Cameras on/off debate

Back in October 2020 I put together a thread in defence of the student right to decide whether to turn cameras on in live sessions. This is one of the most passionate stances I had throughout the pandemic and I will continue to advocate for choice. As a predominantly staff facing learning technologist, I can say that overwhelmingly staff do not like turning on their cameras in professional development settings. The reasons are exactly the same as with students. Care and empathy should be afforded to everyone, especially in times of crisis. I have now put the contents here in this post for a more accessible format and added longevity but the Twitter thread is linked at the end.

October 2020

We are now a few weeks into the semester with a phenomenal number of synchronous teaching sessions taking place on different platforms. However, it seems the camera on/off debate is still raging and I’ve collected some persuasive articles together to argue for student choice.

The first is by @karenraycosta, ‘Cameras Be Damned’, from back in May when these debates surfaced during the frantic move to online for all teaching:

Next is by @EmmaKEdDev Lecturer in HE Learning & Teaching at University of Greenwich, with a guest post on @santanuvasant‘s blog via the #HEblogswap initiative ‘Now you see me: are ‘webcams-on’ policies ever justified?

@digisim posted just yesterday with ‘Lights. Camera? Action‘ with his top 10 reasons for giving students choice, given the complexity of the situation many of us are finding ourselves.

@KatieNovakUDL responds as a parent, UDL practitioner and educator to her question – ‘To Turn the Camera On or Not? THAT is the question.’ *spoiler the answer is NO!

The next article brings student perspective and feedback into the discussion – ‘Please, let students turn their videos off in class‘ by Vincent Nicandro, Aditya Khandelwal and Alex Weitzman

For a UK voice read ‘Lecturers, stop forcing us to turn our cameras on‘ by Lucy Palin “Firstly, it can be humiliating“.

Summarising the key elements from all of the above, teaching in synchronous webinar platforms is NOT equivalent to teaching in neutral institutional physical settings, students are in their private (shared) homes and forcing cameras on is an invasion of these spaces. Following inclusiveness, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Trauma Informed/Aware Teaching approaches to our teaching and learning especially during a crisis situation is important to many educators and enforcing cameras on is against all of these.

Being visible is not equivalent with being engaged and may actually be quite distracting for some “I find myself distracted with all my friends’ faces when I have my video turned on, especially since it’s been months since I last saw them in person.“. There are a myriad of ways to get genuine dialogue and interaction in synchronous sessions such as polls, chat pane, shared docs, whiteboards, breakout groups to name but a few. Turning cameras on is ultimately an act of trust so safe spaces & understanding are crucial

A couple more very important posts to add, so not quite the end yet, from the brilliant @Bali_Maha (thanks to @paulineridley for highlighting), which include the importance of profile pictures to fill in those ‘black boxes’:

April 2021

Adding another couple of new pieces to this still very topical thread:

  1. Disabling video may be better for online teaching and collaboration‘ post by @DonaldClark
  2. Student experience via @Bali_Maha:

Tweet thread here for anyone wanting to share/read that way:

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