You may have seen or heard about guidance from the university about having students on camera during live class sessions. Simply summarized, faculty may not require students to turn on their cameras, they must obtain consent from students to be recorded, and they must inform students of these things both in the syllabus and in person.
Here are some suggestions for encouraging (but not requiring) web camera use:
- Ask every class. It may seem repetitive but reminding students that you want to see them every time helps them understand it is important to you.
- Make sure your online classroom is a safe space. Students will be more inclined to be on camera if they feel comfortable.
- Ask what would make them comfortable. Providing an anonymous survey or poll gives students an opportunity to tell you what would constitute a safe space for them.
- Use icebreakers. Beginning each session with a fun question or short activity can help create community, which in turn makes camera use more likely.
- Remind them they can use virtual backgrounds. Using a virtual background may alleviate privacy concerns that are keeping students off camera.
- Give students a ‘tour’ of your own workspace. Some students will appreciate that you too are working in an imperfect space, and therefore not feel embarrassed about showing their own spaces.
- Don’t try to be perfect. Students will appreciate your honesty, understand that they too don’t have to be perfect, and once they do, they may feel safer to turn on their webcams.
Okay, I’ve tried to encourage students to turn on their webcams, but many still keep it off. What more can I do?
Despite your invitations to turn on cameras, many students, for a variety of good reasons, may keep their cameras turned off. We encourage you to experiment with the various helpful functions on the synchronous platform that you’re using (Zoom, or Blackboard Collaborate).
- The Reactions function: Ask students to use the available ‘reaction’ emojis. For example, when you’d like to know if students are done with a task, ask them to ‘raise their hand’ and keep it up through the ‘hand-raise’ reaction. When you’ve ascertained that everyone is done, ask them to ‘lower hand’ through the same function. Note: In the latest version of Zoom these have been moved under “Reactions” (at the bottom of the screen) to make them easier to find and use.
- The Chat function: It can be distracting, but it is also super useful to get a feeling for how things may be going. For example, you may tell students that they can use chat throughout class to add comments or questions. You can through what was said during a breakout session, or assign a student (for extra credit) to keep track of any urgent questions that came up. To incentivize use of chat, you can assign points for meaningful comments and questions. You may find that students are generally very enthusiastic on chat.
- Breakout Rooms: Use breakout rooms for students to introduce selves to each other. You can also use breakout rooms for students to discuss a discrete question for 10 minutes and then have someone report out. At least those few people will have to talk. Ask students to turn on cameras in the breakout rooms if they wish to.
- The Polling function: Polls are helpful, even if it’s only one question. They are useful after you’ve covered a complex topic to know if they followed what you said or not. You can also use (anonymous) polls to get a sense of what concepts students may still be confused about.
- The Annotation tool: Some platforms, like Zoom, allow students to annotate anything that is shared on the Whiteboard, or on screen-share. For example, as an icebreaker, share a map of NYC (and surrounding area) and ask students to ‘stamp’ where they are joining in from.
- Student profile pictures: For a fun assignment, you can ask students to change their profile pics to an image related to the topic theme for that session. For example, if the topic is branding, students can upload logos from their favorite brands as their profile pic. This can then also turn into an in-class discussion where they explain why that particular branding appealed to them.
- Establish and practice helpful classroom norms/rituals, and/or experiment with creative in-class and after-class assignments: Call on students, just like you would in-person. For example, ask yes/no questions and then ask students why they responded as they did. Note: Remind students that you will be doing this at the beginning of every class session, so that it can become a norm that students expect and prepare for every class.
- Have students create follow-up quizzes for folks who had to miss the synchronous session and will watch the recording. Students who create quizzes demonstrate good attention, and those we missed the session and watch the recording can check their understanding of the content they missed.
- Provide outlines based on your lecture or slides and have students fill out notes during the session. Note: this may require some work to build out ahead of time, and a couple of class sessions to model/practice.
- Encourage students to respond to each other, not just back and forth with the professor. The ‘popcorn’ method, where students pick on other students to go next may work here.
Note: Thank you to faculty participants in the ‘When you can’t require the webcam’ workshop on Feb 3rd 2021 for many of the above tips and suggestions.
Additional readings and resources:
- Keep checking the CUNY Academic Continuity Policies on this page.
- The CTL’s Zoom Guide may be helpful with a lot of the suggestions above (i.e., how to use particular functions).
- The CTL post on Attendance and Participation explains what we mean by ‘meaningful participation’ in online classes, and how you can include it in your own classes.
- On making breakout rooms effective (from Stanford U).
- The article, ‘Strategies to Encourage Students to Turn Their Cameras On’, by Liz Byron Loya on Edutopia, has some very specific tips on encouraging camera use in the classroom.
Credits: This post was collaboratively authored by Pamela Thielman, Hamad Sindhi, and faculty participants in the ‘When you can’t require the webcam’ workshop on Feb 3rd 2021.
This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Please feel free to remix and share.