Recently, there has been a noticeable slide in the online participation of some of our 8th grade students. We considered a number of causes, including Zoom fatigue and camera anxiety. But, to get to the bottom of the issue we decided to simply ask our students.
We created a brief survey on Google Forms and asked students to complete it during a whole-group Enrichment class.
One of the areas my colleague and I were particularly interested in was Zoom camera usage. Many of our colleagues, at our grade level meetings, have been pushing camera usage as the reason why student participation has been sliding. And, therefore, by mandating camera usage, participation would return to normal.
So, question number one in the survey was: If you don’t have your camera on during class, why?
We purposely wanted an open-ended question because we really wanted to give students an opportunity to share their feelings and experiences with us. As a result, the responses were varied. I went through them all and compiled them into four main responses:
- Other students had their cameras off, so I turned my camera off too.
- My background will distract other students (family members moving around, etc.)
- My internet is not reliable enough to support video
- I don’t feel comfortable showing my face
Here are the results:
|Other students had their cameras off, so I turned my camera off too.||10%|
|My background will distract other students (family members moving around, etc.)||20%|
|My internet is not reliable enough to support video||26%|
|I don’t feel comfortable showing my face||42%|
These results, especially the number of students who felt uncomfortable on camera, mirrored the results of a Cornell University survey by Frank R. Castelli and Mark A. Sarvary. It’s interesting that a similar percentage of university students felt the same way about being on camera (41%) as their middle school counterparts.
Although many of our colleagues pushed for camera mandates as the solution to the camera issue, it was clear that a more compassionate solution was needed for what was obviously a social-emotional issue. My colleague did some research and discovered Zoom’s Focus mode. When this mode is activated by the Zoom host, the users no longer see the usual Zoom whole-group grid view. Instead, they see a larger image of the host/main presenter, with the other participants visible only in a scroll format along the top of the screen.
The day we first employed the Focus mode, students immediately began leaving their cameras on throughout the class. Later, when we asked students how they liked it, the majority of students didn’t even notice it was on. They simply felt somehow more comfortable in class and didn’t even consider turning off their cameras.
The next question I want to dive into concerned participation: How are you participating or showing your engagement in class?
Again, we deliberately employed an open-ended question in order to gather a wide array of responses. And, again, I sifted through the responses to compile them into the following four like groups:
- I use the private chat function to communicate.
- I ask questions and make comments out loud.
- I show my engagement by completing our in-class assignments.
- I am active in our Breakout rooms.
Here are the results:
|I use the private chat function to communicate.||40%|
|I ask questions and make comments out loud.||40%|
|I show my engagement by completing our in-class assignments.||15%|
|I am active in our Breakout rooms.||5%|
These results reflected the running records that my colleague and I were keeping in our classes. However, the in-class assignments response was particularly interesting. It seems that the majority of students did not think that these formative activities were important.
So, this sparked our commitment to remind students of the importance of this kind of work in terms of demonstrating engagement, but – more importantly – in informing teachers of student understanding.
We plan to discuss this topic in our next Enrichment class!
We will go over the results with our entire grade-level team at an upcoming meeting. It is important that we all accurately understand what our students are feeling during these uncertain times. And, it is also important that we address the issues raised in a compassionate and consistent way.
If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reach out!