One of the main reasons I chose Drew University was because its small class sizes gave me the chance to make connections with my professors, and I am not alone. According to Drew’s website, the ratio of undergraduate students to faculty is 12:1, which allows students to forge close relationships with dedicated professors, especially when classes are in person.
However, 2020 was also the start of the pandemic and online learning. This meant students could only meet their professors on Zoom, and the transition was tough. The quality of relationships formed through a camera and computer screen paled in comparison to those made in person.
Something is lost when I can only see a head that might be attached to a physical body. Maybe it is because body language cannot be conveyed through Zoom. It could be that the flat screen turns a chat after class with a professor into something more formal, like a business meeting. Or it could be that it is impossible to hold a natural conversation when people speak over one another due to the slight time delay on Zoom. I lost that spontaneity of talking with a professor before class or spotting them down the hall in Brother’s College and asking them a question.
Although it was not horrible meeting professors on Zoom if I had met them before the pandemic, I could not connect as well with professors I only met online, even if I loved them and their class. The return to campus has revived some of that ability to meet with professors in person, but it is subdued with having to wear masks indoors. In addition, some courses are still held completely online, and some professors with classes on campus are offering office hours in-person or virtually.
This is one of the few benefits of using Zoom because of the flexibility it offers for students and for the way in which it allows professors to interact with students without a mask. Director of Writing Across the Curriculum and Professor of English Sandra Jamieson said, “I want to see everybody at least once in person, at least once without a mask, and if I can get that all at once, that’s fantastic.” And I completely agree. Being able to see someone’s face is a big part of making connections.
Moreover, there are students on campus with visible and invisible disabilities who benefit from Zoom meetings. It can be difficult for them to get to a professor’s office that is up three flights of stairs in a building without an elevator. In some cases, dangerous weather can prevent anyone from walking around campus too. While Zoom does limit connections with professors to the screen, it offers the closest alternative to normal conversation for students who must wear masks during in-person instruction or have other reasons for needing to meet online.
Despite all of the flexible scheduling Zoom provides, it can never replace in-person classes and interactions. Physically being in the presence of a professor or a colleague and being able to see their faces provides so much more insight into their personality and allows for a relationship to be built. The sooner we return to all in-person instruction and interaction without masks, the better connections will be, even if Zoom is a nice alternative for now.