In a pre-COVID world, senior biological sciences major Makenna Beehler would wake up early, eat breakfast, drive to campus and remain there until around 3 p.m. Between her classes, Beehler would typically sit on McKeldin Mall or on the rooftop of the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, overlooking the vast campus.
Now, Beehler wakes up at the crack of dawn in order to start her day on a productive note. Rather than having the luxury of McKeldin, she feels trapped in her bedroom all day long, taking notes, working on assignments and staring at a screen for hours upon hours.
By the end of the day, Beehler’s completely drained, both physically and mentally. Her body aches severely from being hunched over a computer. Her head pounds from the endless screen time, and she feels completely burned out.
“The masks are exhausting, the fear is exhausting, school is exhausting, work is exhausting,” Beehler said. “Everything has built up for so long that it feels like I have no energy left to keep myself going.”
As the University of Maryland approaches the end of the spring semester, Beehler, like other students and professors, has continued to grapple with endless screen time and Zoom fatigue. After over a year of online classes, the university continued to operate on a primarily virtual basis this semester to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
While most of Beehler’s courses are synchronous, some of her professors upload pre-recorded lectures for students to watch on their own time.
“If they did have their normal time in a Zoom meeting, [professors] wouldn’t get through all the material,” Beehler said. “So then as a student, I have more lectures to watch than I have time designated for in my schedule.”
While she finds the pre-recorded lectures helpful, senior general biology major Alicia Shipley also said it’s easy to fall behind in those classes because she is not held accountable for attendance.
Junior criminology and criminal justice major Richard Williams attends Zoom lectures as well, some of which are two and a half hours long.
“I am so relieved when they are over. That is way too long to be on Zoom for,” Williams said.
When he’s not on screen, Williams still has to juggle his remaining classwork, especially when lectures are pre-recorded. The junior often skips the recorded lectures, focusing instead on his required Zoom sessions. Williams said he has a hard time finding a balance between the endless screen time and time for himself.
“Usually when I get tired of schoolwork, I’ll just call it quits and be done for the day. There isn’t really a balance,” Williams said.
Similarly, junior journalism major Adryan Nash said she finds the endless screen time extremely draining, leaving her with no time and energy to do activities she enjoys.
“I find myself feeling subconsciously guilty if I don’t do as much as I can in a day. This leaves me drained and doing less the following day,” Nash said.
Nash has resorted to forcing herself to shut down her laptop at certain points during the day. Despite attempted efforts to try and give herself a break, she still pushes herself to get as much done as possible in order to have some relaxation on the weekends.
“It’s been a vicious cycle this semester,” Nash said.
While the university has not released a finalized plan for the 2021-2022 school year, classes are expected to operate primarily in person.
“I think it might be just as difficult to transition back to in-person [classes] as it was to originally adjust to online,” Beehler said.