As the Pandemic Ends, Let's Keep Zoom as an Option
Furman needs to start thinking seriously about what role Zoom could play in a post-pandemic world.
Zoom has been remarkably convenient.
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I had mistimed my run. It was Tuesday; Yuval Levin's lecture, which I had been looking forward to for months, was at five. Yet here I was, at 4:53 p.m., out of breath, covered in sweat, and at least ten minutes from any lecture hall. Thank God there was a pandemic going on. I showered in five minutes and logged into the Zoom lecture while still brushing my hair.
After that, I took the opportunity to multitask. Some dishes had piled up in the sink and had been sitting there for far too long. I set to work, earbuds in, listening to Dr. Levin as if on a podcast. Of course, barely ten minutes in, he said something that struck me and I dashed immediately to my bedroom to grab my blue spiral-bound. I kept it right there on the counter, too, scribbling down thoughts and questions intermittently. But by the end of the lecture, not only had I arrived on time for an enriching educational experience, but my dishes were clean, my clothes were folded, and half my floor was swept.
A year ago, I fully expected Zoom classes to be terrible. In many ways, they have been; just try having a seminar-style class without even being able to see all the participants, or a small group discussion where the audio lags - or worse, where only half the group is on Zoom. And I won't deny that the private chat feature at times presents a major temptation. But Zoom has also been remarkably convenient. That same chat feature, for instance, is really useful for slipping in minor points without making a major disruption. I have often witnessed students, literally running late, pop onto the Zoom call from their phones as they dash across campus; others have logged in audio-only from their car while driving. (Some situations are unavoidable; having that digital option lets students show their professors powerfully that a one-time absence or tardiness is not for lack of caring.) These days, the ability to be quarantined in another state and still not miss class is indispensable. But even in non-COVID times, health-related absences happen. With Zoom, they don't have to mean a mountain of make-up work and an administrative headache on the side.
As vaccine distribution picks up and we approach the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel, Furman needs to start thinking seriously about what role Zoom could play in a post-pandemic world. Now, Furman is not the University of Phoenix, and I doubt either the students or the trustees would stand for a transition to that school's all-online model. That is simply not what Furman students pay for — and with this in mind, professors should stop offering asynchronous or online-only formats in the coming semesters. Instead, they should offer students the best of both worlds: have classes meet primarily in-person, but keep a Zoom link open and ready as a convenient option for those who might need it.
As the world has transitioned into the Internet Era these past decades, Furman has not fallen behind. Recruiters reach out to potential students on social media. Classes are supplemented with online platforms such as Moodle and Box. Even the student newspaper is now digital — and thriving. Now Zoom gives students the option to attend class virtually if they need to. Once upon a time, providing students with that kind of service would have been an impossible pipe dream. But the digital infrastructure is here, the training is in place, and the students are accustomed to it. Why not keep it around?