Beyond the avatar: Using video cameras to achieve effective collaboration in an online second language classroom


  • Vladimir Pavlov HSE University, Russia
  • Natalia V. Smirnova HSE University, Russia
  • Ekaterina Nuzhnaia HSE University, Russia


Being with, video cameras, online collaboration, English as Foreign Language, digital classroom


In language learning, students learn through interaction with the teacher, the other students, and with the study material, to build language skills. What happens to interaction opportunities when learning goes online? In an online classroom, collaboration is difficult to achieve due to lack of physical proximity among the participants. This paper explores the problem of online collaboration between teachers and students in English as Foreign Language (EFL) classroom with the empirical focus on the role that video cameras play in online collaboration. We argue that cameras, although being contested as a pedagogical tool, should be seen as an important ‘proximity tool’ that helps foster collaboration by bringing learners and teachers ‘closer’. We theorise ‘collaboration’ via the social constructivism lens and argue that collaboration as being ‘close’ echoes in the digital sense with ‘being with’ and is core for developing an ecology of virtual collaboration. We draw on the online survey data from foreign language students and language instructors in one Russian research-intensive university, who were asked how they use cameras online. Quantitative and qualitative methods of data analysis have been used to identify key patterns and emerging themes. The key findings of the study are that 1) cameras could be an important aspect of fostering collaboration online; 2) there is a tension in relationships between students, teachers, and study materials; 3) students and teachers differently perceive the need to use cameras, which may limit opportunities for online collaboration; and 4) while students feel more comfortable when all the other participants turn their cameras on, many do not see turning cameras on for themselves to be important. The paper concludes with a discussion of how camera use can foster online collaboration between teachers and students.


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How to Cite

Beyond the avatar: Using video cameras to achieve effective collaboration in an online second language classroom. (2021). Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 18(7), 228-243.