I believe I am not the only one who feels that it is a love-hate relationship though. Spring fatigue has turned into Teams fatigue.
Even though we have been using Teams at Xamk long before we were forced to work from home, the extent of our dependency on it has caught me by surprise.
In our new normal, we are using Teams – or a similar video conferencing system – for just about every call, meeting and online teaching session. I recall the moment Teams was introduced to us and how I felt it was an awkward tool and difficult to find information in.
Well I am proud to announce that if nothing else, I have become an absolute Teams pro. I use Teams parallel to Learn as a communication channel only by creating a new Team for each course of mine. It is easy to schedule meetings and navigate between the teams.
However, I have noticed that a two hours session in Teams drains my energy a lot more than the same two hours session in the classroom. As we are completely isolated from each other, I researched the topic on the internet.
This is when I learned that Teams fatigue is real, and I am not the only one experiencing it. The same exhaustion applies also if you are using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, or any other video-calling interfaces. I first thought the reason it taxes my brain more than usual is, that I do not see human faces the way I am used to in the classroom.
Camera on or off
Fact is, that I use Teams many hours a day and most of the time I only see myself, as nor students or colleagues are turning their cameras on.
That made me wonder: as a participant, are you actually expected to turn on your video camera in a staff meeting or online teaching session? Is it rude if you don’t? What’s the etiquette? Should students be required to turn their cameras on during online sessions?
Apparently, in some Swedish universities, activity points depend on whether students turn their camera on or not. But then again does that ensure mental presence?
I have also noticed that it is also a culture dependent issue. I teach mixed groups of Finnish and international students and international students tend to be more willing to turn their cameras on as a sign of commitment and active participation, while Finns like to “hide” and avoid turning their cameras on.
To be honest with you – and take this from a teacher who 95% of the time sees her own mirror image in addition to colorful bubbles with initials -this is highly appreciated. Not only is it “nicer” to see students, cameras turned on ensure the vitally important non-verbal communication aspect, too.
Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, gestures, paralinguistics such as loudness or tone of voice, body language, proxemics or personal space, eye gaze, haptics (touch), appearance, and artifacts.
According to communication theory, to decode a transmitted message, you need this additional information from these nonverbal signals mentioned above. Those make the message whole. I might even argue that without those some things might get “lost in translation”.
This is apparently a highly dividing and heated topic also amongst teachers. Arguments pro and contra were expressed when we discussed whether teachers should turn their cameras on or not. Some feel that it is the content that matters, not the source. I respectfully disagree.
Causes of Teams fatigue
I have recently come across some interesting new research that made me think further. Let me share it with you, as I assume (if you have read this far) you are likely to have experienced Teams fatigue as well and I might be able to offer you some easy fixes.
Stanford University researchers have published a study a few weeks ago, in which four main culprits for Zoom fatigue were identified: excessive and intense eye contact; constantly watching video of yourself; the limited mobility of being stuck at your desk; and more energy spent identifying social cues you would otherwise pick up on intuitively in person.
All pretty obvious, I first thought, but then again, yes, the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural. In normal social interactions we do tend to look also elsewhere; we do not always gaze at each other. Also in Team calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. Listeners are treated nonverbally like speakers, getting starred at all the time. This is apparently way too stressful for our brains.
The same goes for seeing yourself only on the screen all the time. It is unnatural, just like in real life someone was following you with a mirror. Just crazy.
And yes, I wish I could move around while teaching online, but I have no external camera in my living room, so I´m stuck to standing close to my laptop. This means no nonverbal break for my brain.
Finally, in regular face-to-face interactions we read those above mentioned nonverbal cues and signals unconsciously. In Teams or Zoom it gets harder to interpret those. Do you recon giving someone an exaggerated nod or big thumbs up as a sign of agreement? I do. According to this Stanford study, this adds to the cognitive load.
So how do we cope until we get our old lives back? Me personally, next time I am teaching online, I will zoom out of the full-screen option to minimize (my own) face size and try to stand one step further from my makeshift ironing board desk to at least create the illusion of an increased personal bubble.
I´ll also look into if there is a “hide self-view” button, because seeing my mirror image all the time is apparently too much to handle for my brain. Also, I keep on preaching to students and colleagues about the importance of switching their cameras on in Teams to ensure those vitally important nonverbal cues.