Why do these webcam videos appear in this particular order?
The good folks at the MIT Teaching and Learning Lab have taken serious consideration of the algorithm Zoom uses to determine the order of webcams in Zoom’s gallery view (Rankin & MacDowell, n.d.).
The initial video placement is determined by order of arrival, with the most recent arrivals first. Those with their webcams on will be first; those with webcams off will be last.
- Every time a person speaks, their video pops to the top left of the screen.
The MIT Teaching and Learning Lab staff ask us to consider these three questions.
- “If less vocal students only see a subset of more vocal students on their first screen, what message does this send about who is more or less valued in the class?”
We know that our more vocal students are more likely to be male (Lee & Mccabe, 2021; Wang, 2016) and white (Wang, 2016) and to have been raised in the middle or upper class (Markus & Conner, 2013).
- “If the students that speak most often are from a particular demographic…what unintended message might this send about who does or doesn’t belong in your classroom?”
- “How might Zoom’s algorithm impact the perceived composition of the class if students see one particular group being dominantly represented onscreen? For underrepresented students, this can exacerbate feelings of stereotype threat.” And I’d add, feelings of being an impostor (Jaremka et al., 2020).
Override Zoom’s gallery view algorithm
Rather than have the most vocal students appearing at the top of the screen, we can change Zoom’s settings so that everyone’s webcam videos do not move.
Open your Zoom room, click View in the top right corner, and choose Gallery. Click and drag one video screen to a different spot. For example, in the screenshot below, I clicked and dragged my video screen to the left. Click on View again, and now you’ll be able to click on “Follow Host’s Video Order.” Your meeting participants will see everyone in the exact same order you do—whatever order you put them in. All video feeds will now remain in these spots.
Strategies for increasing student participation
Making Zoom’s gallery view static is not going to stop your most vocal students from being the most vocal, but at least they won’t dominate the “front” of the classroom.
The MIT Teaching and Learning Lab article suggests four strategies for increasing student participation.
- “Providing ‘wait time’ before calling on a student to answer a question. This gives students the opportunity to formulate their responses before speaking”
- “Enforcing hand-raising. This will help ensure that not only students who are comfortable jumping in have opportunities to provide comments”
- “Requiring multiple raised hands (e.g., Require that at least 3 students have raised their hands to respond before you will call on a student. This will allow you to call on students who are not the most frequent and/or fastest responders.)”
- “Calling randomly on students (e.g., Use index cards with students’ names and be explicit about what you are doing and why to bring more student voices into the classroom interactions. The random aspect of this strategy can help minimize students’ sense that any student is being ‘singled out,’ positively or negatively.”
These strategies came from a freely-available article they recommend: “Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity” (Tanner, 2013).
Jaremka, L. M., Ackerman, J. M., Gawronski, B., Rule, N. O., Sweeny, K., Tropp, L. R., Metz, M. A., Molina, L., Ryan, W. S., & Vick, S. B. (2020). Common academic experiences no one talks about: Repeated rejection, impostor syndrome, and burnout. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(3), 519–543. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691619898848
Lee, J. J., & Mccabe, J. M. (2021). Who speaks and who listens: Revisiting the chilly climate in college classrooms. Gender & Society, 35(1), 32–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243220977141
Markus, H. R., & Conner, A. (2013). Culture clash: How to thrive in a multicultural world. Penguin.
Rankin, J., & MacDowell, R. (n.d.). How to overcome Zoom’s algorithmic bias. MIT Teaching and Learning Lab. Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://tll.mit.edu/how-to-overcome-zooms-algorithmic-bias/
Tanner, K. D. (2013). Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 12(3), 322–331. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.13-06-0115
Wang, S. (2016, November 3). Comfort speaking in class varies with gender, ethnicity. The Brown Daily Herald. https://www.browndailyherald.com/article/2016/11/comfort-speaking-in-class-varies-with-gender-ethnicity