The Volokh Conspiracy

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Meetings with Students (and Others): Better Masked In-Person, or Unmasked by Zoom?


I'm going to be teaching in person for the first time since March 2020 next week, and I expect to have various substantive meetings with students, one-on-one or one-on-three; they will usually be focused on editing text together. The meetings can't be outdoors, because we'll need to discuss material that's displayed on a computer screen (which, in a classroom, would be the large in-room screen). And indoor meetings at UCLA have to be masked, at least as of now.

But because I've done everything via Zoom since the pandemic hit, I have no personal experience with masked conversations. I did plenty of Zoom meetings, and I found them to be mostly effective but less engaging than if we were in the same room together. So there's definitely a benefit to in-person meetings, but I don't know how to weigh it against any cost created by the masks, which may make it harder for us to read each other's facial expressions.

I'm sure that some of you, though, have had experience both with small (again, among two to four people) Zoom meetings and in-person masked ones, whether for school or for work. What have you found to be most effective?

Please note that I'm solely interested here in what will help my students and me get the job done (though if it's a tie, I'd likely prefer video, since it's often easier to find a video time slot that everyone can do, and since people can often do it conveniently from home). I'm not interested here in the broader policy questions of whether mask mandates (state-wide or employer-based) are a good idea, or for that matter how well masks work to stop the spread of COVID. Let's take as given that masks are mandated; how should I run my meetings in light of that?