Online classes: 5 reasons students benefit from 'cameras off'

Online classes that require cameras to stay on may pose challenges for students.

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(CNN)As the 2020 to 2021 school year gets underway -- both at the K through 12 and college level -- many students find themselves attending online classes via Zoom or similar teleconferencing platforms.

Although sticking with remote instruction may be the correct decision from the standpoint of public health, it is not without problems.
As a researcher who studies behavior and the brain, I have found the evidence suggests that online instruction can pose a range of challenges for students if they are required to keep their cameras on during class. Here are five reasons why I believe students should be allowed to keep their cameras off instead.

    1. Increased anxiety and stress

      Online, students are often expected by their teachers to look at the screen for the entire class and stay focused on the video feeds of their classmates. This can result in feelings of prolonged eye contact, which can feel threatening and uncomfortable. Feeling as though everyone is watching can be distracting as students focus on how they may appear to others.
      This discomfort is enhanced by the fact that the faces on the screen are often large and appear very close. This can trigger the body's "flight or fight" response, leaving students feeling on edge and impairing their concentration.

        2. 'Zoom fatigue'

        While "Zoom fatigue" may sound no different than regular fatigue, science suggests that it is different and that constant video engagement may exacerbate the problem.
        Most of us learn much from nonverbal cues. The face-only format of online video still results in missing many nonverbal cues such as hand gestures, and requires people to work harder to interpret the ones they can see.
        The face-only format also leads people to focus more on verbal cues, which can be tiring. When there are many faces on the screen, most people try to pay attention to all of them -- a type of multitasking called continuous partial attention.
        People have trouble doing this. Switching quickly between tasks can impair memory and decrease the ability to perform tasks. The multitasking required for engaging in a class with multiple active video chats is no different. These problems result in participants being less engaged and feeling drained.

        3. Competing obligations

        While it would be ideal for all students to sit at home in a quiet room free of distractions during online classes, this won't always be the case. Students across all stages of education may be responsible for taking care of other family members or even their own children.
        Access to child care is