Learner Stage Fright When Testing Via Webcam

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Brief Abstract

Because neurodiverse learners often experience camera anxiety which can interfere with testing they should be given a face-to-face proctoring option as an accommodation.


Dr. Mac Adkins is the Founder and Chief Academic Officer of SmarterServices. He has been a higher education administrator for over 25 years and served as a Dean or Director of Distance Education for ten of those years. He has taught in the online doctoral program of Capella University for eight years and has taught online for Troy University for thirteen years. Dr. Adkins received his Doctor of Education degree from Auburn University in 1998. His major for the degree was Educational Leadership. He is a frequent speaker at educational conferences.

Extended Abstract

Many learners with physical disabilities require assistive devices that are typically provided by collegiate testing centers for use by students who need such accommodations. These devices could include audio players for the visually impaired, timers to assist with pacing, reading guides to assist with visual tracking, inflatable seat cushions to assist with sensory processing issues, noise-canceling headphones to assist with focusing, large display calculators, speech recognition software, hands-free Internet navigation software, specialized keyboards, and more. When a student can test in an environment that provides these accommodations, they are then more likely to be able to appropriately demonstrate their level of content mastery. In addition to these devices which are used as accommodations for physical learning disabilities, many neurodiverse learners need a testing environment that accommodates for disorders such as dyslexia, autism, or ADHD.

COVID-19 has brought to light the fact that many learners experience performance anxiety similar to stage fright when they have to appear on a webcam.

A lot of people who live with neurodiversity become instantly and increasingly anxious as soon as they are the center of attention. Anxiety can be triggered by being on a webcam in the following ways:

  • Being exposed: In person, you are used to being seen, but when online, it can feel like you're being exposed.
  • Being judged: It is harder to tell what other people are thinking about you via webcam.
  • Being constrained: In a regular classroom, you can move around, switch chairs, sit by the window, sit in the back of the room, etc. But on a webcam, you are not able to hide or blend in.
  • Being concerned: Lack of experience with using a webcam can create anxiety and worry about whether or not it will work correctly. Being distracted: It is not often that we have to see an image or video of ourselves while we are talking or testing. This can be quite distracting.
  • Being recorded: The idea of a permanent recording taking place adds more stress that what they are doing must be done perfectly.
  • Being invaded: The webcam may be perceived as an intrusion of the personal space of one’s room or computer.
  • Being evaluated: The time spent on the webcam is perceived as a performance in which everything from one’s appearance or the tone of their voice is being judged.