The worst of online lectures

Owen Peterson, Opinion Editor

Of all of the changes to the college experience in the wake of COVID-19, the shift to live, online lectures has been one of the most rough.

These sessions, while not horrible in general (not to mention much superior to the alternative of pre-recorded lectures), are undoubtedly responsible for causing their fair share of awkward moments.

With this (hopefully) being the last semester of being forced to spend hours of time staring mindlessly at a screen and trying to convince oneself that going to college was not a giant mistake, it is a good time to reflect on the most awkward and emotionally scarring occurrences that live, online classes have provided.

Breakout groups

This is a no-brainer. If I am going to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat over anything these last few semesters have provided, it’s being stuck in breakout groups.

The experience of sitting in the grating silence of a breakout group has become a universally shared pain among college students over the past year, with countless student newspaper articles on how to make the groups less awkward to show for it.

The awkwardness of a breakout group truly knows no bounds, and comes in many different, painful forms.

The classic, of course, are the groups that do not utter a single word for the duration of the session. Instead of discussing whatever the professor assigned, everyone decides that it is better to just sit there and revel in the mix of anxiety, frustration, boredom and confusion.

Even stranger to me are the groups where the work is discussed, but in the most robotic and forced manner imaginable. This is the kind of group where, after quickly exchanging answers, both participants mute their mics and go back to slamming their heads on their desks (or however other people deal with breakout groups).

Lastly, my favorite awkward breakout room encounter is when a group that has been sitting in silence sees that the professor is connecting to their room and conjures up a lively conversation to make it seem like the group is going very well. Only, of course, to slip back into silence the second the professor blissfully departs.

A student forgetting to mute their mic

Not the most common occurrence, but almost certainly the most mortifying.

This seems to happen most commonly when the class is returning from breakout groups and someone forgets that their mic was on in the group. From there, disaster occurs.

Whether the person is talking to a roommate, complaining out loud about the class or just breathing heavily at the mic, the entire class is derailed as the professor stares confusedly at the screen while the student check to see who has their mic on and begs them to turn it off, for both their sake and the class’s.

Even if you weren’t the one who made the error, the second-hand embarrassment from witnessing this event is enough to make anyone want to crawl under their desk and hide.

Nobody responding to the professor’s question

This one is common in in-person classes as well, but the online environment increases the awkwardness tenfold.

When this silence occurs in a normal classroom environment, it is usually resolved quickly. This is presumably because the tension in the air as the students and professor internally plead for someone to say literally anything usually motivates some brave soul to speak up. It rarely goes this smooth in an online setting.

Maybe because students can’t actually witness each other’s visible uncomfort, these silences linger on for what seems like semesters of time as everyone hides behind the safety of their disabled cameras.

These extended silences are probably also because of the fact that the professors can’t use their power of standing at the front of the room and making eye contact with students until one finally cracks under the pressure of the glare and says something.

A student not realizing they were called on

With online classes, there are about a million and a half ways to get distracted, so perhaps it is not surprising that this awkward interaction occurs so often. The temptation of other tabs is simply too strong.

Whenever a professor gets no initial response, the whole class has to wait with bated breath as the unaware student probably is either scrolling through Instagram, doing other homework or perhaps even sitting there in silence in hopes that the professor will give up and move on, sparing them from having to participate.

Funnily enough, even when students don’t miss being called on completely, there always seems to be a noticeable delay before the mic is turned on, caused by the caught-off-guard students scrambling to find what tab the class is in.

Every time a student is called on and there is no response in an early class, I hope it is finally the time someone just joined the class and went back to bed. I’m convinced it has to have happened at some point.