Why Are All the Zoom Cameras Off? Learning at Home Requires Innovative Teaching Methods

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

As students learn at home, muted audio and blank cameras frustrate teachers. What makes Zoom learning so difficult and how can we make remote learning an asset?

All the Zoom cameras are off

It is another day. The clock ticks to 8:30am. Class starts.

Black boxes and names written in white stare back at you.

Most of your students have shut off their cameras. Welcome to Zoom.

Are they listening and learning at home? Or is no one even there?

You just can’t tell.

If you’re a teacher, professor, or just giving a lecture these days, this might be a familiar story.

The switch to “Zoom learning” has undoubtably saved the 2020 school year, but now it’s time to rethink learning. Is the migration to video-based learning really the best we have to offer? Or, can a deeper understanding of how we learn, coupled with today’s technology, lead to greater learning?

To answer this question, let’s start at the beginning: the problem with video based remote learning.

Why Do Students Turn Off Their Cameras?

With the onset of COVID, learning has shifted from classroom to home. Despite efforts to maintain the same physical presence online, educators everywhere have been faced with a multitude of blank screens.

Students simply are not learning at home as expected. It’s not as simple as taking what worked in a physical class and moving it online. The visual framework of seeing faces and presentations isn’t holding students’ attention.

As the pandemic hit Israel in March 2020, Tomer Baratz from the Israeli Ministry of Education set out to answer a disturbing trend he was experiencing.

Why were so many students turning their cameras off in class?

He tested 481 students. Half of the respondents were university and post-grad students. The other half consisted of K-12 students.

The answers were quite shocking. Close to half of the respondents admitted to shutting off their cameras during class.

And the reasons?

7.3% don’t trust Zoom: they fear that their video is not secure.

28.7% do not want to share their living situations with their entire class whether it be due to a messy house or private housing conditions.

38.1% have to learn in a communal space where family members enter and exit.

In the Stanford Daily, students asked professors to please let students turn off their videos in class.

“We have students who are parents, whose children need homeschooling. We have students who don’t have a room in which they can close the door. We have students who are couch-surfing, or students with very personal home environments, and students across the world 13 hours ahead of time, who would wake up their family if they talked. There are really an infinite number of reasons why a student would be struggling through this [pandemic] and with engagement requirements right now.”

Requiring cameras to be on ignores that the home is private space. And an unequal one. At home schooling reveals the inequities between students now more than ever.

40.4% of students turned their cameras off because of their appearance. Undressed and at home, they do not find it necessary to get ready for a virtual class. And they feel uncomfortable having all eyes on them.

41% of students wake up just in time for class. (Everyone who selected appearance probably also chose this.) Who wants to show their whole class and teacher that they are still half-asleep in pajamas?


55.2% of students admit to doing something else!

(We know that all those percentages add up to over 100%. Students were able to choose more than one response.)

Multitasking distracts more than half of the tested demographic. What are they doing while in “class”?

It could be anything from surfing the web, listening to music, to washing dishes or even eating out!

The results are disturbing.

50% of students are tuning out of their virtual classrooms. Multitasking while “learning” is commonplace.

And to be frank, multi-tasking during lectures was already a tried and true practice. From passing notes, doing homework, texting, or surfing the web, students always multitasked.

It’s just much much worse when you combine it with learning from home and the lack of accountability that having a closed camera brings.

Unfortunately, the problems of video-based home learning don’t end there.

The Downfalls of Learning with Video

What are the other problems with the new MO for the remote classroom?


1. Zoom Fatigue

It’s only been a few months on Zoom, but there’s already a phrase coined for this.

For anyone who’s spent a few hours on Zoom, you know exactly what Zoom fatigue is. After hours in front of a screen, your eyes find it difficult to focus on anything, let alone a 2D face.

We all know that digital screens are harmful, when did it become OK to force students to stare at them all day?

But Zoom fatigue isn’t only a problem for the student. It’s equally as tiring for the lecturer!

