New norms for interacting in a Zoom classroom

How have the norms for interacting in a classroom changed when educators and students are not able to meet in person?


This hyper-consciousness often lies in the awkwardness that students feel in Zoom classrooms.

What I observed in my Zoom seminars is that students were often very quick to ‘mute’ themselves after answering a question. It seemed almost as if everyone dreaded being flagged out by the yellow box encircling the speaker on Zoom. In terms of identifying speakers, Zoom’s ‘yellow box’ is extremely helpful when videos are not switched on. However, it also calls unwanted attention to the creak of a shifting chair or a slurp of water. Therein lies the pressing need to mute one’s microphone. This also seemed to be a way to indicate that one has finished saying something.

Besides magnifying the visual, Zoom magnifies the voice.

Speaking into a microphone evidently makes one conscious of one’s voice, pronunciation and intonation. My students’ quickness in muting themselves testifies to this. Interestingly, silences have also become magnified online. On Zoom, lecturers often talked about facing the ‘wall of silence’ after initiating a greeting or a question. Students, too, tend to notice silences more on Zoom.

“Entering” a virtual classroom is now different.

They wait to be “admitted” by the host into the Zoom space. Because participants were muted by default, there often is a wall of silence when students enter the Zoom session. There is no shifting of seats or quiet chatter among themselves. There is no small talk. In classes where students were more accustomed to one another, some students may exchange quick greetings while others embark on a quick flurry of virtual background changes to see which they prefer. In fact, virtual backgrounds have become a source of zoom-specific humour, where some students put up tongue-in-cheek background pictures of selfies or popular movie screensavers. Oftentimes, Zoom-specific humour has come about because of technical glitches such as ‘frozen screens’ or lagging audio resulting in ‘Bionic voices’. We all remember zoom-bombing and filters run amok.

Snacking and zooming

Writer, educator, discourse analyst. Muses about teaching, books and life.