“For students, videoconferencing courses require more energy and concentration”

With the exception of a few face-to-face lessons, most students have been following their lessons on screen since October. Some end their day with mental fatigue, also called “Zoom fatigue”, directly linked to the follow-up of online courses, which is part of a more global context of stress caused by the health crisis, explains Charlotte Jacquemot, researcher in cognitive sciences at Inserm.

Why does screen-based interaction require more concentration than a face-to-face discussion?

Much implicit information passes through non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, or posture. These signals, the students will identify them in a less salient way in videoconferencing. In addition, the locket in which their professor appears on Zoom or Teams is so small that they are forced to pay a lot of attention to his face to distinguish this data.

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In the same way, there is no more eye contact with the teacher, although it is a very important vector which allows to capture the attention. Seeing yourself on the screen is also an object of distraction, we tend to look at ourselves, to check if we are serious.

Finally, there is one thing that we do not pay much attention to, but which has effects: it is the transmission delay. The shifts between image and sound make communication less fluid and require additional effort to process the information transmitted. For all these reasons, videoconferencing requires additional energy and concentration: it is attention that students will not pay to the content of the course itself.

Many students “chain” videoconferences all day long. Is it counterproductive?

Experiments were carried out before Covid-19: students followed the same course, some by videoconference and others face-to-face. They showed that those who were at a distance focused more on the teacher and how they perceived him than on the content of the course.

Result: in the end, the students did not have the same understanding of the content or the same perception of the course at all. It is impossible to have such sustained attention in the distance as in face-to-face for several hours at a time. The cognitive load is so high that students will miss out on information. The content will be less well assimilated.

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