Another dot in the blogosphere?

Video conference fatigue

Posted on: April 25, 2020

Synchronous meetings via video conferencing seem all the rage with the current COVID-19 mitigations of work from home (WFH) and home-based learning (HBL). So why might these meetings be tedious or tiring?

The BBC article linked above offers some clues.

The two experts that BBC approached suggested a few reasons why video conferences are more difficult than in-person meetings.

  1. Not being face-to-face but seeing other people on screen creates dissonance — they are with you and yet they are not. We put in extra effort to read their expressions and tones.
  2. We are less comfortable with silence online than we are in-person. One expert cited a 2014 study that suggested that “delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused”. So we put in more effort to fill in those perceptual gaps.
  3. Being on camera is like being monitored so we feel the pressure to perform. Whether meeting is for work or leisure, the need to be present might feel like an obligation.
  4. Other stressors like being at home all the time compound the problems above. We resort to particpating in video conferencing which we might not like or have not previously practiced. We are also not able to keep our work, social, and family lives separate, and this leads to a sense of loss of control and negativity.

If synchronous video conferencing might demotivate and create fatigue, what might we do? The article focused on workplace practices. I suggest some ideas we might take apply in schooling and education.

  1. Limit synchronous activities. This does not only apply to video conferencing, but also to chats, ‘live’ co-editing of documents, or anything else done in real time like lecturing. Conducting synchronous activities is not wrong because they can create immediacy, agency, and accountability. But overdoing it is tiresome.
  2. Design and monitor asynchronous activities. These do not require everyone to be present at the same time and to operate over a relatively short period. Consider getting students to collect data and analyse it, co-create content, watch/create a video playlist, etc. These provide time and space for reflection and self-management.
  3. Include transitions and breaks. We do this in person whether at school or work, so why not online? We take restroom or coffee breaks, we have recess, we walk to another room, we exercise. Our students need to decompress and to reflect. They need to rest.
  4. Act on feedback. Ask your students how they are doing and what ideas they have for creating better learning experiences. Some ideas might seem crazy, but they could be better than yours. You do not have to shoulder the entire burden — get your students to test some of these ideas.

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