The Zoom Gaze by Autumm Caines reminded me of my own anxieties during the spring semester of 2020 when I first started to teach my classes on Google Meet. Teaching at an institution where the majority of students come from families much wealthier than mine, I was reluctant to show them my shabby furniture and turned my laptop to face the window instead. I also wondered whether I should reconsider my minimalist living decision to donate every book that I was not planning to read within a three-year period, after seeing that most of my colleagues have large bookcases in their background. Eventually, I decided to strive for authenticity and overcome my desire to stage my background. I would turn my camera away from the mess created by my kids out of politeness and professionalism, but I was ok with my students seeing my neatly arranged shabby room. Of course, I realize that for my students who still have to overcome the teenage desire to conform and anxiety about their identities it is much more difficult to dismiss the visible differences in their living conditions. I am planning to use the information from “Intentionally Equitable Hospitality in Hybrid Video Dialogue” and “Universal Design for Teaching” to minimize inequality between my student whether they are learning in-person, online, or in a hybrid mode.
The Zoom Gaze also made me think about the power dynamics that online platforms create or exacerbate. The powers given to the host of the meeting can be willingly or unwillingly used to discriminate against some of the participants. It was also unsettling to think about such features of Zoom as attention tracking and engagement scores. I realized that even though I used Google Meet for more than a year, I am not aware if it has the same features. Because the number of my students during the last three semesters was small, I was always able to see them all at once and I did not need to track their attention.
One thing in which online teaching made me feel equal with my students was the fact that I was sitting down like them instead of excitedly walking around the classroom. I found that this arrangement made me and my students slow down and discuss lesson topics in-depth coming up with surprising insights. I am thinking of spending at least some of the time during my in-person instruction sitting down in a circle and discussing the questions that the students bring to class. This is most applicable to my literature and culture classes taught in English, while in language classes I am looking forward not only to move around the classroom myself but to encourage the students to do so.