Every morning when I wake up, my routine is the same: get out of bed, brush teeth, eat breakfast, open laptop, open CCLE, open Zoom, and sit in front of my computer screen until it’s time to go to sleep and start everything over again. Most days, I feel like a cartoon character with a gray storm cloud above my head stuck in a weird, never-ending black-and-white television loop. The monotonous days melt together to the point where it’s genuinely hard to ascertain what day of the week it is. This is the reality of online classes for many college students at UCLA and all over the world. However, this quarter, it seems like the workloads are increasing, and the deadlines are only getting shorter. Despite having the experience of one full quarter of online school under our belts, the challenges of remote learning are ever-present, just not in the logistic “learning one’s way around a computer” way some people expect.
When Alyssa Hare, an Asian American junior at UCLA, was asked about her experience with online learning this quarter, she said, “Online learning has overall negatively impacted my mental health.” Mental health has been a large subject of discussion when it comes to the effects of remote school on students. Without a definite timeline as to when life is going to be “normal” again, students’ anxiety and depression have increased when it comes to thinking about the future. This uncertainty can be extremely mentally taxing on students, especially right now since the supposed “end of COVID” has been pushed back multiple times already.
“Online learning requires me to stay in one location almost all day, staring at a screen which causes eye strain and fatigue,” Hare said. With an online winter quarter just starting off, the time that students spend staring at a computer screen has skyrocketed, resulting in eye strain headaches and other vision issues. Pediatric optometrist Alexandra Williamson, OD, says that “[w]hen we use digital devices, we blink less, and we don’t even notice. The reduction in blinking affects kids, too. They lose their tear film, which can cause dry eyes, vision problems and discomfort.”1 The shift to online communication and the considerable increase in computer time over the past year has led to the coinage of the term “Zoom Fatigue.” “Zoom Fatigue” is “the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication.”2 As we delve deeper into the school year, the amount of hours we will spend attending classes on Zoom, interacting with club members on Zoom, and taking important midterms and finals on Zoom will only make “Zoom Fatigue” worse.
Hare also went on to talk about her continued struggles with socializing this quarter due to distance learning: “Social interaction is greatly reduced, since I can’t lean over and have conversations with other students as easily. There’s less ability to meet new people, whether that be walking on campus or in a new class.” According to Psychiatric Times, “functional MRI data reveal that live face-to-face interactions, compared to viewing recordings, are associated with greater activation in the same brain regions involved in reward. So, more active social connection is associated with more perceived reward, which in turn affects the very neurological pathways modulating alertness versus fatigue.”3 Even though students had fall quarter to learn how to operate Zoom and find ways to better interact with their classmates, the reality of the situation is that no amount of virtual communication can replace the benefits of in-person social interaction.
When asked about her feelings towards the workload so far during winter quarter, freshman Allison Lian stated, “I think the work is adequate, but this quarter, I feel like the professors are less lenient with grades, as there are less chances for extra credit, and tests and quizzes are worth many more points, which puts a lot of pressure and stress on students. I feel so much less motivated compared to last quarter, maybe because it’s winter or because the excitement of starting university has died out.” For freshmen, a lot of the exhilaration of beginning college and the motivation to make new friends has gone out, even more so in our current conditions where the effort it takes to reach out to others online doesn’t seem worth it. On top of that, winter quarter also comes with seasonal depression and the post-holiday blues of January, a month that often feels empty after the festivities of December. These new hurdles that we must overcome, coupled with a workload that doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier, has left students feeling increasingly unmotivated and stressed.
It may seem like online learning is getting easier for college students since we have been growing accustomed to it for almost a year now, but research and interviews from members of the APIDA community indicate that despite establishing a routine for ourselves, the mental challenges that come with online learning are not getting any easier and may even be getting more difficult over time. Students should focus on their mental health and remind themselves that it is okay to not feel as motivated as they did last quarter or last year. Professors mustn’t increase their workload under the false pretense that “online learning should be getting easier.” It is crucial that moving forward into the school year, both students and professors take these mental challenges into account.
1 Fenneld. “How to Avoid Eye Strain During Virtual Learning.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 3 Dec. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-avoid-eye-strain-during-virtual-learning/.
2 Lee, Jena. “A Neuropsychological Exploration of Zoom Fatigue.” Psychiatric Times, 17 Nov. 2020, www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychological-exploration-zoom-fatigue.
3 Lee, Jena. “A Neuropsychological Exploration of Zoom Fatigue.” Psychiatric Times, 17 Nov. 2020, www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychological-exploration-zoom-fatigue.