In live online (synchronous) classes, there are sound pedagogical reasons to ask students to turn on web cameras during class. Webcams allow faculty to more easily engage with students, monitor their performance, and develop their communication skills. Students may object to webcam use for equally valid reasons, including privacy and limits on broadband access. For reasons of equity and respect for privacy, faculty should consider making exceptions for students who are unable to turn on their webcams during online classes.
Except during assessment activities that require a visual presence, students should be given the option of participating in the class without turning on a webcam. Certain learning goals, exercises, and instructional practices may also justify an instructor’s asking students to turn on their webcams and/or to use LockDown Browser or Monitor for assignments or exams. In these cases, instructors should provide an explanation to the students of why webcams are useful. Instructors should balance instructional need, academic integrity, and integrity of assessment with student privacy and access to technology. This document provides guidance about the use of these tools, alternatives to consider, and suggested syllabus language.
Benefits and Limitations of Webcam Use
The use of webcams in live online class meetings or assessments can enhance the educational experience in many ways. Some of these include:
- Students working in groups
- Building community
- Proof of attendance
- Classes that focus on communication skills, performance, or physical movement
- Online proctoring
Some students may not be able to use cameras or wish to not use them because:
- Their internet connection cannot support the use of streaming video. Bandwidth problems are real for many students, regardless of their location.
- Students may not have a webcam on their computer. The Niner Ready Laptop Initiative, suggests minimum computer hardware and software for students, but is not a binding requirement. The Library offers short-term loaner laptops.
- They may have privacy concerns (e.g. roommates, children, or other family members in the background).
- Students may wish to keep their webcams off because leaving them on may reveal their exact geographical location or other unique identifying information.
- They may have a visually busy environment or otherwise distracting background that could detract from others’ ability to attend to class content. (N.B. Suggested Syllabus policy around neutral video backgrounds).
- They may have personal or environmental concerns that make sharing their likeness or their personal spaces problematic. Not all computers can replace backgrounds with virtual backdrops that would alleviate these concerns.
- Students with concerns regarding disability access and webcam usage should contact the Office of Disability Services.
Recommendation: During any regular remote instruction, it is suggested that instructors adopt a “camera-optional” practice for teaching through Zoom or another video platform.
More Information: Not all students will be attending class from an environment conducive to webcam use. A camera-optional approach respects student challenges, such as equity, personal safety and security, and religious beliefs. Instructors should also remind students if they plan to record immediately before any recording takes place or in their syllabus policy, if all classes will be recorded. See the university’s FAQs on class recordings.
Exams and Assessments
Recommendation: To protect the integrity of exams and other assessments, instructors may require students to turn on their webcams in order to monitor and/or record the assessment.
More Information: Instructors must notify all students in the class of their intent to monitor and/or record the assessment (this may be contained in the syllabus or a written announcement at least 5 days in advance of the assessment). Instructors must remind students that the assessment will be recorded before any recording takes place. Students should find a location in which they can access a webcam. If a student is unable to or does not wish to be recorded or monitored through a webcam during the assessment, faculty should be prepared to offer appropriate alternatives. Students should request an alternative monitoring method prior to the scheduled assessment, giving sufficient time for the faculty to arrange alternate methods of monitoring. Instructors can take into account the facts and circumstances surrounding a student’s request and determine whether it is appropriate to grant the request. In such cases, instructors can work with the student to provide an alternate assessment. Screen sharing can also be an option to monitor student work if students are in separate virtual rooms.
Access and Accessibility Considerations
Recommendation: Faculty members should be aware of the privacy, hardware, software, disability, and equity concerns and require the use of webcams or video feeds only when the educational value of requiring video supersedes those concerns.
More Information: Students with concerns regarding disability access and webcam usage should contact the Office of Disability Services.
Decisions for Instructors to Make About Webcams
- Is the webcam materially beneficial?
- There are instances where having the video on is unnecessary (e.g. while students listen to a lecture)
- There are instances where having the video on is impractical (e.g. larger than 15-20 attendees, meaning it is necessary to scroll to view students)
- Could you limit the time you are requiring a video feed?
- Temporary, periodic, short-term use of the webcam can be much more appealing to students with privacy and technology concerns
- Could you use another method to reach your pedagogical goal? (i.e. instructional practices can address some of the concerns that may make webcams seem mandatory)
- Periodic live polls or checks for understanding can help ensure regular attendance and attentiveness throughout the class session
- Community building can happen asynchronously using discussion tools like the Canvas discussion boards
- Collaborative authoring using Google Docs can foster collaboration in both synchronous and asynchronous environments, and give the instructor a view of students’ progress
- Group (collaborative) work can happen in non-video environments such as Canvas Groups or a Google Doc
- Recorded video can allow students to demonstrate competency in some performance and communication skills
- May you require that students turn on webcams during assessments?
- Yes, but it is recommended to inform students of this practice in writing as soon as possible before the assessment. Ideally, this should be in the syllabus so that students can make an informed decision about their ability to effectively participate in required academic exercises. Faculty should be prepared to provide alternative monitoring methods should a student be unable to comply with the webcam requirement.
- May you require that students have specific hardware beyond what has already been specified in the UNC Charlotte technology requirements?
- No, unless departments or programs have an established policy of more stringent hardware requirements that students have been informed of, students are only expected to have the computers or devices required by the university and/or their specific program of study.
This content was created and adapted from the Michigan State University’s page Video Conference Policies for Webcam Use (licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License) and with permission from the PennState University’s guidance on webcam use.