Comment & Analysis
Oct 19, 2020

Online Classes Have Created a Plethora of New and Neverending Discomforts

Zoom classes have proven exceedingly awkward thus far. More needs to be done to make online learning work, writes Faye Curran.

Faye CurranOpinion Editor
Eleanor O'Mahony for The University Times

If you’d have told me this time last year that I would know what the kitchen of my Italian lecturer’s apartment looks like, I would have thought my grades must have reached a seriously bleak low. Instead, one year on, I’m acquainted with my classmate’s cats and noticing my teaching assistant’s change of living room decor, and it’s hard to even imagine what life might have been like before.

Whether you have a burning love for Blackboard or zeal for Zoom, this year’s shift to complete online teaching has certainly been a contentious one. While before certain classes required little to no tech-teaching, third-level education has been forced to completely reinvent and remodel entire courses, and both teachers and students alike are struggling to keep up.

Coming from a rural town that seems to be still caught up in the dial-up era of the Internet, I thought I had seen real disparity when it came to buffering and loading screens. Yet this era of online education has become a survival of the fittest internet connection. From lecturers who think they can stream a two-hour film through a Zoom link, to poorly connected presentations that force you to fill in the blanks of your classmates’ sentences, online teaching is a minefield.


While in-person teaching was never without its vexatious moments, online classes seem to be a prototype for embarrassing encounters, and each student is sure to have an unfortunate moment in the Zoom spotlight this semester.

If you’d have told me this time last year that I would know what the kitchen of my Italian lecturer’s apartment looks like, I would have thought my grades must have reached a seriously bleak low

What is certainly most curious about this move to online education, is that many students, (including myself) seem to have something of a mental disconnect between the idea of what would be considered normal behaviour in a class setting, and what would be acceptable behaviour in the confines of your own bedroom.

While we all may secretly snack between lecture slides, tucking into a tuna roll with both your microphone and video on could actually be considered a hate crime to both earphone users and people with vision. While the contents of your sandwich may be up for debate, letting it accidentally slop to your keyboard for all your classmates and acquaintances to witness is not and is certainly a step too far for a 9am lecture.

What is perhaps both online classes’ greatest attribute and biggest flaw is that they are increasingly more difficult to justify ditching. When before early-morning traffic or strikingly stormy weather may have felt like a perfectly equitable justification for an extra hour in bed, your laptop seems more and more difficult to ignore when it’s two feet away.

While 9am lectures may be certainly more accessible for your bedside, one accidental click may lead to the entirety of your politics lecture catching sight of your four-year-old period-stained Harry Potter PJs and overnight retainer – a sight neither them nor you can stop from occupying their every thought for the next few weeks.

Although speaking in class was never everyone’s cup of tea, trying to elucidate the complexities of Zoom etiquette has most students shaking in their boots. From navigating bathroom breaks to finding your appropriate time to speak without rudely interrupting your fellow peer’s monologue (on how capitalism actually could work if we just gave it a real try), online classes have exposed a plethora of new and never ending discomforts – played out in incredibly real and of course entirely recorded time.

this era of online education has become a survival of the fittest internet connection

For many students, the very notion of clicking that spine-chilling unmute button causes a wave of anxiety so great that they find it more difficult to contribute to their class discussions, and therefore find themselves struggling to even attend any lectures at all. While actually accessing their classes may be logistically easier, a screen filled with blank frames and few friendly faces is not entirely the education they may have anticipated in their time in third-level. In terms of blossoming new friendships, it seems streaming has slashed any chance at real, authentic connections.

From accidentally broadcasting your disdain at another student’s archaic opinions to a microphone turned on at a particularly flatulent time, if online education is the norm for the foreseeable future, then it will be a future of ironing out the emerging kinks of this new way of teaching. As students must grapple with the fear about whether or not lecturers truly can sift through their private Zoom conversations, teachers must learn that Powerpoint has in fact come out with a new version since 1992, and it is incredibly easy to use and even easier to download.

While students may be able to see the fun of it in these early weeks, a whole academic year of buffering streams and silent breakout rooms is one many a student will dread. As a generation who have just spent the last six months with noses dived deep into the tantalising TikTok “for you” Page, lecturers may have to go above and beyond to engage students in hours worth of online classes this semester. Perhaps a lecture to the hum of Doja Cat might do the trick?

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