Trying to be engaging while talking to a screen is really hard. There’s no feedback from your audience, none of the body cues you’re used to. There’s no natural conversation to drive the class forward. You have to be “on” all the time.

2. Virtual Does Not Substitute for Natural Interaction

Teaching over video requires a completely different skill set from the one teachers have learned and gotten used to.

It’s impossible to get into the cadence of a conversation or gracefully confirm your student’s thoughts with mmm-hmmms and yes’s.

Conversation is broken. People speak over each other. The brain is unable to find the natural rhythm of speech.

You can’t tell what someone is looking at. And eye contact is impossible to maintain when you look at the screen rather than into the camera lens.

The simple act of chatting with someone has turned into an arduous video-call. And it is tiring.

The main signals of communication have been cut off: body language, vocal rhythm, and eye contact.

All that remains is sound.

Is seeing a face really worth the energy it depletes? Is it worth hindering student engagement and interaction?

3. Long Classes Hurt Focus

In school, students found it difficult to focus. They couldn’t refrain from texting or surfing the web during an hour-long class.

About half of students are multitasking while learning virtually. Coupled with Zoom fatigue, student focus is a burgeoning issue.

Learning at home provides the freedom to break this up!

Brain breaks are essential for learning.

To learn and absorb new information, the brain needs to send signals from the sensory receptors to the memory storage regions of the brain. It takes time and requires a pause for the brain to convert short-term memory into long-term learning.

Giving students a break every 20 to 30 minutes allows the brain to relax and continue sending new information. If students get stressed or overwhelmed, the brain becomes over-activated. It overflows with neurotransmitters until it stops transmitting the information.

That means the information is going in one ear and out the other!

Additionally, pauses allow the brain to restore these supplies of neurotransmitters.

Breaks don’t have to just be breaks. They can add to the learning experience and continue the flow of learning. Think alternative learning materials like Youtube videos or podcasts.

4. Virtual Learning supports the “Illusion of knowledge”.

Attendance does not equal learning.

When students multitask, they don’t think they are absent from class. Instead, they see the professor’s face and presentation slides in between glances at their phone screens.

That Zoom visual misleads them. If they see the bullet points of information and professor’s face, they might think a peek at the screen every now and then is enough to absorb the lesson.

Historian Daniel J. Boorstin stated, “the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” That “illusion of knowledge” is when people think their knowledge is sufficient.

For example, when students mistakenly think that they know enough or have learned enough to cover a subject.

But without focus, the learning is not transmitted into long-term memory. So the students hear and understand the content in the moment, but will not remember it for long.

5. Students Get Left Behind

Classrooms provide an environment specifically made for learning.

Students who don’t want to study are encouraged by peers or authority figures. They don’t have to struggle on their own to find the self-discipline and schedule to learn.

It’s easier to monitor which students are struggling in class, distracted, or absent. As a result, it’s also easier to enforce solutions for these issues: extra help, group work, teacher reminders to focus, and guidance counselors to check in on missing students.

Home learning offers none of that support. Students who lack self-discipline (and that’s the majority of students) will have a harder time sticking it through an hour and a half lecture. Or even hopping on that Zoom call. (Why go when it’s recorded?)

There is no peer pressure or accountability, and it’s just you and your laptop.

Beyond that, students might not be able to focus despite having the self discipline.

Learning at home eliminates the equality of the classroom. It lends itself to the wealthier students. How will a student sharing a bedroom with multiple family members find a place to attend Zoom lectures? How will a student without Wi-Fi study and get the same learning experience as a student in a spacious house who owns the latest computer?

We can’t fix all the issues in those questions. But we do have to address one: making the virtual classroom a universal place where every student has equal opportunity and the necessary support.

Quick recap!

Virtual learning has its issues.

  1. Zoom Fatigue

  2. Virtual Does Not Substitute for Natural Interaction

  3. Long Classes Hurt Focus

  4. Virtual learning supports the illusion of knowledge

  5. Students Get Left Behind

But it’s also a futuristic type of learning. Something we might have imagined more idealistically a year ago.

