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Interview with Dr. Linda Kay

📷 Edge Hill

Journalist: Solene Delumeau

Solene: Welcome to SciSection! Today’s interview is with Dr. Linda Kaye from Edge Hill University, in England. Thank you for being here, Dr. Kaye!

Dr. Kaye: Thank you for inviting me!

Solene: Could you introduce yourself and what you do?

Dr. Kaye: I am a senior lecturer in psychology at Edge Hill University, and the area that I work in is cyberpsychology- that is basically the psychology of online behavior. How do we experience, and how are we affected by new technologies and aspects of the internet.

Solene: “Zoom fatigue” is a very recent term. What exactly does it refer to?

Dr. Kaye: This term has been picked up a lot by the media. I don’t think it’s something that people agree on as a technical term, but it’s an experience that a lot of people have experienced, particularly during the recent 6-7 months of national lockdowns. This experience is predominantly just feeling very exhausted and tired, particularly as our interactions have been mostly, or in some cases fully online. A lot of people were using the platform Zoom for these interactions, so the term “Zoom fatigue” got coined to try and describe this very common experience.

Solene: Do you think Zoom fatigue is more of a concern for certain age groups? Are older people more “immune” to it?

Dr. Kaye: That doesn’t seem to be something that has been observed, it seems to be a common, universal experience. I don’t think there’s necessarily an immunity to it, but I think it’s just a result of maybe the length of time that we’re using these technologies- that there’s no distractions or distinctions between types of interactions with people.

Dr. Kaye: Work interactions, social interactions- a lot of the time are on similar platforms, and it’s difficult to compartmentalize the different things we’re doing.

Dr. Kaye: I think that’s common across all people, so it doesn’t seem that there are any particular differences between age groups, from what we’ve observed.

Solene: A lot of students are seeing, or expecting their grades to drop with online learning. Is this a visible effect of Zoom fatigue? And do you think the struggles of online learning would justify that academic institutions lower their grade expectations?

Dr. Kaye: That’s a good question. I suppose it depends on what we mean by online learning, since that can mean lots of different things and there are a lot of differences between universities and countries on how online learning is actually taking place. I suppose what you might be referring to is, if all sessions are entirely on Zoom or a platform like that. But there’s actually no academic evidence- from what I’m aware of- to suggest that interactions in these real time video classes are sub-standard to in-person interactions, in terms of learning. The difference might be in terms of level of engagement- maybe it’s more difficult to sustain attention when it’s online, when we’re more easily distracted. If it’s people accessing pre-recorded content, maybe the motivation to engage with that is different. From my view, speaking as an educator, and knowing the amount of effort that a lot of educators have put into being creative in the way that online teaching has been put together- I don’t think it’s necessarily a justification to lower grade expectations. I think it’s more a case of understanding how online learning is taking place, and what are the different ways that we can encourage engagement, rather than the actual learning itself, if that makes sense. So yeah, I think it depends on what online learning refers to because there can be a lot of variation in that.

Solene: As someone who teaches, how are the struggles with online teaching or learning, different from the teacher’s end and the student’s end?

Dr. Kaye: Again, it depends what we mean by online learning and teaching. If we’re referring to delivering a live lecture online through a video conferencing platform, it is different because it’s more difficult to read a room. From a teacher’s perspective, you don’t have the richness of all the non-verbal cues that you would do in a real classroom. You’re not picking up on things like if students aren’t paying attention the same way, you don’t get the non-verbal feedback interaction, and the warmth of an audience, if that’s the right way to put it. From my perspective, you have to use different ways of monitoring engagement, whether it’s using chat functions- or sometimes I use live google docs that I ask students to add stuff into. So there is a level of engagement I can get back- which is different, but still trying to support that process. From a student’s end it's obviously more difficult to say, since I’m coming from an educator’s perspective. But I think my own students, when talking about the motivation to watch pre-recorded content, that’s been a bit of a struggle for some of them. Some aren’t watching it all the way through, just skipping through, or not having any motivation to watch it in the first place. So I think the variety of ways we’re supporting online learning is being experienced quite differently by students. In some cases it can be more positive, but I think it’s different for a lot of students, so they’re just getting to grips with how to do it effectively at the moment.

