By Joe Marshall, Chief Proof-reader
Dialling in to a Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate session to be greeted with a sea of black screens, bar the seminar tutor, isn’t the stuff of university prospectuses, but that’s become the reality of term two for many of us.
Unlike last term, almost all of us are now learning exclusively online. With in-person teaching not set to return for the majority of students until at least after Easter, turning our cameras on in seminars would be to the benefit of our learning experience, whatever reservations we might have about them.
There are of course cases where it might not be possible to turn on your camera. WiFi can be temperamental, but not at the level it’s used as an excuse for not turning cameras on.
Given that most of are Skyping, Zooming or staying connected with friends and family through video calls outside university, it seems unlikely that such a small minority in some online classes are the only ones whose internet connection can maintain voice and video.
This term, one of my module tutors insisted that we turn our cameras in zoom in an email beforehand, advising us to contact him if there was a legitimate reason we couldn’t do so.
There’s a clear difference between the number of people using cameras in this unit compared to others, suggesting that it’s more a case of attitude than of any genuine excuse in people’s decisions to have their camera on or off.
We should take any opportunity that might improve the quality of our academic experience
For many, turning off their cameras provides a layer of security, something that’s tempting to rely on in the mental haze of a 9am seminar. But, given that we’re going to seminars to learn and get live teaching – something which I, as a social sciences student, only have four hours of each week - we might as well go with a contributory mind-set, if not in the intimidating arena of the main room, then at least in breakout rooms.
By not turning our cameras on, the only connection we have with other students is seeing their name superimposed on a black screen and their voice every now and then, creating an unresponsive, unengaging – and not value-for-money – learning environment.
Indeed, the fact that we’re arguably not getting our money’s worth this academic year means that we should take any opportunity that might improve the quality of our academic experience.
I’d be a hypocrite to say that I’ve always kept my camera on during seminars
Furthermore, it’s more likely we’ll feel a greater sense of student community with the cameras on, something that’s been sorely lacking this year.
I’d be a hypocrite to say that I’ve always kept my camera on during seminars – rolling out of bed to be then broadcast on a Zoom with twenty other students isn’t the most attractive of propositions, particularly for those who suffer with anxiety.
Then again, it’s likely that people are going to be looking mainly at the tutor over the duration of a seminar, rather than exclusively at you, so don’t be intimidated to put your camera on. If anything, I often find myself looking more at my own picture during seminars, something I think many people do (or maybe I’m just a complete narcissist?).
As for the tutor, I’m sure they’d prefer to see an engaged cohort with their cameras on. It’s still a new way of teaching for many of them, and it’s a matter of respecting the effort they’ve put into preparing and teaching by engaging with them in whatever way we can. Turning your camera on encourages us to speak and takes the pressure off the tutor in driving a stagnant, faceless discussion.
I’ve found that the decision for turning on cameras is one that is significantly influenced by what other people are doing. The greater number of people that have their cameras on in the first place, the more other people will feel empowered to turn their own cameras on. It’s, dare I say, an infectious phenomenon.
Although there are situations I’ve outlined where turning your camera on might not be possible, I don’t believe these are universal issues. If you want to get the most out of your learning experience, avoid the awkward breakout rooms and build a greater sense of student community: turn your camera on!
Featured Image: Unsplash / Kari Shea
Do you think students should turn their cameras on in online lessons? Let us know!