Year 12 pupil: Why I prefer to learn with my webcam off

I know my teachers would prefer me to have my laptop camera on during lessons, says Tamsin Jacobs – but, believe me, I am working

Tamsin Jacobs

Teenage girl, studying in front of a laptop at home, while wearing her pyjamas

I’m one of the rare few who sometimes prefers to enter online lessons with my camera on

I feel as though I should try to replicate even the smallest bit of normalcy that I can by being both digitally and visually present. Plus it dissuades me from going on my phone when lessons really drag on a bit. 

But I do understand the appeal of having the camera off – and have done it myself on a few occasions. Not having to worry about how my hair looks or what I’m wearing is a welcome change in a time already rife with stress. It’s one less thing to engage my deep-seated teenage angst and occupy whatever aesthetic turmoil I’m hanging on to that day. 

And, believe me, I probably am paying more attention and getting more work done with my camera off than on. Yes, on some occasions, I may treat my lesson a bit like a podcast, and go about my other lockdown activities at the same time. But knowing that, when I’m working, no one can see how big my forehead looks from the angle of my laptop camera really lets me get down and dirty with my note-taking.

Remote learning: accustomed to digital communication

I do understand why teachers want our cameras on, and I appreciate their attempts to make things seem more like a typical classroom environment by trying to wipe off the digital-learning-shaped fingerprints that have been smudged over the surface of my sixth-form education. 

Well, wipe no further. I am part of a generation who is unbelievably accustomed to online communication. While being physically out of school may make it more difficult to hand out worksheets and to spot who is and who isn’t wearing their ID badge, it has no effect on my ability to digest audible content. 

Obviously, I can only speak from my own experience, but sitting at my desk every day, surrounded by my folders, flashcards, coloured pens and a packet of biscuits, is a far better working environment than the busy school corridors, where I have to carry round a bag half my own bodyweight, with the majority of my history syllabus crammed into it.

Retaining some of my dignity

Besides, asking me to put my camera on when I have already decided that today is a no-camera type of day is an imposition like no other.

I recognise that it’s useful to see students’ facial expressions to help gauge whether they’re understanding a topic. But the last thing I want to do when I’m trying to wrap my head around Kant’s deontological ethics or the intricacies of the lead-up to the Russian revolution is broadcast my pen-in-mouth, eyebrows-furrowed thinking face – more often than not accompanied by my small huffs of indignation – to the rest of the class. 

It’s bad enough that whenever I do show my face, everyone can see the mound of soft toys on top of the wardrobe behind me. So at least let me retain some of my dignity by not making me turn on my camera and microphone to reveal myself talking to my cat and wearing an off-season Christmas jumper or, in the unfortunate case of a friend of mine, a bright green face mask.

Online schooling assuredly poses its challenges. But through all the stress of teachers’ PowerPoints not working, or that one YouTube video that is supposedly so important but refuses to load, there’s something comforting about sitting in front of my computer screen on a Monday morning in my pyjamas, with a cup of tea and the blueberry muffin I made frantically in my 25-minute break, listening to the lesson and eating away, knowing that nobody can see me.

Tamsin Jacobs is a Year 12 student at Highgate Wood School, in North London

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