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Cameras On Versus Cameras Off

By: Christian Whitfield (Reporter, ‘23)

Covid-19 has caused many changes in the world today. It has also led to a completely different way of teaching and learning. We are now Zooming all of the time and in many different environments. We are also having debates about turning cameras on or off. I interviewed some of our teachers at FCS, and they gave various valid reasons why they prefer cameras to be on. Mr. Rosengarten stated, “It helps build community if we can see each other.” Community is very important at Friends’ Central School, which is probably why most of the teachers I interviewed made similar comments on this subject. Ms. Perez described the difficulty of trying to interact with students while their cameras are off: “Being remote is already very.... remote. When cameras are off, it's even worse! I am having an interaction with a black square!” Trying to interact with a “black square” definitely makes it hard for teachers to know if you really understand a certain topic. Being able to see students’ facial expressions would greatly help with this. Anna Schall brought up the point of how having our cameras on could help make school as fun as it is in person: “It encourages a bit more silliness and fun like we would have in ‘regular’ school life,” she elaborated. I have definitely seen many examples of this during my Zoom classes. Every once in a while someone's pet walks past the camera and causes a great laugh for the whole class, including the teacher. These impromptu moments of humor can really break up the monotony of Zoom classes and build community at the same time. Having a strong community is all about us being closely connected to one another, which is something that Frederick Pratt believes in. He voiced that “[even one person’s] camera being off leaves all members of any given ‘classroom community’ in a diminished experience, particularly in environments like FCS where a premium is placed on student-centered, discussion-based classrooms.”

However, Frederick also believes in “connection over compliance,” which is a belief that people should be comfortable being themselves and be understanding while having class on Zoom. That way the community connection is strong. It seems like other teachers agree with this and understand how tough online school is. Therefore, they gave statements that outlined a few exceptions where cameras could be turned off. For example, Mr. Rosengarten said, “there are times when students are self-conscious for some reason or another—for legitimate reasons. If they email me or private chat me in Zoom and explain, I almost always let them have their camera off.” This makes it clear that communicating with the teacher is one of the most important facets of online school. If you come across a problem or have a request, you should speak with your teachers immediately. They will be open to listening, as they realize that we are all still trying to figure out online school. As for the reasons that students may need to have their cameras off, Frederick Pratt added that “It [online school] is also draining. Zoom fatigue does seem to be a thing.” Anna Schall also agreed with this statement. However, it seems that she has a solution for this. She said, “I have started ‘camera optional Fridays’ with my 9th graders so that Friday can be a nice relief from the on-camera feeling. Not everyone turns off their cameras, but many people do.” I think this idea is amazing, and it is very nice for Anna to do that for her 9th Graders. A final reason for cameras being off is that internet problems are real and sometimes it helps to have your camera off in order to stabilize the Zoom call.

We should always be trying to make our community stronger, even during these difficult times, and having cameras on will always be the ideal situation for teachers (and students). Teachers being able to see students and students being able to see each other helps with building the community and maximizes learning. Nevertheless, there can be situations that are necessary for you to have your camera off. Just make sure to reach out to your teachers when these situations arise.

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