Teaching to a black screen.

Teaching online has its days. Yesterday, in one of my classes, no matter what I tried and believe me it was a well-prepared lesson about ‘famous’ people and most of the class was about how we could charm a somewhat famous person attend a small session with us in our ‘zoomroom’, nothing worked and it was mostly a class of the black screen for me.

I want to talk about black screens today because I believe it is strongly connected to student activation and engagement. Engagement in second language acquisition (SLA) is twofold and not only is it coined as being something your learners should have it they are motivated to learn also it’s about having the will of giving you their full attention and focus. It is often said that this is the new-age type of students. They say that millennials are multitaskers, they can watch tv and listen to music and maybe be active on social media at the same time. This for me however surely means that they share their attention and that basically, they don’t want to give you their full attention. Also, this to me says, “Your not boring, I’m in your class, I got out of my way to attend and I’ll do my share of work, but I don’t want to give you my full focus; I’ve got other stuff more interesting to me than you.”

Most students close cameras on the pretence of being embarrassed, or having a bad hair day or not liking their learning environment or having their little brother with them. Some scholars say that during remote emergency learning we should not pressure our students to open their cameras because they might indeed not be feeling comfortable with their personal learning environment. The truth of the matter is I agree with not pushing too hard for students to open their cameras, but lately, I have been noticing that this state is contagious and that all students are slowly using it as an excuse for not opening their camera.

In a class, yesterday, all my students were reluctant to open their cameras for me.  I did try to convince my students to open, but in a short while they switched off and even though I tried, they won in the end because I was losing time and seeing my objective going out the window. So I did spend time talking things out but ended up going back to the lesson as not to lose their attention completely.  And what struck me, yesterday is at the start of class when I was alone with one student, I got him to open his camera to say hello which he did, and as soon as another student entered the class, he immediately switched off his camera. Another case was after having a conversation on internet bandwidths and speeds of connection, one of my students who always uses his speed of connection as a problem to switch off his camera boasted about how fast a connection he has to all of us. This was actually mentioned to me by another student told him, who said to him, “why do you say that you never have enough bandwidth to open your camera since you have 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload”, that’s a really fast connection for home internet!

So the truth of the matter is, even though we have our students motivated enough to come to our online class because they could have just say, “online doesn’t work” and that “my parents shouldn’t be paying for these types of lessons”, the fact that they attend without turning on their video is saying that they are just not engaged enough to do so. If your not actively involving them in an activity which needs for them to be seen, then they prefer to do your activities without their video turned on.

This preference is what needs to be discussed. Should we allow this to happen should this be talked out with all students separately and discussed as a prerequisite?  What do you do with the students who genuinely do have problems?

The more you allow this to happen in your classes the more disengaged learners you will eventually end up with. I believe that this notion should be actively talked about amongst older students and we should reach an agreement towards everyone being actively involved and having their cameras switched on.

For me, in my next lesson, it’s time to redo classroom rules, maybe work upon these rules through a google doc or a collaborative Canva drawing activity. Get them to collaboratively write the rules and to create an infographic of “our ‘zoomroom’ rules”

A good way to create ‘zoomroom’ dynamics and restart my class with a new outlook.

Photo by z yu on Unsplash

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