Why are Students Not Switching On their Cameras during Online Classes?

Despite constant reminders from professors to turn their camera on, students enlist these reasons for their resistance.

Remember sleeping, zoning out, daydreaming, stealing a bite, and being invested in any other activity except studying in the middle of lectures, back in those days when physical classes used to be a thing? Of course you do, because the above mentioned activities still continue with an expandable comfort from home with the onset of online classes where you can hide behind the cameras. However, these choices of unwillingness are not choices, but last resort for many kids as they hide their insecurities behind an off screen in their digitised classrooms.

One of the most common responses that students give for their non compliance is poor connectivity which sometimes is genuine and other times- not so much. Data may be comparatively cheap in India, but it’s not cheap enough. Keeping this mind many colleges have offered to pay for the cost for the needy students, but does that resolve the problem? Access to laptops and other gadgets is not a universal phenomenon. More than that, it’s relatively tougher to study on mobile phones. An internet connection surely shows that the teacher is connected to the student, but does that mean that the student is connected to the teacher and grasping everything that’s taught?

“The reason for me to not switch on video is that I attend classes through my phone. Holding it in one hand and writing notes from another is really inconvenient plus there is a major electricity problem. Many times I attend classes by standing in the kitchen near the plug point and putting my notebook on the gas cylinder to write, so it becomes extremely problematic when I am forced to switch on the video.

-Student, Delhi University

Affordability is just one aspect. Many geographical locations such as rural areas or militancy regions of northeast or Jammu and Kashmir to name a few, still remain dysfunctional in terms of technological advancements. Students from these regions suffer from lack of needful infrastructure and policy.

“My network connectivity is really poor. Other than Capital Complex the network connection is really bad in the countryside areas of Arunachal Pradesh. This is why I refrain from switching on my video, otherwise I’ll lose professor’s teaching.”

-Student, Delhi University

Another significant reason that came up multiple times was that of anxiety and mental health. For many students showing their faces make them needlessly conscious. Some others have inferiority complexes, or self esteem issues. A forced coercion to comply may only trigger their sensitive points.

“Besides the network issue, I suffer from scopophobia. Because of this, I don’t even video call my family when I’m away. One anxiety leads to another and then ultimately to anxiety attack, that’s why I always prefer staying lowkey and unnoticed in class.”

-Student, Delhi University

“There are hardly four to five kids who know most of the answers in class and they turn their videos on. Being the only one with a puzzled face in front of the teacher triggers my anxiety, so I choose to not put myself through the embarrassment.”

-Student, Delhi University

Home is mostly seen from the lens of comfort, however for many students comfort is at arm’s length at their residence that gets called home quite often. An unstable family, and domestic issues are something that puts kids to vulnerability. There’s a sense of shame in acknowledging domestic issues that’s why many students fail to express why they can’t switch their videos on when asked. Their reason is unspeakable is what they believe.

“My family is extremely unstable. There’s constant fighting and arguments in the background. I avoid turning on both my camera and mic unless it is absolutely important.”

-Student, Delhi University

When students decide to hide from the teachers, it’s most probably because they’re trying to hide a truth which lingers in the background of their frame. To avoid having it come in the foreground is what makes them stay awry. There are things more suited than others which are deemed appropriate for visual display. The aesthetics of having a background as a library filled with books, or a bed glowing with fairy lights, or expensive decor is by default what brings comfort in viewing. A broken home, cracked walls, dysfunctional family, among other factors are in antithesis of those visual pleasures.

Since effective classroom teaching is dealing with crunch times, the essence of classroom discussions keep on  diminishing. As opposed to earlier when teachers picked a sense of the mood of the class, by merely glancing at our body languages, sounds, noise, or the absence of it in the silence; they now see blank digitised squares. Many students probably dreamt of disappearing from the classroom while being in one of those, and that wildest dream just came true which is a tap away.

Such times call for a greater understanding and developing sensitivity. It’s obvious teachers are frustrated and trying to adjust to new mechanisms as are students who are conscious of the unspoken norm of attending lectures. The mere fact that students who agreed to talk about their issues here, chose to be anonymous- signifies their inhibitions and wanting a safe space to be able to speak up or be heard. Keep checking on your friends, and building inclusive spaces where kids can as much as talk about their issues at least and not feel flushed with insecurities.

Feature Image Credits: All Things How

Umaima Khanam