Not face-to-face

Teachers weigh in on students who turn on cameras during e-learning

The convenience of being in homes for online learning is a blessing for some, and a curse for others. Students are able to relax in their pajamas, often with their cameras off, while some teachers are “pining” to get the cameras on. 

According to Chicago Public Schools, high school students are not required to have cameras on due to privacy concerns. 

The inability to connect face-to-face can cause some disconnect between students and teachers in the remote setting. 

“It’s hard for me to teach to a screen of avatars,” said social studies teacher Meghan McClory. “It makes me feel like I’m talking to myself.”

McClory said that she gets about two A day students and four B day students to turn their cameras on and that the lack of student faces on the screen affects her usual teaching style.

“It is really difficult because I can’t see students’ facial expressions,” said McClory. “I can’t see if I’m losing them or if they are understanding the lesson.” 

Some teachers are having better luck at getting students to turn their cameras. 

 “In my seventh period class, I say turn your cameras on and there’s no fuss about it,”  said math teacher Yoni Vallecillo. “People turn their cameras on. In the other classes, we struggle.” 

Vallecillo teaches several math class periods at Jones, with his seventh period class having an unusually high camera participation rate. Nicole Zapotoczny, a student teacher from Loyola University currently working with Vallecillo, has her own theory on why participation is so high in Vallecillo’s seventh period class when compared to others.

“If your class is earlier in the day, chances of turning your camera on are very slim,” said Zapotoczny. “I wouldn’t be surprised if half the kids are sleeping. There’s a different atmosphere and strive towards participating in our seventh period class.”

Some students said they struggle with engaging in class periods that are earlier in the day.

“I also think a good way to start the day is to get a discussion going. It gets students involved and engaged,” said Zapotoczny. “I think giving students the opportunity to socialize is a very important thing to include in lessons.”

Both Zapotoczny and Vallecillo said they have been trying different strategies to get their students to turn their cameras on and participate in class. Sometimes, however, their encouragement is not enough, and they are left in unfortunate situations.

“I’m reluctant to call on people with their cameras off because sometimes they don’t answer. It’s very discouraging,” said Vallecillo. 

While teachers struggle with students keeping their cameras off, some students said they  struggle with keeping their cameras on.

“Kids can be shy in an overall class setting, especially when they’re incorporating the privacy of their own home,” said Zapotoczny.

Taylor Bernard-Clark ‘23 said he is one of the students that struggles with keeping his camera on. He said he doesn’t want to show his home on camera.

“I usually keep my camera off in all my classes,” said Bernard-Clark. “I think it can be a distraction for people to see my family in the background. It can also be distracting for my family. Though, I do think it’s important for things like class discussions.”

Both teachers and students seem to agree that having one’s camera on can be incredibly important for certain situations.

“I call on people with their cameras on because I know who they are and I can see their faces and their expressions. I can see if they’re confused,” said Vallecillo.

One thing can be said for certain: remote learning itself is difficult for both students and teachers alike.

“It’s hard for students, but it’s also very hard for us as teachers,” said Vallecillo.