Lights, Camera, Zoom!

Questioning whether or not Stuyvesant teachers have a good reason to push students to turn their cameras on.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the summer, Stuyvesant teachers had the chance to work through the lumps and bumps in the online learning system. It was a time to adjust testing policies, to move textbooks online, and, of course, to figure out the best ways to make use of Zoom. The conclusion was this—students are expected to turn on their cameras for class.

While turning on cameras cannot be required, many students can confirm their teachers have influenced the participation grade to induce students to comply. However, many issues can arise with students. As English teacher Alicia Pohan said in an e-mail interview, “Some [students] don’t have cameras yet but are getting them soon, and a small handful need more time to adjust or have home situations that make cameras problematic.” A Zoom camera shows more than just the student; you can see their background. Although virtual backgrounds make a good alternative, there might not be a perfect solution. It’s possible that students are home with parents and siblings who are moving in the background.

Turning on a camera may show more than what the student is comfortable with. Anyone can pin your video, and anyone can record and take pictures of you without your knowledge or consent. Beyond privacy concerns, sometimes you just don’t feel like showing your face on camera. Junior Emma Chio said, “[Some times] when I’ve wished that the camera was off are times like when I wake up late and literally look like I just woke up or when I want to just get up and stretch.” Students may be insecure about their appearance online. But despite all these insecurities and potential privacy issues, most Stuyvesant teachers still insist on students turning on their cameras.

Junior Aidan Look brought up a valid argument in favor of cameras: “I think it’s ideal for students to turn cameras on. I think it’s pretty effective in making our virtual classrooms more engaging. Maybe it could be a distraction at times, but it’s nice to be able to see who is speaking and have face-to-face interaction with other students.”

As physics teacher Thomas Miner said in an e-mail interview, “This helps people connect and engage with one another (also, it’s no fun teaching to a room full of photographs and blank squares).”

Senior Reilly Amera agrees: “Personally, I like that people are encouraged to turn on their cameras over Zoom. It has definitely helped with class participation, which was at an all-time low last term. Personally, I am comfortable with turning on my camera and do so for every class. It is an incentive to get ready in the mornings, something I wouldn’t do as much if I were able to lie in bed with my camera off.” Teachers and students alike can find the classroom experience disheartening when the teacher has to lecture to 30 blank squares. It may also be comforting for students to see each other after a 7-month hiatus. Familiar faces in a classroom may help a student adjust to an online environment more easily. Amera also brings up another good point—turning on cameras better mimics a regular classroom, which may help students create a routine.

Whether or not a student feels comfortable turning on their camera, Stuyvesant teachers have made it clear they will accommodate any and every circumstance a student may encounter. Miner referenced his own classroom rules, stating, “I'm all ears if individual students have legitimate concerns as to why they can't have their cameras on during class.” But when students have their webcams off, it’s difficult for teachers to know if the student is engaged or paying attention.

Pohan volunteers a solution: “Any student who can’t do the camera thing yet but takes advantage of every other opportunity to contribute to the discussion and participate in our classroom community will not be penalized for no camera.” And ultimately, everybody is working together with students to make school feel as normal as possible. As Pohan wrote, “Even in normal times, not all my students have the same situations or needs or limitations. Just like I would work with individual students to accommodate their needs in person, same thing here.”