Counterpoint: The problem with requiring camera use during class

Imposing the need to have their cameras on only hinders students’ learning


McKenna Premus/Daily Collegian

By Srija Nagireddy, Collegian Columnist

While logging on to my daily lectures on Zoom, I’ve recently begun to notice a decline in the number of people who had their cameras on. By the second lecture of one class, the professor was the only face I could see amid a sea of nothing but names, much to his frustration. There’s no doubt that looking at a mosaic of black boxes is not the most effective way of gauging student interest and understanding, and professors’ struggles with this hindrance in learning are justified.

What’s not justified, however, is the argument of some that students should be required to turn on their cameras during class. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to share their videos in order to make a dubious, but ultimately well-meaning, approximation of class before the pandemic. However, not allowing people the option of keeping their cameras off ignores the multitude of valid reasons they have to do so, and places far too much stock in a fundamentally flawed idea.

The central argument in favor of imposing this requirement hinges upon the belief that forcing people to keep their cameras on prevents the attention of students from wandering, mimicking an in-person class environment where the professor is able to see when there are people falling asleep. These arguments fall apart given the way Zoom is actually utilized in class. For example, when sharing their screen to go through lecture slides, professors only see a handful of students on the side of their screen. If your professor cannot even see your video, the whole point of keeping your camera on is essentially negated. In addition, while it can be nice for students to see the faces of others after so many months of isolation, having your camera on is definitively not the magical solution to distraction many sell it as. Being able to see everyone instead opens up a whole new world of possible distractions, with the occasional parent or a sibling walking in or the spontaneous pet cameo, which, while greatly appreciated, is not class-related. After all, looking at someone’s cat is far more preferable than taking notes.

Random interruptions aside, assuming that everyone has a private, quiet and well-lit place in their house perfect for video sharing would be wishful thinking bordering on delusion, and any requirements for the students to turn on their cameras reflect gross generalizations of the living situations they experience. Having that ideal learning environment at home is far removed from reality for many people, and treating that privilege as a default only further heightens the sense of alienation these students have to constantly face. Take, for example, international students, another case of those who have to deal with a unique set of challenges that hinder online learning. Looking presentable on camera at 3 a.m. after missing coveted sleep for a Zoom discussion is a requirement that no one should have to meet, and requiring that of someone is unrealistic. Over these past few months, everyone has been thrust into an entirely new mode of learning, forced to go back home and maintain the same level of productivity they had at college, regardless of their circumstances. Contending with all these distractions, tackling the immense load of coursework and also having to show your sleep-deprived face to up to 200 strangers is too much to ask of one person.

For some, however, having their camera on is not even a matter of choice. Zoom has specific bandwidth requirements for video sharing, and for people with less reliable internet connections, turning on their camera strains their network usage limits. Having to turn on one’s camera in situations like these therefore presents a dilemma between being able to access Zoom classes and missing them altogether. The choice is obvious, as the main point of attending a lecture is actually absorbing the material, and not having your peers look at your glazed expression. Even if the requirement were to have exceptions for cases like this, students without the broadband connection required for Zoom, who oftentimes come from lower income families, would thus be singled out.

Online learning already comes with a whole new suite of challenges most students are not even remotely prepared to face. Adding the need to control all aspects of their home environment is unnecessary and inconsiderate, and professors and instructors everywhere must realize that to ensure a worthwhile online learning experience this semester.

Srija Nagireddy can be reached at [email protected]