Supplemental Resources: Supporting Student Learning

Setting Policies for Camera Use in Zoom Class Meetings

MTLE adapted this resource from a guide shared by Lindsay Masland at the Appalachian State University’s Center for Academic Excellence. The original resource and our adaptation are both Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (CC-BY-NC 4.0) licensed. 

Why Might People Have Their Cameras Off?

Technology Students or instructors may lack webcams, sufficient WiFi access, or the computer processing capability to handle all Zoom features.
Anxiety Students or instructors may have anxiety, image concerns, or a history of trauma that makes sharing their videos difficult.
Fatigue Students or instructors may be in Zoom classes or meetings for many hours a day and may need a break from constantly being “on.”
Privacy Students or instructors may not want to share their surroundings with others. They may not want their image recorded. They may have concerns about other students saving screenshots of them without their knowledge or consent.
Illness Students or instructors may feel well enough to attend a virtual class, but may not want to share their video due to symptoms of physical illness or due to the ways that mental health concerns manifest for them during difficult periods in their lives.
Care Needs Students or instructors may have elder-care, childcare, or other caretaking obligations that are competing for their attention and availability.
Opportunities To Engage Differently With Peers or Course Content Some people may feel more comfortable asking questions and interacting with their instructors and peers if they are not on screen or involved in a face-to-face exchange.

Why Might People Want Cameras On?

  • It simulates (some aspects of) face-to-face learning
  • It can assist with community-building
  • It can be draining to teach/talk to a sea of “empty boxes”
  • It can feel easier to gauge others’ engagement using nonverbal feedback

Decision Points: Aligning Learner-Centered Goals With Course Policies

Ask Yourself: Is there a learning- or student-centered reason to have cameras on in your class?

No – It’s a personal preference

  • Review some of the reasons why students may have their cameras off. Are there reasonable accommodations you can make around camera use that reflect students’ realities? We recommend inviting students to turn their cameras on but acknowledging aloud that there is no requirement to do so and no judgment if students choose not to turn on their cameras for any reason.
  • Provide your students with a clear rationale for why you prefer cameras on. Why might it be easier for you and students to engage if you can see one another’s faces?
  • See the section on Inviting Students to Turn on Their Cameras below for additional ideas.

Yes! – I need to be able to see my students in order to give them effective feedback

  • If you’re teaching observable skills such as public speaking, dance, or sign language, consider the following:
    • Is synchronous webcam access necessary for you to assess student performance and/or for students to practice the required skills of your course?
    • Are there times when your goals/outcomes could be achieved through asynchronous recordings (uploaded videos etc.) instead?
    • How regularly are synchronous video-conferencing technologies required? (For example, would a student who needed to borrow a computer with a functioning webcam be able to engage effectively?)
  • Once you’ve assessed how frequently students will need access to a webcam and/or other video recording tools, state your expectations as early as possible in the course (i.e., both in the syllabus and in other relevant course materials). Provide your students with a clear rationale for why you prefer cameras on or why you’ve included “webcam access” in your course materials list.
  • See the section on Inviting Students to Turn on Their Cameras below for additional ideas.

Yes! – Having cameras on helps me promote/assess student engagement

  • Consider the difficulty of confirming engagement through video alone, as students could be looking at the camera while actually reading emails. Another way of assessing engagement is to use Zoom features that invite responsiveness and interaction.
  • Ask students to answer questions in the chat. Students can “reply all” or directly to you with their answers. Chat responses can often be a better indicator of engagement and community-building than facial expressions or physical appearance.
  • Ask students to use the Reactions feature in Zoom. In response to inquiries, students can express agreement, confusion, excitement, and more. Students who don’t react can be prompted through a direct message in the chat.
  • Students can be invited to use the Annotate function in Zoom to mark up a slide or image you share. Ask students to vote with checkmarks, to use lines as a strikethrough, or to highlight important ideas.
  • Class polls through Zoom, Qualtrics, Canvas, or Google Forms can be used to assess learning and to collect information about student preferences, experiences, and identities.
  • Experiment with the types of feedback you give to students, both in Zoom and on their work. Feedback that validates student effort while scaffolding toward deeper levels of understanding can enhance feelings of support and connection.
  • Before class, place the prompts for your small-group activities in a Google Doc, Slides, Padlet, or other collaborative space. While students are in breakout rooms, you can watch them add to the collaborative product and you can even add comments in real-time.
  • If you’re using an interactive feature such as the chat, a whiteboard, a Padlet embedded in Canvas, etc., you’re likely to elicit the most student interaction if you help students learn the technology. Consider building a brief period of time (5 min., etc.) into class for students to practice using the tool. You can use this time to point out features or even outline some communication norms or resources they can adopt. (For example, for activities that require it, you could show students how to locate a wider range of emoji to post in the chat before starting the activity, etc.)
  • See the section on Inviting Students to Turn on Their Cameras below for additional ideas.

Yes! – It feels easier to build community when cameras are on.

  • Seeing a person’s face is just one way to get to know them. There are many ways to incorporate sharing, support, and belongingness into your virtual classroom that don’t rely on sight or cameras.
  • Use the Breakout Rooms feature of Zoom for small-group activities. Invite students to work in small groups on an engaging task. You can drop in to work with them or to answer their questions.
  • See the previous section above on student engagement and the section below on Inviting Students to Turn on Their Cameras below for additional ideas.


Tips for Inviting Students to Turn on Their Cameras

Reducing Barriers to Participation

  • Acknowledge the fact that no one is learning or teaching in ideal circumstances right now and share what that means in your class context. (Will you be judgmental if students are wearing pajamas? Is your cat going to be wandering through your teaching/learning environment too?)
  • You can find an example of language inviting (but not obligating) students to turn on their cameras in this informal resource: UW-Madison Student’s Guide to Zoom. You’re welcome to adapt this handout for your course context.
  • If students do not have webcams, computers with integrated webcams can be checked out from the UW-Madison Libraries, InfoLabs, and the DoIT Help Desk for periods that range from a manner of days to a full-semester rental. However, inventory is limited, so be prepared to make other course accommodations.

In-Class Strategies

  • Instead of beginning class with announcements or lecture, start with an engagement or community-building activity. Many students will naturally turn cameras on for these interactions and may be more inclined to keep them on through the period as a result.
  • Show students how to add a virtual background in Zoom, as this may allay some privacy concerns. (See this page for some UW-Madison virtual backgrounds anyone can use!) Be aware that not all computers have sufficient processing power to handle a virtual background.
  • Show students how to switch to gallery view in Zoom, which may decrease unwanted feelings of “spotlighting.”
  • Also, plan for moments throughout class when all cameras are off (such as during a brainstorm) to decrease fatigue.
  • Encourage students to upload a current photo (or an image that represents themselves) as their Zoom profile picture. This way, if students are not on camera, their images or avatars are still visible. These can be much easier to speak to than black boxes.




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MTLE Resources Copyright © by Christian Castro; Naomi Salmon; and Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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