"Switch On Your Camera":

Forced Compliance or Respectful Gesture?

By Diana-Teodora Gaitan | March 6, 2021

Magazine Reporter Diana Gaitan personally reflects on the impact of the rules being imposed on students during Zoom classes, and questions their essentiality 

A year ago, when online classes suddenly became the norm, students quickly found a new rubric in their course syllabus: Zoom Etiquette. First rule: keep your camera on. Second rule: mute your microphone when you are not supposed to speak. Few arguments can be raised against the second rule. However, the first one has added pressure on students who struggle with their self-esteem or living conditions. Are these behavioral regulations truly relevant for the online learning environment to thrive?

For every online lecture or seminar, professors make an effort to present themselves professionally in class. I have never had a Zoom class where the professor taught without showing their face. They always make sure that they have a proper background and sit with posture appropriate for a classroom. Turning on my camera in class is something I do because otherwise, I feel like I would signal a lack of seriousness compared to the teacher’s professionalism. I rapidly internalized the “Zoomiquette” without questioning its relevance until a teaching assistant wrote the following in the chat during a seminar: “Put your cameras on at least when you speak, it’s a sign of respect.” I dwelled upon this remark which brought me to think: are we really measuring respect and consideration by enabling a Zoom function?

Teachers argue that it is challenging to give a lecture in front of a blank Zoom window with only the students’ names showing, understandably so. After all, they too enjoy the social aspects of university life: being around people, knowing that what they’re saying is being acknowledged and building a closer connection to students. All these aspects of their jobs now take place virtually and have lost in intensity. When they ask us to turn our cameras on, they are attempting to make it feel as if they are in a real classroom again. Without losing sympathy for our professors, we must ask: shouldn’t they accept that traditional classes are a thing of the past? A year into a pandemic and we are still forcing online education to resemble in-class lectures and seminars.

While these practices may be suitable for some, they are also a source of stress for others. As a person who flinches every time someone stares at me for a moment too long, having my face streamed on all my peers’ screens makes me anxious. Seeing my face on-screen while I present my slides makes it even worse. Some students share a room with other people, which adds the burden of trying to maintain other people’s privacy. It does not help that these rules for Zoom were imposed without having consulted students about their concerns. 

Zoom classes are far more intrusive and draining than regular classes. It is not too late to talk to your teacher about why you are not keen to turn on your camera. If you can assure them that you are listening and participating in class even though it is not on, they will likely be more understanding of your decision. Since we don’t know how much longer this pandemic will last, we must accept that Zoom is not a real classroom and adapt accordingly.

 

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