August 13th, 2020


On Teleconference Backgrounds and Privilege

Today, a number of interesting thoughts about pandemic life collided in my head.   So .... here I am, dusting off this ancient blog, to write and think about them.

Most of us who have been thrust into online conferencing and teaching over the last six months are aware of "the camera issue".   We're all on Zoom, or Google Meet, or whatever, and one of the first question becomes: do you turn the laptop camera on, or not?

For student instruction, the general consensus (at least among my friends) has been that, as much as it hurts, students shouldn't be required (or coerced) into turning on their cameras.

There are very practical reasons for that stance.   Not everyone has a functioning webcam (even if it is built-in to most laptops these days).   And not everyone is participating in their online sessions with stable networking and high bandwidth, in which case turning off the camera can help to improve the stability of such connections.

But even if those practical concerns aren't an issue, there are issues related to equity and privilege that come into play.   Not everyone has a fantastic environment in which to participate in online conferencing.   Some folks are uncomfortable sharing their surroundings with other viewers.   Some do not have the ability to "conference alone", and turning on a camera would violate the privacy of those with whom they are sharing space.    

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