Virtual E Days Should Be Asynchronous Learning Days, And Here’s Why

Virtual E Days Should Be Asynchronous Learning Days, And Here’s Why

Jacqueline Kim, Staff Writer

Pre-pandemic, students enjoyed the routine practice of attending in-person classes andmask-free classrooms, and engaging in mindless conversations in the hallways. Now, as the safety precautions of the pandemic dominate our lives, the school environment has been greatly altered. Protective masks and face shieldings disguise once familiar faces and hallways have become increasingly empty. The norms of the high school experience have been reduced to the most basic maintenance of a regular school year’s academic rigor.

Now, in place of the familiar classroom setting, many students attend classes virtually across a computer screen. While at first, students were able to enjoy the luxuries of at-home schooling, the exhaustion of online learning has quickly caught up to many. Attending multiple back-to-back Zoom classes a day has become the new daily routine, causing a burnout in many virtual students. Therefore, implementing an asynchronous day of learning during the week would benefit all students. Modifying virtual E-days to no-Zoom school days would not only relieve the physical strain of sitting in front of one’s computer all day but would aid in recovering students’ mental exhaustion.

In an interview conducted by BBC Worklife, Insead associate professor Gianpiero Petriglieri explained how virtual calls can drain one’s energy. Considering that most in-person conversations are processed through non-verbal communication, largely including body language, the mind must then work harder to compensate for the communication cues that are lost in the translation of digital interchange. This then results in a greater mental tiredness. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not,” Petriglieri said. “That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”

In addition to this, Petriglieri emphasizes the natural hyperawareness that video conferencing draws to oneself: “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.” 

As further explained in an article in Psychology Today, we can often feel “chained to a chair and the screen and that can be physically draining even though it seems like we’re not doing anything physical.” While “in the real work world, we can find moments where we can let our mask drop… during interminable work meetings, we feel like we have to keep on that mask as long as our video image is on the screen.” The exposure of Zoom screens spotlight students, which drives many to feel the need to maintain this act or performance. In addition to this feeling of having to maintain a performance while on camera, most people also cannot help but find themselves conscious of their appearance, which can become a great distraction and cause of exhaustion throughout the duration of a Zoom call. “There is definitely a significant difference between being on Zoom and not being on Zoom,”  Ryan Kim (’23) said. “As a hybrid student, being on Zoom can make me feel complacent and irrationally self-conscious, allowing the most minor of distractions to occupy my brain instead of my teachers’ lessons.” This hyperfixation on one’s appearance may discomfort students as they feel as if their insecurities have been spotlighted, which often presents cases of stress and lower self-esteem known  as “Zoom-face.”

In addition to this, there are also many subconscious distractions that add onto the mental exhaustion of students throughout the virtual school day. According to CNN Health, the numerous faces across one’s screen can tire and strain the eyes as well as the brain, as many subconsciously try to focus on every screen. Constantly engaging oneself with every participating classmate can become draining, as it demands student performance beyond the practices of a regular classroom. Practicing hours of intensive mental focus on numerous faces, hyperlinks, and digital tabs on top of regular school work not only tires the eyes but the mind as well, which may explain the exhaustion and lack of motivation in students following a long virtual day.

Some students have expressed a desire for asynchronous E Days. “Asynchronous learning days would provide an opportunity for students to take a break from their devices and allow them to go outside or do other stress-relieving activities,” Kim said. I find that the current schedule creates minimal opportunity to relieve stress… making it nearly impossible to clear one’s mind or do a fun activity unless they want to face the risk of reduced sleep.” Schooling should not dominate student lives, especially in times such as these, which demand greater community and compassion. Simply allotting students these momentary breaks away from their screens would create a greater balance between school life and personal life, which is a distinction that has become increasingly blurred as learning has overtaken the home environment.

Considering these difficulties, as well as the various other personal situations that students face, implementing one weekly asynchronous learning day would be hugely beneficial to all students. Although attending classes through a computer screen may seem simple and even less tiring than physically entering the classroom, months of this endless routine of Zoom classes and virtual work have proven otherwise. Relieving students of the exhaustion of their Zoom fatigue would alleviate stress and mental strain, while opening an opportunity for students to maximize their time.

However, the argument may be made that considering this year’s significant reduction in school hours, the curriculum cannot afford to lose any more invaluable class time. Although, when comparing the value of a complete education versus the wellbeing of the general students, surely the mental health of the students should be prioritized. Not only does this ensure the welfare of the students, but it increases productivity, focus, and general good performance. And beyond this, the asynchronous days would not simply be “free days,” but would require and assure the productivity of the students. Teachers could assign work that would supplement or enhance the work being done throughout the week, not simply as busywork, but rather as assignments that would prove beneficial as well as easily completed on the students’ own time. Teachers could even continue lectures in the form of videos on Google Classroom, which would ensure learning while relieving students the pressure of being on a Zoom call. “I like [the] idea of asynchronous days every few Mondays. That would be a nice break for everyone,” Humanities History teacher Mr. Hutchinson said. “I don’t want them every week; we have too much to do, and E days are very short anyway.” These asynchronous school days could also be used for students and teachers alike to recoup and catch up on any missing or late work, which would increase the output of good work. 

Administrating weekly or even bimonthly asynchronous days would be manageable as well as feasible, considering that E-days are already virtual. Implementation of this change would help to reduce stress and facilitate school life in a changing time, while accommodating the needs and prioritizing the wellbeing of the students.