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JHS Principal: Turn Your Cameras On

Jamestown High School students are being asked to make sure their cameras are on when they’re taking part in Zoom classes.

Dana Williams, Jamestown High School principal, said in a Facebook video earlier this week that too many Jamestown High School students are failing courses because they aren’t engaging with their classes via Zoom. Instead, too many students, he said, are logging in to Zoom with their cameras off and then disengaging with their class.

The principal said the district will start reaching out to parents of students who aren’t turning their cameras on during Zoom classes.

“You have to start being responsible,” Williams said. “You’re not little kids anymore. Even the little kids in the district, they’re doing this. They have their cameras on, they’re doing their classwork with their teachers. You guys are old enough. You’ve got to be responsible. You’re young adults. You’ve got to start acting like it. Be ready to do this. Some people aren’t comfortable being on camera. You’re looking at one of them. I don’t like it either. I don’t like the way I look, I don’t like the way I sound. I don’t like any of that kind of stuff. Know what? You suck it up. You do what you need to do. That’s what I ask you guys to do. You’re very, very capable. You can do this. Don’t shortchange yourselves. I don’t want you guys getting to the end of this semester and having more failures. It’s not worth it. Do what you have to do now. Don’t make this whole COVID pandemic worse than it already is by failing.”

The debate over whether or not to require cameras to be turned on during online classes is taking place across the country. Teachers across the country have complained that when students’ cameras are off, teachers ask questions of students and get no answers.

Williams said that issue is playing out in many homes throughout Jamestown.

“Some of you are playing on your phone,” Williams said. “You’re playing video games. You’re not paying attention — and it shows. You’re not passing your classes. You’re not going to be successful. This is why we need to have those cameras on. Some of you who have been doing what you’re supposed to be doing, have your cameras on, you see how the teachers struggle. They’re asking stuff of people and — nothing. They get nothing. It’s kind of embarassing.”

According to a late January study published in Ecology and Evolution, 41% of students responding to a survey said their appearance is why they don’t want to turn on their cameras on Zoom. More than half of respondents selected “other” as their reason for not keeping their camera on. In the survey, Frank Castelli, a CALS Active Learning Initiative education postdoctoral researcher, and Cornell instructor Mark Sarvary found that among underrepresented minorities, 38% said they were concerned about other people being seen behind them, and 26% were concerned about their physical location being visible; while among non-underrepresented minorities, 24% were worried about people behind them and 13% about their physical locations.

Establishing camera use as the norm, explaining the reasons that cameras improve the class and employing active learning techniques and icebreakers, such as beginning each class with a show-and-tell, are techniques that could boost participation, the authors suggested in the study.

“Active learning plays an important role in online learning environments,” Sarvary said. “Students may feel more comfortable turning on their cameras in breakout rooms. Polling software or Zoom chats are alternatives that can help the instructor assess student learning, even without seeing nodding or smiling or confused expressions.”

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