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JMU professor addresses why students hide cameras on Zoom

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 6:22 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Students and professors at James Madison University are still getting used to attending class by logging in, and some students who show up to class choose not to show their screens.

Some classes at the university are in-person again, but many of the lectures are still a virtual format. Depending on the subject, it may be necessary for students to participate by turning on their screens, for example, if they are giving a presentation or practicing a language.

But Cara Meixner, a professor of graduate psychology at JMU, says she lets her students choose the way they want to engage in the class and gives her students the option of not showing their face because of a concept called “mirror squared experience.”

“When you’re in Zoom and your camera is on, you’re able to see yourself, but everybody else can see you too. And for some students, for some learners, and actually for some faculty too, that is an uncomfortable and anxiety-producing experience,” Meixner said.

Meixner said that some students are more comfortable leaving their camera on and turning their audio off, and they communicate by using the chat function in Zoom.

After doing research, Meixner says she finds that some students may be distracted from their learning experience by leaving their video on, or they may feel psychologically unsafe if they turn their camera on to show their environment. “It feels like a violation of their privacy or their living situation to show that part of their background,” Meixner says.

She says that she sets aside class time at the beginning of sessions to do check-in activities for her students' mental health.

“We talk about something that actually has nothing to do with the course content, but has to do with normalizing our lived experience in pandemic times,” Meixner said. “I hope that it reminds my students that I see them as whole people and that I am in this journey with them.”

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