Lights, Camera (on please!), and Action: Tips for getting your students to turn their camera on during distance learning (2023)

Lights, Camera (on please!), and Action: Tips for getting your students to turn their camera on during distance learning

By: edHelper Staff Updated: Mar 2, 2021

Lights, Camera (on please!), and Action: Tips for getting your students to turn their camera on during distance learning (1)

Teaching to a screen filled with black boxes feels a bit like casting your vast knowledge out into the great unknown. It feels like leaning over a wishing well, calling out in hopes of finding you're not alone, but hearing only your voice echo in response. While far from ideal, with so many school districts still in a season of strict distance learning or transitioning to a hybrid approach, teachers spend countless hours in front of a screen trying to engage students, impart wisdom, build community, and stay sane!

Many teachers have shared that the lack of face-to-face encounters with students has made it harder to foster a sense of community this year. It's created a barrier when checking for understanding. When you can't see your students, it's impossible to see that lightbulb go off. You can't experience the a-ha moment where their eyes light up, and you know that the content clicked!

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Most of the tech platforms that teachers are using to facilitate instruction allow students and teachers to be on camera. While, in theory, students can show their face, and your classroom can magically transform into a modern-day clip of the old Brady Bunch TV show's theme song, few students join the class with their cameras on. Is there anything teachers can do to change this?

Start with Why

Before jumping into the "how" of getting students to turn on their cameras, it's important to identify some of the reasons why they are opting to leave the camera off.

Environment: Some students may feel embarrassed by their learning space (or lack thereof!) While we've always known that there are vast differences between students' home environments, distance learning has made that more concrete. Not every student has a quiet room, desk, and access to supplies.

Insecurities: Very few people enjoy looking at themselves all day long. A handful may like it, but those people and their overly inflated egos may need therapy! When we are reading, solving math problems, or digging into history, few of us choose to do that in front of a mirror. Instead, we focus on the task at hand and may occasionally glance at a classmate or the teacher. When we're on camera, however, we're forced to look at ourselves all day long. Students (and teachers, for that matter) can easily become fixated on their insecurities. If they don't like their nose or are having a bad hair day, guess what they will focus on? It won't be math! The number of people opting for plastic surgery is rising, and research blames video conferencing for at least part of the surge. If adults, who, in theory, have better coping skills and more self-esteem, don't enjoy looking at themselves all day long and have become fixated on aspects of their face they'd like to fix, just imagine how tough this must be for younger students.

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Now the How

Knowing that there are a handful of reasons why students may opt for leaving the camera off, how can you encourage them to turn the camera on for at least part of your class period?

Start with Heart: If your goal is better connection and your hope is to build a sense of community, it's important that you communicate that your desire to have your students' cameras on is because you desire connection, not compliance. "Requiring" students to be on camera may defeat the purpose beyond wanting to have them on. Consider asking your students for feedback regarding camera usage during class. Having your students complete a Google Form can offer great insight! When you hear their heart, and they hear yours in response, it's easier to build community and compromise.

Some are Better than None: If you'd like cameras to be on, consider allowing students to show some part of their body rather than requiring that their entire face be on screen. Being able to see part of an arm, an ear, or half a smile is still enough to know your students are there! You can also have "camera optional" time. Perhaps you can ask students to turn their camera on during class discussions but allow them to be off when you are doing a read-aloud of a novel. If you are asking for cameras to be on during a test, consider giving students permission to turn them off during long stretches of independent work time. This can help with camera fatigue and may actually increase focus.

Teacher Tips: Teachers have the best ideas! Teachers across the country have found that the following fun strategies have helped students turn their cameras on during class. Once they use the camera for "fun," using the camera for class is an easier transition:

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Game Time: Ask students to be on camera if they want to participate in class Zoom games.

Show and Tell: Invite your students of all ages to share their pets, introduce siblings, share a treasured award, or go on a scavenger hunt for specific items.

Social Circles: Use breakout rooms to your advantage. Create rotating small groups of students and assign them to brief breakout rooms where they can share jokes and engage in ice breaker activities.

Using Technology to Your Advantage

Technology is a powerful tool! As you seek to see more of your students during this season, consider encouraging the use of these technology tools to help.


Loomie: Loomie is a free application that allows students and teachers to create incredible avatars that can be used during video conferences. Students (and teachers!) can create a personalized avatar and select a virtual background. Loomie mimics eye contact and gestures, so it feels more personal than a static picture or blank black square.

