Symposium Spotlights: Why Students Do Not Turn on Their Video Cameras During Online Classes and an Equitable and Inclusive Plan to Encourage Them to Do So

Duke Learning Innovation co-hosted the 2021 Pandemic Pedagogy Research Symposium on May 5, alongside institutional partners: the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of MichiganPenn’s Online Learning Initiativethe McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton, and the Stanford Center for Professional Development. The Symposium featured presentations and panel discussions on new and emerging research related to teaching and learning during the pandemic with a focus on applied scholarship that advances the art and science of teaching. 

In the presentation Why Students Do Not Turn on Their Video Cameras During Online Classes and an Equitable and Inclusive Plan to Encourage Them to Do So, Frank Castelli, Discipline-Based Education Postdoctoral Researcher at Cornell University, discussed the research focused on student use of video cameras during online classes he and co-author Mark A. Sarvary, Director of the Investigative Biology Teaching Laboratories, completed starting with their course Investigative Biology Laboratory in Spring 2020. 

“When we switched to remote teaching, we were hoping that when we connected to class, we would see all of our students bright and smiling with their cameras on,” he said. “And what we were learning from our prep meeting, in actuality what they were seeing were a lot a black boxes … So I thought, how can we encourage camera use?”

The presentation covered why students do not use video cameras, an equitable and inclusive plan to encourage them to turn on their cameras and the results of that plan. 

Key Takeaways 

  1. Do not require cameras be turned on during class and offer alternatives (chat feature, polling, shared documents, etc.). While Castelli noted there are benefits of camera use for both instructors and students (non-verbal communication, building community, fending off loneliness), he emphasized requiring camera use can add stress to the already stressful experience of emergency remote learning. “Certain subsets of your students may have disproportionately negative effects from requiring camera use and going through stress at this time,” Castelli said.
  2. Instructors should encourage camera use and explain why. To encourage camera use in their courses, Castelli and Sarvary used slides with memes at the beginning of each class to illustrate their reasoning. After using this strategy, Castelli and Sarvary found that student camera usage had increased.
  3. After student camera use increased, students cited the reasons instructors shared for turning on cameras. Castelli also noted that students made decisions about whether or not to turn their camera on based on what other students were doing, reinforcing that the social aspect of the class could either normalize camera use or discourage it.
  4. Instructors can use pedagogical strategies such as active learning techniques to encourage camera use. 

Learn More 

You can follow Castelli on Twitter @DrFrankCastelli, where he shares more of his instructional and academic work, including information related to this presentation and the publication it was based upon. You can follow Sarvary on Twitter @sensitivsci

Interested in implementing Catelli and Sarvary’s ideas into your Fall 2021 course? You can contact Learning Innovation at to set up a consultation.