Editorial - Should Students Keep Cameras on at all Times?

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

As another school year begins with remote learning or hybrid systems, video classes are becoming the norm. As we adjust to this format, teachers have begun to think of ways to further improve the effectiveness of online classes and through several intensive discussions, a new camera policy has been put into action.

There are many arguments for establishing this policy: Some teachers say that it’s difficult to assess students’ engagement levels without seeing their faces. That it’s disheartening to teach a sea of black boxes.

However, from a policy standpoint, a camera-optional policy could be more beneficial. There are concerns about equity and bias along with privacy that makes a camera requirement problematic.

Possible benefits of the policy

From the school's point of view, it has been mentioned that students are required to turn on their cameras during online classes, not only as a basic classroom management tool, but also to improve student engagement, promote productivity, and maximize the effectiveness of the virtual school experience. Turning cameras on during online classes enables the teacher and student to interact more naturally: through eye contact, promoting academic integrity, and building a more friendly relationship between all members of the class. “Turning on cameras allows us to have better personal bonds and gives off a good vibe,” said Richard, an A-level student in an interview. He added that “By turning on the cameras, students can be trained to be more confident in normal social interactions, especially younger kids.”

Why is it a problem?

Some teachers encourage students to turn their cameras on, while others penalize them for having their cameras off. However, there has been no research (thus far) that would imply that cameras are necessary for learning or engagement. Not only that, but the added anxiety for some students who are asked to turn their cameras on may actually diminish their ability to participate, as they feel a need to monitor their home, family members, and their home space while attempting to focus on the teacher as well.

What are the alternatives?

So, what is the solution to such an issue?

For teachers, rather than focusing energy on how to force students to turn cameras on, it may be more effective to concentrate on presenting the course content in ways that students can relate to and engage with. Some of the possible solutions include:

Learn to trust in your students to be responsible for their own spaces and learning. Teachers may allow students to lead the class and to start their discussions. In addition, teachers may also ask students to conduct group discussions through interfaces like Kumospace.

  • Find ways to develop your virtual presence to show students that you are invested in their success. This can be done through frequent one-on-one consultations and by motivating students along their journey in learning. In addition, teachers should also attempt to be more approachable so that students can be more open about their thoughts and feelings.

  • Offer alternative ways for students to demonstrate their engagement that don’t require cameras, such as using the chat function, organizing small group discussions, and using an online annotation tool for students to share their views such as Padlet and Google Jamboard.

  • The work of teaching requires the development of mutually respectful, trusting, and supportive relationships. As said by Timothy Hilton, a Harvard University Psychology Professor, “Without a solid foundation and relationships built on trust and respect, no quality learning will happen.” Respect and trust must extend to understanding students’ need for privacy and to not further blur the line between private and academic life as learning and proficiency do not necessarily require cameras to be on.

Many ways allow teachers to create structures for students to demonstrate their learning. Rather than force old practices of face-to-face interactions into virtual spaces, I believe teachers need to understand the discomfort and demands that students encounter when forced to turn cameras on.

The gaze of the classroom may become an obstacle to engagement, and while some teachers may think that requiring students to turn on their cameras may be considered to be more effective, for students, it can be an alien experience. And it may even be a block to online learning. All in all, although the camera on the policy may bring some benefits to education, other possible methods can be utilized by teachers to improve the effectiveness of their learning.


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