For many students in the U.S., the new school year comes with online classes, teleconferencing via Zoom, Discord, or other platforms. These online courses are the prudent choice, versus the disease risk of in-person education, but they come with their own stresses, especially for students required to be on camera during their classes.
According to Tabitha Moses, a behavioral researcher at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, many of the factors of on-camera education can easily become detrimental to young students.
Teachers who require students to keep their cameras on and look directly at the screen through their classes are doing so to make sure everyone feels included and everyone is paying full attention, but a common result is that students feel constantly observed. Constant observation makes many people feel threatened and uneasy, which is an obvious distraction to concentration and learning.
On-camera education in a conference call, where students are faced with many or dozens of other faces, is like being in a constant conversation with dozens of people. Rather than being able to direct one’s focus towards the teacher at the front of the room, students are constantly dividing and switching their attention, which is exhausting and impairs concentration.
It is not possible for all students to have a dedicated and private atmosphere in which to participate in a conference call. Many students don’t have their own rooms, spaces, or even a desk. And during the current times, more students than usual are having to aid their parents by providing childcare. Required face-time for these students can be especially stressful and embarrassing.
Similar to the above point, not all students can be comfortable disclosing their living conditions to their classmates. Requiring them to do so via on-camera education can be humiliating and is certainly a factor in students choosing the path of total non-participation.
Teachers, who are also affected by many of these factors, need to be particularly sensitive to them this year, while many students are using online education for the first time, and need to keep them in mind any time online learning is needed in the future. But for now, we ought to give students the gift of allowing them to be in class with their cameras off.