Online education is frustrating and depressing for me. In class, I’m faced with the hauntingly silent mosaic of circles, most featuring corporate pastels and a set of two to three letters. As lectures drone on, I find myself not paying attention, but reflecting. I remember choosing to come to Florida Poly, a risky choice, even when I was given opportunities to go to higher ranking and longer established universities. This was a meticulous decision, not out of self-hatred, but out of a desire for a personal, direct education – one where I could easily access and even get to know my teachers. I didn’t want to be another ID tag among tens of thousands of students, one indiscernible from the masses.
Florida Poly offered me just that – a unique set of connections that allowed me not only to personalize my education but my career and life looking forward. Counselors, advisors, and at this point just about every faculty member I’ve met – they’ve all empowered me. I cannot thank them enough. Yet, and obviously for good reason, we’ve had to disrupt a lot of student-teacher interactions because just in case you haven’t heard, there’s a pandemic. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t disrupted it far more than necessary.
I understand our student culture is extremely camera shy and reclusive – in many ways I love our student culture. But I can’t help feeling that by keeping the cameras off, we’re crippling ourselves. I don’t just want to absorb my teachers’ lessons and understand their points, I want them to have the perception to understand what interests me, motivates me, confuses me, confounds me. This isn’t because I want to be babysat, as some would and have argued – this is because out of self-respect for myself as an adult, I want the best education possible. Why should I settle for impersonal lectures, that drone on and on until my mind begins to cave in? Sometimes lectures are inevitable, but I came here to minimize that.
“I didn’t want to be another ID tag among tens of thousands of students, one indiscernible from the masses.”
Of course, there is the option to attend classes entirely in-person, but I cannot risk my life just to have that face-to-face time with my teacher, for in sickness I would lose the safety that enables my enrollment. The camera requirement coming up next semester has the potential to change that. If multiple people in the class have their cameras on, then I feel comfortable enough to engage with my teacher. I don’t stick out like a sore thumb just for wanting to engage academically. Students showing their faces will make professors feel more confidence in their lessons and their cause. Ideally, our professors would be confident and independent enough to not care about student presence, but truthfully, they’re not.
Consider our context as a school – none of our professors have been here for more than six years, as the school is literally only six years old. Their classes and their lectures are relatively new, still in the throes of instability. They teach with relative inexperience in comparison to large university professors that have racked up multiple decades of tenure atop their decades-old lesson plans. They are confident in their teaching style and their material, because they’ve been through that material hundreds of time. Our teachers are still feeling out what works for them, and so rely on our input; it’s not just that we need them, it’s that they need us. The webcam requirement will make our professors feel that their efforts are worth it. The more our professors are willing to invest their efforts, the better our classes will be.
Of course, all this doesn’t come with its caveats. Students should be able to opt out of a camera requirement in several cases. Not every student can afford the technology to abide, whether that’s a webcam or just an internet connection stable enough to actually use a webcam. Not every student can stay on camera without experiencing surges of crippling anxiety. These are valid points, but ultimately, there are simple fixes – just because the new rule being implemented has some issues to be accommodated for doesn’t mean it lacks merit and value.
I want my education to have the value it once had so that it’s easier to fight the temptation to forego classes. I hate to admit it, but I’ve given in to that temptation at times. I think a lot of us have -enough that teachers and faculty have noticed. I want to do right by myself and by my teachers, but when classes are like this? It’s hard. Kudos to those dedicated enough to their studies to pay attention, to teach themselves every detail, to stay invested through all this – but for many, the cabin fever is settling in, which gives way to despair. Let’s not make our education any harder than it has to be. Let’s engage with our teachers, so that they may engage us.