Students can learn from anywhere using technology. They save time, money, and energy by staying put at home. And it might just be more accessible.

Using At Home Learning to Our Advantage

Student engagement has been an issue for years.

It’s only visible now when the daydreaming in class turns into a blank Zoom screen.

Why don’t we use this transition to remote learning to change the way we teach?

It’s time to incorporate new practices that follow the science behind learning and utilize the benefits of virtual learning.

1. Flexibility and Accessibility

Learning at home is so malleable. Technology makes our lives more comfortable and so does learning at home.

Everyone has their own routine. Meal schedules and exercise breaks. Productive highs in the morning or evening.

Why stick to a timed schedule when that was for crowd control? Every class had to be at a specific time because students had to be grouped together to make it efficient. But at home, students can listen in to classes whenever they want.

Whether a student is juggling working and studying or a post-graduate learning in their free time, removing meaningless time bounds on classes makes for more accessible learning.

More so, students are now in every time zone imaginable, and cannot make it to classes at certain times.

Rather than ignoring the restrictions many students are facing, it’s time to switch to a new educational framework that allows learning to be done when students are at their best.

And timing will no longer prevent talented students from joining a course!

2. Time Saved

Phones eliminated the use of standalone watches, GPS systems, radios, home-phone systems…

Smart-boards eliminated chalkboards, projectors, and white-boards.

Learning at home might dramatically decrease the amounts of students on campus.

After this pandemic, who’s to say that students will want to go back to lengthy commutes and exorbitant rents just to be on campus.

Saving time feels great. Students can enrich their day with more than just school and studying.

If students can clean and run while they learn, they will want to take their classes whenever they can.

3. Location is No Issue

Wouldn’t it be great to teach to even more students?

There is no limit to how many students can take a recorded class. They can be anywhere.

When there is a greater pool of students, there are more people interested in a teacher’s domain. That’s a great way to push for classes that might not have been approved by the university or faculty before.

And the students will be more engaged because they want to be there.

Positives: Flexibility! Time saved! Money saved! No location constraints!

We’re pretty excited about all the ways technology can revolutionize learning. So let’s propose a solution that fixes the Zoom camera issue and optimizes at-home learning.

Audio Learning

It’s all about timing.

That’s the best part of learning at home. It makes for time saved, flexible schedules, and is more accessible for students who have multiple responsibilities to juggle.

Changing the format of lessons to one that is less intrusive and exhausting will reinforce the benefits of virtual learning.

Lessons seem easier and less intrusive at home when you can multitask. There’s no way to not be distracted at home.

So let’s incorporate the distractions, but the ones that are right. Those that work.

Movement and exercise feed the brain with endorphins and help you focus.

Walking around, doing the dishes, cleaning… actually help the brain learn!

Learning shouldn’t be a chore or something children and adults are forced to do to get somewhere in the future. It should be exciting and engaging.

So teachers, make it interesting. Shake it up. Talk to your students like a friend. Teach them like youwould want to learn. We’re sure you’ll see a difference!

Everyone wants to be the popular teacher. That person that makes students love learning.

So what’s popular with millennials and the younger generations?


Podcasts. Audio books. Youtube videos in the background.

Young people love to listen. And they enjoy learning from lots of resources, especially audio.

Zoom is difficult. We know.

And there are so many reasons why students aren’t enjoying it or comfortable with the virtual visual screen.

So try out some audio learning at home. You might just be surprised.

Using Audio in Your Class

Students want to learn through engaging mediums that fit their lifestyle. Like a podcast, a fun article, or a friendly conversation. That’s what students remember most. (Remember that article we linked about millennials liking audio?)

And when students have a really long physical chore or long drive to endure, audio learning might just make it fun.

Using popular mediums, like audio can make sure you students come to class better prepared. And students who are better prepared make for a more engaging lecture. Even on Zoom.

Does that remind you of another issue?

