As a number of students across the country head back to school remotely, many children are getting online for their classes every day. But school districts across the country are approaching the use of computer cameras differently.
"One of the things we're so worried about our kids missing out on is oxytocin. I know we don't think about it that way but that's the chemical we get when we get to be with or see or hear people that are important to us. The feeling of connectivity, that feeling of being okay is really benefited by seeing faces," said Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and youth development expert also known as "Doctor G" who has created an e-course for parents and educators to help them navigate back to school virtually.
Dr. G says if schools have the secure, virtual platforms for live classroom learning, students should turn their cameras on so teachers and other students can see them.
As for whether having your camera on or off during class can be appropriate depending on a child's age, Dr G says "parents are experts of their own kids and there may be individual instances where it would be valuable for a child in certain situations to leave their camera off."
Dr. G says parents and teachers have a lot more to fear from kids disengaging than engaging uncomfortably.
"Middle school is an uncomfortable experience for almost everyone. And I don't mean to diminish that at all but uncomfortable is not the same as unsafe. Helping our kids navigate more uncomfortable situations is often more valuable than protecting them from uncomfortable situations," said Dr. G.
At Sanger Unified School District in California, administrators recommend their 12,000 students leave their cameras on when in their virtual classrooms but it's not required.
"The students do have somewhat of a choice to do that and we know some of our low socio-economic status students, sometimes they're just a little concerned with the background or there’s a lot going on they don't want to show. Or it could be, I don't want someone looking into my bedroom," said Tim Lopez, the Associate Superintendent of Educational Services at Sanger Unified.
Lopez says the district is moving to a new virtual learning platform that will allow students to create a virtual background. He believes that and the optional cameras helps level the playing field among students while they're learning from home.
"There's other things like bandwidth. I've noticed even in my own meetings with adults, they're going on and off and it's like, 'Hey, turn your camera off so we can just listen to what you have to say,'" said Lopez.
Whether students' cameras are on or off, both Sanger Unified and Dr. G say teachers will be prepared to ensure students are paying attention in class.
"I think that our teachers have learned a ton in the last six months about virtual classroom management, just like they spent a lot of time at school learning about in-person classroom management. Mostly, parents don't need to jump in to this conversation unless the teacher asks us to," said Dr. G.
Navigating a new digital classroom with brand new online expectations.