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WYLES: Teachers, please use the raise-hand feature in your virtual classes

Open discussions unfairly disadvantage introverted students and those with technical difficulties

Having a fast-operating laptop in an age where virtual learning has become almost normal is a privilege often taken for granted.
Having a fast-operating laptop in an age where virtual learning has become almost normal is a privilege often taken for granted.

Nothing occurs more regularly in my Zoom courses than one dreaded disruption — the lag. My laptop and Zoom don’t get along, and I often find that the feeds of professors, teaching assistants and other students reach my screen a few seconds behind real time. It’s not that big of a deal when I’m in a large lecture where students are relatively quiet and often ask their questions in the chat box. However, when it comes to smaller classes and discussion sections where we’re expected to speak, the lag on my laptop becomes an issue many teachers overlook by default. They frequently ask students to speak openly, avoiding the inconvenience of having to call on students whose virtual hands are raised.

Virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet often have a feature that allows students to raise their hand — usually via a small hand icon — that notifies teachers or meeting hosts that they’d like to speak. It has become an icon that has truthfully saved my participation grade. The lag on my computer often means students have already begun speaking in follow up to a teacher’s question or fellow student’s comment by the time the end of the initial response has reached my computer. Without the raise-hand feature in Zoom, I wouldn’t be able to pipe in unless it was clear that no one was speaking — through that awkward 10 seconds or more of silence we’ve all experienced in class, virtual or in-person. And even then, I may speak over someone who happened to begin speaking two or three seconds before I unmuted my mic. This may all seem like a small matter, but truthfully, it’s anxiety-provoking — first, because I never know when to talk, and second, because I don’t want to be the one student who asks a professor to restructure discussion just for me.

While I understand teachers’ desire to maintain a flow of conversation that mimics in-person conversation, we need to accept that this is not possible in a world where technology is not uniform — in performance or accessibility. I’m lucky that my family could afford a laptop for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that many students have laptops with poor operating systems or an internet bandwidth incompatible with efficient video chatting. This is frequently cited as a top issue that virtual learners encounter. Many students and their families simply cannot afford expensive, high-performance laptops from Apple, Microsoft or HP, to name only a few retailers offering these products. Having a fast-operating laptop in an age where virtual learning has become almost normal is a privilege often taken for granted.

Many secondary school districts see students in need of computers for online instruction, but these districts themselves often lack the funding to provide this technology. Moreover, school districts enrolling predominantly Black and Brown students see significantly larger funding shortages than those serving white communities — just one sign of technological racism that the coronavirus pandemic has revealed. While not universally true, students of color and students living in low-income areas see disproportionately lower levels of access to technology, let alone high-performance technology.

Though it may seem silly for me to enter this conversation starting with that raise-hand icon, it’s a small detail that has subtle yet massive relevance in our daily lives — one that gives way to systemic issues. When teachers hold their first class and ask you to just unmute and speak when you want to, they not only disadvantage students with low-performance computers, but they also advantage extroverted students. Extroverts tend to adapt to remote learning much more easily than introverts. While discussion in the physical classroom already favors extroverts who thrive in social settings — remote learning only heightens their advantage.

As an introvert myself, the anxiety of my lagging computer only makes me want to participate less. I prefer teachers who utilize online forums for discussion and grade them with the same weight as spoken participation in class. They both sidestep the issues of raised-hands and video connectivity, alongside an academic environment that heavily privileges extroverts. I have been in classes where participation makes up one-third of my grade, while I’ve seen other students in courses where it makes up half of their final grade. This only furthers the need to make participation equitable.

By no means am I condemning teachers — I am simply notifying them of this problem in hopes that many will adjust their discussion style for students hesitant to speak up. I believe teachers to be second only to healthcare workers in being the heroes of this pandemic, and we should all work with them to ensure education systems are equitable and understanding.

Bryce Wyles is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at b.wyles@cavalierdaily.com. 

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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