By: Avery Ahlquist
Virtual learning provides students with a whole host of new issues, a main one being staying focused while in Google meets. Turning cameras on is highly encouraged to help students engage. However, most students refuse to use the camera feature for a number of reasons.
Due to the fact that camera use is optional a large amount of students keep theirs off which results in attention issues. Students find themselves reaching for their phone instead of listening to their teacher. There is no one to tell them to put their electronics away and pay attention, so they simply keep scrolling through their social media.
Easily distracted students are having a much harder time focusing as opposed to when they are in the school building. Emma Schultz, a Sophomore at Glenelg High School, says, “I have a short attention span and when my camera is not on I end up doing other things while in class.” There are simply too many interruptions for students in their homes, they may be distracted by their phones, television, or other family members. Since everyone is not physically together there is no one to help students stay interested in the topic they are learning, especially if teachers can not see what is happening on the other side of the screen.
Many people may think that it is up to students to turn their camera on in order for them to get the best possible education during these difficult times. But, many teenagers are simply not comfortable turning their video on no matter the benefits. Many high schoolers are fans of not standing out and tend to go with the flow of their peers. So, when a few to no students are turning on their cameras, what happens? One student who rarely turns on their camera is Glenelg Sophomore Ella Chroniger, who decides not to because, “No one else has their camera on and it makes me feel uncomfortable if I'm the only one with it on.” Which is quite understandable considering the Google meet format. With all of the small black squares, someone who chooses to make themselves visible, besides the teacher, would stand out. For many people, not just students, standing out would greatly surpass their comfort levels.
So why not make it required? Then all students would be seen and the only people who would stand out would be the ones with their icons floating in the middle of their square. Well, in some cases, like dance class, students can either turn on their camera or take notes the whole period. Glenelg Freshmen Cami Tracy, who is taking dance says, “Everyone turns on their cameras because no one likes taking notes and you feel more connected to your classmates.” Classes like dance can not function without visibility to the teacher since a wide portion of the class is, of course, dancing. However, in regular academic classes, teachers do not need to see their students in order to get credit, they just need to see their work. Unfortunately, all of the little black squares are taking a toll on the teachers who, as Kristin Ruehl, a Sophomore at Glenelg, says, “Want us to turn on our cameras, but they aren’t required.” And since they aren’t required, high schoolers don’t, which leaves the teachers talking to minuscule icons.
Not seeing anyone's faces is difficult for students too. As a result of the global pandemic, many have not seen their friends in months. People are left with no in person social contact which can leave them in a poor mental health state. Students are left with much less connection to their peers, and in some cases, they don’t even know what their classmates look like. Freshmen who come to Glenelg are largely a mix of Glenwood and Folly Quarter students. Ninth grade is a chance for all of the students to get to know each other. New students are deprived of that chance and aren’t very aware of their classmates' names, much less their faces. Virtual learning makes it next to impossible to connect with anyone. There is, quite frankly, no way for students or teachers to connect like they would in the school building.
Even with all of the negative side effects of having camera use being optional, making cameras required might not be the best answer. Everyone has different circumstances in life and while some students may have a desk in a quiet portion of a room, that is not the case for all. Lots of families are home due to the pandemic and have to share space with their family members who may not want to be viewed. Plus, movement in the background of some students' cameras can lead to distractions for their classmates. A great deal of students are working from their rooms and are uncomfortable letting people view where they are through video. Chroniger does not turn on her camera because she logs into Google meets from her room and says, “It feels like an invasion of my personal space.” There are features on Google meet that allow participants to blur or change their background, however many students simply are not comfortable with showing themselves and still feel like their privacy is being violated . Many people’s home life is something they are not comfortable with sharing, and just because the school system had to go virtual, does not mean that they have the authority to violate people’s privacy.
Due to COVID-19 many people’s way of life has changed. The lack of everyday social interaction in school has taken a great toll on countless individuals. People’s comfort zones are challenged every day. However, people should not force themselves or others to cross lines they are not willing to. But if you are comfortable, and if you're ever debating on whether or not to turn on your camera, do it. You could make a teacher’s day and even encourage your classmates to follow your lead.