Another dot in the blogosphere?

Zoom AR eye contact?

Posted on: September 28, 2021

Photo by Jou00e3o Jesus on

One basic skill a new teacher is taught is maintaining strategic eye contact with students. You might do this to make a point, prevent misbehaviour, acknowledge a student, etc.

However, this is more difficult to do in Zoom. If you want to give the impression of maintaining “eye contact” with students here, you have to look straight into the webcam. As the webcam is typically at the top of a desktop or laptop computer, the rest of the screen, e.g., the gallery view of students or shared resources, are relegated to your peripheral vision. 

If you do not look into the camera and focus on the gallery instead, you look like everyone else — dealing with items on a screen. You might seem distracted or even disinterested instead of focused and involved. So an educator might have to establish different expectations and/or create different classroom rules.

The first part of what I described happened to me this semester. After I took attendance, I started outlining the session. An administrative/technical support person was still in the online space and noticed a student in distress. 

I did not because my eyes were on the camera. I could not spot that student in the sea of faces nor could I monitor the chat area. I was thankful to the support staff for pointing that student out so that I could take action.

So now I reflect on two things: Pedagogical change and technological innovation. 

If an online educator is to be effective, s/he might establish a different expectation of less artificial Zoom eye contact. The online class might also need at least one other teaching assistant to monitor behaviours. The former is easy, the latter is not.

As for technology, I see a place for Apple’s FaceTime Eye Contact to be implemented in Zoom. With this technology, an educator can focus on other parts of the screen but users of iOS 14+ (and iPhones X+) will still appear to be looking someone in the eye. This is thanks to Apple’s real-time augmented reality (AR).

That technological future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed. How long more before this form of AR becomes the norm?

The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed. -- William Gibson
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