Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Online classes can have an impact on mental health

Long hours on Zoom can be exhausting
Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian

If there’s one thing college students nationwide can agree on, it’s that Zoom classes suck. Necessary as it may be in the age of COVID-19, staring at your screen for nine hours a day while your professor tries to explain the difference between judicial activism and judicial restraint is draining to say the least.

As the University of Massachusetts and colleges across the country begin online classes this semester, the college experience is taking a new form. There needs to be a mutual understanding between professors and students: Zoom learning is difficult and exhausting for everyone.

Having exclusively online interactions can have a real impact on the mental health of both students and professors. “Zoom fatigue” is real – video chats make it harder for our brains to process “non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language,” according to one BBC article. Delays in the video conference can make it harder to feel like you are having a natural conversation with the other people in your call. Being aware you are on camera can also drain your energy, as you may feel more conscious of how you appear to others and feel pressured to perform.

Professors have changed around their syllabi and entire way of teaching to make online learning possible. For some classes, this task has been almost impossible. As we log into our Zoom lectures for the day, we should remember that our professors are facing many of the same challenges we are as students.

Reading information online can have a negative effect on how much students retain. Reading and absorbing information from a screen requires a different set of skills than reading from a traditional textbook. People tend to comprehend and retain information better when reading from a real book or handout. While most college students are used to working almost exclusively on laptops, comprehending information from a video lecture with 50 other students coughing and sniffing while their microphones remain unmuted just isn’t the same as a lecture hall.

A majority of UMass students will not be living on campus this fall – following an Aug. 6 announcement of changes to the reopening plan, the number of students living in residence halls has been reduced from the average 14,000 students to just 1,069. While many students may be living off-campus in the Amherst area, many other students will be living with their families and have to deal with responsibilities they generally do not have to worry about while they are living at school, such as taking care of siblings and parents who may also be adjusting to life according to Zoom.

Beyond the difficulties of Zoom, almost every aspect of learning is going to be impacted by online learning. Professors and teaching assistants will not hold in-person office hours. There will be no study group meet ups. You can’t just stop in to bother your advisor about if you’ll be graduating on time or not. There won’t be late nights in the library fueled by Red Bull and desperation. Being a UMass student without the whole being at UMass thing will be alienating and disconnecting.

There’s also the issue of the pandemic that’s still going on, the reason we have to go to Zoom school in the first place. Constantly worrying about the health and safety of your loved ones and yourself after doing menial tasks like going to the grocery store is mentally taxing. COVID-19 is still happening and unfortunately it doesn’t look like things will get exponentially get better any time soon.

Though students and professors can’t do much to combat COVID-19 besides wearing a mask and social distancing, there are things that can be done about Zoom fatigue. Take breaks from your computer when you can, even if it’s to walk around your room for 15 minutes or stretch and drink some water. If you can, take physical notes during lectures to help retain the information. Take advantage of the recently announced changes to the UMass Pass/Fail policy for this semester: students can elect to Pass/Fail up to three courses.

Remember that going back to online classes is a major adjustment students and professors have to adapt to. Professors, keep in mind that not all of your students have the energy to be actively engaged in discussion after staring at a screen for five-plus hours and that some of them have responsibilities outside of your class. Students, remember your professors are getting used to Zoom too. Keeping that in mind can help reduce some of the stress and frustration that is sure to come with malfunctioning technology and virtual lectures.


Ana Pietrewicz is an assistant Op/Ed editor and can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @anapietrewicz.

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    ChristyNov 8, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    Hi Ana,
    I came upon your article when searching “psychological effects of online learning for college students”. I understand your encouragement to see this from the professors side as well as the students side. But I wanted to check in with you to see how you were feeling about this currently; after another semester of online studies. I have spoken with students from a few different universities that have all stated that their professors seemed to cut their live content lecture in half while adding hours of video lectures and content that are necessary to learn the material necessary for passing the class. I think most students are online 60 to 90% of their waking hours with lectures, meetings, office hours, study groups and studying and additional videos required by professors are overly demanding. I will tell you that I am a concerned parent, not a student, and my concern is for mental health. Is this a priority at your university? Do you feel safe and supported in your studies at UMass? If so I’m wondering what things at your school are making you feel this way? Thank you for reading this coment and I wish you the best of luck in your studies and student life.