Solene: From my own experience, in one of my online classes I actually felt more of a sense of community thanks to the group chat option, where professors and students could share jokes and send emojis. Do you think there are any possible psychological benefits of this type of interaction?

Dr. Kaye: That’s a really nice example and actually some of my colleagues have said something similar- about students saying thank you in the group chat at the end of the class, for example. I think that’s really nice and sometimes you don’t get that kind of thanks in a classroom- sometimes you do, but not always. But yeah, I think the chat functions have been experienced quite positively.

Dr. Kaye: For some students, it’s actually been a great way for them to engage when maybe in a real classroom they might not necessarily have wanted to contribute.

Dr. Kaye: So, it is reaching a certain proportion of our students in a way that possibly is better than an actual classroom in some ways.

Dr. Kaye: The fact that you can share fun things and also build a sense of community and connection- those kinds of things are important.

Solene: Excessive screen time has been a concern for a while now. Before the pandemic, there were general recommendations to not go over a certain number of hours of screen time in a day. Do you think it’s still realistic to recommend limiting our screen time in 2020?

Dr. Kaye: The way screen time recommendations were built was not really on any particular hardcore evidence- they’re sort of random recommendations. Personally I’ve never been a big fan of quantifying the vast amount of different behaviors we do via screens just by one number, or a metric. So, to be honest I don’t think the numbers and the recommendations themselves are actually that useful in the first place. Because the amount of things we can do on screens like socialize, study, work, access entertainment, services, information, all these kinds of things- for me it makes more sense to understand the limits of what things are we doing on screens- rather than just time per se. In terms of limits, I suppose it would only be problematic if you are experiencing some kind of detriment as a result of spending too much time with screens. And that’s in terms of the individual, for how they might regulate that. So personally, I think putting a categorical number on it isn’t that helpful anyway, because it potentially restricts people from everyday activities, which are increasingly commonplace via screens.

Solene: Let’s imagine that completely online classes, over Zoom for example- continued for several years. Do you think there might be some psychological impacts, specifically on younger children?

Dr. Kaye: Possibly. We don’t know what the long term impacts are, but I think one of the things might be about how people develop ways of interacting with each other. Which isn’t necessarily always going to be problematic, but I think if all children’s educational interactions are via a screen, there are going to be things that might be missed. For example, ways of engaging socially with people- that is different to do. You can still engage socially with people online, but there might be certain social skills or competencies which appear in different ways perhaps. I’m just speculating and these are just my initial thoughts. I think part of what could be problematic is students who normally would require additional teaching assistance and support. How they would cope in, say, a Zoom classroom where you can’t necessarily divide very easily. You can use breakout rooms, but I don’t know how that works in terms of supporting those students who might often have somebody with them. There could be potential risks there, with marginalizing students in that way. It would be interesting to know what the longer-term impacts would be, but these are just some thoughts.

Solene: What do you suggest we do to limit Zoom fatigue, and to feel better about this online shift in general?

Dr. Kaye: I think it’s just using these live video chats when it’s appropriate too, not just using it for the sake of it. There are so many times we can still connect with people without having it being a live discussion. Lots of people, when the lockdowns first started, were panicking and tried to set up lots of online meetings, quizzes, and ways to connect with each other. What happened is that we started to overburden ourselves with it- and this is when Zoom fatigue can start to appear. But there are so many ways of being connected without having the intensity of these live interactions. A lot of the research I do is on digital gaming. The fact that you and a friend might be playing Animal Crossing together for example- you don’t have to be seeing each other live and having a discussion about it, but can still have a social glue which can keep you connected on a psychological level.

Dr. Kaye: So, I think one way to reduce this Zoom fatigue experience is to think about the broad range of ways we can be connected which aren’t this intense, live discussion. That would be my suggestion.

Solene: That brings us to the end of the interview. Thank you for joining us and sharing knowledge, Dr. Kaye!

Dr. Kaye: No problem, thank you for inviting me.

Solene: That’s it for this week of SciSection! To all our listeners, make sure to check out our podcast for the latest interviews.


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