Say Cheese!

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To turn on your camera or not to turn your camera, that is the question. Our new blogger Rafaella, third-year student at the University College Utrecht, reflects on classroom etiquette during lockdown.

When classes first moved online, there was quite a bit of change to deal with. Since you could no longer see people face-to-face, it felt as though ‘classroom etiquette’ as we once knew changed completely. With microphones muted, you could slurp on your tea as loudly as you want. You no longer had to worry about your stretch being mistaken for a hand up, as that is now done virtually. And despite having to have some form of online learning for nearly a year now, I still find myself struggling to figure out if keeping your camera on is expected classroom etiquette.

Now I’ve managed to avoid this dilemma quite well. For the remainder of my spring semester in 2020, I was watching recorded lectures because of time zone differences. And for this past semester, my professors adopted a hybrid model of education, which usually meant that online parts consisted of recorded lectures or group work. I’ve only ever had to deal with the camera dilemma about once a week this past semester, but now that we know that lockdown has been extended until February 9 (at least), it seems like I can’t avoid this any longer.

I’ll confess, the first few times I had to attend class online because of quarantine, I kept my camera off. I’ve even fallen asleep more times than I would like to admit, and occasionally left my laptop in my bedroom while I cooked dinner in the kitchen, only returning to my laptop when class ended to leave the zoom call. It didn’t take me very long to realise that keeping my camera off has opened a world of unrestricted distractions, and I was about to go down a (very) slippery slope. So I tried turning on my camera, and let me tell you, I could feel the change almost immediately.

Under the wary eyes of my professor (and fellow classmates), I didn’t dare leave my laptop to chat with my housemates. Being seen made me hold myself accountable, and I found myself focusing in class a lot more than usual, and taking notes that could compete with those I write down in person. There was an undeniable performance boost, and since then I’ve kept my camera whenever possible.

I will admit that there were a few times when I rolled out of bed one minute before class started, and would be too ashamed of my matted curls and colourful pyjamas to turn on my camera. I soon realised that no one really cares what you look like during class. People tend to be quite understanding of the unusual circumstances of online education, which I noticed when my professor’s cats made an unexpected appearance during one of her lectures.

This isn’t to say that keeping your camera on is going to be great for everyone. Putting yourself and your surroundings out there can be quite daunting, especially if you’re in a private space like your room. And of course, not everyone has the privilege of being in a space where they can have their cameras on without being interrupted. But if you do find that nothing really is holding you back from turning on your camera, I’d strongly recommend giving it a go.

With lockdown extended and classes temporarily shifting online for a few weeks, I have made a small promise to myself to try to keep my camera on for classes. Besides the fact that I will (hopefully) start the semester off on a stronger foot, this is probably going to be the only interaction I’ll have with other people. And I’ll be honest, Covid-19 has left me starved for human interaction.

So I guess this is my New Year’s resolution: keeping my camera on when possible. Will I slip up at some point, like every other New Year’s resolution? Yes. And will it be to take a nap? 100 percent.

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