Sunday, February 28, 2021

Nonverbal Overload In An Online Engineering Classroom

Last week, Stanford researchers published a new study: Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue. The study is a first shot at pointing out Zoom, WebEx, etc design flaws to isolate research areas for social scientists and to suggest design improvements for technologists. Researchers found four quite different causes for fatigue and recommend solutions for each:

Close-up eye contact is exhausting. Solution: Minimize the face sizes of attendees into grid view, and sit back a bit to allow yourself more personal space. 

Watching yourself is exhausting. Solution: Confirm that your lighting and setup look good, and then adjust the settings to hide your view of yourself.

Sitting immobile is exhausting.  Solution: Create a wider visual field for your camera. 

Video chatting is cognitively exhausting. Solution: When it’s feasible, turn off your camera for breaks—and turn your body away from the screen.

It's all exhausting! I’ve done some of my own experimenting and agree with the Stanford findings when it comes to the online classroom. Here’s how I’ve been working on some course content delivery improvements in one of my online classes.

Pre-Recorded Lectures
I’ve been pre-recording lectures  for about a year now and posting them. In one of my classes I recently started watching them with students during class sessions – I share my screen and audio, playing the videos.  Electrical engineering courses are 95% applied math and lectures typically involve a short introduction to a topic and then working sample problems. I am not a fan and do not use PowerPoint. I record lectures using an iPad and Apple Pencil. 

Class Sessions
Students are required to take notes as they would in a traditional in-person lecture with me writing on a board in front of the class. They ask questions, verbally or in the chat box. By watching my own lectures with the students, I’ve found myself much more aware of non-verbal cues. I’m able to watch the chat box, catch any mistakes I’ve made, pause a video for discussion, etc. I’m no longer sitting with my head down writing on an iPad, cranking out math problems while what seems like talking to myself. I’m much more focused on the students and the way I’m explaining the material. When they ask me to pause a video, I have a pretty good idea they are following the lecture and taking good notes!

After each class is over, students are assigned between 1 and 3 quiz/homework problems that are due the next day at noon. I also post the videos for students to access.

I do try to squeeze a 5 min break in when I can even though I’ve not been very good at that. I also try and keep videos to around 25 minutes so if we miss one of the 5 minute breaks there is a natural break between each video. 

Students typically do not turn their cameras on and I’m ok with that in my classes. Some faculty will disagree.

Future Plans
We're charting new ground so every day is a work in progress - so far student feedback has been very positive with plans to further refine (have some interesting ideas for exams) and expand methods to other classes I teach.

No comments: