Learning to Avoid Learning: The Secrets Behind Google Meet

One year ago, when you walked into Fairfield Warde’s classrooms, you would see desk clumps with students collaborating energetically, teachers leading discussions with lively spirit, and some of the most creative learning mechanisms to be brought to the educational realm taking place right within our halls. 

Now, all you see is a grid of icons with students’ initials projected onto the board, an occasional student’s forehead if you’re lucky, and in-person learners staring monotonously at their teachers as they try to ignite enthusiasm—much to no avail.

This is the reality for classrooms worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic: a reality that feels exactly the opposite of such.

Warde teachers and administration have implemented countless strategies to prevent educational detachment and improve student engagement, from calling on students randomly throughout class to enacting a school-wide ‘cameras-on’ policy that started back in November. 

It seems, however, that with every additional policy, students find ten times more ways to avoid them. They pick up on the strategies of others, use old excuses in new ways, and even learn about Google Meet “hacks” online and on social media platforms such as TikTok. 

Just like baking sourdough bread and accumulating masks to match each outfit, finding technological hints to avoid class has become a pandemic trend across the world. 

For Warde students, the list of strategies appears to be endless.

“I leave [Meets] all the time and then ask someone in my class to tell my teacher I’m having WiFi issues,” says Julia Lima, a senior at Warde. “I can tell that a lot of other people are doing it, too.”

Other students, who simply can’t bear the ‘cameras-on’ policy, have much more elaborate techniques. 

“There is a Google add-on you can install that allows you to freeze your camera,” Jillian Motkin, another Warde senior, says. “You have to change the frozen picture every few minutes so teachers don’t catch on, and it doesn’t always work in the ‘fairfieldschools’ [domain].”

The list is endless: telling a teacher the Meet “cut out” when they asked a question because you weren’t paying attention; mouthing words while unmuted to feign microphone issues; muting the Meet tab to do other things, and turning the computer brightness down so the tab-switch isn’t obvious; doing a split-screen to multitask; or, a favorite among students, only turning the camera on at the beginning of class, and often leaving once teachers give the assignment or focus their attention elsewhere.

The trend extends far beyond Warde walls, as many claim to see “Zoom hacks” and “Google Meet hints” made by students across the world on TikTok. Over the summer, one particular video, receiving over eight million views to date, walked through the steps of making your virtual background a pre-recorded video of you looking at the screen, taking notes, etc. to avoid staying online for lectures. All is well and good until the teacher calls on you!

Students attest to the lack of motivation felt when learning from home and when using hacks to avoid it.

“When I know I can make excuses, it’s easy to escape assignments, and then I have no motivation to do anything else,” Lima says. “I have procrastinated much more, and I’m sure it has impacted my grades.”

So then, why do students continue to do it?

“If my class is boring and I have other things I want to do, like clean my room or do homework, I’m not going to stay on [the Meet],” says Alexa Amster, another Warde senior. “Especially classes at the end of the day or on Friday’s—I’m getting ready to go out, instead.”

For some, such as senior Megan Hios, the explanation is much simpler.

“I want to sleep in,” she says rather bluntly. 

With Google reporting a 30-fold increase in its platform usage from January-September 2020, an additional 3 million new users per day, and over 100 million Meet participants daily, it is unlikely these trends are going to stop until the pandemic does. That is, unless, Google, or Warde, can stop them.

“School is more tolerable when we have ways to avoid it,” Motkin says. “I love online school!”

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