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Cameras and Mics

Good morning, everyone. Last Thursday I noticed that in my first class very few people turned on their cameras or interacted with me, even after asking several times.

I felt alone holding the space for everyone. By the end of the class I was tired and could not think of doing another three hours of teaching this way. It felt like pulling teeth. So I pivoted and asked everyone in the next two classes what they preferred: To have a class where we completely use the chat to interact or use our on cameras and mics.

A strong majority preferred to chat. I thought, why not? Let’s do it that way. I taught the rest of the day purely through the chat function on Zoom. As I did, I realized that I could not cover all of the material and had to rely on everyone to read what I was sharing on the screen and ask questions. I trusted the process, but I also felt that there was little warmth in our communication.

At the end of class I asked for a reflection regarding the experience. Interestingly, a very large majority said that the experience was less than satisfactory. They missed the same thing I did. There were a couple of students who preferred it, however. 

A day or so later I found a Twitter thread about faculty complaining about faculty who demand that students turn on their cameras. They said how unnecessary this was. Their responses were harsh toward faculty who demanded cameras on.

I thought about their comments, and although they were arguing on behalf of students, they did not take in the whole learning community. They also did not take into account the need we have to co-regulate, to be human and in relationship with one another.

If classes are seen as knowledge dumps, where a teacher just spills information into a student, I suppose that cameras off and chatting works well. But when a class is not that, and instead, is an experience that is co-created by everyone, then, being able to communicate non-verbally through facial expression and voice becomes incredibly important. 

This is something that happens in my face-to-face classes naturally. There’s no way to mute the camera or mic in class. I don’t need to say anything about turning cameras on, people just show up in their bodies. Online, we have a different scenario. We have the option to disembody ourselves. The consequences of this kind of presence is what makes Zoom or any virtual exchange so challenging. There’s a bit of disassociation in the process.

As you can see, I’m not a fan of purely virtual education and for that matter having the cameras off. My current mode of teaching is solely one that comes as a result of the health crisis we are facing. I look forward to the day we can walk back into our physical spaces safely. But until then, we make do with this space and figure out how to make it work in a satisfying way.

After my experience on Thursday, I realized that I will not require anyone to turn their cameras on, but I want everyone to know that when you don’t, you affect me in a way that you may not understand. Most of the time I can cope with the cameras off, but there are days that I, too, need to be reassured. I’m a real person, just like you. We each carry universes within.

I understand that there may be days where you need the anonymity, and I will understand when you step back. Know that we are in this together. Make your choices responsibly, knowing that they are not merely individual ones. They affect everyone in the community. We hold each other.

Feel free to comment and add to the conversation.

By Carlos Gonzalez

I am a mindful movement and writing teacher who focuses on helping others discover their voice, passion, and heart. My primary work over the past two decades has been to joyfully invite disruptive spaces within the unlikely environment of institutional education to allow heart, mind,
and soul to emerge for brief periods of time in a dance of learning.

Teaching for me is a performance art that acknowledges that performer and audience are equal participants in the artistic process of meaning making. Currently, besides teaching at Miami Dade College, I’m experimenting with
creating learning possibilities in small neighborhood settings through teaching yoga, life coaching, and leading retreats. I also work with an amazing organization called Exchange for Change. Through them I am able to work with individuals who are incarcerated. As different as each of these settings and groups of people seem to be, I realize we all suffer, we all seek after the same things, and together and with patient kindness we can alleviate our personal and collective suffering.

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