It’s a common practice in remote learning to have students put themselves on mute while a teacher presents the lesson. If learners have an idea or question, they un-mute to share, and then reactivate the default setting.

Personally, I’m not a fan. In the classroom I’ve never opted for duct tape, and the mute button sort of feels like the same thing.

True to my pedagogical values, I always aim to put my students at the center of their learning. My role as their teacher is to impart onto them new ideas, and then provide them the structures to come to an understanding and make it their own. To shush everybody but me with the click of a button doesn’t really align with the idea that their learning is about them.

Not to mention, muting the class is meant to indicate to students that they need to be paying attention, but I think it can in fact send the opposite message: “You’re on mute, and so you’re not accountable for any of the disruptive noises you may be making. Blab away!” What could result is a group of 30 voices chatting into the silent void, and no one left to listen.

We practice listening as a part of citizenship and community in the classroom, so why can’t we do the same online? In person, we as teachers make a disclaimer before the lesson that now is our turn to share information, and that questions and comments can follow. Any interruptions are addressed according to classroom rules. To surrender the practice to a technological convenience seems like a missed opportunity to me. I’d rather have my students’ voices available and welcome a discussion about remote listening etiquette than to make the point moot with a mute button.