The switch to remote learning has made it harder for many to stay connected, leading to social isolation and increased stress in some instances. For reasons of equity and respect for privacy, students will not generally be required to turn on their webcams during online classes.
There are sound pedagogical reasons to ask students to turn on cameras for specific purposes. Faculty should consider whether asking students to turn on their webcam is necessary to accomplish a learning objective and explain to students why they would like for them to leave on their video feed, but must allow the student to make the final decision to do so based on their circumstances without penalties of any kind.
In short, the default would be for students’ webcams to be allowed to be off, with certain learning goals and instructional practices making it justifiable for the professor to ask students to turn on their webcams if they are willing and able after providing an explanation to the students of why. The only exception to this would be during assessment activities that require the use of a webcam.
The use of webcams in live online meetings can add to the educational experience in many ways. Some of these include:
Students may wish to not use or be unable to use their video feeds because:
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. In such instances, there may still be students whose specific disabilities preclude the use of webcams. The Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities will work to assist students who have gone through the proper accommodation request process and for whom the use of webcams is not possible.
Temporary, periodic use of the webcam can be much more amenable to students with privacy and technology concerns.
Yes, but you should inform students of this practice as soon as possible. Ideally, this should be in the syllabus so that students can make an informed decision about their ability to effectively participate in required course components. Students should also be able to consult with a faculty member if new concerns arise where faculty could provide an alternative approach.
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 university required laptop/desktop, which does not require a webcam. Here is more information on alternatives to webcams for assessment.
Restrictions on instructors requiring students to turn on their webcams is supported by MSU’s Student Rights and Responsibilities, Article 2.II.B 8 (The student has a right to protection against improper disclosure of his/her education records and personal information such as values, beliefs, organizational affiliations, and health) and Article 2.III.B 10 (The student and the faculty share the responsibility for maintaining professional relationships based on mutual trust and civility).
Related to requiring the use of webcams is the proper use of video recordings of the synchronous sessions and how to deal with these files in light of the Family Educational Records Protections Act (FERPA). MSU’s Office of General Council recently put together this guide.