Computer in the dark

A camera-off online education may actually be more damaging than we had once thought.

While the University of Cincinnati is doing another semester of hybrid online and in-person classes on paper, we all know we’ll be spending a lot of time on more zoom calls this semester.

With more of the same on its way, we can’t under look the value of learning all we can from last semester’s experiment and using that knowledge to our benefit as we struggle on through another one.

On a major note, I think it is a universal truth for all college students that as the fall semester dragged on, we all became less and less inclined to look alive and turn on our cameras during our online classes. After a few months, huge swaths of people stayed off camera, making class a virtual room of blank spaces missing the people who would have made it an engaging experience.

In a way, it’s completely valid– I was also one of those students who found clicking that “turn video on” button to be an absolute pain by November. Besides your name and a blank rectangle, there’s no live physical presence on screen that needs to, like I said, look alive.

Only problem, though, (and it’s a big one) is that with your camera off, you’re also able to turn other parts of your brain on. All by accident, you’re suddenly able to easily divert your attention to getting the laundry folded, playing an instrument, petting your cat, scrolling through social media and literally any other activity that pulls you out of a class reality and into another.

A camera-off online education may actually be more damaging than we had once thought, with all of us naively succumbing as the fall semester became more of a drag with a “what’s the harm?” attitude. In a way, the semester sort of whisked itself away, fizzling out as more proportions of Zoom classrooms became blank boxes.

As my roommate says, you’re paying the same amount with your camera off as you are on. With your camera on in a Zoom or Webex meeting, you have a certain accountability to your classmates and professor to just be present.

Even if it takes a bit more willpower, the little bit of extra effort of sitting at a table with your computer camera on will truly be worth it this semester. Not only do I challenge everyone to start the year off this way, but keep it going as long as you can as the semester rolls on.

Even though cameraless classes might feel like the thing keeping you alive through it all, I would argue that committing yourself to a full semester of being fully present in our education once again may just make online school a little bit less difficult in the long run. It might even make it feel worthwhile.

Meanwhile, for those with in-person classes, I encourage you to keep your cameras on, but in person. Take the time to chat with the person next to you, talk to your professor after class, and just show up (from a distance). This semester, let’s start off on the right foot and keep it up as the semester goes on.