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To Turn the Camera On or Not? THAT is the question.

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
October 11, 2020

As a UDL Practitioner, a Mother, and an Educator, I say No…Saying that remote learning has changed education is an understatement! We are simultaneously teaching, parenting, and learning while in environments that require us to triple and quadruple-task. Given that we are in environments that may not be ideal for learning, let alone sharing, one sticking point in many learning communities is whether video conferencing should be mandatory.

Specifically, should everyone, teachers and students, be required to always have their cameras on so that everyone can see (and hear) everyone else? As a UDL practitioner, my answer is, no, and I want to share why. 

I think we can all agree that it would be great if everyone had their cameras on as it would be most like what we experience in a classroom and potentially give us the best chance for interaction. So, would I love it if learners had their cameras on? Yes. But will I require that? No. Why? Because we are not teaching and learning in our classrooms. We are in learners homes, cars, and parking lots and we cannot force our intentions and the norms of classrooms and professional learning environments into those spaces. 

Here is an example of what I am referring to from an email I recently received:

“I facilitate professional learning with adults and my colleagues and I value the visual feedback we get from participants who use their video cameras. We also conduct a variety of activities that encourage camera use (having people write on whiteboards and hold them up, hold up fingers for voting, nodding, etc.). We have some people who do not want to use their video cameras. We have some team members who feel it should be required and some who do not think it should be a requirement”.  

I get this question a lot for both PD and in class use. I am firmly in the camp of not requiring videos to be on. When we think about the variability of our learners, we can anticipate that there may be some people who do not have a strong enough internet to stream video, others may have issues with their video working, and still others are in situations where they don’t feel comfortable sharing their living space or they may have children or pets climbing all over them which is often the case with me. (:

I think it really comes down to firm goals and flexible means. The goal is not that we see people but rather the goal is that people are actively engaged in learning, both professional and educational. 

There is very little doubt in the business world that the tool is a critical component of daily work to the growing population of remote workers but there is also little doubt that it is not the same as in-class interaction and that not only does it take more energy to participate in a video conference than it does to go to a class or meeting but many don’t like it due to privacy.

When we think about Universal Design for Learning, we can provide lots of options and choices to be actively engaged without turning on the cameras. For example:

  • Have “aha” moments – participants share what they are thinking in chats every 4 to 5 minutes
  • Post frequent polls
  • Provide options to either join breakout rooms or write/record reflections and email them to the presenter to share them in the chat
  • “Flood the chat” – prompt everyone to post in the chat at the same time

I am rarely concerned about engagement when I am very clear about what the goals are and what the options are to meet those goals – even when cameras are off. Since many people are learning in their own environments, I think it’s important that we share that we encourage video, and find great value in seeing faces, but understand there may be barriers to that. If that is the case, provide other pathways like, “if you can’t turn on your video, you can fill out this graphic organizer and share your thoughts at the end of the presentation”. It allows us to embrace all learners as they engage in ways that are relevant, authentic, and meaningful. 

Hope this helps! I would love to hear your thoughts. Connect @katienovakudl

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