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Promoting Student Equity in Online Classes

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Promoting Student Equity in Online Classes

When the pandemic hit, we were all forced to adapt to a new norm. Most of us went online, using tools like Zoom to stay in touch. Such is the case for most educators and students. But what if one of Zoom’s key features, its live webcam capabilities, is also harming student equity? For most educators, having students be active and present in class relies upon the student’s use of a webcam, but maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. We think that there are better, safer ways to engage students without jeopardizing their social and mental health, and we’re here to talk about it today.

Barriers for Entry

It’s so easy to take the small things for granted. For most us, that could be having a stable internet connection or an up-to-date computer. Many students report not having access to these eLearning staples, and it should be our job as educators to accommodate for that. Now, that doesn’t mean manually installing a fiber optic cable to their homes, but it does mean considering these luxuries when we impose rules on students—rules like enforcing web cam use in an online class.

Privacy Matters

Outside of the technological issues learners face, students also encounter problems with privacy when we require them to use webcams. You’ll likely sympathize if you’ve ever had an unexpected visitor drop by and suddenly scrambled to tidy up in the very place you were just lounging moments ago. Students are subjected to this exponentially when we ask them to share their spaces with us—spaces that they may not have any control over. It can threaten both their social and mental health if they aren’t comfortable sharing. We should accommodate for that.

Does It Even Help?

Do webcams even have a positive benefit on learning? In short, yes. Chiefly, seeing each other face-to-face is emotionally invigorating for students and teachers alike. And who doesn’t love the occasional guest appearance of a pet? But we should choose to use webcams when they’re most effective and cut them out when they jeopardize student equity . We’ve prepared a small list of tips to help you accomplish this goal in your classrooms.

The Solution

One of the best ways to gauge whether or not you should require webcams in your online class is to ask yourself this question: Is there a student-centered reason for the use of webcams in this activity? If the answer is no, then consider not using them. If the answer is yes, consider other ways to actively engage students in meaningful learning throughout the class. Here are some good alternatives:

  • Take advantage of polls to ask questions and generate instant, visible feedback from your class
  • Use Zoom annotation to let students write on top of your power point slides
  • Check out any one of the engaging online lecture ideas by the Thiagi Group that we’ve covered in past blog posts

Remember, part of the responsibility we have as educators is to consider the impact that our teaching will have on students. Despite being a ubiquitous part of online school, webcams can do just as much harm as good. Make sure to weigh your options carefully when requiring students to turn on their webcams. It matters.

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This blog uses information and ideas from an article co-authored by the Brains behind Full Tilt Ahead, Roxanne Russell. Check out the full article here.

Categories: Higher Ed, Online Learning
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