2 important lessons for teaching to a cameras-off audience

Tips on how to teach when the cameras are off

Teaching online is hard. Teaching online without seeing your student’s faces is even harder. While we can’t enforce them to turn their cameras on, there are some other strategies you can try instead to gauge their learning in the online class.

Reasons why students may choose to keep their cameras off

We ran around RMIT to find out how teachers and students feel about cameras in online classes. Apart from “I’m in my pyjamas”, other predominate reasons students have their cameras off include:

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Privacy

Uncomfortable with sharing their personal environment

Class expectations

Unsure whether they should have camera on/off

Digital access

Unable to meet technological requirements such as bandwidth

And while we can’t resolve all these hurdles, there are still ways we work with the variety of tools available to us when teaching to a cameras-off class.

Lesson 1: Gather feedback through other means

In physical face-to-face settings you get conversational feedback from visual facial cues, so when that’s missing we need to find other ways to get that response so you don’t feel isolated in your own classroom. Here are some ideas to try during online classes.

Interactive functions

Polls, Hands up, Emoticon meters are great tools to use when teaching. Download this Interactive slide deck template to encourage students to participate in class through these pre-set slides that you can customise to suit your content.

Collaborative apps

Integrate external apps such as Padlet, Mentimeter, Kahoot etc as they are fun ways to have students interact with one another and virtually participate in your lesson. You can also use Office365 online tools such as word/ppt to track how your students are working in real time.

Chat

Prompt students to use the chat stream to communicate back and forth with you. It may be tricky to juggle at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can talk to it like a stream of dialogue. To get ideas on how to do this more effectively, watch some YouTube Live streams and observe how the hosts converse in this mode.

Lesson 2: Foster a safe and respectful classroom

Communication with our students needs to be around creating a community, not about camera compliance.

Set up expectations

Create a safe online environment by being upfront and clear with what is acceptable behaviour when participating online. If you need help with this, you can explore our netiquette interactive which can be imported into your Canvas course. 

Bring purpose to having cameras on

Allocate times for cameras-on using the icon prompts that are available in our interactive slides from above. Tie these moments to student activities where participation is required such as in brainstorms or debates etc.  

Background blurs and displays

Recommend these for students who don’t have their own working spaces. They allow them to participate in video calls without the distracting hustle and bustle behind them and maintaining their privacy.  

Encourage but do not enforce

Let them know at the start of your lesson that you would like to see them as you teach and why this helps you as a teacher. Just make sure that you also make it clear that you understand if they choose not to and that it is okay for them to decline. 

With experimentation and persistence, you can arrive at strategies that work. Whether students need options, encouragement, or trust to switch that camera on, there’s likely a solution that is the right fit for your classroom, circumstances, sessions, and students.

Get in touch

If you would like further assistance or simply need a sounding board, please don’t hesitate to email dsc.lt@rmit.edu.au to get in touch with a member of the DSC Learning and Teaching team.