What Surprised Me Most?: The Unkillable ZoomU
What Surprised Me Most?: The Unkillable ZoomU

Are you going to take Matt Reed up on his prompt about what surprised you most during COVID? 

Matt invited you to email him with your responses at deandad at gmail dot com or to tweet out your thoughts to @deandad. (I’m at @joshmkim if you want to tag me as well). Or you can write a letter to the IHE editors, which can be found under the Views section. 

Matt’s prompt is really good.

Surprise and learning go hand-in-hand. Surprise reveals blind spots. When we are surprised, it is because the world did not conform with our worldview.

What surprised me most about the last 12 months of higher ed during COVID is the stubborn persistence of ZoomU.

My perspective on ZoomU is both as someone working in higher ed, and as a parent. As a result of COVID, I’ve been able to closely observe how my kids have navigated their undergraduate and graduate educations over the past year.

I’ve supplemented what I’ve witnessed with my kids with conversations with educators from across our higher ed ecosystem.

As a social scientist, I’ll be the first to lament that my surprise at the zombie-like persistence of ZoomU is more anecdotal than data-driven. Higher ed’s response to the pandemic calls out for systematic research.

Where that research might live? How that research might be funded? Who will be doing that research? All these remain open questions.

So let’s call the unkillable status of ZoomU a hypothesis.

Why might it be that 12- months into the pandemic that so much of college teaching (not learning) is still occurring on Zoom?

How come I see my kids (and maybe yours?) spending endless hours in Zoom classes, with their synchronous online meetings synced to classroom meeting times?

I’m surprised at the prevalence of ZoomU because this is not at all what anyone involved in traditional online learning would want.

Talk to any instructional designer or instructor teaching in a quality online program, and they will tell you that what works is a combination of asynchronous and synchronous interactions.

Zoom is great for online teaching, but only if utilized sparingly.

Synchronous class times should have little if no lecturing and lots of conversation. A Zoom class meeting is not the time to introduce new instructional material but rather to clarify content and concepts.

There is no argument here. ZoomU is bad pedagogy.

So why does ZoomU persist?

Part of the reason why ZoomU won’t die is because ZoomU is what many students want. Students (and their parents) may feel that without hours of synchronous class time that they are not getting their money’s worth.

Sitting passively in a Zoom class is also easier than actively engaging in an asynchronous online environment, such as a course discussion board or blog, or wiki.

Students may be getting drained and demoralized by ZoomU, but they are not pushing for something different. If anything, they may complain louder if synchronous learning time decreases.

The other reason that ZoomU won’t die is that the alternative is hard. Designing a quality online course is the opposite of getting through a remote learning semester.

Online courses are backward designed with objectives in mind, with actives and content and assessment conforming to the learning goals.

Remote courses are not designed but improvised. Every instructor who has figured out how to make it through the pandemic deserves gratitude and praise.

ZoomU is a response to an emergency more than a strategy to optimize learning.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that we all seem to be still living in ZoomU. But I am.

What has surprised you in higher ed during the past year of COVID-19?



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