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Can I Require My Students to Turn on Their Webcams?

by Dale Pike, Executive Director and Associate Provost, TLOS

Despite what may seem like common sense to some, an absolute requirement for students to use cameras in online courses is not advisable for reasons of equity and privacy. Instructors who set clear expectations and remain open to the individual needs of their students, however, will find many opportunities to use video technology effectively.

There are many sound reasons to consider using cameras during remote learning. As a general rule, those connecting to one another remotely can benefit from seeing the faces of those with whom they are communicating. It is also true that trying to carry on a conversation with a wall of participant names or avatar photos can feel less engaging than live video of all participants. Instructors may have concerns about levels of engagement and feel like using the cameras is an easy way to see if students are paying attention.

There are just as many reasons, however, that requiring students to turn on their cameras may be a bad idea:

  • Students with low bandwidth may experience audio difficulties when their webcams are turned on.
  • Students may not wish to invite others into their environment, in order to protect the privacy of others, or out of a simple desire not to have other people into their private space.
  • The “creepy” factor. Despite the intent to replicate face-to-face engagement using cameras, having a camera monitoring you when you can’t tell who is looking at you at any given time can make some students uncomfortable.
  • Students with disabilities may not wish to (or be able to) participate.

For these reasons and more, instructors should carefully consider when webcams may directly support instructional objectives. Consider the following questions from a recent Educause Review article:

  • Is there a student-centered reason for the use of webcams in this activity?
  • Are there other ways to actively engage students in meaningful learning throughout the class?
  • How will I accommodate students who cannot be on webcam?
  • Have I considered equity and inclusion in designing my activities?

Generally speaking, those who carefully consider the use of cameras for clear instructional purposes, communicate expectations clearly with their students, and remain flexible when dealing with situations where students have difficulties will find the right balance in using video while teaching.

Additional Reading

Dear Professors: Don’t Let Student Webcams Trick You
Instructors who teach live online classes should thoughtfully consider whether to require students to use their webcams during class

5 Reasons to Let Students Keep Their Cameras off During Zoom Classes
Lack of privacy is a top concern for students required to log on to online courses, a scholar argues