Virtual Backgrounds: We've already established that, for a variety of reasons, many students may not want their classmates to see their home environment. Virtual backgrounds can be a great solution for these learners and a fun option for all students in your class! You can also encourage students to create custom backgrounds that correspond with a topic, location, or subject that you are currently studying.

Private Chat for Check-ins: If you have a student (or students) who consistently opt to remain off-camera or who suddenly stop turning their cameras on, consider sending them a private message during class. A quick "just checking in on you and wanted you to know that I miss seeing you on camera. Is everything ok?" message may help open the lines of communication and create a safe space for students to share why they are suddenly less present.

Other Video Options: If seeing your students is really important to you, but the camera remains off, why not offer other video alternatives? Maybe your student could create and record a video of him/herself demonstrating understanding of the current content. You could ask students to recite answers to discussion prompts and submit them to you. You could then respond with a video as well. Students can create TikToks, YouTube videos, and other video projects to demonstrate their understanding and participate as part of the class community without leaving their camera on during live sessions.

Part of the power of teaching is the ability to differentiate. Educators have the amazing ability to adapt instruction to meet the varied needs of the varied learners in their classrooms. The use of cameras during distance learning is another opportunity to do just that. Teachers can seek to understand the reason why students may choose to remain off-camera and then work to identify solutions that may encourage increased participation. At the end of the day, it's the connection teachers and students are longing for. Whether that's on-camera or off, teachers will always find a way to connect with their students because teaching really is a work of heart.


Why should students turn on their cameras during online classes? ›

You are much more likely to pay attention and stay on task when the teacher and peers can see you in person, and it's no different online. Turning on your camera allows others to see when you are doing, and it is likely you would want to look productive. It also causes you to get less distracted by objects or phones.

Why do students turn off their cameras? ›

More than half said it was the “norm”

They found that while some students had concerns about the lack of privacy or their home environment, 41% of the 276 respondents cited their appearance, and more than half of those who selected “other” as their reason for keeping their camera off explained that it was the norm.

How do you motivate students to turn in work? ›

Here are some strategies that can be used in the classroom to help motivate students:
  1. Promote growth mindset over fixed mindset. ...
  2. Develop meaningful and respectful relationships with your students. ...
  3. Grow a community of learners in your classroom. ...
  4. Establish high expectations and establish clear goals. ...
  5. Be inspirational.
4 Jun 2018

Can you force students to turn on their cameras? ›

No, it is not legal. That is basically letting someone into your home without your permission. It would be against the law unless you willingly turn your camera on.

How do you handle a student who consider themselves all knowing? ›

Other highlights include:
  1. Be a continual student yourself. Always being the student allows us to further our own knowledge. ...
  2. Address them at a break. ...
  3. Kung Fu Approach. ...
  4. Praise. ...
  5. Ask them to elaborate…. ...
  6. Write down answers. ...
  7. Acknowledge over-enthusiasm. ...
  8. The apathetic duo.

Why students do not turn on their video cameras? ›

Other reasons included being concerned about other people and the physical location being seen in the background and having a weak internet connection, all of which our exploratory analyses suggest may disproportionately influence underrepresented minorities.

Why do teachers always want your camera on? ›

Many teachers say that while they understand the cons, they do want their students to turn their cameras on if possible. It allows them to easily check if students are engaged, following along, or confused. It also holds students accountable. It can be draining to talk to a collection of black boxes, teachers say.

Can a teacher legally force you to turn on your camera on Zoom? ›

Conclusion: Faculty cannot require students to have their webcams turned on during class. Therefore, cameras should be presumptively optional for live synchronous online classes.

What techniques do you or will you use to motivate and inspire students *? ›

Top 5 Strategies for Motivating Students
  • Promote growth mindset over fixed mindset. ...
  • Develop meaningful and respectful relationships with your students. ...
  • Grow a community of learners in your classroom. ...
  • Establish high expectations and establish clear goals. ...
  • Be inspirational.
4 Jun 2018

What are the 10 ways to motivate a student? ›

10 Ways to Motivate Students
  • Help your child set goals for himself/herself. ...
  • Give your child your undivided attention. ...
  • Develop responsibility in your child by assigning chores at home. ...
  • Reward your child with time together, not money or presents. ...
  • Show your child how to break big tasks into manageable projects.

