Prep breaks and virtual research: How an engineering lab beat zoom fatigue
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – Prior to March 2020, a typical Technology and Human Research in Engineering Design (THRED) group research meeting included faculty and students meeting in a boardroom for coffee, donuts, and casual conversation before listening to the researcher and the guest. presentations by speakers on the specialty of the group: people, products, processes and interactions between them.
When the pandemic began and Penn State switched to distance learning over a year ago, in-person lab meetings ended immediately. The question for THRED Group and all the other labs at the University has become: what can be done to keep students engaged in their research and with each other? The THIRD Group, however, had an extension of the question. With the group’s research focused on interactions, how could it encourage engagement in a world where the meaning of “interaction” had suddenly changed?
According to Hannah Nolte, a doctoral student in industrial engineering, THRED Group quickly moved on to Zoom meetings.
“When Penn State went virtual, we had to learn to do our research virtually, to collaborate virtually,” she said. “We had to be more intentional to stay connected as a group.”
Sandeep Krishnakumar, a doctoral student in industrial engineering, said the transition from face-to-face meetings to virtual connections has gone smoothly. He attributes this to discussions initiated by THRED Group directors Chris McComb, James L. Henderson Jr. Memorial Assistant Professor of Engineering Design, and Jessica Menold, Hartz Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Engineering Design and Mechanical Engineering.
“We both recognized this as an opportunity to rethink our lab meetings to better serve the researchers at THRED,” said McComb. “Like any good design, this process had to start by engaging our stakeholders: the members of THRED.”
Krishnakumar explained that for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, the structure of the research group meetings remained similar: students presented their research, just in a virtual setting.
In the fall of 2020, the research group pivoted again, focusing its efforts on topics such as roundtable information gathering and research papers – as well as unique meeting themes such as ‘designing’ its life, how to solve tough problems, team trivia and comfort food. -disabled.
“In the fall, we focused on the foundational skills our graduate and undergraduate researchers need to be successful beyond research or the classroom,” said Menold. “We’ve invited guest speakers and created workshops to cover topics ranging from engineering communication to finding and pursuing a career that matches your passions.”
For Priya Pradhan, senior in mechanical engineering, the varied themes provided her with experiences that she may not have encountered in a traditional research-based face-to-face meeting. From learning about different ways to organize your life, to taking a “break” to cook, Pradhan said Menold and McComb’s efforts to organize intriguing and entertaining meetings have helped the students, and themselves, get through. a difficult school year.
“It’s important that meetings are different and engaging each week due to Zoom fatigue,” she said. “It was difficult to attend classes and meetings on Zoom every day. Dr Menold and Dr McComb experienced the same fatigue of being online all day, so it was important to them too that our meetings were engaging.
Nolte echoed this, highlighting the isolation students felt from not attending classes or doing research in person. She said that thanks to the group’s dynamism and ingenuity, each member remains connected not only for research purposes, but for their well-being as well.
“Staying engaged and connected with the other members of the THIRD Group has helped me work from home,” said Nolte.
Krishnakumar appreciated the willingness of THRED Group members to try new things, apply design thinking in different ways, and stay connected in what he describes as a “difficult time” for many.
“I think we’re a very dynamic lab and everyone brings something unique to the table, so it was important that everyone could contribute ideas ranging from guest lectures to professional development activities and on the go. through random social activities, ”he said. “Most of us spent a considerable number of hours on Zoom every day, so it was important for us to make sure the lab meetings were as engaging and fun as possible.”
For the spring semester of 2021, the research group has gone virtual and combined unique engagement opportunities with short “flash interviews” on current research.
“It’s a big community that we have, but that means we would need a big space to make sure everyone is safe and socially distant. [to meet in-person]Krishnakumar said. “We made sure our meetings weren’t just ‘another Zoom meeting’. Every week was so different – I never felt the monotony hit me.