It can be disheartening and demotivating to teach a row of blank screens, but we know that many students prefer not to turn their camera on during online classes. There are various reasons why this might be the case:
- Competing obligations: Students may juggle various demands, such as looking after younger children, during the session.
- Right to privacy: Students may not want others to see where or how they live.
- Equality: The student’s home circumstances may restrict them from talking openly.
- Social anxiety: Some students may experience heightened anxiety when the camera is on. The increased stress will make it harder for these students to concentrate and learn.
- Self-consciousness: A student may be self-conscious about their study environment or appearance. They may fear judgement, stigma or unconscious bias and consequently feel safer with their cameras off.
- Device restraints: The quality of a student’s IT equipment may limit their options to use video.
- Internet issues: Having a camera on can result in a disjointed or hard to follow session if the student has poor internet. This may be particularly relevant in multi-occupancy households or rural areas.
- Contract restrictions: The student’s contract with their internet supplier may mean that they need to ration their broadband use.
Why it’s Important
Despite the above, there are several reasons why it is important to encourage students to enable their webcam:
- Creating a sense of community. Seeing each other should help to establish stronger bonds between students.
- Social interactions – Regardless of Covid-19 restrictions, learning to work with their peers remains a key component of a student’s learning journey. Sharing their video increases familiarity between students and may help to promote interaction.
- Confidence Building – Feeling part of a larger group can help students to become more confident in answering questions or expressing their views, either in the larger session or as part of break out rooms.
- ‘Reading the room’ – Live reactions offer useful feedback to tutors regarding how their delivery is being received. Video is key to this.
Gettings students to use their webcams.
It isn’t easy to get students to turn on their cameras, especially if they have got into the habit of keeping them off. Nevertheless, these few tips might help:
- Find out why your students are not turning on their camera via an anonymous survey. This will help you understand their reasons for this and help you think through how to help them.
- Don’t worry about them seeing your work environment. A little untidiness and interruptions from family members, pets etc. are part of working from home.
- Ask them …. and tell them why you think it’s important.
- Consider starting with some music. This can help create a welcoming and more relaxed atmosphere. It will also help those joining to test their audio.
- Think about the size of the group. Students may feel less comfortable in a larger group. Therefore, consider focusing your efforts on smaller sessions.
- Tell students to turn off self-view. This may stop them being distracted by their own image.
- Gradually build up students’ familiarity with being seen online. This could start with one-to-one sessions, move onto smaller groups and hopefully the student will eventually feel confident to leave their camera on in the full class.
- Ask students to turn their cameras on at certain points in the session (e.g. when there is a Q&A or discussion). Explain to them why this would help you.
- Don’t be too formal about it – just getting students to turn on their cameras to say hello at the start of a class might help them get used to being seen.
- Breakout rooms and group work. Students may find it difficult to share their camera during a breakout room, try:
– Keeping the same groupings for several weeks a to allow students to get to know each other.
– Set ice breaker activities to allow the students to make informal connections with each other and build trust before asking them to complete complex subject-related tasks. These could involve tasks involving turning cameras on or sharing images.
– Talk about and discuss the shared values of your learning community to reassure students and set boundaries beyond a simple requirement to turn a camera on.
- Remind students that they can use a virtual background if they want.
- Organise drop-ins and chats where students might feel under less pressure and be more likely to keep the webcam on.
- Get students to upload a favorite photograph or avatar onto their Zoom profile. That way, if the camera is off, you will at least see something more personal than a blank tile.
- Log into the session a few minutes early and students individually as they ‘arrive’.
- Use Alternative ways of signaling. Online learning offers several options for you to assess how well your students are doing without relying on visuals.
– Use Zoom or Vevox surveys to poll students on their understanding.
– Use Vevox Q&A to allow anonymous questions.
– Use Zoom chat to get students to signal if they are OK – this doesn’t have to be written but can be through quick responses such as smiley faces.
– Use the Zoom white board to collect ideas from students to start verbal discussions.
- Be sensitive to the fact that some students will simply not want to turn their cameras on. Pressing the point too hard might mean they feel uncomfortable logging on to class at all.