By Veronica Thompson

This is my first semester of college and as I’ve been getting used to Zoom classes, I’ve noticed a few social norms emerging among students and teachers alike. These are things that rarely happened in classes before the pandemic.

For one, people tend to end Zoom calls by saying “thank you” instead of saying “goodbye” or simply leaving the meeting. This was strange to me at first. Nobody would usually thank their teacher when they leave an in-person class — we would just leave and go to the next class. But this courtesy is starting to make more sense.

After one of my classes this week, my teacher closed out the meeting with a brief and heartfelt speech, thanking us for “bearing” with him. This prompted us to thank him in return.

Most teachers did not expect they would have to overcome such a technological learning curve when they first became professors. Learning how to efficiently balance their attention between the chat, hand-raising — both on and off Zoom — and shared screen takes patience.

Thus, in the realm of virtual learning, the phrase “thank you” has taken on a new connotation — we say it to express our gratitude every time a teacher smoothly executes a hybrid lecture. Even though it is our new normal, it is not something everyone has got a hold of just yet.

Another emerging social norm I’ve noticed in classes and meetings is speaking without “raising your hand.” Whenever the professor or teaching assistant asks a question on Zoom, they usually encourage people to either unmute themselves or type what they have to say into the chat. What follows is an awkward beat of silence until someone unmutes and says their piece.

In some of my classes, these invitations for discussion lead to fluid speaking — each person takes their turn. However, sometimes two people unmute at the same time and start talking over each other, which results in one of the two politely handing the mic to the other. 

There’s this common understanding that patience is key. We fall into the pattern of what we would traditionally call “speaking out of turn,” but is now the expectation in the Zoom era.

The last social norm I would like to note is the manifestation of public speaking anxiety and a lack of spatial awareness. Whenever it is my turn to say or ask something during a Zoom class, I feel like I have to find a balance between not saying enough and saying too much. I don’t want to be too concise to the point of oversimplification, but I also don’t want to go off on a tangent. I can sense this same concern in peers and teachers whenever they have the floor.

Unmuting yourself on a Zoom call feels like stepping up to a podium to deliver a speech, and this mentality is nerve-wracking. Not only can you see everyone looking at you in the gallery view, but you can also see yourself while you’re speaking, so it’s easy to criticize yourself — live on camera.

While Zoom and all of its features are second-nature to most of us at this point, a lot of us still struggle to appropriately behave in virtual environments. Learning social Zoom interaction is like learning a new language because you have to immerse yourself and practice frequently, which can be frustrating. So far though, we are staying true to our human nature by responding to these new circumstances with the will to carry on.