Alyssa Hakes turned to goofy costumes early in the pandemic to add some fun to classes she was teaching via Zoom. It went over so well she has kept it going for a year.
The Lawrence University associate professor of biology said she was struggling during the first week of teaching virtually in March 2020.
“I felt isolated from my students and it was incredibly awkward recording lecture videos in an empty bedroom,” Hakes said.
Enter a pirate hat borrowed from one of her kids.
“I hadn’t quite leaned into the full Zoom costume thing yet, but I felt a spark of that teaching joy again,” she said of putting on that pirate hat. “I surveyed our household collection of dress-up clothes and Halloween costumes and I realized that I could make this a regular thing. Strangely, I found that dressing up in ridiculous costumes made me feel less awkward on camera, and thinking about next week’s costume was a welcome distraction from the anxiety of teaching during a pandemic.”
Hakes’ costumes have ranged from pirates and horror movie monsters to space creatures and video game heroes, all with corresponding Zoom backgrounds.
“Because my Zoom costumes are mostly put together with things I already have in my house—Professor Fleshman also loaned me a few costume items—they don’t necessarily match with the course material,” Hakes said. “Although, when I taught First-Year Studies in the Fall, I had a few costumes that fit with the works—Socrates, honeybee, and cave.”
When her online classes allowed for more interaction with students, she wore costumes at the start to set a fun tone, then switched to more professional attire.
“Some of my costumes are outdated references to ’80s and ’90s pop culture, or reflect more of my kids’ tastes in cartoons and video games, but the Zoom costume teaching strategy seems to have the intended effect of lifting morale during a year where it has been difficult to be a student,” Hakes said. “It just makes my day when I hear from a student that the Zoom costume and the accompanying lame joke or silly dance is making their remote learning experience a little more fun and engaging.”