Welcome to the world of Covid-19 and online teaching! Do you like teaching this way? Is it working for you? Are your classes synchronous or asynchronous? At the University of Guelph, we’re using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous EAP classes. This means that every week I meet my class online at a set time while they are located in Guelph, in Korea, in Japan, and in China. These students have never met me or one another face-to-face. Is it ethical, therefore, for me to require them to turn on their video and show their face to the class?
Last term, this was an on-going issue. When I asked students to turn on their cameras, some turned them on and left them on for the entire class; these tended to be the extroverts, and generally the strongest English speakers. Other students either turned on their videos for a few seconds before turning them off again, or left them facing the ceiling, or didn’t turn them on at all.
I’ve been reflecting on this situation and asking students and colleagues for their opinion about having cameras on or off during synchronous class time.
There are some compelling arguments for asking students to turn on their cameras. For example:
- I find it easier to give instruction to a group of faces than to an empty computer screen. I’m always looking for visual cues to see if my students understood the concepts and I can move on, or if they look puzzled, and I need to give more explanation;
- it’s easier for me to build a positive relationship with a student who shows their face in class;
- it’s easier for me to interpret students with poor pronunciation if I can see their mouths and watch their expressions; and
- it’s easier for the students to get to know one another and to develop friendships, or at least acquaintanceships if they can see one another’s faces.
However, I’ve also begun to understand that there are many reasons why students prefer to leave their video off. For instance:
- some students’ homes don’t have much bandwidth and their computers run more smoothly without the video turned on;
- the white board on our screen gets progressively smaller and therefore, harder to read with each additional face on screen;
- a student might be having a bad hair day, or might still (or already, if they’re overseas) be wearing pajamas or other unsuitable clothing;
- a student might be embarrassed about an unruly roommate, sibling, child, or parent that may appear on their screen;
- a student might be tired of staring at their own image on the screen; or
- a student might feel safer speaking in English if the whole class isn’t staring at them.
In this coming term, I’m going to take a different approach. My plan is to ask students to turn on their cameras at the beginning of each class to say, “Good morning.” This seems like a courteous and friendly way to begin each class. After that, they’re free to turn off the video if they wish. We’ll see if this works.