of fatigue: general, social, emotional, visual, and motivational.
That’s it for now. I hope you picked up some good tips to help you avoid creating any Zoombies!
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