I am on Zoom calls most of the day in my role as CEO of Zigazoo and I have yet to meet another person who likes video conference calls better than in-person meetings. I’ve actually noticed an uptick in professionals from New York City and San Francisco asking to have phone calls because they either “don’t like Zoom” or “have Zoom fatigue” from all of the pandemic Zooming. If adults are having this reaction, how do we really think the Zoom children of America are feeling as they return to hours-long video conference calls instead of in-person school?
The bottom line is that long Zoom calls are bad for the health and wellbeing of children. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Zoom is screen time and too much screen time is unhealthy
All of the reasons too much screen time is unhealthy for kids are the same reasons kids shouldn’t be on Zoom all day for school: increased rates of obesity, sleep disturbance, and behavioral problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day and it would be prudent for school leaders to heed this advice by ensuring their students are not on video conference calls longer than 2 hours, especially as districts proceed with remote learning for entire student populations.
2. Zoom captures just 2 of 5 human senses (and poorly at that!)
Unless technology has made us forget, we have 3 senses beyond the 2 that Zoom allows us to experience: smell, touch, and taste. All 5 senses are critical parts of human relationships and experiences, and it’s impossible to replicate the sensory environment of a classroom using just vision and hearing. Torturously though, even the video and audio on Zoom are notoriously shaky and out of sync. As the New York Times reported at the beginning of the pandemic, these subtle sound and visual problems force our brains to “strain to fill in the gaps” and make “us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why.” Given this, Zoom makes it challenging to accomplish the critical cognitive processing involved in the learning process.
3. Zoom is socially isolating
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a child’s third most basic need after survival and safety is a sense of belonging. Without it, children aren’t able to build self-esteem or start a journey to self-actualization. The friendships that are built in the in-person classroom, at lunch, and on the playground are the building blocks for a critical part of childhood development. Teacher affection and relationships are what many children come to school for every day. However, research on video conference calls demonstrates that it’s difficult to build fulfilling connections. Instead of bonding people and giving them energy, it isolates participants from real human connection and makes them more fatigued.
4. Zoom doesn’t facilitate the critical brain breaks that children need for development
Breaks are a natural and important part of the classroom experience. Whether they’re bathroom trips, a quick stretch, a transition between activities or classes, a bit of social time, a snack break, or simply daydreaming in the middle of a lesson, these pauses are when reflection and foundational mental processing happen. There is a growing body of evidence that “constructive internal reflection” is critical for childhood development. On Zoom, it is hard for teachers to gauge the needs of 20 or 30 children and these important breaks are harder to come by naturally, both for students and instructional leaders. Furthermore, the addictive nature of the screen thwarts the ability for any planned breaks a teacher gives to be effective because children continue to attend the technology in front of them instead of their own thoughts.
5. Zoom is primarily a tool for lectures and teacher-centered instruction
Though Zoom has breakout rooms and some other engagement features, the main use case for classroom settings is lectures. This unidirectional, synchronous, teacher-centric pedagogical method is less effective than a multi-directional, project-based, student-centered approach. There is no reason for teachers to synchronously lecture at dozens of children on Zoom for 4 to 8 hours straight when they could assign asynchronous experiences that facilitate more meaningful offline learning.
My advice to teachers and education leaders is to leave long, lecture-based Zoom calls off the agenda this school year. If you have to teach remotely, assign students projects that they can do offline while you do one-on-one or small group conferencing. Short full-group Zoom meetings can be used for morning meetings and debriefs, but anything more than that can be detrimental to children’s social, emotional, physical, academic, and brain development. This year, we simply can’t afford to harm a whole generation of American children with unhealthy, isolating, ineffective Zoom schooling when we will all soon need them to solve the immense and complex problems that got us here in the first place. you get the point now!