#Take5 #53 The best way to get your students to engage…

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Dr Carina Buckley of Solent University – and is in dialogue with her #Take5 on students and camera use in online teaching and learning from a few weeks ago.


The Evil DrB herself

Should your students turn their cameras on? A rebuttal

A few weeks ago, I argued in this blog that students should be free to choose whether or not to turn their cameras on during live online sessions, and that there were other ways for students to participate. While I still support this approach, particularly from a student-centred, theoretical point of view, I find myself compelled to also argue against it, from the perspective of a learning developer in practice.

Is anybody there?

How many of us have talked to a screen of initials, wondering if anyone will answer our increasingly desperate questions in the chat, wondering indeed if anyone is there at all?

There is an array of literature available on developing learning communities, building cohort identities, establishing a learning environment of trust and participation, and it all shares a common belief in the essential centrality of these activities to creating and strengthening an effective group of peers mutually engaged in co-constructing knowledge. One of the values of ALDinHE itself is to work side by side with students in making sense of higher education practices.

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The value is in the conversation (photo courtesy www.pixabay.com CC)

Now let us leave Utopia, and travel to the less affirming scenario of a drop-in workshop with students you’ve never met before and who don’t know each other, and who are all sat anonymously behind a darkened computer screen. Suddenly the supportive attitude towards cameras-off seems more difficult to maintain.

Let’s say you have a group of ten, all waiting (you assume) to hear what you have to say about, for example, academic writing. Seven of them respond to your Mentimeter poll; four of them share suggestions in the chat. What of the others? There’s no way of telling, because you can’t see them, and have no sense of feedback on how the session is going, either written or gestural.

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Is anybody there? (photo courtesy www.pixabay.com CC)

Building community

Visual cues are vital, not just for us as teachers and facilitators but for the students themselves. How can they feel like part of a community when they can’t see that community? One thing I would make mandatory would be a photo on a profile page, so we could see at least a representation of who we are talking to. However, not having that power, I content myself with recommendation.

Being on camera for hours every day is tiring; cameras and bandwidth remain real issues for some. But there has to be scope for compromise, and being forced to follow compromise rather than dictate rules, I suggest the following:

  • Have your students turn their cameras on at least for the first two minutes as they arrive, to say hello to everyone. Keep repeating the message as new class members arrive.
  • Have your students turn on their cameras in breakout rooms. Most students seem to be fine with this, anecdotally, and you can always demonstrate what it’s like to have a disembodied voice talking to you by turning your own camera off for a bit.
  • Set a rationale and expectations for camera use that are student-focussed.
  • Show your students how to set alternative backgrounds and encourage them to upload favourite holiday photos (for example) to use.
  • Don’t talk so much. Ensure the majority of the session, where possible, is activity- or discussion-based, thereby avoiding the whole issue of you talking to a screen of blank squares.

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Building a vibrant, online community (photo courtesy www.pixabay.com CC)

Any suggestions?

What are your suggestions? We are all learning together right now how we do this well, so it would be great to share practice and open up the conversation more widely. How have your students responded?


Dr Carina Buckley is the Instructional Design Manager at Solent University, where she is responsible for ensuring the VLE functions as an immersive and interactive learning space, and where she is therefore always occupied. She has worked in Learning Development since 2006 and been Co-Chair of ALDinHE since 2015, thanks to which she gained Principal Fellowship of the HEA earlier this year. She is also an ALDinHE-Certified Leading Practitioner, and keen to see more Learning Developers recognised with these two qualifications.

1 thought on “#Take5 #53 The best way to get your students to engage…”

  1. Thanks for your text that made me reflect. There are many now who write about whether the camera should be on during meetings and teaching. Personally, I think it is often unnecessary to show up and see others, because often you just want to show something, investigate something, and then you often want to share the screen.

    Of course, you can initially look at each other and say hello,

    There are many good tools to collaborate, learn and communicate with, such as padlet, mentimeter, voto, quizizz and quizlet.

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