How do you ask an employee to turn your camera on? ›

You could set a number or a percentage, like asking that your employees have their cameras on roughly 50% of the time. That way they can pick and choose when it works for them. You could ask that people have their cameras on when they're presenting or otherwise leading a meeting.

Should cameras be on during online classes? ›

According to most teachers, during online classes, camera should be kept on a mode of connection between the teacher and the student.

Why dont people turn their cameras on Zoom? ›

Context: As we've reported, there are a slew of reasons people hide their faces during video meetings. We're dealing with "Zoom fatigue." It's tiring to stare at a screen and look at yourself all day, critiquing your appearance in real time. We're working at home, which means family members or roommates may be around.

Can teachers have cameras in their classroom? ›

Unless the school has a personal policy against having cameras on campus, legally it is acceptable to install them. School officials can also confirm with the school's lawyer. Although many people cite privacy issues when it comes to security camera installation, it is not technically illegal to do so in the classroom.

Can teachers force students to turn on cameras in California? ›

No teacher can “make” a camera turn on. They can ask, and might do so rudely or forcefully. They can impose consequences. But no teacher has the ability to reach through an Internet connection and turn on a webcam.

Can a teacher force you to present? ›

Yes, your teacher can 'force' you to do a presentation, and if you refuse (or conveniently 'forget' to tell her that you 'weren't able to come to school') she can give you a failing grade for the course. Keep in mind that that reason she is having you do a public presentation is to help you overcome your stage fright.

How will you handle students with no interest in learning? ›

Encourage them to break the answer down into clear steps so that they are totally sure of the process. Offer a little extra 'in-depth' information to add to their answer and ask them once more to show off their new knowledge and tell you 'all they know' about the subject.

How do you motivate a student who doesn't care? ›

  1. Triggering curiosity and interest can motivate even the most unmotivated students. Blend real-world events that students are experiencing or are aware of with academic curricula. ...
  2. Connect video games and song lyrics to lessons whenever possible. ...
  3. Throughout lessons, use language to arouse student interest.

How do you engage difficult students? ›

Try to avoid immediately giving them your solutions or consequences and instead ask questions leading them to think on their own. Find ways to give your students choices they can handle, celebrate with them when their choices work out and hold them accountable when they make mistakes.

Why you should turn on camera on Zoom? ›

By keeping your camera on, it shows that you're interested, engaged, and listening to others on the call. Alternatively, keeping your camera off during every virtual meeting indicates disconnect.

How do I turn my camera on? ›

Settings. Tap Site Settings. Tap Microphone or Camera. Tap to turn the microphone or camera on or off.

Why are there cameras in college classrooms? ›

Safety is a top priority in every school. Security cameras in classrooms enable staff and teachers to monitor unsafe activities in a classroom and aid in the event that a student or member of staff presents a present danger to others around them.

Should students show their faces on Zoom? ›

During Zoom classes, many students have observed that those who show their face on Zoom are typically those who answer more questions or participate more in discussions. This motivation showing your face gives you can help you better comprehend what you are learning and therefore do better in school (TheStartup).

When a child do not open the video during online class What should a teacher do? ›

Answer. Explanation: the teacher should try to ask him the reason behind it .

How do I not get called in Zoom class? ›

Our teacher recently announced she can see who has a camera and who doesn't in Zoom call.
  1. Avoid direct eye contact with the teacher at all costs.
  2. Always make it seem like you're busy and writing notes down.
  3. Don't do anything that would draw attention to yourself when you do not want to be called on.

Should cameras be on during online classes? ›

According to most teachers, during online classes, camera should be kept on a mode of connection between the teacher and the student.

Should I turn on my camera during class? ›

Through turning your camera on, you connect with your peers and build personal bonds. This will make it much less awkward when you eventually return to school and have no idea which classmate is who. While this may be annoying at first, turning on your camera holds you accountable for your conduct in class.

Do I have to keep my camera on during online school? ›

Whether a district wants to set rules around camera use is a local decision, and the state does not have any official guidance on whether cameras should be on or off during class, said Cynthia Butler, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

Why cameras should be on in Zoom? ›

By keeping your camera on, it shows that you're interested, engaged, and listening to others on the call. Alternatively, keeping your camera off during every virtual meeting indicates disconnect.


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