Zoom welcomes unexpected visitors over quarantine

By: Samantha Adkins

adkinss@findlay.edu

Pets are both a positive and negative addition to Zoom meetings

Freshman Pre-Vet student, Aubrey Villard, glanced at her laptop screen, which was displaying a Brady Bunch collage of black squares, each with the name of a classmate. “I’m just zoning out,” she said. Villard admits she’s not always paying attention. “If we’re being honest, I get on my phone.”

Off-task behaviors during virtual meetings. Credit: Zippia.

Distractions seem to be a trend with virtual Zoom meetings. According to Zippia, a job and career search service, Americans are most likely to be checking their emails, texting, or “multitasking,” the company found after surveying 2,000 workers.

 With no one to keep people accountable, turning off Zoom cameras is tempting – almost second nature for some. University of Findlay faculty are well aware.           

“I think people are tired of Zoom in general,” said Dr. Kerry Teeple, Assistant Professor of Teaching in Education. “Cameras have been off.”

Many colleges were sent entirely online due to the spread of Covid-19 in March 2020. Students were required to adjust to asynchronous and synchronous online classes as a new normal. However, Zoom has made it difficult for students to get to know professors personally. Many are looking for ways to make it more engaging.      

Professor of Religion at the University of Findlay, Dr. Louis Stulman, says it was not rare for students to bring their service dogs during in-person classes. “To me, it humanizes the environment,” he said. “I think it really adds to the class.”

Recently, students have been getting creative. Online classes have grown in number in a unique way as students began to bring their pets as guests on their screen. For many, seeing pets on screen has been encouraging and brightens the learning environment.

“I normally ask them to introduce the pet to the group,” said Teeple, on how she reacts when students bring their pets on screen. “I love it!”

Professors have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to seeing student’s pets on Zoom. In fact, they seem to work to the professor’s advantage.

“It’s more fun that’s when pets come in. I think it just adds to the personal informal environment,” said Stulman.

Although students struggle with paying attention online, professors deal with their own fair share of issues. Translating their enthusiasm for teaching over a screen is much more challenging than in-person. While it might be nice to share their pets, students have been on Zoom for practically a year. The novelty has threatened to turn into a distraction.

“I’ve noticed it where my pet is sometimes a distraction for the students and for me honestly,” said Teeple. “Maybe their pet came in during a point at which it was not appropriate.”

However, professors have their own methods of keeping students engaged. “I even built into my syllabus; cameras have to be on” said Teeple.

Mr. Johnson the bird. Credit: Aubrey Villard.

In that sense, the newness of Zoom is wearing off. Professors are learning how to work around it. With it being the third semester of online teaching, they are figuring out how to balance teaching and keeping students on screen.

“I think I try to set some ground rules at the beginning,” said Stulman. “I like to see people’s faces and to me that’s important.”

The advantage to keeping cameras on is the opportunity to see various pets. Both Teeple and Stulman mentioned birds as the most unique animals they’ve met on zoom.

“My daughter has a friend who has a little cockatiel and it just sits on her shoulder during her Zoom meeting, so really cute,” said Teeple.

Villard is on the other end of that, as she has four rescue birds named Mr. Johnson, Will, Paco, and Merlin. She tries to not let them become a distraction.

“I choose them wisely,” said Villard. “The one I brought on, he just chills out sometimes. He yells a little bit but he doesn’t do anything.”

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