The year of 2020 has been a peculiar and unsettling one. Schools have closed and classrooms have moved online. Nowadays, my seven-year-old cousin uses Zoom to chat with friends, and my seventy-year-old grandma uses Zoom to participate in her book club. While trying to adjust to new norms, we are experiencing panic and anger, loneliness and sadness. But when all this is over, I figure I’ll be glad to have preserved some memories for the laughs. After all, that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Plus, if these memories can take the form of advice, helping everyone else through this apocalypse and the next ones, that would be killing two birds with one cough, so to speak.
Without further ado, here are ten tips to thrive in a Zoom classroom.
#1: Facial Exercises
The healthiest morning routine isn’t eating breakfast, nor is it brushing your teeth. Instead, after waking up, you must proceed directly to your bathroom mirror, stare at your reflection (take note of your newly-grown double chin) and practice your poker face for ten minutes. Remember: the first rule about online meetings is that no one knows what you’re doing—but only if you don’t accidentally reveal subtle facial clues. Hence, the necessity of facial exercises. Maintaining a serious composure will certainly help you leave a studious impression on teachers. Furthermore, it will free you to watch TikTok, play video games, surf the Lululemon website, or maybe even genuinely do classwork when you feel up to it, without your teacher ever suspecting a thing.
#2: Better Late Than Early
Have you ever had a scintillating conversation with your Physics teacher before Zoom class that deeply inspired you to study harder, major in physics, and eventually pursue a career as a physicist? Me neither. When you log into class early, what you will hear is more likely to be a litany about absolutely normal weather, adopted pet cats, and your history teacher’s favorite Spotify picks (“Love is a Bourgeois Construct”). You may object that the wise Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “The early bird gets the worm.” Well, obviously Confucius never lived through a pandemic. He was also never forced to attend Zoom classes. Don’t listen to him: it’s always better to be late than early.
#3: Make a Name for Yourself
When you log in, make sure that you have entered an apt, pithy, and striking name for yourself. Examples include, but are not limited to, “potato head” for your biology class, the first 100 digits of pi for your math class (use copy-paste, of course), and “Reconnecting…” for your physical education class. In the Zoom era, you have to give your teachers a strong impression of who you are, so that they can write exceptional recommendation letters to Harvard or good old State U. on your behalf. You can also use identity theft for your own benefit. Simply change your displayed Zoom name to that of the teacher’s pet, maybe tacking on a few extra spaces at the end to avoid username duplication. Then, feel free to lavish compliments upon yourself in the chat. After all, what is in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet—so go make a name for yourself.
#4: Plead the Fourth
On the occasion that you need to share your screen to your esteemed teacher and beloved classmates, in order to present the research video you have found on YouTube, always maintain constant vigilance as to your privacy. This happened to a hapless teacher, unnamed for the sake of his privacy and my participation grade, who streamed a TED Talk via YouTube while onlooking students noticed not only his video-watching suggestions but also his recent viewing of “Reagan Tells Soviet Jokes.” Always plead the fourth—your right to privacy must be kept not only from Facebook but also from your screen-share audience.
#5: Find Direction
Some teachers are unrelentingly efficient in their actions and succinct in their directions. When you are momentarily distracted by an incoming pop-up notification in the corner of your screen, your teacher will probably seize the opportunity to assign an immediate task. Back when classes were in-person, you could easily look around, taking in cues from your classmates. Now, all the cues you can see are a grid of faces. The solution? Send a private message through chat to every individual student in the class asking what to do—even though they might be total strangers. Who knows, you might make some new friends along the way. If you happen to be cold-called, your best strategy is simply to fess up: in a great misfortune, your internet connection became unstable for the few seconds when the question was asked—could the teacher be so kind as to repeat the prompt?
#6: Break in Breakout Rooms
There is also the matter of breakout rooms, which are a convenient tool that teachers often use. While these breakout rooms often appear to squander your valuable time, they actually present a precious opportunity for independent work. Of course, your participation in a breakout room discussion is optimized only when you’re muted, utilizing your newfound free time to watch YouTube… until the teacher shows up. You should immediately begin babbling about the discussion topic. Oh, the teacher is gone now? Mute yourself again before you resume the video you were previously watching. After you rejoin the main room, it is possible that you will be called on to recap your group’s findings or conclusions. In that case, you should give a recap about the recap, stating that one of your breakout-roommates took all notes on the discussion and has most of the real recap.
#7: Have an Emergency Plan
In case you are on the losing end of a desperate intellectual debate with a peer, repeatedly texting them with random words is an effective rhetorical strategy, as phone notification sounds are known to scare away one’s inner muses. If you have a speed dial configured, calling might work even better. You can also successfully field difficult questions from a teacher by unmuting yourself, then proceeding to bang the table loudly or poke your dog under the table. After that, sincerely apologize on behalf of nearby loud construction workers or unruly pets.
#8: To Whom it May Concern
The innovative chat function on Zoom is great, but only if you use it carefully. The other day, I was listening to an anecdote about dogs’ food preferences in physical education class when I noticed, from the Gallery View, that my friend S.’s face was beet red. To avoid interrupting my teacher in the middle of an instructive lecture, I decided to type “why is your face so red??” into the chat box, and quickly fired off the message. Only that the message was directed not to S. but to my teacher. I don’t know when the teacher saw the message, but his face was definitely not red. It might have been purple, though.
#10: Responsible Irresponsibility
One of the greatest overlooked benefits of the Zoom era is the rapid proliferation of new and irrefutable alibis. There will inevitably come the day when you oversleep or become too engrossed in Netflix, causing you to miss the beginning of a class. Regardless, you should never be showing up tardy because you “overslept” or “forgot,” as this simply lets a myriad of other excuses go to waste. Be creative with your reasons: your Wi-Fi cut out; your computer restarted; your Zoom crashed while updating; your house lost power. When these unnatural disasters could be happening to you, why would you ever take the trite excuse of your dog consuming your laptop?
Of course, you should feel no obligation to follow all these tips completely. In fact, as noted in Tip #9, skipping around is highly recommended. In a remote learning environment, you can maximize productivity by switching through your tabs, skipping the Zoom window to check Snapchat, for example. The ability to follow your heart, doing whatever you wish to do, or even leaving out a thing or two, is a crucial skill in these challenging times.
The pandemic has undoubtedly brought about vast and unprecedented change to the world. Not all of it is purely negative, however. When wielded properly, a good blend of creativity, practicality, and technological fluency can bring you happiness and mirth. You have already participated in your share of Zoom classes. Now, equipped with your own experiences and, more importantly, these cunningly effective tips, you should have the know-how and the confidence to not only survive but also thrive in a Zoom classroom.
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