It has been almost one year since the coronavirus pandemic forced UM classes to move to virtual learning, and Zoom meetings have become the norm for most of the university’s class instruction. However, there’s one thing that still hasn’t been settled: Zoom etiquette — specifically whether or not to use the camera feature while in remote classes.
According to the video conferencing etiquette section on the university website, the university recommends that students mute and turn off their video during class. Journalism school faculty were advised by Academic Outreach at the beginning of this semester to avoid making definitive rules about video for remote classes, but it’s ultimately each faculty member’s decision whether or not to require students to turn their camera on for the duration of their class.
“(One of my friends) turned his (camera) off in the middle of class once to take his sweatshirt off, and the professor immediately messaged him asking him to turn his camera back on,” junior accounting major Seth Gerus said.
Gerus has to have his camera on for his accountancy practicum class, and he not only likes the rule, he also understands why his professor requires it.
“I like it because I get to see my classmates,” Gerus said. “The class relies on a lot of discussion and group work, so being on camera keeps people’s attention.”
Logan Baggett, a freshman international studies major, said that he finds it difficult when he’s in remote classes that require his camera to be turned on.
“There are times that students need to take bathroom breaks or respond to their roommate and requiring the camera to be on forces students into a difficult position during an imperfect semester,” Baggett said. “Camera on means that you better be in that chair, constantly on task 100% of the time, which is very difficult.”
Alexis Bass, a sophomore psychology major, agrees with Baggett. She said sometimes it’s more distracting when professors take time to call out people who have turned their camera off for whatever reason.
“I feel as though it’s only beneficial to the professor to make her feel like we are present and she’s less alone,” Bass said.
Glenn Walker, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, said he encouraged students to use their cameras since March of last year, when UM first started moving classes online.
“What usually happens consistently is that about 30% of the class doesn’t turn their cameras on, and that’s fine. I don’t press the issue. I figure there’s a reason, and that’s fine,” Walker said.
Walker said some reasons he encourages students to turn their cameras on is because he wants to add a little bit of community to the class setting, to not feel like he’s talking into a void of black boxes and to make sure his students are actually there.
“Last semester, I had at least one student who would just put their name up there, and then they would go somewhere or do something, I don’t know. They would disappear. Because when class was over, the name would still be up there, and I would go, ‘Hello, do you have any questions?’ and 10 minutes would go by,” Walker said. “That’s why I ask the students to turn (their cameras) on.”
Freshman international studies major Caroline Potts said that she’s in a class that not only requires her camera to be on, but her microphone be unmuted as well. She said that while it’s beneficial to have both on –– it forces her to pay attention –– she finds it difficult to control her surroundings in her Martin Hall dorm room.
“As a freshman living in the dorms, it is somewhat difficult to control the noise that goes on around me,” Potts said. “I normally sit through class in the Martin 11th floor study room.”
Todd Smitherman, an associate professor of psychology, also asks his students to turn their cameras in class. While he doesn’t explicitly state that students are required to do so in the syllabus, Smitherman encourages his students to turn their cameras on to enhance their participation.
“I find it very difficult to engage with students if I can’t see any of them, and I can’t be sure that they’re actually paying attention to what I’m saying,” Smitherman said. “They get points in my course for class participation, and obviously, if they had their cameras off, participation is more limited.”
Carrie Smith, an assistant professor of psychology, requires student’s cameras to be turned on in her psychology of gender class, which is more discussion-based. Smith has it explicitly written in her syllabus that students should have their cameras on so they can be more invested in the discussion.
“I tried to explain why I have the policy, it’s not just because I’m the professor and I say so. That’s weird and draconian,” Smith said. “For me, it’s (about) discussion, and I think a lot of people, just hearing them without seeing them, can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and confusion about what you’re talking about.”
Smith said that if the camera is off, she can’t tell if students are engaged in the discussion, and can’t gauge what the student is thinking or feeling.
“Keeping the camera on, I think for discussion-based class is really important because we’re trying to simulate as close as possible the way class would be,” Smith said. “We know it’s imperfect, we get it. But I think that’s important.”