Humor | How to make online classes more exciting

By Alex Dolinger, Staff Columnist

Let’s face it, we’re all bored out of our minds right now. All there is to do these days is go on a walk and do your homework. If there’s anything you need to know about me, it’s that I hate being mobile and being responsible, so I’ve had to become pretty resourceful when it comes to finding things to do.

I’ve realized through several days of online classes that this new world of learning gives us several opportunities for amusement, if only we take advantage. Thus, I bring you my top 10 ways to make your online classes exciting and fun.

  1. Zoom backgrounds

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Zoom gives you the ability to add green screen-esque backgrounds to your call. I once accidentally entered a class with a desktop background of dewy blades of grass, and I felt like a gentle insect who just wanted to learn. The background of my home office is quite bland, so I’d like to start placing myself in quirky new locales. Perhaps a Wendy’s, or the set of Pitt Stages’ production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” or “Bliss,, the default computer wallpaper of Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system. The possibilities are endless.

  1. Zoom reactions

There’s another lovely Zoom feature that’s a bit more subtle than the humble background, and that’s reactions. When you’re sitting in a lecture or a meeting, you have the wonderful opportunity to send emoji reactions that appear on your screen. The options are a thumbs-up emoji and applause, and they are appropriate for almost any situation — I don’t recommend using it when discussing a book about mental illness, but I do recommend using it to show your approval when someone’s dog comes on screen. Next time your professor asks a yes or no question, try sending a thumbs-up and see who notices. Just for the thrill of it.

  1. Zoom names

This started from a mistake I made. I have been engaging in Zoom calls that are for pleasure and having game nights with my friends, rather than for school or business. They taught me that you can change your name to whatever you want on Zoom throughout the duration of the call. I learned the hard way that the name you last used is the name that is automatically displayed when you next join a call. Thus, I entered my lecture with the name “Missouri”. Nobody seemed to notice, so I want to see how many different names I can get away with. What should I try next? 

  1. Zoom DMs

I had the most lovely surprise during a Zoom class when one of my good friends from the class privately messaged me on Zoom to tell me that she missed me. I learned that you can privately message people on Zoom, and have started doing it with zeal. I think Zoom DMs are the perfect way to tell the girl in my writing class that I wish I had asked her out, don’t you? Alas, I only send wholesome messages, as I am paranoid that my professors can see them, but it has been lovely to send and receive comments about other people’s dogs. It’s almost like we’re sitting in our unassigned assigned seats again.

  1. Bring your dog on Zoom

If you’re familiar with my work, you know I have a precious yellow lab puppy named Wrecks Goliath who is occupying a lot of my time during quarantine. Whenever I want to feel like people value what I have to say, I call him over during my Zoom calls. He is an instant hit, gathering all possible attention whenever he jumps on me, bites me and drools on my laptop. All my classmates love him, and it makes me feel like all my classmates love me too. 

  1. Wear pajama pants 

I recently wanted to look nice for one of my Zoom lectures, but I didn’t want to commit. Instead, I changed from my nighttime pajama pants into my daytime pajama pants and put a blazer and blouse on top. I felt like I was harboring a very special secret, and I looked ridiculous enough to make myself laugh every time I caught myself in a mirror. Plus, I got all the benefits of looking presentable with none of the downsides of wearing tight pants. This is life on the edge.

  1. Hang something fun on your wall

Whenever I’m on Zoom, I spend most of my time looking at everybody’s screens in gallery view to see what their home offices look like. Whether it’s a charming nook, a nicely decorated bedroom or a basement with a Christmas tree in the background, I’m very interested and often very jealous, as I Zoom from in front of a plain wall with no indication of where I am or who I am. Thus, I’ve decided to start hanging things up. I have a plethora of posters, as well as a certificate stating that I am the “alpha gay” of my sorority. The possibilities are endless.

  1. Turn your camera off

I made this incredible discovery the other day when I had to blow my nose during class and didn’t want anyone to see me. I turned my camera off to grab a tissue, and almost immediately, I heard someone say, “Where’s Alex?” Now, I’ve started turning my camera off at random moments to see if anyone will notice that I’m gone. It’s nice to know that people care if my computer happens to go offline in the middle of class. It’s extra nice to know that people still know who I am.

  1. Email your professor for technical support

Since I can’t really go to office hours anymore, I had to find a new way to ask professors questions that I already know the answers to. Recently, I’ve been emailing professors to ask questions about technical difficulties with multiple applications — actually, just Canvas — and then fixing the problem myself immediately after hitting send. This has been inadvertent, but it’s definitely nice to wake up to an email from your professor to reaffirm that they exist and will talk to you.

  1. Participate in class

I’m not usually keen on speaking up during class unless it’s absolutely required, but I’ve been driven so far into boredom that I actually asked a question during a Zoom lecture the other day, sparking a lively discussion among my classmates. Turns out, I could have been doing this the entire time. Unbelievable, right? It’s very fun to engage in course material, learn and get some of the human interaction you’ve been starving for.

Alex Dolinger is a junior theatre arts major with a creative writing minor. They write primarily satire. You can reach them at [email protected].