While many schools are back to in-person classes, there are still many courses being offered online due to the pandemic. In fact, a number of schools had to revert to online classes after severe COVID outbreak on campus. So online lessons are not going away anytime soon for traditional in-person schools.
At the start of the Fall 2021 semester, during many of the meetings I attended with faculty members from my department and other departments, one of the most common "complaints" that I hear was how to get the students to turn on their camera. The school has made it abundantly clear that we cannot force the students to do that, and that turning on their cameras was something voluntary.
Still, many faculty members were having a hard time teaching to "blank boxes" on their screen. They complaint was that they find it frustratingly lonely when they look at their screen and see no faces and no one there at the other end. They also said that they couldn't see any body language to gauge the students' reaction, as if looking at a live Zoom window could tell you the accurate body language of a person.
To be clear, many of the faculty members who moaned about this were from the language/humanities/etc. department. So eventually, I had to say something about this.
What the issue here really isn't about turning on someone's camera or being able to look at a person on the screen. Rather, it is the issue of STUDENTS ENGAGEMENT on the subject matter. When we teach in class, we can judge how much the student is engage in what we are teaching, and there are many face-to-face interactions that engages the student into understanding the material.
We can't do that in an online lesson, be it synchronous or asynchronous. Treating an online lesson the same way as you would a f2f class will suck, as I've said many times. As an instructor, we have to rethink EVERYTHING when we teach things online, because the whole emotional/psychology of things are different.
I told my faculty colleagues from other departments that, if anything, *I* have a greater need to see my students in terms of being relevant to the material being taught, and not just for my psychological needs. I told them that when I teach the topic of magnetic field, such as when a charge particle moves in a magnetic field, we find the direction of the force acting on the charge particle using the cross product depicted by the so-called "right-hand rule". When I taught this in class, I can see how the students were lining up their right-hand and how they "curl" their hand to finally look at their thumbs to show the direction of the force.
So here, there is a direct and academic need to be able to see what the students are doing, and not simply just for my benefit. Thus, if anyone here has a greater claim to want to see the students during a lesson, I argue that it would be me. Yet, I make no such requirement to the students. I told them that if they want me to verify that they are doing the right-hand rule correctly, they should consider turning on their cameras, and that was it. I don't bemoan the situation that I couldn't see my students, etc. and it somehow made it feel "lonely" or as if I'm talking to nobody. It isn't about me. It is about the students!
I think that a lot of people do not realize the extra and unique challenges of teaching STEM subjects remotely/online, and this includes non-science administrators and faculty members. STEM faculty members should make their voices heard more often, and be involved in the relevant committees so that we don't get left out in course design, etc. Otherwise, a lot of things that they think will work, won't for the courses that we teach.