High school classes are no longer confined to a classroom at Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech). Students can attend online classes from any kind of learning environment. Suddenly, a full school day of socializing is confined to an hour trapped in a little square.
During this pandemic, it has been hard for teachers to connect to their students, especially those who don’t have their Zoom cameras on. To get into the Thanksgiving spirit, on Nov. 24, 2020, Associated Student Body (ASB) proposed Zoom Participation Day to encourage students to show their faces to their teachers.
Challenging the teachers
Foothill Tech math teacher, Wayne Powers, holds Zoom classes from a room in his home flanked by his two dogs, Max and Lily, in the background. When online school was announced, Powers invested in technology to make his classwork. He teaches classes “Khan Academy style” on a Wacom tablet. After some technical failures at the beginning of the semester, Powers is now ready for the unexpected. He has a backup computer, a backup tablet and a whiteboard in case all else fails.
The camera debate
Powers only has a handful of students who turn their cameras on. He’d like it if everyone had their cameras on but he understands the reasons why a student might choose to have their camera off.
“When I see someone out there [with their camera on] and I can see them I feel like we’re kind of in it together,” says Powers.
Powers recounts how at staff meetings earlier in the year Zoom camera etiquette was a hot topic to debate. Some veteran teachers actually preferred that their students keep their cameras off. Powers tries to look at it from the student perspective, if he was a student he’d say that not having his video on would be a good social buffer.
Student experiences with Zoom
Gus Wieners, class of ’23, is having a unique Foothill Tech experience. He transferred from Ventura High School following his freshman year. For Wieners, keeping his Zoom camera on is about making a good impression on his peers and getting to know Foothill Tech.
As for others, Wieners doesn’t care if his peers have their cameras on or off. He mentioned student engagement remarking, “the issue necessarily isn’t that people don’t have their cameras on it’s that they don’t speak.”
Certain districts in California, like Lakeside Union in San Diego County, have camera mandates that require students to turn their cameras on for Zoom lessons. Foothill Tech students are divided over the controversial policy.
Rebecca Trauner ‘23, says that while she can see both sides of the argument, she believes that a Ventura Unified School District (Ventura Unified) camera mandate is a good idea. “It kinda connects everyone even when we’re far apart.”
Another anonymous Foothill Tech student disagrees. They state how a lot of times a student’s Zoom background and learning environment reflects their family’s income. “It’s about knowing not everyone has the same things as you and just keeping that in mind generally,” they say. They feel that a camera mandate would be invasive.
Powers feels that the culture at Foothill would not respond well to a camera mandate. “It seems like people like to have a lot of freedom to do whatever they want.” Personally, he feels that the benefits of a mandate outweigh the drawbacks, though a lot of teachers may disagree with him.
Online school doesn’t have the same social aspect in-person school had. During Zoom classes each student is allotted the same 1:2 inch square to try and remain an individual, not just another 501 number.
A recent Zoom update changed the playing field for making Zoom meetings fun. Zoom added 58 new filters and makeup effects in addition to the old virtual backgrounds.
Zoom filters have the potential to completely change the distance learning climate. But like anything off-topic that happens in class, Zoom filters could be distracting.
Caitlyn O’Neil ’23, Trauner and Wieners agreed; high school students could make Zoom filters into a distraction. Yet Trauner also described the upside. If Zoom filters encourage students to turn their cameras on and engage in class they’re worth it.
Powers remarks how Zoom filters are fun, but he could see the ones that “stick” to the students’ faces and move when they move their heads would distract him. “There’s probably a happy medium for Zoom filters.”
Zoom filters offer a new avenue for self-expression. O’Neil likes to make her background a rat, while Trauner likes the bunny filter. Gus just picks whichever filter is funniest to him at the moment. Powers is ahead of the teacher game when it comes to Zoom backgrounds. Since the beginning of the semester, he starts class sitting in front of a green screen picture of the door of his classroom at Foothill Tech.
The future for Zoom filters culturally at Foothill Tech is still unsure. Any day is a good opportunity for some brave catalysts and trendsetters to use Zoom filters and make classes more fun. On Nov. 24, 2020, Zoom Participation Day was held to show thanks to Foothill Tech teachers who’ve been staring at dark screens for the last few months. Students were encouraged to turn on their video, unmute their microphone or say something in the chat!
While we can’t see each other in person, there are still many opportunities to enrich your Zoom education by turning your camera on, especially if you check out some of the new filters.