Students often came to class unprepared. They didn’t do the reading or the homework. Or they did and they forgot what it was about. Instead of a thought-provoking debate or adding more complex lessons onto that required knowledge, you were stuck teaching the material from scratch.

And that’s impossible on Zoom. Students aren’t paying attention so they won’t even absorb that repeat lesson.

Choose audio.

Modify your lessons to speak more directly to students. Allow flexibility. Embrace at home learning and forget about meaningless videos of slides that repeat what you are saying. Focus on your speech instead.

Students can listen when it’s convenient, enjoy your lesson, and come prepared. (And with Alpe, you can supplement your course with separate audio materials that reinforce learning with creative lessons, summaries, and quizzes at the end of each lesson.)

Use the SAMR Model

Developed in 2010 by education researcher, Ruben Puentedura, the SAMR model provides a structure for incorporating technology into teaching. It encourages teachers to improve their teaching methods with the tools of today: virtual learning.

There are four ways for teachers to integrate technology into their teaching:

Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.

Substitution is what we’re seeing today.

It’s the direct replacement of the original learning method with some sort of technology to improve it.

Example: Replacing in person learning with Zoom classes. Replacing the chalkboard with the smartboard. Using online software to send students messages and homework assignments rather than doing so by word of mouth and agenda books.

Augmentation goes beyond substitution.

It’s substitution that also brings improvement to the teaching method.

Example: Using Zoom breakout rooms to encourage students to do group work and feel separate from the class. Supplementing a class discussion with a Youtube video. Adding a documentary to the syllabus.

Most educators focus on substitution and augmentation. The next two steps are what really propel learning into the future.

Modification calls for the teaching method to be changed and redefined.

Rather than following the same constructs, the teaching method innovates. Eg. Zoom classes don’t follow the same in-person class structure. Instead, a teacher has short Zoom meetings for class discussions and questions after sending a reading, audio recording, or Youtube video for the class to absorb beforehand. Teaching doesn’t require the teacher to explain the lesson. Instead it focuses on self-learning and active collaboration.

Redefinition: technology creates new things!

The classroom becomes something different from anything we have ever known. So this could be anything. Some examples given in the SAMR article point to virtual fieldtrips. Your students learn about the history of Rome. After, they can virtually travel to Ancient Rome. Using computer technology, they can immerse themselves in a virtual simulation of the culture and answer questions prompted by the software. That sounds pretty cool!

So how can you use the SAMR model with audio learning?

A. Substitute & Augment

Maybe you’ll want to start with the S and A of the SAMR model.

Substitute your lectures or class with an audio recording. Use Zoom for conversation and collaboration only.

Augment it with audio classes that reinforce the lessons. They’ll be short, sweet, and fun. (And maybe they’ll get students to pay more attention in that next Zoom class!).

If not transitioning to a new medium, supplementing Zoom teaching with additional audio materials will help. In fact, listening and absorbing new knowledge before writing notes or highlighting a text is considered best for learning.

B. Modify and Redefine

Maybe you’re that innovative teacher. You want to surge ahead and embrace the new. You’re tired of teaching the same way year after year.

Modify your classes by using audio learning as a new teaching method. Use storytelling techniques to engage students. Pauses and recaps reinforce learning. (That’s what we do at Alpe). You don’t need that clunky old Zoom classroom anymore.


Change up your style even more. Personalize audio and create lessons made for audio. Or use platforms, like us (Alpe Audio), that know what they’re doing.

With classes made specifically for learning –- easy to absorb while multi-tasking, filled with reviews and summaries to teach comprehensively, and short enough to allow brain breaks –- Alpe audio is the way to elevate your teaching. We’re pretty fun too! Our story-telling techniques and sound-effects make learning as easy as having a conversation.

And who knows, maybe you’ll want to add your class to our platform too.

Excited about at home learning? Worried about something else regarding at home learning?

Comment below and tell us how at home learning is affecting you. And what ideas you have for innovating learning.