Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Keep your cameras on to improve Zoom experience


SINCE LEWIS & CLARK adopted its current hybrid teaching model last fall, I have only been in one class in which the professor required all students to keep their cameras on at all times. If someone had a particularly compelling reason why they needed to keep their camera off, for either all or part of any given class, they were required to email her at least 24 hours beforehand and present their case. I never attempted this appeal, but from what I could tell she granted these requests because there were always one or two people present in each class session with their cameras turned off.

I think this should be the policy for every class. If you have an extremely compelling reason why your camera needs to be turned off, not perpetually but for single instances, professors should be willing to hear you out. Barring these extenuating circumstances, I say all cameras should be on all the time. In my experience, the vast majority of people who turn their cameras off during class do so for the wrong reasons.

People will turn them off if they do not like their outfit that day, if they are eating or worst of all if they want to appear to be in class while they go do other things. In my 75-person biology class this semester there are always a few different people, all with their cameras off, left at the end of class after everyone else has already signed off. The professor will call their names to ask if they have a question and they never do. It is clear that the reason why they are still on the Zoom is that they did not hear everyone say goodbye, because they are not there or are not paying attention.

We have all been in breakout rooms where three of us have our cameras on and one person does not. That person hardly ever participates, if at all, and gets by letting the other group members do the work.

Psychologically, it is infinitely easier to let other people do the work when those people are not looking at you or calling you out directly. It is called the bystander effect, and it explains why people are less likely to take responsibility when they believe someone else will take it on for them. In a classroom setting, this looks like people who have their cameras off choosing not to participate because they know someone with their camera on will eventually answer the question. They do not feel the same pressure to speak up because they know that no one can see their face.

This is backed up by another concept in psychology, anonymity and deindividuation. This concept is the idea that people are much more likely to engage in immoral or disinhibited behavior when they know people cannot see their faces. Purdue University psychologists Franklin Miller and Kathleen Rowald conducted a study in 1979 that examined the behavior of children who wore Halloween costumes with masks versus those without. They found that the children who wore costumes with masks were twice as likely to take more candy than they were supposed to compared to the children who were not wearing masks.

Translating this to the Zoom context, people who keep their cameras off are much more comfortable not participating or freeloading off of their classmates than they would be if they had their cameras on. It is frustrating to see these participation moochers present in class when some of us are there to engage, with the material as well as our fellow classmates.

I have heard from a few people that they keep their cameras off because they get anxious when they feel like people are looking directly at them. I fully understand that anxiety can become this severe, and I suggest that people in this position should consider asking their professors to pin their video during class, or getting a note or email from a doctor or mental health professional at the LC counseling center that qualifies your anxiety as one of the extenuating circumstances I mentioned earlier. If you are embarrassed about your living situation, consider using a virtual background. We should normalize that anyway.

But if this does not sound like you, turn your camera on during class. It makes for a much more engaging experience for everyone, and we are not paying $70,000 a year to stare at rows of gray boxes.

This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log, its editorial board or those interviewed for background information

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