Adventures in Zoom


Zoom gets a bad rap. We’re all familiar with—and probably suffering from–Zoom fatigue, if not actual Zoom burnout. Many of us have never spent so long staring at our own faces and many of us never want to see ourselves again.  

No wonder students turn their cameras off.

But despite it all, the past year has still brought occasional moments of Zoom joy for English department faculty.

Both Jim Machor and Anne Phillips found themselves booted out of their own classes by the technology—and discovered quite how committed their students were to their courses in the process:

Jim Machor

“My ‘adventures’ with Zoom classes last fall involved my computer blue screening me twice while I was conducting classes. I had to reboot my computer to correct the problem, and in both cases it took almost 20 minutes to complete and get back onto Zoom. Happily when I did so, all my students were still logged into the session and were patiently waiting for me. We all had a good laugh over my tech misfortunes.”

Anne Phillips

“Zoom kicked me off one of my own classes, one day in February. The students soldiered on until I got back in–but it made me want to identify someone to be in charge (temporarily) if such a thing should happen in the future…”

Not all memorable Zoom moments were driven by technological malfunctions, however. Shirley Tung’s incident-packed Zoom sessions for ENGL 220 “Fiction into Film” ran the gamut of cinematic genres:

“A student’s roommate opened his window (from the outside) and pelted him with a snowball. The student then left his computer to engage in a snowball fight.”

“Another student decided to have her four-year-old niece sit in on a Zoom discussion dedicated to Apocalypse Now. When I voiced my concern about her niece watching the clearly child-unfriendly content, she answered breezily, ‘Oh it’s okay, I have my headphones on!'” 

“A third student started vaping midway through class (I must add here for context that this Zoom session took place suspiciously close to the date 4/20).”

Of course, no account of Zoom teaching would be complete without mention of animal visitors.

My own class, ENGL 720 “The Brontës,” enjoyed several cat and dog appearances, including Jana Hunter’s cute research assistant, Nigel:

But none of these domestic pets prepared us for the course’s most special guests: newborn piglets.

Born in February in the middle of the polar vortex (remember that?), Lindsey Berger’s baby piglets required round-the-clock care. Doing what any resourceful student would, Lindsey joined our Zoom session from the pig barn.

But these novel-hungry piglets weren’t content to join only one session on Yorkshire’s most famous literary sisters.

Having strong opinions about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the piglets (now weighing 70 pounds each) managed to make a return visit to class by contriving to escape last week. The ever-valiant Lindsey joined class while rounding up the cunning runaways (who remain unconvinced about the suitability of Gilbert Markham’s marriage to Helen Graham).

Off to try out that cat filter

Anne Longmuir, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

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