Zoom benefits and frustrates students and teachers

Published by Oliver Thompson on

Zoom cameras, on or off? Zoom has created a new environment for teachers and students who are still navigating the online classroom. Some students have found through virtual learning that they would prefer to keep their cameras off, whereas many instructors believe that this negatively impacts the learning experience. Cameras on has the potential to be either helpful or harmful: both perspectives are worth exploration.

There are certainly benefits of keeping the camera on during online class, but there are also negatives. Students face everyday issues such as a lack of inclusivity, resources, and privacy that are impacted by keeping their cameras on. Different perspectives can be explored and seen for their own pros and cons and maybe a mix of both can be taken into consideration when exploring the question: Should students keep cameras on during online classes? 

In Deepika Phutela’s article The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication, a pie chart demonstrates the different percentages of what makes an impression on conversation; only 7% is words, 38% is how we speak and 55% is body language.

Alex Jardon, associate professor, Human Services
Photo provided by Alex Jardon

Non-verbal communication is an important part of any social situation, according to Phutela. Cameras represent physical language over Zoom but show just the face or shoulders, reducing body language significantly. Students also often turn their cameras off.

Phutela reports that facial and body language are one of the most important factors of effective communication and, by extension, learning. Making faces and bodies invisible during communication can get in the way of a fulfilling learning experience. Human Resources instructor Alex Jardon says, “I encourage people to have their cameras on just so I can see more of them, and they can see each other. I think it’s more engaging that way.”

Building connections with teachers is also an important part of the learning experience, especially when teachers and students understand each other. In some cases, their schedules, advantages, disabilities, and general skills contribute to understanding their teachers better. “I think those relationships are important. I teach Human Services classes, and the research shows that in the counseling field, the client’s connection with the counselor is the biggest piece of people getting better,” Jardon says.

While students can benefit from their teachers and peers seeing them and vice versa, there can also be some drawbacks. One problem that students have is with their technology. Some people don’t have cameras or the resources to keep online continuously during class. “The requirement to keep cameras on is based on an assumption that all students have the space and technology to do so,” Susan Rochester, department chair of Arts and Letters says.

Susan Rochester, department chair of Arts and Humanities
Photo provided by Susan Rochester

Another reason that students may not want to have cameras on is for privacy; most people attend Zoom class from their home which is a very personal space. Students might also have many things that would be distracting for their peers like kids, pets, or roommates in the background that they might prefer not to show. Another reason would be the impending feeling of self consciousness that some students struggle with that would be amplified by purposefully showing their face to peers and teachers. 

“Students may have cultural objects or spaces they don’t wish to share with those outside their own cultural group. Or they may need to protect the privacy of themselves or those with whom they live. One study found that students cite visual appearance and elements in the background as the reasons for keeping their cameras off,” Rochester says.

Students seem to be in the middle of these two perspectives, some are comfortable or enthusiastic with having their camera on during class, whereas others do not feel the need to show their face and background.

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