A Tip to Ward off Zoombification (And Get You Through to End of Term)

Feeling not-yet-at-the-finish-line exhaustion? Zoomed out?  Facing Zoombification, your own and your students?  Here’s something our TLH team did yesterday in the middle of an hour-long conference presentation on antiracist  pedagogy that resonated with some 95 colleagues.  It works in any synchronous online classroom or meeting to instantly change the energy level and keep us all (instructors too) from turning into Zoombies.

TLH stands for Transformative Learning in the Humanities, a three-year grant extending across all 25 CUNY campuses and supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Our goal is to revitalize teaching as a source of engagement and antiracist practice, to make the ways we teach and learn both more effective and more equitable, and to work to make our actual practices (in the classroom and institutionally) be as purposive and meaningful as our institutional mission statements say we are. (If every college and university were redesigned to actually do what we say we do in our mission statements, we would live in a different world.)  We focus on engaged, transformative pedagogy and agree, with bell hooks, that the classroom remains the most radical, intimate site of transformation.   We don’t come to play. (Actually, we do: purposively!).

Here, we did an easy 2-minute exercise to combat Zoombification in class or in any meeting. We stood, did a breathing exercise (conventional inhale through mouth hold five seconds, exhale; great for anxiety, exhaustion, attention). Then we did something I learned from CUNY SEEK leaders at John Jay College Monica Son and Gabriella Cuesto: we sat down again as if it were the first time we were looking into our Zoom screens for the day, symbolized by some quick change: a funny hat, a head scarf, a flower behind the ear, and, for those not visible on screen (I NEVER force students to be on screen but I do insist on “presence”) some change–change their screen name, change the image (no black box with white name), put up an emoji. Something. Something fun and wonderful and igniting always happens.

Every time I’ve done this someone comes up with something creative that we all pay attention to and admire–and often it is a person who has never before been praised and acknowledge in a class. So much good. So much anti-Zoombification energy for progressive, engaged, transformative learning.

In neuroscience terms, every part of this is good: standing, breathing, changing, purposiveness, paying attention to one another as human beings not blocks on a screen.  Learning is social. Learning is collaborative. And you cannot learn if you are not paying attention.  You don’t need surveillance for attention. You need engagement.

Hope this is helpful to everyone just barely making it to the end of this infinitely long semester!