Monday, April 5, 2021

Teaching without video meetings

Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

Synchronous meetings in Zoom/Teams/Google Meet have become the default teaching method over the past year but fatigue is setting in and many wonder if we really need to meet this way so often. Lecture sessions can be pre-recorded and discussions can often become more reflective in asynchronous forums or other discussion tools where everyone has time to consider their opinion and not simply react spontaneously as in a synchronous meeting. Could the frequency of video meetings be due to the feeling that that is what we are expected to do? Lots of meetings make everyone feel like they are working hard, but could learning take place just as well, if not better, without them?  

Some answers to these questions are discussed in an interesting article by Lucy Biederman in Inside Higher Ed, Goodbye, Zoom Fatigue. She teaches several classes very successfully without the use of video meetings and gives the following examples:

  • An advanced poetry seminar where students work together during the scheduled course times each week, communicating on Google chat as they do, to create a website that features a deep dive into one significant American poem each week. They collaborated to provide background, context, close readings, writing prompts based on the poem and more.
  • A business and professional writing course taught entirely on Slack, providing students experience with a new-to-them workplace application. Students communicated with me and one another on channels devoted to course topics and through direct messages.
  • An introductory creative writing course where students maintain individual blogs in which they explore course texts and their own writing processes throughout the semester. A page on the learning management system shares every students' blog address. Students create a community of writers by reading and commenting on each other's blogs.
In these examples the students are very active, learning together and interacting. These methods are also more inclusive in that they do not make high demands on bandwidth, devices or time constraints. The process is visible to all and the teacher is able to offer feedback at all stages. It also mirrors how virtual teamwork is conducted in professional life. This approach may not be valid for all subjects and levels but it raises questions around why we are so dependent on synchronous meetings even when many people feel that they are repetitive and uninspiring.

This does not mean that we should stop having video meetings but that we should always consider if they are essential and whether other methods would be more effective. Video lessons, like classroom time, can sometimes give us a sense of activity without really contributing to learning. We need to match each learning outcome to an appropriate method and space and be ready to challenge comfortable traditions.


  1. Spot on; synchronous video meetings have the ability of making learners feel that they are actively acquiring new information by spontaneously responding to others. In most cases, the discussions may be allowed to wander about and not focus on the real content to be discussed. This is probably due to the need for always encouraging team members to voluntarily have input into the discussions. Group work e.g. on padlets just may cause individuals to "conform" towards the general direction of the other team members - a situation that kind of restricts individual creativity to some degree.

  2. Thanks for your comment.The point about group work is also very valid. Sometimes it's hard to disagree when the rest of the group agrees on a point. Some voices may not be heard in fear of breaking the group harmony.