Lecturers report that engagement in live online sessions can be more difficult when students do not turn their cameras on: they find it harder to teach a cohort they can’t see and feel they are ‘talking into the void’. Having cameras on allows the lecturer to see non-verbal cues such as head nods or confused expressions, and to develop rapport and lecturer-student relationships.
Students can also benefit from having cameras on. They can see how their peers are reacting by seeing the non-verbal cues of their peers. It helps to build student-student relationships and can increase a sense of cohort identity.
So why do students not turn their cameras on? There are multiple good reasons including:
- concerns about appearance;
- not wanting to share their physical location or for others in their household to be seen;
- feeling they are being looked at all the time; concerns about distracting their peers or their lecturer;
- being unsure of the etiquette and whether they should or shouldn’t be visible (Castelli and Sarvary, 2021).
It can be frustrating for staff when students do not turn their cameras on. The advice is:
- Recognise that the benefit of using cameras depends on the size of your class and the format of the session. For some of your sessions, it may not matter if student don’t have their cameras on (e.g. giving a presentation to a large class) or it may only be useful for specific activities within a session (e.g. when a student is asking a question).
- If there are particular sessions where you feel it would be very beneficial for students to have their cameras on (e.g. a small tutorial where students are expected to discuss and share) explain the benefits to students of having their cameras on in this context and give them advance notice.
- Invite, don’t force, students to turn their cameras on. Explaining why it will be of benefit them will help to encourage them. You can also acknowledge that you understand the reasons they may not want to turn their cameras on, as outlined above. Recognising this ensures an inclusive and safe learning environment.
- Consider other ways of getting feedback and interaction from your students beyond the non-verbal cues, such as use of chat, emojis and in-session polling (guidance available). Ask students to upload an image to their profile instead – this doesn’t necessarily need to be a picture of them but will help with recognition. Remind students that they can blur the background if you are using Teams Meetings.
You may also like to read “Why students do not turn on their video cameras during online classes and an equitable and inclusive plan to encourage them to do so” (Castelli and Sarvary, 2021)